STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish center Mats Sundin ended his NHL career quietly on Wednesday, in much the same way as he conducted himself during his 19 years as a professional.
“It’s a little sad to announce that my career as a professional hockey player is over,” he told reporters.
“I would have loved to play until the age of 65, but as a hockey player you obviously retire a little earlier than that,” added the 38-year-old, who began his NHL career with the former Quebec Nordiques in 1990.
The native of Bromma, Sweden moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1994 and three years later became the team’s first European captain.
Sundin played in a quiet uncomplicated style but still led his team by example. He epitomized the stereotype of the stoic Swede, said Bob Stellick, whose brother Gord was general manager of the Maple Leafs in the late 1980s.
“Mats’s role was really being a quiet, strong guy in the dressing room and a good guy in the community,” Bob Stellick said.
“Mats is not as loved as he should be by Toronto fans who are very funny. Mats led the scoring here in almost every single year, yet didn’t get the credit that he deserved. Hopefully his legacy here will not be the last couple of years.”
Sundin left the Leafs in 2008 for the Vancouver Canucks in a last attempt to win the Stanley Cup after earlier refusing to allow Toronto to trade him.
Despite accumulating nearly 1,000 points in 981 games as a Maple Leaf, some fans find it hard to forgive Sundin for refusing to waive his no-trade contract.
“I‘m not going to miss him at all,” Chris Steeves, a 29-year-old fan from Sault St. Marie, Ontario, said.
“He was always the superstar for the team, but when he exercised his no-trade clause and refused to move cities when it was time go, I think a lot of people from Toronto resent him for that.”
He never won the Stanley Cup but reaped success with the national team, winning world championship golds in 1991, 1992 and 1998.
He also captained Sweden to the Olympic gold in Turin in 2006, where he set up Nicklas Lidstrom for the winning goal against Finland in the final.
“A Stanley Cup ring would’ve been nice to have, but in all honesty I’ve experienced and won so much since I landed in Quebec as a 19-year-old,” Sundin told reporters.
“It feels like I’ve experienced so much more than I could ever have imagined.”
Sundin retires with 1,349 points (564 goals and 785 assists) from 1,346 NHL matches, 25th in the all-time list.
“He was huge. He impressed me with his work ethic,” said Lee Barker, a 43-year-old lifelong Leafs fan. “He will be missed by me, but not forgotten.”
(With additional reporting by Scott Anderson in Toronto)
Writing by Oliver Grassman; Editing by Ed Osmond