Vancouver Canucks' hockey gear, Mats Sundin walked out of the visitor's dressing room in the Air Canada Centre and he didn't know which way to turn.TORONTO - Dressed head to toe in his
Sundin headed right before pausing. He realized that probably was wrong, but just to be sure the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, asked a smattering of reporters who were standing along the wall, "Which way do I go?"
A smile on his face, the big Swede swung to his left when the group pointed him in the right direction toward the ice.
It may not have been the perfect start, but Sundin was back in the arena he called home for 13 seasons Saturday morning and he was most definitely the center of attention in the self-proclaimed hockey capital of the world.
"I think once the game starts it's going to be like any other game, but it's been a nice feeling coming back here," Sundin told a gaggle of journalists hovering around him in the hallway just outside the visitor's dressing room. "When we landed yesterday it felt like coming home. Coming to the rink is a familiar feeling. In many ways it's been good."
The puck hadn't dropped on Sundin's homecoming yet, but good old No. 13 was in great spirits Saturday morning when he met and shook hands with many familiar faces who all played a part in his brilliant career in the blue and white.
"It's a lot (of attention), but it shows what hockey means for Canadians, people in Toronto and what the Maple Leafs mean," Sundin said. "It's great for hockey."
Sundin said he ate dinner and relaxed with some old friends Friday night and upon arriving at the arena Saturday the first person he saw was a dressing room staffer named Joey. They talked for a while.
He hadn't seen any of his former teammates yet, but only because "it's a game day, so everyone has their own thing to take care of to get ready." Only 11 of the 21 players in the Leafs dressing room Saturday morning played with Sundin.
"Any time you play a team that you played for before will be a special type of atmosphere and you get a little nervous, especially coming back here (to do it)," Sundin said. "I have a lot of great memories from living in this city and I still consider it the place where I live. There were some great years. It's going to be a special night."
The Leafs are planning a video tribute in Sundin's honor during the first commercial break. Sundin said he plans to watch it.
"Very nice," he said. "I'm sure I will look up. I hope it's good."
The looming question on the minds of everyone here Saturday morning, including the players, is will Sundin get cheered or booed when he skates onto the ice?
It's a legit question considering how the Leafs and Sundin parted ways after a tumultuous time around last year's trading deadline.
Former Leafs interim-GM Cliff Fletcher reportedly asked Sundin if he would waive his no-trade clause and the captain said no because he didn't think Toronto was out of the playoff race yet and it would be wrong to bail on his team.
Some fans are still clearly disappointed with Sundin's decision not to waive the clause in his contract. Others never spewed any venom in his direction, choosing instead to remember his great career as a Maple Leaf.
Sundin may have been wondering about what kind of greeting he would get Saturday night, but he didn't show any nerves talking about it Saturday morning.
"I can't really control that," he said. "I have no regrets. I am very proud that I had the chance to represent the Toronto Maple Leafs for 13 years. It's one of the great franchises of hockey, and living in the city of Toronto and all my experiences with the Toronto fans has been outstanding for all my years. Whatever happens will not change my outlook on my experience with the Leafs. It's been great."
So has his homecoming. At least, so far.
"It's been fun. I enjoy it," Sundin said. "It feels like coming home and coming to this rink was a great feeling."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org