Puckarinen Hits A Post
by Puckarinen on 06/28/12 at 12:10 PM ET
I’ve never been a card collector, because I don’t have the mental capacity, the patience, or the stamina for that, but I do own two hockey cards. They’re currently inside the same plastic frame, backs against each other, one of them looking out my office window, the other staring at the wall.
The players on the cards are Wayne Gretzky and Mats Sundin.
One February night, six years ago, I stood between an old Swedish gentleman and an Asian looking teenager on the stairs of a bath house in Stockholm. It was freezing cold, and I had come there a couple of hours earlier, not knowing that I’d have to stand there through a two-hour show of Swedish pop hits, a couple of repetitions of the national anthem, and interviews with the women’s hockey team that won silver in Turin.
The thousands and thousands of people that had come to the square next to the bath house since I arrived where there to welcome home the men’s Olympic gold medal winners. The golden generation of Swedish hockey: Forsberg, Lidström, Axelsson, and Sundin. The ones that had first won so much in the early nineties, then lost a few times, had failed in their big revenge in the World Cup a couple of years earlier, but had now regained their magic.
I was there to see Mats Sundin.
The team wasn’t supposed to even be there, because with only five of the players playing in Sweden that season - the Jönsson brothers, Mika Hannula, Stefan Live, and Ronnie Sundin - most players were in a hurry to get back to North America and play their next NHL game. The Olympic final was on a Sunday, and the NHL resumed play on Tuesday.
But the players wanted to go to Stockholm, get a hero’s welcome, and celebrate together which is why Sundin told the Swedish federation that they’d do exactly that. The federation arranged the celebration for the next day, and Sundin took care of the rest, including the celebration, and the charter plane for the NHLers to get back to North America in time.
“I didn’t pay anything. You’d have to ask Mats about it,” said goaltender Mikael Tellqvist afterwards.
Sundin picked up the tab. According to Swedish media reports, the chartered planes and the dinners, and everything cost him about 150 000 dollars.
Mats took care of that, like Mats took care of most everything on the ice. Some people are born leaders, and Sundin - um, Mats Sundin - is one of those people. He was 15 when his Stockholm team won TV-pucken, the Swedish tournament for district teams, dreamed up by Sven Tumba. A few years later he became the first European overall pick in the NHL draft and went from there.
I’m always baffled to hear North American hockey fans, writers, talk about Mats Sundin, and then end their sentence with a “but he hasn’t won anything”. The man is nothing if not a winner. Sure, he doesn’t have the Stanley Cup, but he did lead his team in scoring 12 of his 13 seasons with the Leafs.
Then again, I remember how he scored two goals in 23 seconds in the last minute of play against Finland at the 1991 World Championships. And how I was sitting on row 11 at the Globe Arena in Stockholm and watched him skate around the blue and white pylons called Kiprusoff and Takko before tapping the puck into an empty Finnish net in the 1996 World Cup. And how he carried Sweden from 5-1 to a 6-5 win over Finland at the 2003 World Championships.
Just three years and 359 days before the parade in Stockholm, Sundin and the rest of Team Sweden had been called traitors by the Swedish tabloids, after their quarterfinal loss to Belarus. Maybe that’s why he now wanted to feel the love.
When Mats Sundin’s face was appeared on the big screen, the crowd went crazy. Mats flashed his big trademark smile - the one we always saw after a goal - and right then, once again, he had the world, or at least Sweden, wrapped around his finger.
Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Sweden. He wrote this in Sollentuna, Sweden, (former) home of Mats Sundin. He’s on Twitter as @puckarinen, maybe you should follow him.
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About Puckarinen Hits A Post
Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden.
That's right, he's deep behind the enemy lines. He's also a regular contributor to IIHF.com, NHL.com, The Hockey News, and several publications in Finland and Sweden. He's also covered four World Championships and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for the IIHF.
And since he foolishly hoisted the Stanley Cup in his twenties, he wakes up every morning knowing he will never be able to win it.