In 2015, Mats Sundin was not in attendance for the unveiling of his statue on the Maple Leafs’ Legends Row. He was present.
To locate Mats Sundin, simply board a commuter train and head about 20 minutes north from central Stockholm into the suburbs of Sollentuna, Sweden.
Just a 10-minute walk away, a larger-than-life mural of him in mid-stride adorns the wall of a small red-brick arena, showcasing his speed and determination as he races up the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This is where “X” found success in a career that brought him considerable fame in two different continents.
After taking the 520 bus from Viby, a young Sundin began building the foundation to become one of the greatest players for an iconic NHL franchise. This was before either of the two rinks at the Sollentuna sports center had a roof.
During his time on the bandy rink, he was still perfecting his powerful skating stride with the extra ice time he dedicated to it.
Nowadays, Sundin leads a very private life. After leaving the NHL, he has hardly visited Toronto, choosing to live out of the public eye as a devoted husband to Josephine and a father to Bonnie, Nathanael, and Julian.
Sundin and his family had a unique experience in Stockholm this week. The red carpets were rolled out, ceremonial faceoffs took place, and there were appearances at Leafs practices and in the dressing room. These were all opportunities for him to reconnect with fans, players, and the franchise where he once served as captain and became a superstar.
Sundin’s photos adorn the game rink at Sollentunavallen, with a large one displayed inside the main doors. The vintage shot features him donning a Tre Kronor sweater and lists his point-per-game career totals in international and NHL play. Tucked in a secluded back office, there is a helmet without a visor securely mounted on the wall. It was worn by Sundin during his time with the Leafs. Adjacent to it is a framed blue sweater from his childhood, showcasing his time with Sollentuna Hockey.
Sundin comes back to the arena from time to time, where he earned a place on the wall of fame, to support his middle child when they have a game.
Niklas Kronwall, the former NHLer and one of the three coaches of the SDE under-10 team, praised Nathanael Sundin, saying, “He’s a great driver,” as Sundin sported the No. 7 jersey. Thirteen.
After completing a 15-year career with the Detroit Red Wings in 2019, Kronwall naturally transitioned into coaching the kids. He claims he has a lot of opinions about what’s going on during the game and wouldn’t be content just sitting in the stands like Sundin. Sundin arranged for the SDE U10 boys to attend the Maple Leafs practice at Hovet Arena, but he generally doesn’t get too involved in managing the team.
Sundin has actually only been on the ice with them once, and it was for a parents vs. kids game. The game for kids from the previous season.
Kronwall commented, “He appeared as if he could still be out there playing.” He was absolutely soaring in the sky. “Some guys never seem to lose their touch.”
In the main entrance of the Sollentunavallen arena, there is a poster featuring a young Mats Sundin in the Swedish national team uniform. The Athletic’s Chris Johnston reports…
“He was the heart and soul of the club in Sollentuna.” “Man, he’s massive,” exclaimed Rickard Rakell, who followed Sundin from Sollentuna to the NHL years later and currently suits up for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Patric Hörnqvist has strong ties to this area as well, having worked hard to go from being the 230th and last pick in the 2005 draft to a two-time Stanley Cup champion in his 901-game NHL career. He continues to reside in this suburban town with a stunning view of the Baltic Sea.
There is just one hockey player who has his picture displayed outside of the rink. Sundin is a singular presence, there is only one of him.
According to Rakell, he is at the same level as Nick Lidström and Peter Forsberg as one of the best players to come out of Sweden.
Sundin started his NHL career in Quebec and finished in Vancouver, but his heart was always in Toronto.
After spending 13 years with the Leafs, 11 of which he served as the team’s captain, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. During his induction, he expressed some regret about the final half-year he spent with the Canucks after a difficult ending to his time in Toronto. This occurred when he was asked to waive his no-trade clause in the middle of a playoff chase and refused.
In 2012, Sundin expressed that his time in Vancouver was positive, but he had a desire to end his career as a Maple Leaf.
He always felt uneasy about the organization’s decision to get rid of the captain when there was still a reason to keep fighting. He had put in a lot of hard work and dedication for the Leafs, playing a big role in helping the team reach the Eastern Conference final twice. He consistently carried a heavy workload without complaining, supporting average wingers.
Throughout the years, Sundin started to believe that winning a Stanley Cup with any other team wouldn’t be as fulfilling as the one he was pursuing in Toronto. That is the reason why it never seemed to fit or appear correct when his negotiating rights were exchanged to Montreal during the 2008 draft or when he participated in 49 games for Vancouver instead of having a 14th season with the Leafs.
Sundin’s time with the Leafs may feel like ancient history now. He played his last season with the team in 2007-08 and officially retired in September.
There was a hint of a disconnect in those actions.
Sundin was the sole living player from the NHL’s 100 Greatest of All Time who did not make an appearance at the gala in Los Angeles where the list was announced.