February 10, 2012
Cujo: Sundin battled like a Viking
By CURTIS JOSEPH, Special to QMI Agency
During my time with the Maple Leafs when I had the pleasure of playing with Mats Sundin, that was kind of the way I looked at him.
Like a Viking.
Strong. Silent. Leading by example. A bull on the ice. Whatever it took to get the job done.
Most importantly, consistent.
During an NHL career that lasted almost two decades, I had the pleasure of being teammates with a lot of great players. During stops in St. Louis, Toronto, Detroit, Phoenix and Calgary, I was fortunate to be around a lot of highly skilled performers.
But you know what? To be honest, as good, even great, as some of those guys were, not all of them showed up to play every night.
Mats Sundin did.
When I look back, heís one of the best players I ever played with. He never missed his shift.
In fact, as I mentioned, he was like a Viking. He never lost his cool. He always kept his composure.
Come to think of it, he was probably the opposite of our coach at the time, Pat Quinn, who was never shy to show his emotions. In that way, they were probably good compliments to each other.
Mats wasnít Dougie Gilmour. Or Wendel Clark. Nor should he be. He had his own style and carved out his own legacy.
Did he get the respect he deserved in Toronto? Was he appreciated the way he should have been when he played?
Iím not sure I can really answer that. Or if it is really my place to judge him that way.
Hereís what I do know: he very much was respected and appreciated by the people who, deep down, really know the game. He was respected and appreciated by his peers. Those are the people who really matter ó the guys who lined up with and against him each and every night of the NHL season.
Mats was a horse out there.
I can remember, in the first couple of years that I was with the Leafs, Mats developed great chemistry with Steve Thomas. Those two guys just clicked out on the ice. They knew exactly where each other was out there and it often resulted in positive results on the scoreboard.
In my mind, he was a superstar. And some of his off-the-ice projects reflected that.
After all, you donít go to Los Angeles and film a rollerblade commercial where you end up flattening a guy against a window if you werenít one.
Remember that Nike spot? Thereís a fan in a Sundin jersey who is rollerblading around bodychecking people that get in his way. Suddenly Mats comes up from behind and smears the fan into the front window of a restaurant.
When you star in a commercial like that, youíre a superstar.
I faced Mats in practice more than enough times to know just how talented a player he was. Unfortunately, during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, it didnít pay off for me.
Heading into those Olympics, I wish I had gone into the opener against the Swedes without having gone four days since my previous game. The more I played, the more I wanted to play. Time off like that wasnít my favourite thing.
When all was said and done, it wasnít my best game. Proud to be representing Canada, we lost 5-2 against Sweden. At one point, Mats scored against me on a breakaway. I wish I could have been better. Like I said, it wasnít my best moment.
As for Mats, his outstanding performance didnít surprise me. As his Leaf teammate, I knew how he leads by example. I knew how hard he worked. He was great on the backhand. He was great on the forehand. All those things.
Most importantly, he played with consistency.
Saturday, Mats will watch his No. 13 go up into the Air Canada Centre rafters. From my perspective, it is well deserved.
(As a teammate with Mats Sundin from 1998-2002, goaltender Curtis Joseph won 133 regular-season games and 32 post-season decisions with the Toronto Maple Leafs.)