Sight for sore eyes

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

The number of photographers and television cameras shoe-horned into Lakeshore Lions Arena yesterday normally are seen during the the arrivals of heads of state.

Then again, Mats Sundin is pretty much hockey royalty in this town, isn't he?

Exactly one month after being nailed in the left eye by a flying puck, the Maple Leafs captain practised for the first time since the incident with his overjoyed teammates, who marvelled at the speedy recovery of their leader.

"I think it had to do with all that swimming in the Baltic Sea he did as a kid -- the healing powers of salt water," winger Darcy Tucker said with a laugh.

After appearing comfortable in all the drills and embarrassing goalies Mikael Tellqvist and Ed Belfour during the shootout portion of the hour-long workout, an upbeat Sundin wanted to clear up some issues.

No, he does not feel he will be ready to step into the lineup tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, hoping instead to return either Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, or Sunday versus the Washington Capitals.

No, the vision in his left eye is not yet as strong as that in his right, although "it doesn't really make a difference when both eyes are open."

And yes, he still plans to wear a visor upon his return and "try my best to keep it on for a while, hopefully through the end of the year."

Coach Pat Quinn has not yet finalized who Sundin's linemates will be, although he has toyed with the idea of putting fellow Swede Alexander Steen on his wing.

Sundin accompanied the team yesterday to Carolina, where he hoped to get in a good workout at the morning skate today.

"It's great he's back on the road with us. Now he can buy dinner," Tie Domi said.

Sundin just laughed.

"I've bought them for him many times," he said. "It's his turn to buy one."

Sundin has plenty of reason to smile these days. He is on the verge of playing hockey again, something he feared might never happen.

"When (the injury occurred), the thought was definitely there," Sundin said. "The first few days, there is a concern. Nobody can tell you about eye injuries. It's a wait-and-see game."

"I'm very pleased. I feel fortunate. It went fine out there, just as I expected."

The 12-game absence was his longest continuous stint out of the lineup since joining the Leafs in 1994.

"It was frustrating," he said. "But at the same time I've always been fortunate when it has come to injuries."


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