Last night brought an end to all the hoopla regarding Mats Sundin's return to Toronto. All week, hockey fans and pundits speculated about the reception Sundin would receive. Would he receive cheers or jeers?
In the end he got a little bit of both.
Toronto fans and the media are quite savage but not that savage. Most hockey fans in this town have a long memory. After the hurt of losing the only player they admired in recent times, they reconciled with Sundin and gave him the reception he deserved.
Coming close to tears, after a brief highlight reel on the JumboTron, Sundin rose and waved to Toronto public. In the end, he realized that he still felt some warmth in a city gripped in long cold winter. During the game though, on each touch, he received an accompanying blast of negativity.
In the Coach's Corner segment after the first period, Don Cherry was quite miffed at why Canadians, generally, render applause for international stars who walk away, but always jeer their Canadian brethren.
Citing the recent return of Bryan McCabe, who upon stepping on the ice at the Air Canada Centre, was booed, hissed at, and spat on for the entire game. Cherry also mentioned the oft-cited fans who booed Bobby Orr, arguably Canada's greatest player.
It is an interesting question. While McCabe did play below his best for the Leafs in his final years in Toronto, he still won National Selection and was an All-Star in his time there.
To a degree, Toronto fans still have some sore feelings about its old captain Sundin. Even though he received a great ovation at the ACC last night, there is still some hurt in the eyes of most Leafs fans.
Sundin left after thirteen years in Toronto without the Stanley Cup. Sundin is loved, but he is loved like on old girlfriend who broke your heart. Sometimes those feelings of betrayal bubble up to the surface.
The truth is that no great player, be it Gilmour, Clark, or Sittler, is honored without a touch of remorse. No player representing Toronto has held up the Stanley Cup for more than forty years. Toronto wants a Stanley Cup, the city aches for it.
When you put on a Maple Leafs jersey, your nationality disappears. You now are Maple Leaf; you now are a Torontonian. So, be you Canadian, Dutch, Australian, or from Papua New Guinea, playing for the Leafs, scoring 90 goals a season, and being the best you can be might not be enough in Hogtown.
In the end, if you leave without a Stanley Cup do not expect to be completely embraced by Leaf Nation on your return.
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