Sundin's absence doesn't go unnoticed

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:36 PM ET

For the first time since 1994, the Maple Leafs opened training camp without Mats Sundin's giant shadow.

After a soap opera summer of will-he-or-won't-he return to the Leafs, reality set in yesterday that the captain and leading scorer likely is gone for good.

"Coming back here was always like the first day of school for him," said media relations director Pat Park, one of the few members of the club who pre-dates Sundin. "Our department had to keep an eye on him because he was in such demand, but he was very accommodating and low maintenance all the time he was here."

What equipment man Bobby Hastings remembered best was Sundin going out of his way at every camp to welcome newcomers.

"I started here as a 20-year-old in 2001, nervous as anything, and he made me feel right at ease," Hastings said. "It's really different with him not being here this year. He was a great player and an ever greater person."

Notable among the other missing Leafs yesterday at the Ricoh Coliseum were defenceman Bryan McCabe and winger Darcy Tucker, both eight-year men with the team, as well as goaltender Andrew Raycroft.

"You miss guys, but at the same time, you have to move forward," Matt Stajan said.

Coach Ron Wilson has been diplomatic where Sundin has been concerned, but politely reminded people the Leafs hadn't exactly been tearing up the NHL with him and the other vets at the helm of the dressing room.

"If the general leadership group was as good as people are implying, the team would've been making the playoffs the past three years," Wilson said. "I don't think this team is looking for one guy to lead them out of the mess. When you remove people who were big personalities from the room, it will probably allow others to grow."


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