Mats Sundin thanked his family, teammates, coaches and the fans of Toronto before a banner honoring his No. 13 was raised to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre prior to the Maple Leafs' game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
The Leafs also honored Sundin, the franchise's all-time leader in goals (420) and points (987) by having all of their players wear jerseys with his uniform number during warmups. He was saluted with a video presentation of career highlights and a roaring, tumultuous ovation when he was introduced to the sellout crowd – many of whom wore jerseys with his name and number.
"The No. 1 thing I miss about being retired and not living in Toronto is the people of Toronto," said Sundin, who lives in his native Sweden. "They are friendly, warm people who care about each other and care about their beloved Maple Leafs. There are no fans more loyal, passionate or committed about their team than you Leaf fans."
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Sundin thanked his former teammates and coaches – specifically citing the late Pat Burns -- and remembered ex-Leafs Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev, who died in the plane crash that claimed the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team last September.
"They were great teammates who left us too soon," he said.
Sundin, taken by Quebec with the first pick in the 1989 NHL Draft, was traded to the Leafs in June 1994 and quickly became one of the most consistently productive players in the franchise's long history. During his 13 seasons in the blue and white, he never missed more than 12 games in a full 82-game season and never had less than 72 points. He had a pair of 41-goal seasons; in the first one, 1996-97, he also put up a career high of 94 points.
The Leafs let Sundin leave as a free agent after the 2007-08 season, and he played 41 games for the Vancouver Canucks in '08-09 before retiring.
"I was fortunate to become a Maple Leaf," he said, "fortunate to wear the blue and white for 13 years, fortunate to play the sport I love in the hockey capital of the world."
Sundin also put in a plug for this year's team, which is trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
"The players who represent the Leafs now are young and hungry, eager to win," he said. "Support them, cheer them on, give them the extra energy they need to win hockey games."
Sundin became the 16th player to be feted with an "honored number" – the numbers are re-issued, though current GM Brian Burke has cut down on the number in use, saying he feels that "honored numbers should be honored." The only current Leafs to wear honored numbers are Cody Franson (No. 4) and Colby Armstrong (No. 9).
Toronto has retired only two numbers: No. 5 in honor of Bill Barilko, who died in a plane crash soon after scoring the Cup-winning goal in 1951, and No. 6 in honor of Ace Bailey.