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.
After a quiet offseason shuffling of teams, you moved on. There had been no chance to say goodbye. No celebration. No fanfare. With a heavy heart, you had packed your bags and left… wondering if deep down, they missed you as much as you missed them.
Over the next few months with the Vancouver Canucks, it was clear that you were no longer the same player you once were. Maybe they were right. Maybe it was time to hang them up after all. But how would you be received when you came back home? Would you be booed? Resented? Would you become simply another in a long line of bittersweet endings for a notoriously harsh Maple Leaf faithful?
On Saturday, February 21st, 2009…you were reminded why you had fallen in love with the city of Toronto.