But above that desk, there’s a poster on the wall. Besides my great grandparents old bedroom set, of everything that has been stashed or stored or kept in my room from our family’s moving in during the summer of 1994 until this very day, that poster has been there the longest. As a young six year-old, upon hearing there was a surprise waiting for me there, I recall the joy I felt when I laid my eyes on that poster for the first time…
It was a brand new, hard cover, poster of Mats Sundin, who (circa 1994) was just a young forward of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team – a sport I’d just learned to enjoy after moving on from the Ninja Turtle and Power Ranger craze that highlighted most of my memories while living in Oakville prior to the move that summer.
Later that winter, my dad built a rink in our backyard and I learned how to skate. That would lead to power skating and soon enough league hockey.
My jersey number was 13, which was not only my favourite number but it was also Mats’ number too.
Then there’s the video of my 7th birthday party in 1994:
After a day of fun @ Fantastic Kids, (which used to be an indoor playground in the plaza beside the Promenade Mall, before it closed down a year later or so), the video takes us to the home family room where footage captures a young Tevy Pilc opening up his birthday presents with great excitement. As happy as I was, nothing could prepare me for my last present, which was from my parents. It was inside a National Sports Gym bag, which to me at that time could mean only one thing – my own (and first ever!) Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey.
And so it was. And after the “Nintendo 64 kid” like reaction and celebration, I’m asked by my parents whose name I want on the back of the jersey.
Immediately I reply: “Sundin!!”
I never got that name on the back my jersey. In fact, I quickly outgrew and eventually got another one (the cool 3rd jersey from the 40’s) and that one remained nameless as well. I justification was that no name meant I was cheering for team rather than the player. It would always be my Leafs Jersey rather than my “Insert Name here” jersey.
And yes, although I’ll claim that Doug Gilmour was my favourite player of all-time, in all honesty – his best play was before I began to follow.
It was Sundin, the model of consistency, leadership and dedication and so much more that followed me throughout my childhood and adolescent admiration of hockey.
Yesterday morning, after 18 seasons – 13 of them as a Maple Leaf, Mats Sundin announced his retirement from the game of hockey ending a truly magnificent career.
Drafted 1st overall in the 1989 Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, where he spent four seasons before being traded to the Leafs prior to the 1994-95 year, Sundin would go on to become the heart and soul of Leafs Nation until he finished last year with the Vancouver Canucks.
In every season as a Leaf from 1995-6 to his last season in 2007-08, Sundin played no less than 70 games, and scored no less than 73 points – his lowest numbers!
You could always expect 30 goals and 75 points from Sundin no matter what.
He made mediocre players like Jonas Houglund, Derek King, Mike Johnson, Igor Korolev, Dmitri Kristrich, Mikael Renberg, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Alex Steen,… much better players than they should’ve ever been. He made great players like Steve Thomas, Gary Roberts, Frederick Modin, Sergei Berezin (say what you want about him, he was solid) and Darcy Tucker into fan favourites and integral producers for the team.
And even though he went out in a”Brett Favre/Roger Clemens” kind of fashion where he couldn’t decide what he wanted to do and then eventually played in Vancouver for half a season, I’m sure the applause he’ll receive when his number is risen to the rafters or when he is inducted to the Hall of Fame will drown out the annoyingness of his final months as an NHL player.
And that doesn’t do it, than memories should instead:
– Like that last second goal he scored against Carolina in Game 6 of the Conference Finals in 2002 (I think I was hyperventilating when that happened)
– Scoring in overtime against Ottawa in Game 1 in Round 1 of the 2001 playoffs when he pump faked just inside the blueline and scored for a 1-0 Leafs win
– A late goal against Philly in 2004 to make it 3-2 Flyers in that cursed Game 6 (last game for Leafs before lockout – eliminated)
– Setting up Thomas TWICE in 2000 against Ottawa in Game 5 of Round 1 of the playoffs. Once, to tie the game very late, the other for the overtime winner!
– The game winning goal of Game 2 of the 1999 first round series versus Philly
– 4 points against Pittsburgh in Game 2, Round 2, 1999
And there are so many more…
Or for me personally:
– December 16, 1999: My first ever Leafs game @ Maple Leaf Gardens against the Phoenix Coyotes (Can’t recall the seats off hand, but I still have the ticket – Bob Pulford was on it – last year @ MLG specials). The Leafs won 5-2 and although Igor Korolev scored two goals, it was Mats Sundin who notched the Leafs’ fifth goal that evening.
All I can say is thank you for everything, Mats. Thanks for the memories, my childhood and everything else you did for the city of Toronto and it’s Maple Leafs.
Now go enjoy your retirement.
I’ll post a photo of the poster later…