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Sundin announces end to brilliant career

by Phil Coffey

"I would have loved to play until the age of 65, but as a hockey player you obviously retire a little earlier than that."
-- Mats Sundin

Regrets? Not a one.

Fun times? Too many to name.

That's how Mats Sundin summed up his NHL career Wednesday at a news conference in Stockholm where he announced he was retiring after 20 seasons, 18 of which were spent in the NHL.

"It's a little sad to announce that my career as a professional hockey player is over," Sundin, 38, told reporters at a press conference in Stockholm. "I would have loved to play until the age of 65, but as a hockey player you obviously retire a little earlier than that."

Now the clock begins ticking on his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Sundin ranks among the great players to ever lace up a pair of skates, and he leaves the NHL as an iconic figure, especially in Toronto where he was the Maple Leafs' long-time captain and the face of the franchise. In all, Sundin played 13 seasons with Toronto, becoming the longest-serving European captain in NHL history.

"Toronto is and will always be my second home," Sundin at the press conference at Stockholm's Grand Hotel.

"The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club would like to congratulate Mats Sundin on a tremendous playing career in the National Hockey League," said General Manager Brian Burke. "Mats always carried himself in an exemplary manner both on and off the ice. As captain of the Leafs for over a decade, his commitment to charitable initiatives within our community was extraordinary.

"He will go down in history as one of the greatest players to ever wear the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. We extend our best wishes for continued success to Mats and his family."

Sundin leaves the NHL as the top scoring Swedish player in League history, with 564 goals, 785 assists and 1,349 points during a career that was played exclusively in Canada, first with the Quebec Nordiques, then the Leafs and last season with the Vancouver Canucks. He was an eight-time NHL All-Star.

Despite his greatness, Sundin never played on a Stanley Cup-winning team, but he told reporters that doesn't diminish from the enjoyment he had playing in the NHL. He was the Maple Leafs' captain from 1997-2008, second in length in team history only to George Armstrong's 12-year captaincy. Sundin led the Maple Leafs to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999 and 2002.

"A Stanley Cup ring would've been nice to have, but in all honesty I've experienced and won so much since I landed in Quebec as a 19-year-old," he said at the press conference. "It feels like I've experienced so much more than I could ever have imagined."

Especially on the international stage, where Sundin became a national hero in Sweden. Sundin played on Swedish teams that won the World Championship in 1991, 1992 and 1998. But his greatest career moment came in 2006 when he captained Sweden to the Olympic gold medal in Turin, Italy. In the gold-medal game against Finland, Sundin assisted on Nicklas Lidstrom's winning goal.

"You can't do much more than what he has done for Swedish hockey," said Red Wings defenseman and Stockholm native Niklas Kronwall. "He has been a big, big key to all of our success for many, many years. To win in Turin in the Olympics is obviously a great ending to his time with the national team.

"He's looked upon as one of the greatest to ever play in Swedish hockey."

"I remember how everyone in Sweden reacted when Mats was picked first overall in the 1990 draft," said Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Fredrik Modin, who played on national teams with Sundin as well as three seasons together in Toronto. "When we were growing up, the national team was very big and we didn't see a lot of the NHL until recent years. We didn't see much of Mats when he was in the NHL but then he would come back and play for the national team and they were very successful.

"The Swedish people think of Mats as one of, if not the best player because of all his success with the national team, winning World Championships and the 2006 Olympic gold medal.

"It was great to see him win with that team. We had some phenomenal players and it was nice to see Mats involved with Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom, the top three Swedish players in the past few decades. They took that team to the gold medal. Mats never had a chance to win the Stanley Cup, like Nick and Peter did, so it was nice to see him win that gold medal. I know it meant a lot to him."

Sundin delayed his return to the NHL last season, signing with the Canucks and appearing in 41 games, scoring 9 goals and 19 assists. He returned to Sweden after the Canucks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There were rumors that he was contemplating a return this season, but that was wildly optimistic thinking as Sundin, who got married in August, assessed the grind of playing another season.

"I've begun to feel that it's quite nice to sit on the sidelines and not play a match every day, and that's why I feel this is the right decision," Sundin said Wednesday. "My body isn't up to the every-day wear and tear of the NHL anymore."

Sundin's NHL journey began in 1990 when he became the first European selected as the top player in the NHL Entry Draft. Sundin was taken by the Nordiques, who made one of the most astute selections in draft history.

Sundin finished to Joe Sakic on the team in scoring as a rookie, with 23 goals and 36 assists.

"I played on a line with Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic that year," recalled Tony McKegney, NHL Ambassador, Hockey Is For Everyone. "Mats was a tall, fairly thin kid with a long reach and shy. Even then, he was a great, great player. The first time I saw him was in a scrimmage at training camp. He picked up a puck in his end and went through the whole team and scored.

"Mats played right wing that year, before he transitioned to being a center. We had a weak team. I'll never forget we lost 14 games in a row that year. Guy Lafleur played with us that year and all the kids looked up to him but the team was grooming Sundin and Sakic to take over. My early impression of Mats was that he was a good all-round player who did everything well."

As for the future, Sundin said he would be moving back to Sweden and said he would assess his future going forward.

"I don't know if I'll be involved in hockey in the future," he said. "But I will always have a close relationship with hockey. My love for hockey will always be there."
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