Tag Archives: Mats Sundin

The Stockholm Prison/Hotel Stop

In early September of 1991, my first wife and I and our two kids stopped in Stockholm for a few days on our way to Leningrad, Russia. (St. Petersburg).

If my math is correct, it was 26 years ago. Time flies, as they say.

We stayed in a nice little hotel in Stockholm which was a converted old prison, so our rooms were prison cells.

The 1991 Canada Cup was underway back home, and I was in the lobby of this unique hotel and saw a Swedish newspaper with a picture of Mats Sundin and a big headline that mentioned “Canada”. So I asked the girl at the counter if she would please tell me what the headlines said.

She looked kind of embarrassed and told me that Mats Sundin says Sweden will have no trouble at all with Canada.

Canada ended up clobbering Sweden in this semi-final game 4-0 and maybe Sundin learned then that you don’t make predictions like this.

The game was Sept. 12, 1991. I know this and the score because I googled it.

This is the prison in Stockholm that became a hotel and those are my kids up there. My son’s a Habs fan and my daughter hates hockey. The other person is my ex-wife who stopped liking me and we split up in 1993.

The Soviet Union at this time was in the throngs of collapse, a truly historic time, and there were warnings by government officials to stay away. I also remember being told by a Swedish fellow at the hotel that Russia was way too volatile to visit. But we went in anyway, stayed with a Russian family, which was almost unheard of in those days, and had an incredibly fascinating time. But that’s another story.

Take That, Mats

My first wife and I and our two kids were in Russia in September of 1991, the same time the Canada Cup was being played back home. It was my first of six trips to Russia, and of course, because it was the first, it was the most magical.

We watched several Canada Cup games in our friends’ Leningrad home that fall, and it was simply a wonderful and fascinating experience. Not a lot of North Americans had seen the inside of Russian apartments at that time, it was at the beginning of the Soviet Union’s ultimate collapse, and here we were, in a home filled with Russian friends young and old, with plenty of laughter, food and drink, and with them and us wondering what each other was saying as we toasted each other or when a goal was scored on the little TV.

But this isn’t about Russia.

On our way to Leningrad we had made our way through Sweden and Finland, and I’d bought the comic book below while in Stockholm. It mentions the Canada Cup on the cover, but on the inside pages there seems to be nothing about the tournament, unless you count the Mats Sundin photo.

Mats, who had just completed his rookie season in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, was playing for his native Sweden in the 1991 Canada Cup, and was quoted in the local paper, with a huge headline, as how he and his Tre Kronor pals would have absolutely no problem with Team Canada. (I know because I asked the lady at the hotel desk to translate).

But they did have a problem. Canada kicked Mats’ Swedish team’s ass twice – 4-1 in round-robin, and 4-0 in the semi-finals, before taking out the Americans in two game straight to hoist gold.

Take that, Mats. Don’t poke the bear.





Fine Finnish Habs Fan

I first started to see Jarno Tauvo’s comments on Hockey Inside/Out, and I’m very grateful to learn that he comes here too.

And when I learned that he did, I contacted him because I was interested in knowing the path he took in becoming a solid Habs fan.

Below is Jarno, from Turku, Finland, who wrote back and explained.


“My native language is Finnish, but the lovely woman who lives with me speaks Swedish. So we speak mixed Finn and Swedish at home. Mostly the person who starts to speak first chooses the language (and she speaks a lot).

“It’s quite common here in Turku to speak Swedish too, this is a bilingual city, only 160 kilometers from Stockholm (Sweden), and luckily we have that narrow sea between us.  So most Swedes understand to stay on their side. My father didn’t, he went to study to Sweden in the 60’s, but was wise enough to come back.

“You asked how I became a Habs fan. Well…
It’s not easy to explain, but I’ll try.

“I was born in 1972.
When I was a child, everybody in Finland followed only skiing or ski jumping. At summertime,  long distance runners were our heroes. News from NHL was normally a week old, if there was any at all. I remember reading different hockey books at the library wondering how cool it looked to play hockey in the NHL.

“Ice hockey was (and still is) quite an expensive sport to have as a hobby. I have to admit I was a fortunate one, because my parents could afford to pay my hockey hobby.

“That was the time when every Finnish boy was a huge fan of Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen in Edmonton. I talked with my father about hockey and the NHL. He told (lied probably) me that Gretzky wears #99 only in honour to the greatest ever, #9, you know who.  He also told me that Montreal Canadiens are the only real hockey team that has been around almost as long as hockey has existed and it is the reason why there is that game of hockey I like to play and watch. That’s probably the moment when I started to search for information about Habs.

“I was extremely happy when Jyrki Lumme was drafted by Montreal. It was at the time when Finnish television aired only Stanley Cup finals. Almost through the whole 90’s, it was the only the Finals we could see. So I’ve seen the Avalanches, Red Wings and Devils ‘domination. Before the internet I had seen only one Habs’ Final game, vs the Kings.

“I became a real “Hardcore Habs fan” when Saku moved from Turku to Montreal. I’m the same age as the older Kiprusoff brother, Marko, who had a short stint there too. He was almost my childhood neighbour. Those were the days when a Finnish hockey legend Timo Nummelin lived in the same building with our family. He has a son Petteri Nummelin, who has played a lot with Team Finland. Petteri plays still in the Finnish elite league “Liiga” at age of 41.

“Suddenly one cable television company from Sweden started to air NHL in Finland too and I had to purchase their package. The only bad thing was that Detroit and Colorado had too many Swedes, so they showed mostly their games. On a plus side, Toronto had Sundin and they played often against the Habs. Thanks to Sundin, I saw those games and a game here and there.

“One of my biggest emotions in a hockey game was to watch Saku’s comeback game vs. Ottawa. Live. I sat on a couch, eyes full of tears, amazed by the standing ovation the Bell Centre gave to him. Then I was sure that being a fan of the Montreal Canadiens means much more than just supporting a team. It is a worldwide community. At the same time when the Bell Centre was celebrating Saku’s comeback from cancer, I lived the same emotions at home, wiping tears and screaming when Craig Rivet scored and rushed to the bench to hug the captain.

“I’m not sure how I became a fan, but maybe that isn’t so rare not to know? As an example, my hometown has a two hockey teams. TPS and TuTo. TPS is like the Habs in Finland. Finns say about Finnish hockey: Game lasts for 60 minutes and at the end TPS wins. Although the last couple of seasons they have been suffering. Finland is a small country with only a little more than 5 million people here and the NHL-players from TPS include the Koivu brothers, Kiprusoff brothers, Jani Hurme, Jere Lehtinen, Kimmo Timonen (started here as pro) Joni Ortio, Rasmus Ristolainen, etc…

“But still my hometown favourite team is TuTo. I don’t know why. They are not a bad rival, because TuTo plays in second highest level. But it’s small and nice team where everybody knows each other.
It’s cool that I work a little with them too. I’m a photographer and I’ve taken their group photos and commercial photos. My photo studio is also a minor sponsor to them… It’s nice that they play well and are the best team in their league, but still. When Habs win, Habs win. TuTo’s headcoach is Artturi Lehkonen’s dad, Ismo Lehkonen. He kept joking about my Habs’s shirt to me, when I was shooting their group photo.

“Here’s some shots from Turku, Finland. The big and old building is the church which is from 1300 century. The river in the photos is the River Aura, that floats in the middle of Turku. It normally freezes in the winter. I Just noticed I don’t have photos from Turku at the summer.”

Jarno 1


Jarno 3

Jarno 4

Jarno 5

Jarno 6

Jarno 7

HOF Post Game Comments

The Hockey Hall of Fame Induction ceremony went off swimmingly, except for the time maybe when Mats Sundin pronounced Elmer Lach’s name “Latch,” and Patrick Roy took a swipe at the Canadiens, saying they decided to trade him, which only sort of happened after Roy told Ronald Corey he’d never play another game with the team. Maybe he’s upset he wasn’t hired as coach or GM.

The speeches went smoothly, although Bill Hay’s seemed long and drawn out, but I thought Pavel Bure’s was excellent, as were the others..

And to cap off a fine night, Gary Bettman looked tired, hollow, concerned, pale, and not a happy camper whatsoever, and the women looked lovely.

New Kids In The Hall

Congratulations to Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Pavel Bure, and Adam Oates for their induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the shrine in Toronto that houses photos, plaques, artifacts, and memories of players who once played  the sport that has become extinct and remembered by oldtimers who think back to a time, like last year, when the game was actually being played and fans would come to the rinks with full wallets and leave with empty wallets.

These are four worthy inductees, all classy, all proficient, and which include two Canadians (Oates and Sakic), one Swede (Sundin), and one Russian (Bure). Bure was a shoo-in to make it big ever since he, Alex Mogilny, and Sergei Fedorov dazzled in the World Junior Championships when they were just young, peach-fuzzed Russkies. I also remember talking to a buddy about Bure and agreeing that this guy must not have had any trouble getting the ladies when he was starring in Vancouver.

Sundin rubbed me the wrong way slightly when he came out of retirement to play for the Vancouver Canucks, taking him until January to actually make up his mind and lace up for a measly five million to play half a season Sundin Helps His Wallet. But a great player, huge at 6’5, 230 pounds, and enjoyed a brilliant career, particularly in Toronto.

Adam Oates was not only a great playmaker but also an excellent musician, teaming up with Daryl Hall to record such smash hits as “Rich Girl” and “Kiss is on my List.” Oh wait, wrong guy. Oates teamed up with Brett Hull in St. Louis to become Hull and Oates, not Hall and Oates. Sorry.

Joe Sakic is from Burnaby, which explains why he’s called Burnaby Joe. A quiet and all-round respected and admired fellow who was such an excellent player, and whom of course would have looked mighty fine in a Habs uniform. He possessed a wicked wrist shot, and just seems to be a fine gentleman, as do the other three as well.

Four great players who deserve to be called Hall of Famers, and I can’t wait to see what their wives, if they’re all married, look like at the ceremony.


Bure Exploded


I watched the Hall of Fame announcements the other day, and I’m only just now waking up from the coma.

Bill Hay, Jim Gregory, and Pat Quinn gave us the four new names (Adam Oates, Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure, and Mats Sundin), like they were giving a eulogy at a funeral. It was like everyone was dead – not just the newly-elected and still-alive players, but Hay, Gregory and Quinn too, who may or may not have been propped up with someone behind working their mouths..

It made a Catholic retreat seem like a biker bash.

Regardless, the four players deserve the honour, and I can’t help thinking how Pavel Bure would have made such a fantastic Montreal Canadien.

Bure, although he came a half dozen years or so after Guy Lafleur had left Montreal, would have been a wonderful successor to the throne. We haven’t had a true superstar since our number ten, and Bure would have fit the bill perfectly. But alas, he ended up with the Canucks, (and then the Panthers and Rangers) which was too bad for us and too bad for him.

I remember Bure during the 1989 World Junior Championship in Anchorage. He, along with linemates Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov, dazzled and burned up the tournament. Bure was a sight to behold. His blinding speed, his explosiveness, his goal-scoring, all with a face that looked to be about 11 years old. And he brought all of that to the NHL.

What a Hab he would’ve been. A new gunslinger in town who played a style of hockey most Habs fans love and older ones remember from heros no longer donning skates, or dead like Bill Hay, Jim Gregory, and Pat Quinn. Bure would have brought his girlfriend at the time, Anna Kournikova, to Montreal, and I would have seen that she was comfortable while Pavel streaked down the ice and netted huge goals to the roar of the crowd.

Certain teams need certain players; Boston likes guys who give the finger to fans and noses, Philadelphia leans towards obnoxiousness and lousy goalies, and Bure, with the offence and excitement he provided, would have been a terrific fire-wagon Hab. On the ice at least. Off ice, the Russian Rocket was apparently aloof, arrogant, and selfish, which led the Vancouver Sun’s Elliot Pap to say the only way they should hang Bure’s sweater from the rafters would be if he was still in it.

But that’s beside the point. It was what he did on skates as a smallish-yet-shifty right winger, and it was plenty. Besides, Pat Burns, and then Jacques Demers, would’ve kicked his ass.



Habs Demolish Leafs

Feels great writing that. “Habs Demolish Leafs.” Normally I leave the title for last, but I couldn’t wait tonight. And I could’ve said “Habs Blast Leafs” or “Habs Blank Leafs”, but I prefer Demolish. Even though the Torontonians hit a few posts and outshot the Canadiens 32-18. But forget about that. It’s the scoreboard that tells the tale.

A big 5-0 shutout win for Carey Price and the gang. Four straight wins and seven points from a playoff spot. Things are still a long shot, but how great it feels when Montreal is on a roll and looking good.

It was Mats Sundin Night at the Air Canada Centre, a night when Sundin’s jersey was sent to that special place in the rafters to join other Leaf greats. They do it a little differently in Toronto. They honour the numbers, but future players are still allowed to wear them, unlike Montreal where the number goes up, never to be worn again. Imagine if Mike Komisarek wore number 9 while in Montreal for example? It would just suck.

And it’s this jersey-honouring that pissed off Dave Keon so much that he cut almost all ties with the Leafs, which is a shame. Keon was a legendary Leaf, but now he stays in Florida, sits under palm trees, and tries to pretend the whole thing never happened. But that’s the way it is in Toronto.

The Sundin ceremony was lengthy, his wife Josephine looked quite sensational, and his parents were visibly proud of course. And the first period was as sloppy as a pre-season game because of the wait as Sundin spoke and Josephine smiled and probably wondered if I was somewhere in the crowd.

But Montreal would find their game. They scored four in the second and another in the third, killed five penalties overall like it was a walk in the park, and between the pipes, Carey Price once again played like he’s the best in the game, which I think he is, although I might be slightly biased.

Canadiens scorers on this night were Eric Cole, Rene Bourque, Max Pacioretty on the power play, Lars Eller, who swept around Dion Phaneuf and beat James Reimer in a nifty play that’ll have fans on the streetcars talking about on their way back to the suburbs, and Mathieu Darche, who converted a Tomas Plekanec play started by Price.

The Habs smothered the Leafs often, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, and Mathieu Darche enjoyed fine games, and all concerned -players, coaches, you, me, Lucy, Dave Keon, have to be perfectly content with what unfolded on this night.

The plan is to win most of the time from here on in. Four straight is a beauty start.

Random Notes:

Canadiens host Carolina on Monday. This good stuff needs to continue.


Grizzly Sundin

On the left is Canadian biologist Gord Stenhouse holding a young grizzly bear. Stenhouse tags and studies these cute little critters before they grow into big things that would rip Stenhouse to shreds in a matter of seconds. 

Beside him is Mats Sundin, ex-Nordique, Leaf, and short-lived Vancouver Canuck, and a guy who also likes grizzly bears. 

This picture was in the Saturday, August 13th edition of the Vancouver Sun that I stole from the lunchroom table at work.

Remember the summer of 2008 when the Toronto Maple Leafs gave Bob Gainey and the Canadiens exclusive rights to negotiate with Mats Sundin? It didn’t get done, as we all know, and it wasn’t until January of 2009 before Sundin finally chose Vancouver after about ten teams tried to get him for some inexplicable reason. Talk about general managers gone wild.

Thank goodness Montreal couldn’t get a deal done with this Swede. He was 37 years old, and after finally signing with Vancouver, played just 41 games  and recorded a lousy 9 goals and 19 assists, all for five million dollars.

He then retired, and I guess, grew fond of grissly bears.



Big Hopes For The Danish Guy

I suppose it’s a valid question – why haven’t there been more Danish hockey players in the NHL? It’s near Sweden, so shouldn’t they play like the Swedes? It’s not tremendously far from Finland and even Russia, so where are the Jari Kurri’s and Valeri Kharlamov’s of Denmark?

Of course it’s also close to Germany and Norway and there’s been no Kurri’s and Kharlamov’s come out of these places either.

The Danes don’t seem to be a hockey-mad country. And if I was in Copenhagen right now, I’d take to the streets and ask the locals why.

They’d say they’re a soccer nation. And they’d mention that they enjoy some fine sailing and cycling and badminton and eating in cafes. Hockey is way down the list. Just like in South Carolina and Louisiana.

Hey you Danes, you can fit hockey in too! Like the Swedes do. Like the German’s are doing. Your country is considered to be one of the happiest countries in Europe. And hockey could make you even happier!

I guess being near hockey countries doesn’t guarantee anything. The US is only a jockstrap throw away from Canada and it’s only natural that a country of over 300 million would produce a substantial variety of great players, as they do down there. Denmark on the other hand has only five million so players are few and far between.

That’s the theory. Until you google Sweden and see that there’s only nine million Swedes and they churn out hockey players the way the Danes churn out smoked herring in their little cafes.

Denmark has produced a whopping seven NHL’ers over the years – Mikkel Boedker, Jannik Hansen, Philip Larsen, Frans Nielson, Peter Regin, and Poul Popiel, a guy with a resume of years in the NHL and WHA in the 1960’s and ’70’s but was raised in Canada so it’s kind of cheating.

Last but not least from the list is Lars Eller, a guy who might turn out to be an NHL beauty and make everyone forget Poul Popiel.

Eller has a special look we saw in his few pre-season games and the opener against the Leafs. He plays like he’s been around, which he hasn’t, unless you include 70 games with the Peoria Riverman of the AHL, seven games in a St. Louis Blues uniform (2 goals), and a handful of season in Sweden and Denmark. But he has poise, seems to have big league hockey smarts, skates and makes plays like a young Mats Sundin, and speaks English better than Tiger Williams.

Sure it’s silly to get overly-excited about a player with not much in the way of a resume, and maybe he’ll end up being the Danish version of Benoit Pouliot. But if he blossoms into a real player, he’ll be a crucial and important piece of the puzzle for the Canadiens – a smooth skating, intelligent player with good hands, and thousands of little Danish kids will ask Father Christmas for skates and sticks at that special time of the year.

Maybe Lars Eller will put Denmark on the hockey map.

Sundin Sure Didn’t Help His Team. Just His Wallet

In retrospect, why did so many of us think Mats Sundin was going to be the saviour of hockey mankind? He fooled so many people, he’s the modern day version of Harry Houdini. Toronto, Montreal, the Rangers, and finally, Vancouver, all wined and dined him like the NHL would have done in 1972 to Valeri Kharlamov if they thought the great Russian was free to come to North America. Sundin hoodwinked these teams, and many of the fans of these teams. He didn’t mean to, of course, but everyone got kind of swept away by some magical, “we’ll win the Cup if we get him” ideal that was so far off base it makes everyone look downright silly now.

Sundin totalled nine goals and 19 assists after being given five million dollars to play half a season. He wasn’t in great shape when he arrived in Vancouver after sitting out so long, he’s not a young man, and during the all-star break, instead of working out, he went to Whistler to have fun. In the playoffs, he had three goals and five assists. His team, the Canucks, are gone, and once again their fans are disappointed. Did Sundin help the cause? Not one bit. And like I said, he walks away with five million bucks for all this.

I went back and dug out this excellent piece by Scott Burnside. He knew in December the whole thing was a sham. Why didn’t more of the hockey world?


December 19, 2008, 12:08 AM ET

Now that it’s over, let’s take the Sundin saga for what it was — a sham
By Scott Burnside

Hallelujah, Howie Morenz! The big man has spoken. And so, it shall be, evermore, the Vancouver Canucks.
Or at least for the rest of this season. Or until the money runs out.

What a sham this has been, this threepenny opera. Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” was known stylistically as the theater of the absurd, but that play about waiting for something momentous had nothing on “Waiting for Mats.”
For months, the hockey world has been consumed with speculation and conjecture about where Mats Sundin would land as though he were some god descending from Mount Olympus with a lightning bolt in his hand instead of a hockey stick and a résumé chock full of holes.

The great Swede has been mythologized and courted and coveted, and now, mercifully, he is back, if for no other reason so we can stop wondering which team will be blessed with his presence.

Oh, yes, there are the 1,321 points in 1,305 regular-season games, and the 12 straight seasons of 70 or more points. But in all his time in the NHL, Sundin, 37, has managed to appear in zero Stanley Cup finals games. He has won no major awards. He was part of Sweden’s gold-medal team in the 2006 Torino Olympics. But the Vancouver Canucks are likely paying him a prorated salary of $10 million to play in the NHL, not on the big ice surface of a once-every-four-years tournament.

Sundin didn’t ask for the attention. That much we’re sure of given how intensely he guards his private life. Fair enough. But what is galling is this whole process has revealed Sundin to be the exact entity he insisted he wasn’t 10 months ago — a hired gun. Nothing more. Nothing less.

His decision to come back makes a mockery of his stand last season, when he refused to waive his no-trade clause so the Toronto Maple Leafs could move him to a Stanley Cup contender. Sundin insisted his heart was in Toronto and that joining a team just for a playoff run would somehow cheapen the moment.
Funny how all that went out the window as he makes plans to descend on Vancouver in late December, having played his last serious hockey on March 29 and having decided (we assume) the Canucks’ dough looked more appealing than whatever the New York Rangers could come up with.

Players who negotiate no-trade clauses are completely within their right to refuse to waive them. It’s their prerogative, and teams who bestow those clauses on their players do so at their peril. But Sundin’s stubborn refusal to do the very thing the Leafs needed him to do to move forward as an organization seems somehow petulant now. By refusing to go to Montreal or Anaheim or Philadelphia or wherever interim GM Cliff Fletcher was looking to deal him, Sundin robbed the Leafs of what should have been a lucrative package that would have included a first-round draft pick, a prospect or two, and perhaps a young positional player.

Sundin may have agonized over the many suitors who would have had him, but he has done exactly what the Leafs wanted him to do in February; now, the only thing the Leafs get is Sundin’s back.

Loyalty? Don’t make us laugh. One GM told ESPN.com last February that he would always be suspicious of a player who, given the choice between possibly winning his first Stanley Cup and staying in a hopeless situation, chooses the latter.

So, what did the Canucks get in the end? They got a talented center who is difficult to knock off the puck and put up great numbers (78 points) on a bad Leafs team last season. They also got a player who has been occasionally nicked up (he last played more than 75 games back in 2003-04) and is getting older by the minute. He hasn’t played in a playoff game since 2004, so at least he’ll be fresh, assuming the Canucks make the playoffs.

Is he the kind of player, like Mark Messier, who can lead the Canucks over the hump? Ha.

Look at Sundin’s track record. At the most pivotal moments of his NHL career, Sundin has been hurt (as he was during the Leafs’ surprise run to the 2002 Eastern Conference finals). When he’s been healthy, he has a history of being shut down by other teams (as he was repeatedly by Bobby Holik and the New Jersey Devils during frequent playoff meetings when Pat Quinn was coaching Sundin and the Leafs). In 1999, when the Leafs also advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, it was Buffalo’s Michael Peca and Alexei Zhitnik.
No, the only connection between Messier and Sundin is the “leadership” award Messier bestowed on Sundin during last season’s playoffs. Talk about shams.

It’s funny; for many years people in Toronto felt compelled to step up and talk about what a great captain and leader Sundin was as though to do otherwise would feed into the notion that a Canadian team, especially the Leafs, would never accept a non-Canadian captain. As time went on, he became so beloved in Toronto, it was as though he’d been given a lifetime pass.

When Ron Wilson took over the Leafs before the start of this season and there was much discussion about whether Sundin would deign to return to Toronto, Wilson suggested that a team that had failed to make the playoffs for three straight post-lockout seasons had lacked leadership.
What other conclusion could you come to?

Is Sundin a good player? Of course. He is a fine hockey player. But he is nowhere near the player the myth suggests.
And the Vancouver Canucks are about to find that out.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.