Sept. 4, 2003 (CP) - The captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs offered proof Thursday that hope springs eternal.
"As a player, I know I'm going into this year (and) I want to win a Stanley Cup," Mats Sundin said in a conference call. Asked if the Leafs were loading up this year or rebuilding for the future, the stylish Swede said the time is now - the Leafs have the talent to go to the final. "It's a time, a franchise, a town where I don't think we can really sit back and rebuild," he said from Sweden. "We've got to go for it this year again, just the way we've been trying the last few years . .."
The proud franchise has not won the Cup since 1967. And like every team since then, Sundin's Leafs are looking to end that string of futility.
The Cup drought is something that grips Leafs fans around the throat, while warming fans of other teams across the country.
On a more positive note, Sundin is looking forward to welcoming his teammates to his native Sweden next week for the start of a pre-season camp.
The Leafs leave Sept. 10 for Stockholm and Helsinki, where they will play games against Finland's Jokerit and Sweden's Djurgarden and Farjestad.
|Mats is excited to play host in his homeland.|
"Three really, really good hockey teams," was Sundin's assessment of the opposition, who will have been on the ice for a month compared to five days for the Leafs.
"On the big ice surface, I'm concerned," he said. "I want to make sure when we get there we're going to get some good practices in because we are going to face three teams who are going to be really excited to play against a National Hockey League team . . . We're going to have our hands full."
Sundin had to handle more than training camp questions on Thursday's conference call.
One beat writer asked whether Sundin expected the Leafs to make any more moves before the season "given the appalling lack of action by your superiors to improve the team over the summer."
"I'm not familiar with the strategy of our general manager," Sundin offered after a pause. "I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet. But I know the team that finished last year is a pretty good hockey team, even though we lost out in the first round.
"I think except for the first month of last season, we showed that we're a team that pretty much beat all the top teams throughout the season and I'm not worried about the start of this season either. I think we're going to be one of the top teams in the league. But it's always the same question - what parts are we missing to make that last run and make it to the Stanley Cup finals. It's really tough to say.
"I think I'm not the guy to answer whether or not more's going to happen."
Asked about Pat Quinn serving solely as head coach, now that John Ferguson Jr., has taken over general manager duties, Sundin stumbled a bit before concluding: "I think it might be positive that he can focus just on coaching. At the end, I hope it's going to turn out good for us."
"I'm glad that that's solved," he added.
But Sundin evidently obviously has not been able to keep up with all the twists and turns in Leaf Land. When rhyming off Leaf players that Swedish fans hoped to see, he included ("hopefully") Doug Gilmour. Ferguson has already said the veteran centre does not fit into his plans.
Key to the Leaf campaign will be a good start out of the gate, he said. But he believes the team can go deeper into the playoffs.
"I don't think there's a personnel barrier there. I hope it's more a mental thing that we can be a stronger group when we get into the playoffs this year than when we have in the past."
Swedish hockey fans are excited about the Leaf pre-season invasion, Sundin said. The Sept. 18 game against Djurgarden, where Sundin and Mikael Renberg used to play, sold out in hours.
"I've got a lot of tickets for sure," Sundin said of the two games in Stockholm.
"I think it's going to be a great thing for hockey in Sweden because there hasn't been a lot of excitement about Swedish hockey of late so hopefully this is going to be a great boost for hockey in Sweden," he added.
One Swede who won't be going home is former Leaf Jonas Hoglund. He signed with the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
The European leagues start a week after the games against the Leafs so the home sides may have the edge in training.
Sundin, meanwhile, has yet another date with a dentist upon his return to Toronto. He had several previous lengthy sessions in the chair after taking a puck in the mouth late last season.
"I'm going to wear a mouthguard for sure this year, there's no doubt about that," he said when asked whether he was considering more protection this year.
But retirement, for Sundin, will mean more time at home and unfortunately more time in the dentist's office.
In a somewhat chilling glimpse of what pro hockey players have to go through, he added: "Most of the dental work, for now until my career is over, is done.
"I have no problems chewing or anything like that. I've got some better teeth in now that's going to help me with all that stuff, that's no problem."