Welcome Mats out

Mats Sundin (right) celebrates Ryan Kesler's second goal against the Flames last night. (Sun...

Mats Sundin (right) celebrates Ryan Kesler's second goal against the Flames last night. (Sun Media/Al Charest)

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:36 PM ET

Standing in the middle of a sizeable Saddledome scrum sure to be quadrupled by the time he hits Toronto this weekend, Mats Sundin made a prediction yesterday.

"It's going to be emotional," said the 38-year-old yesterday when asked about his Hockey Day in Canada homecoming at Air Canada Centre Saturday.

"I think everybody's got emotions, no? We'll see on Saturday."

While it's tough to envision the towering centre reduced to a sobbing Swede as the cameras follow him circling in warmup, the issue needed to be pressed.

So, the longtime Leafs star was asked if he's a weeper.

More specifically, enquiring minds want to know if he cries watching chick flicks. How about Field of Dreams? Free Willy?

"I don't know if I want to talk about that," said Sundin, breaking into a grin as if sifting mentally through his DVD collection. "It's too personal."

Whether they well up or not, all eyes will be on Sundin when he makes his first return to Toronto as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

Beloved throughout his 13 years as one of the most consistent, dominating players of an era, the former Leafs captain left last spring under a cloud of controversy.

Claiming he didn't want to be a rental player, the pending free agent outright refused to waive his no-trade clause, preventing the Leafs from picking up a prospect and a draft pick or two as they finally embarked on the rebuilding process they should've started years earlier.

Then, eight months and 8,000 rumours later, he resurfaced on the left coast as -- wait for it -- a rental player, ending a lengthy Swedish vacation by suiting up with the 'Nucks after Christmas.

And just as it appears he's shaken most of the rust off to be a contributing member of Vancouver's second line, he's thrust into a four-game Canadian road trip that began last night in Calgary and winds its way through the city he once ruled.

"I played in Toronto for 13 years, and it's always going to be considered home, and the Toronto Maple Leafs will always have a place in my heart," said Sundin, saying all the right things yesterday.

"I have no regrets in all my 13 years with the Maple Leafs. I have nothing but great things to say about the city, the organization and the fans. It was outstanding to be part of that for all these years, so I look forward to going back and being part of that.

"It's going to be an emotional day, but once the puck drops, it'll be like any other game."

Right.

And while there's little doubt he'll be welcomed by a standing ovation sure to drown out the small factions of dissenters, he isn't willing to speculate on his greeting.

"I haven't really thought about it too much, but one of the things I've learned playing in this league for 17 years is you can only worry about the things you can control," said Sundin, having mastered the art learned by most Toronto athletes of talking while not saying anything.

"There's going to be a lot of stuff going on, and I'll leave that to other people."

Tabbed early on as an $8.6-million bust in Vancouver, Sundin has since found a home between Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kesler, picking up six goals and five assists in 16 outings to help turn his club's fortunes around of late. Yet he obviously believes there's plenty of room for improvement.

"It feels better and better -- I've said all along, it's a process for me," said Sundin, booed several times last night in his first taste of the Flames-Canucks rivalry.

"After 15 games, I don't know if it's better than I thought it would be, but it's not worse either.

"I knew coming in mid-season, it was going to be a challenge coming into the NHL and competing against the best players in the world when everybody's been going for three or four months. It's been pretty much what I expected."

Come Saturday, that could all change.


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