The Hockey Hall of Fame selected the former Sweden and Toronto Maple Leafs captain on his first try, entering the hall as one of four players that make up the class of 2012. Joining Sundin are Joe Sakic, Adam Oates and Pavel Bure. All four played together at various times in Toronto.
“Three years have passed since I retired and it makes me realize how privileged I was to play my entire career in Canada, where hockey really matters,” said Sundin. “Having my hobby and love for a sport become my livelihood really allowed me to live out my dream.”
Sundin received the news of his selection while he was at dinner with his wife. He said they immediately ordered champagne to celebrate. Sundin called his selection part of his "childhood dream" of making hockey his profession. He becomes the 54th player in the Hall of Fame with ties to the Toronto Maple Leafs, following a year in which three of the four players inducted played with Toronto.
He played four years in Quebec and one forgettable half-year in Vancouver before retirement, but his 13 years in Toronto are what defined him as player.
"It something I'm very proud of, representing the Toronto Maple Leafs," he said.
Sundin's tenure with the Leafs was a vital aspect in the debate over his Hall of Fame credentials. There were those who felt his stature as a player was inflated because he played in Toronto. There were those who felt his stature could have been greater had he played for a more successful organization.
What's undeniable is that Sundin played the majority of his career in the NHL's most intense pressure-cooker, beginning with the 1994 trade that saw him arrive from Quebec in a package for franchise favorite Wendel Clark.
"He became a tremendous hockey player," said fellow inductee Sakic, who played with Sundin in Quebec. "Every time you played Toronto, you circled one guy. Mats was just a force."
He posted Hall of Fame numbers, and lasted over a decade, under intense scrutiny from fans and media.
"You have to be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs to understand the importance of the team to the city of Toronto. It took a little while to learn that, and to understand the pressure as a Toronto Maple Leafs player and coach to live with that," said Sundin.
"The whole city breathes and lives Toronto Maple Leafs. The longer you're there, you appreciate it more. You understand you're part of something bigger than trying to [just] be a player."
After retirement, Sundin earned a different appreciation of his Toronto experience—that of a fan. He actively cheers for the Leafs, and hopes one day they'll achieve what they never did during his tenure.
"There are no fans in the league, or in the sports world, who deserve a championship as the Toronto Maple Leafs fans do for their support over the years," he said.
Sundin finished his NHL career with 1349 points, including 564 goals. He is one of just a handful—and one of five Swedes—to have won both an IIHF World Championship and Olympic gold medal.