Memories of Mats Sundin: January 21, 1995 – The First Of Many

Memories of Mats Sundin: January 21, 1995 – The First Of Many

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With 987 points in 981 games as a member of the Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin created his fair share of memories for Toronto fans. While most can recall where they were when he achieved many of the moments of greatness which will long live in the lore of Leafs‘ history, few can recall either his first goal or first assist in a Toronto uniform.

At the NHL draft in 1994, Cliff Fletcher shocked the Leafs‘ fanbase with a blockbuster deal that sent fan favorite Wendel Clark, stalwart blueliner Sylvain Lefebvre, prospect Landon Wilson and the Leafs‘ 1st round pick to Quebec for the then-23 year old Sundin, veteran defender Garth Butcher and the Nordiques’ 1st round pick.  The Leafs subsequently dealt the Nordiques’ pick, along with winger Rob Pearson, to Washington for veteran centre Mike Ridley and the Capitals’ 1st round pick.

Sundin’s debut in a Toronto uniform would be delayed by the 1994-95 NHL  lockout, which after all was said and done would shorten the season to 48 games.  Oddly, the extended break actually worked in Sundin’s favor in terms his reception by Toronto fans and media. Clark, after all, had been revered in Toronto, and the initial backlash to the trade was both predictable and understandable.  But by the time the season opened in January, only brief mention of the deal was made in the Toronto newspapers, and the negative sentiments surrounding the trade had mostly faded away.  Of course, it would only take a few below-par performances for the second-guessing to begin, a fact of which Sundin was surely aware.

On January 20th, 1995, the Leafs would finally open their season with a west coast road trip.  The first game, in Los Angeles, was nothing to write home about: clearly missing the presence of former team leaders Clark, Lefebvre and Bob Rouse (signed by Detroit), the Leafs struggled to find consistency, blowing an early two-goal lead and settling for a 3-3 tie. However, Sundin was credited with an assist — indeed, he recorded his first point as member of the Leafs in his first game — on a goal by Dmitri Mironov.

“The Big Swede” would not have to wait long to score his first goal as a member of the Leafs.  The next night, in San Jose, he took a nifty feed from Doug Gilmour and flipped it over a sprawling Arturs Irbe to open the scoring just 1:24 into the game. It was the kind of play fans would come to refer to as “vintage Mats”: drive hard toward the net, find the gap in coverage, and snap home the cross-ice feed before the defender had time to react. Unfortunately, much like the previous night the Leafs could not hold onto the lead, eventually losing the game 3-2 (in which Kenny Jonsson became the first in a long line of media- and fan-created scapegoats on the Toronto blueline, a tradition which continues to this day).

For the season, Sundin would go on to record 47 points in 47 games, and a further 9 points in a heartbreaking 7-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs.  He would continue to produce at or above the point-per-game threshold — the same threshold established in his first two games as a member of the Leafs — for ten of his thirteen seasons in Toronto.

Although I was unable to track down video of his first goal in a Leafs’ uniform, a trip to the library produced a grainy photograph of the first of Mats Sundin’s franchise-record 420 goals as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Behind the defense, untouched at the doorstep. Vintage.

Mats Sundin scores his first goal as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs

(Front page of the Toronto Star sports section, already in full-out “blame Kenny Jonsson” mode, January 22, 1995.)

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