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The return of the king

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
When Mats Sundin came out of hiding and put ink to paper in signing with the Vancouver Canucks way back on Dec. 18, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs did the same.


They shuffled through their messy desk drawers in search of that perfect marker, the jumbo red Sharpie just dripping with ink, and upon finding it a sprint to the calendar ensued.

Flipping through the pages of months like spoilers trying to get to the conclusion of a book first, Leafs nation planted their markers on Feb. 21 and circled until the tips were dull.

This Saturday, Feb. 21, marks the return of Mats Sundin to Toronto, the city that was home to the Swedish sniper for 13 seasons.

Before the 1994-95 season, a then 23-year-old Sundin nestled into T.O. having spent the previous four years with the Quebec Nordiques, the team that summoned him first overall in the 1989 draft.

The longhaired brute was accepted almost immediately and knowing how fickle Toronto fans can be, that said a lot. Sundin didn’t disappoint leaving the Leafs after 981 games as the organization’s all-time leader in goals (420) and points (987).

His time in Toronto was memorable for many, merely an empty Cup-less journey for others; love’em or hate’em, Sundin’s homecoming to the centre of the universe promises to be something special.

Sundin entering Air Canada Centre for the first time as an enemy has many people talking. Cheered or jeered, the reception he’ll receive is still up in the air.

Focused on helping the Canucks inch closer to a playoff spot, Sundin wasn’t willing to give the media the juicy tidbits it was looking for before setting out with the team on their current four-game Canadian swing.

“Look where we are in the standings, obviously every game is a playoff type game right now,” said Sundin.

“There are so many teams around us in the standings and you’re trying to secure a playoff spot, so that’s where I’m using my energy, to make sure I play the next games and when the Toronto game comes up, we’ll worry about that then.”

Following a gutsy 4-3 come from behind shootout win in Calgary on Tuesday and a dominating 5-2 effort against Ottawa on Thursday, Vancouver and Sundin are finally focused on Toronto, not that Sundin is actually worried about the game.

There’s no question he too glanced at the schedule and knew his old team and new mates were destined to meet this season, but Sundin is a cool customer and at age 38, thick skin is part of his repertoire.

“I don’t know what the reception is going to be like and I can’t worry about it either.

“Who knows what’s going to happen, the only thing I know is that I really enjoyed the years that I spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs and they’re always going to have a place in my heart.”

Kind words like that, as opposed to stirring the pot and talking smack about his former club, should make it harder for Leafs fans to boo Sundin when they see him in Canucks colours for the first time.

“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 on the ice.”

Sundin may give them a reason to hate him during the game, however, as the former Toronto captain tore the Maple Leafs apart when he was with Quebec. In 11 games against the Buds, Sundin had seven goals and 10 assists (nine points (3-6-9) on the power play) was a plus-6 and had one game-winning goal.

One player ready to help Sundin burn his old team again is Kyle Wellwood, the other former Leafs forward who fell so far from the tree the Toronto media circus doesn’t include him these days.

Wellwood had his fun when the Maple Leafs were in Vancouver on Nov. 15, a game the Canucks won 4-2 with the Toronto castoff scoring the opening goal.

He wishes nothing but the best for Sundin in that the fans show him the respect he deserves, but on his end Wellwood is anticipating a Bronx cheer. And maybe some applause? Nah, probably just boos.

“I played for the Leafs for three years, I’m used to the booing so it won’t affect me,” laughed Wellwood, who was in Toronto from 2005 to 2008.

“I’m not sure, there could be some people cheering, there could be some people booing. It’s going to be a tough situation to guess.”

Knowing Maple Leafs fans the way I do – meaning not at all – I’ll take booing for $500. What is: both players hear it from the crowd because that’s just how they roll in the Big Smoke.

On Tuesday night, Leafs goaltender Justine Pogge made his first career start at the ACC and the untested rookie heard it from the Toronto faithful as boo-birds swooped at his head throughout the game.

The team in front of him was atrocious and Pogge did let in three goals on the first six shots he faced, but they were off turnovers and poor plays in the Leafs end.

If anything, Pogge getting booed solidified the fact that booing is the new cheering in Toronto – who knew.

With that in mind, Sundin and Wellwood both better treat this game just like any other, even though it will be far from it.




  All eyes on Sundin
How will Mats measure up?
Only fools rush in
How Swede it is
The little things...
It's official



  13 - Seasons Sundin spent in Toronto

3 - Years Wellwood was with the Maple Leafs

12 - Points for Sundin this season in 17 games (6-6-12)

21 - Points for Wellwood this season in 50 games (14-7-21)





RPM
Sundin so far
Sundin scores
Yes they did






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