Salming reaches new heights

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Mats Sundin has scant memories of being five years old and running around the house in Bromma, Sweden, but does recall one day when his father Tommy called him to the TV set.

A guy named Borje Salming was getting a standing ovation at a game in far off Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, a salute from his NHL team's fans for a great game in the 1976 Canada Cup.

"My father was always impressed that Canadians would do that for a Swede," Sundin said.

Tonight, Sundin will watch Salming's No. 21 banner raised to the top of the Air Canada Centre along with the No. 4 of Red Kelly and the late Hap Day, joining five honoured numbers and two that are retired.

"What a great honour for Borje," Sundin said yesterday of the Hall of Famer. "He's an icon in Sweden, one of the best players ever."

Salming, who became a big wheel entrepreneur in his homeland, once had the chance to be the first European captain of an NHL team, so great was Leafs owner Harold Ballard's respect for 'The King'. He turned down the chance, calling it his greatest regret in two decades with the Leafs, but urged Sundin not to miss the opportunity when the club offered him the 'C' in 1997.

The two have now combined for more than 2,000 games with the Leafs.

Clarence Day was the only Leaf to serve the team as captain, coach and general manager. The Owen Sound-born defenceman was on the first Leafs Stanley Cup team in 1932 and guided the team to five more in the 1940s.

Kelly came to the Leafs in a 1960 trade with Detroit and became part of four Cups within the decade. A defenceman with Detroit (he was given No. 4 as a Leaf in recognition of Day), he made the switch to centre and led the Leafs in playoff points in their last glory decade.

The Simcoe native won the Lady Byng Trophy four times and coached the Leafs in the mid-1970s, with Salming as his best defenceman.


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