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Mats Sundin Memory # 5 - First European Captain

Sundin Habs
Sundin Habs

For the next two days, we're running 13 of our top memories of Mats Sundin as a Maple Leaf. There are more to choose from but Sundin captaining Sweden to Gold in 2006 and his years as a Nordique won't make an appearance on the list. For help, I enlisted Mats Sundin's biggest fan Eyebleaf to help come up with and number the list. It's far from exhaustive and your mileage may vary on our choices but these were the 13 that came immediately into our minds so consider it a small token of our appreciation for one of the greatest Leafs of all-time.

A funny thing about hockey is that while it apparently has the most progressive fanbase according to some, as a sport it is unbelievably conservative. The thought of a European captain was usually met with the standard response that no team had ever won the Cup without a Canadian captain. That was then amended to a North American captain before finally the Red Wings won the Cup with Niklas Lidstrom as captain and they were shown not to be complete pantywaists. Of course, in Toronto we'd known a bit longer than most that Europeans could make great captains. We'd known since 1997.

It's funny reading the Toronto Star to see that similarities to when Dion Phaneuf was named captain. Then, as recently, there was a lot of hand wringing about the lack of a captain. Don Cherry even approved of the decision which might be surprising until you consider it would have been hard not to have been impressed with Sundin's appointment. Shoalts' piece is filled with interesting tidbits like that one of Sundin's wingers was Derek King, the team was already dependent on Sundin for the majority of their offence, and this particular gem about the Leafs' roster:

Given how bad the team was last season, Dryden felt handing the team's fate over to a large group of young players was worth both the risk of stunting their development by prolonged exposure to losing and missing the playoffs again.

Funny how the conventional wisdom changes.

In the summer of 1997, Mats Sundin was named the 16th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, becoming the first European to have the honour. Sundin wore the "C" for 11 years, and wore it proudly. As loyal as they come, Sundin went down with the ship. Let no one tell you that Mats wasn't a leader. No, really, punch him, or her, if you hear that. Being the captain for as long as he was cost Sundin his beautiful, flowing blonde hair.