Leafs honour Sundin's No. 13

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Mats Sundin acknowledges the fans at the Air Canada Centre as they raise...

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Mats Sundin acknowledges the fans at the Air Canada Centre as they raise a banner to the rafters retiring his number 13 in pre-game ceremonies before the Leafs NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto February 11, 2012. (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

Lance Hornby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:23 PM ET

TORONTO - As his No. 13 banner floated to the top of the Air Canada Centre, Mats Sundin thought of Maple Leafs past, present and future.

The 18th Leaf to be honoured and the club leader in career goals and points, touched on everything that fans wanted to hear, a rare chance for the franchise to celebrate someone’s feast from the post 1960s’ Stanley Cup years.

Sundin hugged wife Josephine as his banner was raised to the west end of the ACC, nestled beside countryman Borje Salming’s No. 21

in numerical order. Sundin recalled prophetic words of advice from the Leafs’ first Swedish great after Sundin joined the Leafs in 1994.

“Borje told me you will love Toronto and love being a Leaf. I didn’t know then, but I know it now.

“I miss going to the rink, the new season, I miss driving to the ACC with a knot in my stomach before a big game. But the thing I miss most are the people in Toronto. The spirit that lives in the citypeople who care about each other and their Leafs. No fans are more passionate about their team. For me to play the sport I love in the hockey capital of the world, I wouldn’t trade those memories.”

After a video tribute of his highlight goals — and some hilarious pictures of the gangly young Swede in his Jofa bubble helmet, Sundin was accorded almost three minutes’ standing ovation with fans chanting his name. Accompanying Sundin and Josephine to centre ice were parents Tommy and Gunilla.

“I was looking at my mom (Gunilla) and she was crying before I even got out on the ice,” Sundin said of trying to stop himself from tearing up.

Sundin had to stop several times at the start of his five-minute speech to acknowledge shouts from the crowd. But he made a heartfelt thanks to all the Leafs who shared time with him in 13 years, and gave a special tribute to those who’ve passed away since he retired, Wade Belak, Igor Korolev, Alexander Karpovtsev and coach Pat Burns.

He wrapped up by telling the crowd to support this new version of the Leafs, a club that is closer to making the playoffs than any post-Sundin club.

“Being a Leaf is a big honour. When you’re a young man in your 20s, it can be overwhelming. Support them, cheer them on and give them the extra energy they need to win games. I know what they’re going through.”

Trainer Brian Papineau tried to pass Sundin one of his leftover sticks as he walked on the ice. But Sundin, who turns 41 on Monday, will only play in exhibitions such as next year’s Winter Classic alumni match.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment announced it would partner Sundin’s new fellowship at the University of Toronto, after he donated $330,000 on Friday to help the study of maternal and child development.


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