Sundin saga finally ends

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

The media circus was in Edmonton yesterday as the six-month soap opera starring Mats Sundin finally came to an end.

Sundin made his long-awaited debut with the Vancouver Canucks last night when they took on the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.

It brought an end to months of speculation as to where the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain would play this season and when, after signing with the Canucks three weeks ago, he would actually get on the ice.

"I'm very excited," Sundin said prior to last night's game.

"I obviously haven't played at the National Hockey League level since last season, so I'm excited to get back in the mix here.

"I feel good. (Tuesday) and the day before I had two full practices with the team and I felt good.

"The body feels good and I'm ready to go. I know it's not a perfect situation coming into the season like this, it's a big challenge for me and I know I'll have to work every game to get back to where I want to be.

"We'll see how it goes. I'll keep it simple and try to play as hard as I can when I'm on the ice and we'll see what happens."

Sundin skated on a line with Kyle Wellwood and Mason Raymond against the Oilers, registering no points, no shots and no penalty minutes in 15:02 of ice time.

Not having played since April, it's expected he'll be eased into the lineup with his minutes closely monitored until he can get back up to speed with the pace of an NHL game.

"It's been a long journey for Mats just to get here," said Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness.

"He's worked very hard on his conditioning, he's been very patient with his decision and when he finally made it, we were very fortunate to be the team he picked."

Having registered 1,321 points in 1,305 career games, Sundin would be a welcome addition to any team in the league.

Last season, the native of Bromma, Sweden, scored 32 goals and added 46 assists with the Maple Leafs.

As an unrestricted free agent this season, Sundin had his choice of clubs to play for and eventually decided on the Canucks, who had offered a two-year deal worth $20 millon US last summer.

Needing some time to decided whether he was even going to come back to play in the NHL, he eventually ended up settling on $5 million for half a season.

"Things have gone very fast since I made the decision to play," Sundin said.

"Once you join the team and start practising, game-time comes pretty quickly."

The first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques back in 1989, Sundin knows what it's like moving on to play with a different team.

He played four seasons with the Nordiques before being traded to the Maple Leafs.

"I'm 37 this time around, I have a lot more experience, so I don't know if you can really compare it to that," he said.

"At the same time, there are some similarities, it's a change of cities and a different team and organization.

"But in the bottom of my heart, I'm happy I'm getting a chance to play again in the National Hockey League.

"At this stage of my career, I realized that if I didn't play this year, my career would very probably have been over."


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