Saturday, October 13, 2007

Magnificent Mats!

We've been distracted by the ugly side of the NHL the last few days, but Thursday night saw one of the "nice" guys of the NHL finally get his due.

Mats Sundin entered the Maple Leaf record books on Thursday, as he became the Leafs' top career goal scorer and points leader, passing long time Leaf favourite Darryl Sitler for the top honours for the Leafs.

The record breaking night came during Sundin's 912th NHL contest, a long time has passed since the youngster from Sweden first arrived on North American shores in time for the 190-91 season, but even in his early days as a Quebec Nordique hockey fans knew that we had a keeper.

Sundin was part of a remarkable squad in Quebec that seemed to reinvent the art of hockey, they style and speed of those Quebec years showcased the sport at its most entertaining level. He wouldn't be a Nordique for long however as then Leaf GM Cliff Fletcher engineered one of the more controversial trades in Maple Leaf history.

Fletcher sent the extremely popular Wendel Clark off to Quebec in exchange for Sundin, a solid hockey move as things would turn out, but on which saddled Sundin with a fair amount of baggage in his new home. He would never come close to achieving the kind of stats that he was on track for in Quebec,

The Maple Leaf nation hasn't always been kind to their captain, but never has Sundin said a disparaging word about the organization, the fans or the city. He's been nothing but the perfect ambassador for hockey in the city that claims to be its heart and soul and is the self described centre of the hockey universe.

Perhaps as he edges closer to the stage exit, Maple Leaf fans can reflect on his time in the blue and white. His biggest disappointment is no doubt the inability to help deliver a Stanley Cup to Toronto, but putting any blame on his shoulders would seem to be folly. The problems with the Maple Leafs have much deeper roots and a much longer history than their Captains time with the club.

Sundin would never come close to achieving the kind of stats that he was on track for in Quebec, while with the high flying Nords in 1992-93 he compiled 114 points, it would be a points total that he never would come close again.

The supporting cast in Toronto has never been particularly strong, the missing pieces never properly addressed. In a way the Leafs have squandered their opportunities by not surrounding their captain with more capable talent, able to make the best of his style of play.

Number thirteen has spent thirteen years as a Maple Leaf, a long and no doubt frustrating journey. On a team that has provided much in the way of disappointment, Sundin was a rare flash of potential and the chance each year for Leaf fans to dream that maybe this was the year.

In a week that the NHL had to once again come to grips with the ugliest of its persona's, it was a welcome relief to share in the joy of achievement from someone who has always played the game the way it should be played!

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