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How Sundin reunion became a moment


The plan was hatched over dinner, drinks and a few stories about hockey in the old days.

Retired captain Mats Sundin was the guest of team president Brendan Shanahan, general manager Brad Treliving and coach Sheldon Keefe at Astoria, a restaurant known for its steaks and pizzas that was just an easy walk from the Maple Leafs’ hotel in Stockholm’s city centre.

“I think he was enjoying being around everyone and telling the old stories,” said Keefe.

“We talked a lot, but mostly with a new GM and with Brendan and the coaching staff about the old days of hockey — not so much Maple Leafs, just the old days,” said Sundin.

“It was nice. I really appreciated it.”

And that’s when the Leafs sprung the question: Would Sundin come into the locker room before the team’s first regular-season game outside North America and read out the opening lineup?

Of course, Sundin told them. “It was great,” said Sundin. “It was like flashbacks from when we played. But it was really nice, especially for the coaching staff and the management to ask me to do that. I was really honoured.”

After reading the names of Ilya Samsonov, Morgan Rielly, William Lagesson, Max Domi, Calle Järnkrok and William Nylander, Sundin finished with a simple message: “Keep doing what you’re doing, boys. Make us proud.”

Inside the room, the players were surprised.

“He was fantastic,” said captain John Tavares. “I think that was pretty cool, especially for the Ontario guys that watched him growing up and idolized Mats.”

“For me, being captain and him being a former captain and the way he led the way was extremely impressive, and something you don’t take lightly,” said Tavares. “You idolize and try to mimic some of the things that he did really well. Obviously a really special player and person.”

Even grizzled defenceman Mark Giordano — at 40 the oldest player in the NHL — was in awe.

“We didn’t know till he came in,” said Giordano. “So it was pretty cool. For me, it meant a lot. Growing up in Toronto, watching Mats play a long time, obviously he had an unbelievable career, but for me it’s pretty special.”

Giordano was on the Calgary Flames the night Sundin scored a hat-trick that included a shorthanded overtime goal for career No. 500 on Oct. 14, 2006.

“I had a good night, too,” said Giordano.

“I scored a couple in that game. It was my first career NHL goal and his 500th. He showed me up pretty good.”

Asked how it made him feel to be the guy today’s players idolize, Sundin just laughed.

“It feels like we’re getting old,” said the 52-year-old Sundin. “I was at the Hockey Hall of Fame game last year, and me and Nicklas Lidström were on the ice with the new inductees. And I stood on the red carpet. I looked at both teams and I leaned over to Nick and I said, ‘Goddamn, these guys are young. Are they getting younger nowadays?’ And Nick said, ‘No, it’s just us getting old.’ ”

Sundin has been a big presence during the Leafs’ trip. He and his wife, Josephine, walked the red carpet at the gala premiere of the serialized life story of Leafs great Börje Salming. He was at Friday’s 3-2 Leafs win over Detroit. And he took in the Leafs practice on Saturday as they prepared for Sunday’s overseas finale against the Minnesota Wild.

Does he miss hockey?

“You do miss game time. You get on the ice, full arena, that’s tough to replace in the rest of your life,” said Sundin. “But I don’t miss the travel, the grind.”

“When you’re 24, you come into the rink, get a coffee, you go out to practise. I played till I was 38. You come to the rink, you warm up for 45 minutes. Got to get a sweat, otherwise you pull your groin.

“You don’t miss the grind, but you miss the guys, being in the room, game time — like a big game, Olympic final, where everything is on the line. That’s tough to replace. But saying that, it’s more fun now to watch them.”

It was pointed out to Sundin that Lidström is vice-president of hockey operations with the Red Wings, and Daniel Alfredsson was active with the Ottawa Senators in player development. Would Sundin like to do something similar with the Leafs?

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re good over here. We’ve settle down in Sweden now when the kids are in school. In the future, who knows?”





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