Mats Sundin, hockey player extraordinaire and incomparable captain of the Maple Leafs, has very little in common with me. He's 6'5, and I'm not. He's a gold-medal Olympian, and I'm not. He's Swedish, and I'm not. But the one thing we both share is a love for our adopted city, Toronto.
I know why I love Toronto. I love the sidewalk art, and the smell of the harbour, and the excellent people-gazing on street cars, and the fact that someone actually eats the stuff that's been floating around in tepid wiener water for perhaps days on end.
Why Mats loves Toronto is a little more mysterious. The truth is, Toronto is not always as generous or as grateful to Mats as he deserves. He's carried the team on his shoulders this season. He's not just the best player on the team, he IS the team, if a team could be as humble and unassuming as Sundin has remained throughout his stellar career.
Recently there has been a lot of talk about a trade - and this after Mats has given 13 years to the team, captained for a decade, and scored more than 400 goals while wearing the number 13. With a no-trade clause to his contract, Mats has said repeatedly that he wants to finish his career in the city he has come to think of as his home. He has the skill and prestige to lead another team to a Stanley Cup if he allowed such a trade, but he chooses instead to stay on a team that is slowly being rebuilt, still experiencing growing pains, and unlikely to become very winning any time soon. He's not in it for the trophies, or the glory, or the attention. Clearly, he's in it for the love of the game.
This sentiment of his is so rare that people don't know what to make of it. He's been mistakenly (and stupidly) labelled 'selfish' because people have forgotten what 'loyalty' looks like.
This, my friends, is being true to your team.
Sure, it might make good business sense to make the trade, but hockey is not a business, or not just a business at any rate. Yes, people try to make absurd amounts of money off it, but at the end of the day, hockey is a game. Hockey is about fire and passion. You have to love it. You have to want it. You can manage it all you want, but at the end of the day, if you rip the heart out of the team, you don't have much of a team.
No, Toronto doesn't deserve Sundin, but we sure are lucky to have him.
A friend of mine, a fan of the game, a fan of the Leafs, and above all a fan of Mats Sundin, said to me that if Mats were to leave, it would break her heart into 13 pieces.
I cannot begin to equal her zeal, but I do know a good thing when I see it, and I see it in Mats.
I just wish the rest of Toronto could see it too.