Bore Mats

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

It was much a-boo about nothing.

Mats Sundin, looking like he had more rust on him than a 1971 junkyard Volvo, did nothing.

As events go, the return of the large ex-Leaf to the NHL after a nine-month absence, was a large letdown.

If it hadn't been for the booing, you wouldn't have noticed him out there.

Sundin was booed early, if not often. Not that he noticed.

"Only before the game. I didn't hear anything after that. I'm not going to worry about it, either," he said.

Sundin had no goals, no assists, no points, no shots, no giveaways, no takeaways and no hits.

INVISIBLE

He was as invisible as a six-foot-five player can be in playing 15:02 in his first game back in the NHL after nine months, giving birth to his return as a $5-million rental player with the Vancouver Canucks.

Sundin, who walked into the visitors dressing room for the morning skate and saw the names Sedin, Sundin and Sedin on side-by-side-by-side stalls.

If there was a highlight, and there wasn't, it was the two occasions when coach Alain Vigneault made the play-by- play man's worst nightmare come true by playing Sedin, Sedin and Sundin together on the power play.

Why would an Edmonton crowd boo Mats Sundin?

What had he ever done to deserve that here?

O.K.. The guy has long been identified with Toronto, and one never needs a real good reason to boo anything associated with Toronto.

But Sundin had previously played 41 previous games against the Oilers, scored 20 goals and registered 44 points and had never been booed here before.

Maybe it was a response to the months of Sundin soap opera the fans suffered through to get to the, er, great moment.

Maybe it was all those Leaf fans who show up when Toronto is in town. There didn't appear to be a single, solitary Toronto Maple Leaf sweater in the crowd. Maybe those fans came to boo the big Swede like Oiler fans boo Chris Pronger, Mike Comrie and until his last trip in after all these years, Jason Arnott.

The study will be continued when Sundin and the Canucks pay in Calgary Feb. 17, Ottawa two days later, particularly in Toronto on Feb. 21 and Montreal three nights later.

When Sundin's picture appeared on the scoreboard prior to the Canucks taking the ice, it was about half and half between boos and cheers.

But at 1:13 when he took his first shift, it was almost entirely boos. When he finally had the puck on his stick for about two or three seconds in the Oiler end midway in the first period, he was booed again.

The was pretty much it as Sundin had only five shifts in the opening period for 3:08 of ice time. The rest of the night was pretty much a hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers.

Sundin, who allegedly had been working out for weeks in Los Angeles before he signed the contract with the Canucks three weeks ago, looked like he would be several games before you could expect him to look like his old self.

"I feel all right actually," he said when it was over. I felt better than I expected, physically. It's the timing and stuff like that."

There was one occasion when Steve Staios got in his face and said some things.

"I don't know why he was on me," said Sundin, who said if there was a welcome back to the NHL moment "I guess it was Staios. It was just good to get back to a sold-out NHL hockey game."

Vigneault said the rust removal is going to take time.

"The guy has had two real practices. What can you expect? It'll take a couple more games for him to be the player he expects to be and the one we need him to be."

PERSONAL NOTE

One thing. I was one person in the press box who could say there was a day when I saw Sundin look worse.

That was just prior to Christmas in Sweden during the lockout year when I made the mistake of taking the IMG tour with 10 stops in 13 days from Riga, Lativia to Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia to Bern, Switzerland, Pilsen, Czech Republic, Oslo, Norway, Kotowice,Poland and three cities in Sweden.

Between games in Jonkoping and Linkoping, Sundin took the team to Stockholm where he hosted one of the more legendary parties in hockey history.

The next day the players on that team, especially Sundin, had trouble making it from one end of the ice to the other.

He was much better last night.


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