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Mats Sundin

Thanks to Vintage Leaf Memories’ Michael Langlois for stopping by to share some memories ahead of tomorrow’s Alumni games, set to be played in Comerica Park at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

When Alec Brownscombe asked me if I was interested in developing a piece for MLHS about the Winter Classic Legends games, my first thought was: who is on the roster? Will I enjoy writing about these guys?

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The Leafs faced the Bruins for the third time this season. The Bs have taken the first two games along with their 8 last games against the Leafs which made this a statement game for the Buds. A celebration of Sundin’s induction into the HHOF gave it some more flair and we all hoped it wasn’t going to be a repeat of the effort shown on last February’s Sundin night. Fortunately, they got a do-over.

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Corey Perry

With just over three weeks to go until the trade deadline, I feel as if I can get away with a rosterbation post without too much scrutiny. I’ll do my best to not go full HFBoards with my ideas, but certainly have a few players in mind that I’d like for the Leafs to target, and a few that I’d like Nonis to jettison. While I’m sure this won’t be the most intelligent post you’ll read this morning, hopefully it will at least spark some Monday morning conversation.

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Photo: Reuters/Fred Thornhill

The franchise’s all-time goals and points leader is a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Congrats Mats.

A model of consistency and clutch play for his 13 seasons in a Leaf jersey (11 spent as Captain) – breaking the major franchise records along the way – Sundin’s importance was also substantial in the European hockey community as the first ever European to be drafted first overall. At the time of his retirement, he was the longest serving non-North American captain in NHL history. He was the first Swede to join the 500-goal and 1000-point clubs and captained his national team to an Olympic gold medal in 2006.

For some Mats tributes, be sure to check out MLHS’ “Memories of Mats” series posted in the buildup to Sundin’s banner raising ceremony in February.

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Boxscore | Ice Time | Recap | Sundin Ceremony

On a special special night, where every player in a Leafs jersey wore No. 13 in warm-ups, Mats Sundin was once again welcomed home as a Leaf. Many consider him a hero and that’s the way it should be. He definitely earned his place in the rafters of the ACC because, in addition to the sublime talent and franchise record setting numbers, he had an undying loyalty and desire to win. Unfortunately, a beautiful speech and ceremony gave way to an absolute shitting of the bed by the current Leafs.

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Junior wraps up the MLHS ‘Memories of Mats’ series:

On June 28th of 1994, Cliff Fletcher, the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, traded Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a first round draft choice to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and a 1st round draft choice.

I resolved that day to hate that bastard Sundin forever.

I was 27 years old and had been a Leaf fan all my life.  I can remember the Dave Keon posters my Dad hung for me on my bedroom wall, around about the time I was starting kindergarten; inspiration for a smallish six year old wondering whether a little guy could play hockey against bigger opponents.  When I got a bit older, and Keon had been lost to the WHA, Darryl Sittler was the Leaf player I focussed on, curly hair flying as he racked up his ten point night, suiting up with the game’s best on Team Canada – and beating the Czechs in the Canada Cup.  I liked those players well enough, but my admiration for them couldn’t hold a candle to the way I felt about Wendel Clark.

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You could see it, feel it – even hear it. It was the complete overtime game-winning-goal experience, and in the playoffs, no less. Their first round opponent was the Ottawa Senators. It was here, in this newfound playoff rivalry, that the Battle of Ontario was truly born. And by the searing power of our Captain’s blade, it roared off to a memorable start.

Game 1. The Senators were second seed in the standings and the apparent favourites, but the Leafs – on the back of their oft-underappreciated gem of a leader – fought out a tight 0-0 tie into overtime. Steve Thomas executed a fairly textbook give-and-go at the Ottawa blueline. As he dished the puck to his Swedish linemate and dashed toward the net, Thomas couldn’t see Sundin step forward and take what has to be one of the most interesting shots I’ve ever seen…

Photo: Jan Dusing

Since I didn’t have a chance to watch many Leaf games in Crotia prior to 2004 (ones I caught were on satellite TV on a German program called DSF and tapes I got from virtually everywhere – that’s how I got to see Gilmour and Clark), I took every opportunity to watch Leaf players play international hockey. Occasionally, our national television took pity on us hockey fans and gave us World Championship games, like the quarterfinal in 2003, which featured Sweden and Finland in Helsinki’s Hartwall Areena.

As you are well aware, Sweden and Finland are big hockey rivals. To add to the flavour, the 2003 World Championships were held in Helsinki, Turku and Tampere, all Finnish cities. Coming in you already knew it was going to be a really emotional game. It turned out to be one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever witnessed in hockey.

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Photo: The Star

Mats announced that he would be exercising his no trade clause on February 25, 2008.  It may not be a popularly shared sentiment at this time, but this decision should be considered one of the Swede’s great moments as a Maple Leaf. Of course, it almost certainly won’t be remembered as such, as it is one of the few contentious things Sundin did in his career in Toronto (perhaps the only contentious thing, aside from his January 2004 attempt to use a broken stick as a discus-like instrument of Swedish wrath and frustration).

Sundin made a difficult choice knowing that many would not understand it. Painfully aware that in a city like Toronto, many would also lash out at him for it.  But as he said yesterday, loyalty was both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness.  The Swedish centerman was loyal to a fault, literally.

Photo: Graig Abel/Getty Images

What more can possibly be said about the way Mats got his 500th career goal? Slapper from the blue line? Check. Top corner snipe? Check. Third goal of the game, shorthanded, in overtime no less? You bet. In one of the biggest games of his career, Sundin performed with style. On a fairly disastrous 2006-07 Leafs squad, Sundin remained the sole bright spot of an aging core.

The game was a high scoring affair. As has so often been the case in Leafs games, defence was nowhere to be seen. Toronto would dominate most of the first, seeing vast stretches of time in the offensive zone on the cycle. Running into some penalty trouble, Calgary suffered the first goal against on a Tucker tally. Picking up a secondary assist on the goal was none other than Sundin. Not merely content with helping someone score, Sundin added his first goal of the night 7 minutes later. Sneaking into open ice near the side boards, Mats fired home a wrister as Calgary was caught sleeping. Number 498.

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Photo: sportsnet.ca

I am a young Maple Leafs fan, even around these parts. Not many know this, but I was born in 1995, and a Leaf fan from birth. Naturally, I don’t remember the hard-fought series against the Sabres in the spring of 1997, and I’ve only seen video of Sundin’s overtime winner against the then-powerhouse Senators in 2001. A year later though, I can say I truly started to bleed blue and white.

Only 7 years old at the time, I was slowly learning what it meant to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan from my father – who’d been one (and still is) for over 30 years. I received my first Leafs jersey that year, the same white home sweater Sundin scored in against the Hurricanes in that bittersweet game six. I remember gathering around the television in the comfort of my own home for game one – like we had for every playoff game that year – with my father and I on one couch and my mother – the farthest thing from a Leafs’ fan – sitting opposite from us.

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Photo: tosports.ca

It was a brilliant moment of catharsis that just seemed to sweep away the bitterness of the previous year.

Imagine yourself in Sundin’s place leading up to this moment. For twelve seasons, you had brought a level of commitment and excellence that undboubtedly would have placed you among the most distinguished hockey players in the history of a storied Original Six franchise. You had given your heart and your career to a management team that had failed to pay you back in turn. Even still, your teammates and most of all, the wonderful city of Toronto had been behind you all the way. Then all of a sudden, things changed. You were now a trade chip, being publicly ushered out the door. A sacrifice for the long-term betterment of the franchise. Somehow, your reluctance to play anywhere other than where your heart truly belonged had earned you criticism and scorn from the same media and fans that once praised your dedication to the city. It was painful.

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Photo: Slam! Sports

In the buildup to the Sundin’s banner-raising ceremony tomorrow night at the ACC,  the MLHS bloggers will each be sharing their most memorable Sundin moment. Dan Santos is up first with his reflections on Sundin’s six point night:

When reminiscing about my favourite Mats Sundin moments, the two I instantly remember are his 1-0 overtime winner against Ottawa and his late goal to tie Game 6 against the Hurricanes. However, another game is just as memorable to me because I was lucky enough to be in attendance. I am talking about Mats Sundin’s 6-point night against the Florida Panthers.

April 11, 2006. The Toronto Maple Leafs are desperately fighting for their playoff lives. A late-season surge, led by Jean-Sebastien Aubin of all people, has given the Leafs a glimmer of hope with just a handful of games left.

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Three Captains

Three Captains

Whether it is fair or unfair, our perceptions become our reality.

During an appearance on London radio’s “The Hook” with Norman James last Friday, our conversation at one point took an interesting turn toward the notion of player personality, and how it affects fan perception and the manner in which fans relate to the players.

It’s an interesting subject – the trichotomy of fan/player/team identity, and not one the majority of fans spend much time pondering. What is it, beyond star power, that draws fans to feel they have formed certain bonds with specific players they have never met? What is it that keeps others at arms’ length? Is it the nature of the players themselves, is it our own as fans, or is it perhaps both?

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Even before the clock struck midnight, it had become apparent Tomas Kaberle would remain a Leaf headed into 2010-11. Indeed TSN ended the wait at 11.57pm, officially announcing that all trade negotiations had come to an impasse after a morbid day of Tweets, updates and rumours boiled down to the status quo. Almost three years of trade speculation seemed to be distilled into a cathartic melting pot of emotion. For many this was the trade that would define the Leafs future and after all the hyperbole, one leaked offer from San Jose; Joslin and a first round draft pick, seemed to set an ominous tone for a day that ended in nought.

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It’s been a hot topic, and a touchy one at that for the better part of almost a year, since the day the trade was consummated.  The Toronto Maple Leafs, toward the end of the pre-season, announced that they had traded two firsts and a second round pick to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Phil Kessel, a young American born sniper who the B’s were having issues resigning.

It was a steep price to pay, but you have to give to receive, and in Kessel the Leafs got a bona fide goal scorer who looks like he could be a perennial 30 goal scorer (more on that later.)

And yet some people have cast Kessel to fail, no matter what impact he has on the Leafs, attaching him forever to the trade that brought him here.

This past week, Bill Watters took that to the extreme, and took a piece of integrity written journalism and turned into something sensational and downright wrong, all in the name of making Phil Kessel look as bad as possible because he doesn’t agree with the trade.

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It’s not every day the Maple Leafs name a new captain. In fact, it’s not every decade. Sundin was named in 1997, 13 years prior to the Leafs appointment of Phaneuf. And with the announcement being made in front of a room of roughly 100 media personnel, the message was relayed to the world using every different angle imaginable.

Instead of weighing the pros and cons, balancing the collective good choices of Burke and Wilson against the bad, MLHS is going to bring you into the event. Thousands of writers have provided their opinion but little time has been spent enabling the reader to form their own. So please, if you will, grab your notepad and follow us past the security and the media media check-in, and into the press conference that will see Dion Phaneuf named the 18th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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At an afternoon press conference at Real Sports Bar & Grill, the Toronto Maple Leafs made official the worst kept secret in the NHL by naming Dion Phaneuf the 18th captain in the club’s long and storied history (22nd if you count the St.Pats and the Arenas).

The Maple Leafs also unveiled the team’s new jersey design.  The new jerseys return the horizontal white stripes to the bottom of the sweater, in homage to past tradition.  For more on the new designs, please see Alec’s earlier post regarding the jerseys.

See the full list of TML captains after the jump.

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When Brian Burke became the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2008, Leafs Nation embarked on a new journey.  A new beginning.  With Burke at the helm, the Leafs organization finally had a general manager who had credentials.  Who had a winning pedigree.  Who had the exact type of attitude the Toronto market needed.

A man who wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone, and a man who wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a big move that may set the team up for the better in the long term, a characteristic it seemed so many Leafs GM’s lacked in between the time of Fletcher’s first run, and Burke being christened as the new head of the front office.

Finally, Leafs fans were able to legitimately talk about the “Big O”, and they weren’t faking it either.

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    With the Olympics wrapping up (and in the process Canada securing the record for most gold medals, capped off by our Men’s and Women’s hockey teams), the focus among hockey fans now shifts to the NHL trade deadline.

    While there are few untouchables on the Maple Leafs’ roster, speculation is that only a handful of players are likely to be dealt between Monday and Wednesday. Here’s a look at some of the speculation surrounding the most-talked about candidates to swap jerseys.