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Toronto Maple Leafs Mats Sundin celebrates his first of two goals in the third period against the Florida Panthers in NHL ice hockey action in Sunrise, Florida February 27, 2008. (HANS DERYK/REUTERS)
Toronto Maple Leafs Mats Sundin celebrates his first of two goals in the third period against the Florida Panthers in NHL ice hockey action in Sunrise, Florida February 27, 2008. (HANS DERYK/REUTERS)

DAVID SHOALTS

Mats Sundin finally gets to enjoy the sport of hockey Add to ...

Mats Sundin still loves the game of hockey but doesn’t miss the NHL version.

“It’s been nice to retire,” he said Thursday in his first public visit to Toronto in two years. “To get away from the professional, elite aspect of hockey has been really good for me.

“In the last year [of a hockey career] when you’re thinking about it, it’s time to go. Physically and mentally, you can’t take the pressure at the highest level. Now, my body feels great and mentally you feel a lot better. It’s been great to get away from the game a little bit, reflect on the game and the times you spent in the city.”

During those reflections, Sundin said, he never came to regret his decision to refuse a trade in his final days as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 2008. The organization, in transition following the firing of general manager John Ferguson, wanted him to waive his no-trade right in order to get prospects and draft picks in return and so did many of the fans.

Sundin was steadfast in his refusal, saying as captain he did not want to leave his teammates because there was still a chance the Leafs could make the playoffs. He also had no interest in being a rental player even if he did win a Stanley Cup because he felt he would not be a bona-fide member of his new team.

The decision created the usual public storm in Toronto, especially after the Leafs missed the playoffs and Sundin eventually signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks for a final half-season. His last visit to the Air Canada Centre was as a Canuck in February, 2009 in the last months of his career.

“For me, it was a decision in my heart that I felt staying and trying to help make the playoffs was the right decision,” Sundin said.

His good friend Tomas Kaberle faced the same decision last winter when the Maple Leafs asked the defenceman to waive his no-trade right to go to the Boston Bruins. After holding out for a while, Kaberle agreed and wound up winning a Stanley Cup as a rental player before moving on to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Sundin said Kaberle told him “he wished he won the Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

This week’s visit is a rapprochement of sorts between Sundin and the Maple Leafs. He is not taking an official position with the team as a goodwill ambassador but he hopes to make more appearances like Thursday’s when he spoke to students at James S. Bell Elementary School in Toronto. There will be another appearance on Friday at a skating clinic at Angela James Arena and then Sundin will take in Saturday’s Leaf game at the ACC against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I hope I can have a relationship with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the rest of my life,” Sundin said. “The years I spent here, everything I got from the fans in Toronto, the organization, it’s nice to give back.”

Sundin sold his house in Toronto two years ago and now lives in Stockholm with his wife Josephine Johansson. They are trying to start a family and Sundin also does a little hunting, fishing and golfing along with being a poker celebrity. He has no plans for a full-time career but thinks he might get back into hockey in some fashion in the future.

He looks far more relaxed than he did in his final days as a Maple Leaf. Watching from the sidelines (he’s seen two Leaf games this season, likes the team and their playoff chances) gives him a chance to enjoy the sport, something NHL players don’t get, Sundin said.

“It’s nice not to be in that afternoon before the game where you’re getting a little knot, getting worried about the game,” he said. “Being retired, you get to enjoy the game of hockey.”

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts

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