Sundin wants to make some noise

Originally published on EuroReport in 1999

By Lucas Aykroyd

The silent Swede sat in a sled, staring at a snowbank outside Stockholm.

That’s definitely not Mats Sundin. In conversation, his affable personality is eons removed from the somber tone of an Ingmar Bergman film. But the Toronto Maple Leafs captain must hope he makes more noise on the ice during the regular season than he did in a pre-season clash against the Vancouver Canucks on 17 September at GM Place.

Despite logging more minutes than any other Maple Leaf forward (17:05), the 10-year veteran was held pointless and registered one shot on goal in a 3-1 Toronto win that lifted the team’s record to 2-2-0. In three exhibition games so far, Sundin has just one assist.

The 6-4, 225-pound center faces a sizeable challenge in 1998-99. Hockey-crazed Toronto expects him to lead his team deep into the playoffs again. But if Maple Leaf fans think it’s going to be another cakewalk to the Eastern Conference finals this year–like last year’s conquest of Philadelphia minus Eric Lindros and Pittsburgh with a hobbled Jaromir Jagr–Sundin says they’ve got another thing coming. Day in, day out, he expects to be challenged. Having defensemen Dmitri Yushkevich and Bryan Berard embroiled in contract disputes doesn’t make life any easier. And the playoffs are a long, long way off.

“It’s going to be tough,” Sundin told EuroReport. “The biggest challenge is that we’re not going to surprise a lot of teams this year. They know we have a pretty strong club, and any time we go into another city, the other team is going to come out with their A-game.”

More than that, Sundin faces the burden of personal expectations. The big man is expected to put up big numbers. It’s a longstanding Toronto tradition. Frank Mahovlich, who starred at left wing for the blue-and-white squad of the 1960s, was virtually driven out of the Ontario capital because the Maple Leaf faithful always wanted more production out of him. Sundin has a solid 715 points in 693 career NHL games, but his 1992-93 output with the Quebec Nordiques (47-67-114) still tantalizes you with the possibility that he could be more than a point-per-game player. So while Sundin isn’t likely to succumb to Mahovlich-like depression, he is conscious that he must take his game up a notch if he aspires to rival Jagr, Lindros and Teemu Selänne.

Sundin pulled no punches when he told EuroReport: “I want to be among the top forwards in the league. I think I belong there, and I think I should be in the top ten in production [after finishing 12th with 83 points last year].”

One way he might amass those big numbers is by manning the point on the power play, where coach Pat Quinn has experimented with Sundin during Toronto’s swing through Western Canada. This could come as a shock to Leaf observers more accustomed to watching Sundin work the side boards with his Mario Lemieux-like reach.

“I don’t mind playing the point,” Sundin commented. “I’m sure Pat is looking for different ways now to shape two good groups on the power play. But it’s still early. When we get back home, we’re going to work more on it. Our power play struggled all season last year. But we were top of the league in goal-scoring [268 in 1998-99], so if we could get our special teams going, that should be great for us. Especially going into the playoffs, you notice that a great power play can win you a lot of games.”

Along with continued first-rate goaltending from Curtis Joseph, another key to Toronto’s success will be the choice of a left winger to flank Sundin and Steve Thomas on the top line. Chuckling, Sundin refused to be drawn when asked whom he thought that would be: “I don’t know. Ask the management about that.”

But Sundin acknowledged that gangly Nikolai Antropov of Kazakhstan (Toronto’s first round pick in the 1998 draft, 10th overall) has made a bid for the position, even though the Dynamo Moscow forward is trained as a centerman and is only 19 years old.

“He’s having a strong camp,” Sundin said. “He’s developed a lot since the last time I saw him. I think he’s going to be a really good player down the road.”

The same might be said of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the famed Ornskoldvik twins who are expected to add punch to the Vancouver Canucks offense next season. Already reaping comparisons to Sundin and Peter Forsberg, the slick 18-year-old forwards opted to spend another year improving with MoDo of the Swedish Elitserien. Although Sundin hasn’t seen them play much, he said: “I think they’re going to have a bright future here in Vancouver. They’re very talented players and seem to have a good attitude.”

Attitude will take you a long way. And if Mats Sundin makes enough noise on the ice this season, it may give the Leafs their best chance to get to the finals and quench Toronto’s Stanley Cup thirst for the first time since 1967. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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