February 14, 2006
Third time lucky for Sundin?
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
TURIN -- There is a scrape beneath Mats Sundin's nose, a welt beside it, a cut below, and yet he probably has never looked better, happier or more excited in his life.
This is what happens to Sundin at the Olympic Games.
Somehow his built-in stoicism is replaced by an almost child-like glee.
As he looked around the practice rink at Torino Esposizioni yesterday and breathed in the Olympic air, he smiled more, laughed louder, didn't seem to care that he was sharing a room with five others in the athletes village, didn't care that his bed may be too small.
This is his third Olympics, almost certainly his last.
"But it's still a treat," he said.
A treat in the midst of what has been the most disturbing season of Sundin's hockey life.
Here it begins anew for him, a clean, fresh start in the middle of February.
A chance to find the joy and the legs he left behind. An opportunity to put the troubles of this Maple Leafs behind him and concentrate only on the next two weeks.
Playing for himself and for his country. Playing with old friends. Going back to his roots. Being captain in another colour. More important now that Peter Forsberg's status remains so much in question.
You could see it on the practice ice yesterday, just how much fun it can be. Only half the Swedish team had even arrived and they looked like kids fooling around on the ice, playing along with their coach, Bengt Gustafsson, and the manager, Mats Naslund, all of whom looked like were enjoying a brisk skate among friends.
But the pressure will come shortly.
That is the unfortunate accompaniment of the Olympic Games.
This may be his second chance in the same season but it is his third Olympic opportunity. And if his life with the Maple Leafs has taught him anything, getting close to winning doesn't count for much.
Sundin doesn't want to come away from another Olympics empty-handed after missing the podium in his first two tries.
And this is when you see why the players -- and not necessarily the owners or the general managers -- want so desperately to be here.
This isn't about money or contracts or performance bonuses or any of the perks that come along with being a well-paid professional athlete.
This is about living and loving an experience. And that, by itself, can't necessarily be quantified.
"I would like to get a medal from one of these tournaments," he said. "I haven't got one yet so it's nice to get a third chance."
Four years ago the heartache was unbearable. Sundin fell to the ice as though he had been shot when the clock counted down on the Swedish dream. He was that devastated. Sweden was probably the best team at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and Sundin was probably the best player.
But none of that mattered after a puck bounced off Tommy Salo's head and ended up in the net.
Those kind of defeats can be life-altering.
"We've had pretty good round-robins at the Olympics and early exits after that," the Leafs captain said. "I'd like to change that.
"But just to be able to participate in this, my third Olympic Games, that's great. It's something I'll cherish for the rest of my life.
"There's something about this, knowing you're competing against the absolute best in the world. It's a great event and fun to play."
In his first Olympic game, rather than have Nik Antropov on his wing, he will be playing against Antropov and Kazakhstan. He probably will be flanked by Daniel Alfredsson and Freddie Modin, which is unfamiliar and heady territory for Sundin.
Sundin has scored a meek 11 times this National Hockey League season; Alfredsson has 34 goals, Modin 25.
When was the last time Sundin played with someone, anyone, who was more explosive than he?
Like everything else here, that seems so very new and very exciting.
"I hope this tournament is going to help me," he said.
"I hope I can use it for the rest of my season and I hope the rest of the Maple Leafs who are here will enjoy it and come back with a fresh mind."