TORONTO – The Leafs won’t be the only ones inspired by Saturday’s pre-game ceremony.
Before the Habs and Leafs face off for a fourth time this season, the two teams will gather on the ice to watch Mats Sundin’s jersey raised to the rafters. No strangers to soaking in the atmosphere during pre-game festivities, the Canadiens aren’t worried about the emotional boost their hosts will have after seeing their long-time captain honored by the fans.
“We’re used to these things,” shared Tomas Kaberle, who played nine seasons alongside Sundin in Toronto. “It’s a big night for Mats and for the Maple Leafs and it’s special for the Canadiens to be part of it. It’s going to take a few minutes [to re-focus] but after it’s going to be back to the same.”
Some visiting teams prefer to wait in their dressing room until the ceremonies come to a close, but Sundin’s former teammates are looking forward to taking it all in – before working on raining on their old captain’s parade.
“I was a young kid when I came into the league and he’s probably the one who helped me the most,” shared Kaberle, who was drafted in the eighth round by Toronto in 1996. “He’s a great leader and a great guy on and off the ice. It’s going to be a big night for him. I have such good memories of him. It was such an honor playing with him. He was a quiet guy who led by example. He was an unbelievably professional guy who worked hard every day.
“But at the same time, they’re all big games for the rest of the season,” he added. “We know there’s a big gap right now but both teams need to win. It should be a good one tonight.”
Already a veteran in his own right when he arrived in Toronto, former Leafs assistant captain Hal Gill continued his hockey education thanks to Sundin, spending two seasons apprenticing under the Swedish centerman.
“He did everything the right way and he made sure that everything around him was done the right way,” confirmed Gill, who played 145 games with the Leafs from 2006-07 to 2007-08. “If you’re going out to dinner, it’s going to be a good dinner and you knew it. He had a party at his house and it was catered and everything was thought out and well done and he never missed a beat. That’s the way he played. He played hard, he played through pain, he worked hard in the gym and he did what it took to be successful.”
Sundin’s attention to detail is something that’s stayed with Gill, who has been paying that lesson forward to his new teammates ever since.
“Mats made sure everything was taken care of and he really looked after his team,” stressed the 6-foot-7 blue-liner, who helped lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup in 2009. “If you needed something, he was on it. It wasn’t even a discussion. He’s a great leader and it’s a great honor that’s well deserved.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.SEE ALSOWords from the room: Gill
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