Mats Sundin Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame
By Tony Ambrogio (@SNTonyAmbrogio)
As Mats Sundin wrapped up his Hall of Fame induction speech, he looked up into the crowd and said to Maple Leafs fans everywhere, “I will never forget what you have given me.”
It was typical Sundin.
In his first year of eligibility, Mats Sundin joined Pavel Bure, Adam Oates and Joe Sakic into the NHL Hall of Fame.
“I dedicate my induction to everyone that supported me in my hockey career,” said Sundin.
When you consider how Sundin was for much of his career in Toronto the best player by a wide margin, Maple Leafs fans often wonder how much more team team success Sundin would have had if he had more support around him.
Sundin was able to lead the Leafs to the conference finals twice in his career. He did it with class, grace and humility. He was also a tremendous leader, cared for his teammates, and never shied away from the intense pressure of playing in Toronto.
“It’s a special place to play, it adds pressure to the team, the city cares so much about the team and it’s great,” Sundin said Monday, prior to his induction.
“It’s great when you win, but when things aren’t going as well as they should, it affects the team and you get more pressure from the outside. A 10-game losing streak in Carolina, no one’s going to notice. But you lose 10 games here, the guys on the team don’t really want to go out and have dinner. It affects it a lot more.”
Joe Sakic was impressed by Sundin’s ability to stay calm under pressure in the so-called capital of the hockey universe.
“He did it with nothing but class. What a tremendous leader,” Sakic said Monday, prior to his induction. “When you thought of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you thought of Mats Sundin. He really carried this team.”
Sundin’s achievements speak for themselves: He was the first European to be taken first overall in the NHL draft; he was the longest-serving non-North American captain in NHL history; he scored 564 goals, 754 assists (1,349 points) in 1,346 games.
Sundin may not have won a Stanley Cup but he did win 3 world championships, an Olympic gold medal and was an 8-time All-Star.
“He was the ultimate competitor,” former Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher told ESPN.com. “He was so durable. He was so consistent. He wasn’t a streak scorer or a streak player. He was everything a coach would want because you could count on him, game in and game out.”
Sundin wasn’t as flamboyant as Doug Gilmour. He lacked Wendel Clark’s infectious attitude. Following in their footsteps as captain was no easy task, yet Sundin was able to finally become a Leafs fan favourite, through a work ethic that was unmatched on the team.
“It is easy to like Wendel Clark or Doug Gilmour, the played a different game from Mats,” said Pat Quinn, Sundin’s coach in Toronto (1998-2006). “Yet, as a big guy, Mats made things look pretty easy. I thought he was a great captain.”
“Incredible consistency,” said former teammate Curtis Joseph to ESPN.com. “We would take some of that boring consistency on the Leafs right now, wouldn’t we?”
Sundin is the Leafs leader in points (987), goals (420), game-winning goals (79) and powerplay goals (124).
Winning a Stanley Cup is missing from his resume. For his teammates, it doesn’t take away from all he accomplished.
“I used to have coaches that would say, ‘You only remember the guys you won with.’ Well, I’ve had really good teammates that were absolutely soldiers and they never won [a Cup],” said Gary Roberts to ESPN.com, a Cup winner with Calgary in 1989. “Does that mean they weren’t good people? Ah, no. Mats Sundin was a wonderful teammate, a great person, and I don’t think any more or less of him because he didn’t win a Stanley Cup.”
During his induction speech, Sundin said: Playing professional hockey, being on a team, also taught me a lot about life. You find out who you are, what your strength is, and what your weaknesses are. It’s a great game where you develop skills, your character and your passion. Many coaches claim there is no I in the word team. But Pat Quinn always claimed the opposite. As an individual, you’re responsible for your own work, your own development as a player, don’t hide behind the group, look at someone else to get the job done. So I agree Pat, there is an I in team and that mentality helped me develop as a player and take responsibility for my own game.
When I landed in Toronto on Thursday afternoon, I came home. Driving in from the airport, reflecting on 13 years in Toronto: Living in the city, the friends I made over the years, teammates that I played with.
I thought of the fans — the incredible loyal fans — that bleed Blue and White.
I recall years ago driving down the Air Canada Centre, going down to a playoff game and passing people going to their offices. They’re wearing suits, with a Leaf jersey on top of it. Leaf fans that filled the Air Canada Centre to cheer us on, I will never forget what you have given me. I will never play an NHL game again. The great memories I get to keep forever. Thanks for everything.