Mats Sundin, this time donning a slightly different shade of blue, received his customary heckling from the Ottawa Senators faithful on hand at the Scotiabank Place. After spending 13 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver’s newest Swede wasn’t surprised.
But, the question that no one seems to have an answer to is: will it be just like old times Saturday at the ACC?
“I don’t know,” said Sundin in the visitor’s dressing room at Scotiabank Place, a location not exactly foreign to him. “I can only worry about the things that I can control and that’s really my play and trying to be the best that I can be out there on the ice.”
After a somewhat bitter separation with the Leafs organization, it’s expected that the reception towards Sundin will be split in half, akin to the crowd Thursday night in Ottawa. In either case, Sundin has positive feelings towards his old home.
“I feel good about going back. Toronto feels like a home for me. I spent 13 years in the city and with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ve been great years and it’s always going to be part of my heart. Saying that, once the puck drops it’s going to be a game like any other.”
Sundin says he felt a little “weird” when he first signed with the Canucks, but the feeling quickly disappeared.
“When you spend so much time with one organization and in one city, it’s going to feel a bit different at the start,” said Sundin, who received a visit from countrymate Daniel Alfredsson following Vancouver’s 5-2 victory Thursday night. “But once you’re out there, I think hockey is a sport that everybody understands. It’s a game where all the guys are the same so once you start practicing and playing, it’s pretty much the same.”
As expected, Sundin got off to a slow start after his nine-month layoff. He saw time with the Sedin twins, combinations of Pavol Demitra, Mason Raymond
and Taylor Pyatt, and simply appeared to have no gas left in the tank. What’s more, he took numerous penalties as a result of his foot speed, or lack thereof. But also as expected, Sundin is starting to find his game.
Now playing alongside Ryan Kesler
and Pavol Demitra, Sundin has begun to show signs of his dominant old self. The RPM seems to have established itself as a legitimate secondary scoring threat, something that has been long awaited in Vancouver. Even when they don’t produce, their presence alone has helped the team win seven of their last eight games. Sundin credits a bulk of his success to one of his new linemates.
is playing really well so [Demitra and I] just try to compliment him. Hopefully we can compliment the Sedin line and try to be productive, and not only leave it up to the top line to do all the production. We need to have our line contributing as well.”
Although Coach Vigneault agrees that Sundin has been improving, he still expects more, which is a testament to what Vigneault believes his new second line center can accomplish.
“He is slowly but surely finding his game and we need him to find his game. He’s a good player and we need him to play up to his level. I think I said right after the All-Star break that in my mind it would still take him a couple weeks and that’s where we are. He’s slowly but surely getting into the rhythm here and he’s going to be a good player for us down the stretch.”
Kyle Wellwood, who acknowledges that he won’t be receiving nearly as much attention for his return to Leaf-land, hopes that Toronto’s fans will salute his longtime teammate, rather than mortify him.
“You hope that [the fans] appreciate all the times that he’s stuck by that organization.”
Clearly, Sundin will be the center of attention on Saturday night. But Wellwood, who remains scoreless in 14, says he’d love to bump the slump against his former team.
“It would be real nice. For our team, we’re going to look for everybody to pitch in. It’s a tough schedule for us, traveling like this, so you want to be able to get a couple goals for the team.”
Regardless of whether Sundin gets cheered or jeered, he’s just happy to once again be playing the game he loves – and as he continues to reiterate, he’s happy to be doing that in Vancouver.
“At my age, I realized that if I wasn’t going to play this year that would have been the end of my career. To get a chance to compete again against the best players in the world, I feel very fortunate and I’m very happy. It’s been a lot of fun playing hockey again.” Farhan Devji is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Ontario. For more of his work, visit http://www.farhandevji.com.