Mats Sundin (SWE)

Born: Bromma (Stockholm), Sweden, February 13, 1971

There is likely no player in the modern era who could step forward and say he had a greater international hockey career than Mats Sundin. Sundin was not just a part of several great teams – he led, dominated, controlled and produced victories for those Tre Kronor teams for whom he represented on so many occasions.

Apart from his four major international titles, three World Championships and one Olympic gold, he was named to five international All-Star Teams, was named MVP of the 2003 World Championship, and led three major events in scoring.

Sundin was the first European to be selected first overall at the NHL Entry Draft, an honour bestowed upon him in 1989 by the Quebec Nordiques. Over the next season he played at the U20 and then senior World Championships, joining the Nordiques in the fall of 1990.

Sundin didn’t wait long to make an impact for his country. At the 1991 IIHF World Championship, only 20 years old, he scored arguably the most sensational goal in IIHF history, going end-to-end in the third period against the Soviet Union to score the winning goal for gold. He played at the 1991 Canada Cup and at age 21 helped Tre Kronor repeat as World Champions a year later, leading the team in scoring with eight points in as many games.

Sundin had size and savvy. He had remarkable speed for a big man, and could stickhandle with intimidating effect. His backhand was second to none, and as he got older what emerged were leadership qualities to be admired by teammates and opponents alike. Sundin was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1994, the same city in which Borje Salming established his greatness, and it wasn’t long before Sundin was given the “C”, the first time a European had been named leader of the Leafs.

By the time he retired, his 11-year tenure as captain marked the longest such service by a European in NHL history. He was also the first Swede to reach 500 goals and in November 2012 became only the second Swede after Salming to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But while Sundin was a remarkable NHL player, he was an even greater international one. He was a force supreme at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, where he was named to the All-Star Team, and he won a third World Championship gold in 1998. He also played in the first three Olympics featuring NHL players, in 1998, 2002, and 2006. In Salt Lake 2002, he was a dominant force in a tournament. Despite that Sundin’s run was cut short by the team’s stunning upset at the hands of Belarus in the quarter-finals, he was still named to the Olympic All-Star Team and led the tournament in scoring.

The last of his Olympic appearances, in 2006 in Turin, cemented Sundin’s place in hockey history. Captaining the team, he led Sweden to a gold medal, assisting on the winning goal from Nicklas Lidström early in the third period. He declared after the game that he had played his final game for Sweden. He was right, but his legacy has no ending. The name Mats Sundin will live forever in the highest levels of international hockey history.

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