Mats Sundin says he learned a lot about being a good citizen when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is why he donated enough money to establish two fellowships for institutions in Stockholm and Toronto to study early childhood health issues.
"You learn a lot more than being a player on the ice," Sundin said Friday when it was announced his donation of $333,333 will create an exchange program for young researchers between the University of Toronto and the Karolinska Institutet in his native Stockholm.
"The Maple Leafs do a lot more than most teams when it comes to working with the community," Sundin said. "When you visit [the Hospital for Sick Children]and see kids who are terminally ill you want to give back to the community."
With that in mind, Sundin met with Karolinska officials last fall to discuss ways he could contribute with an eye to establishing something in Toronto as well. Since Karolinska already has an exchange program with the University of Toronto in developmental and prenatal biology, Sundin's wishes proved to be an easy fit.
"Since I moved back [to Sweden] I've always had a dream to give back to the community, not only in Toronto but Stockholm, where I grew up," Sundin said.
The Mats Sundin Fellowship in Developmental Health will allow two post-doctoral researchers in Stockholm and Toronto to team up with leading scientists and scholars from both institutions for two years to study the development of children up to the age of five. The Stockholm researcher will go to the University of Toronto and vice-versa.
Catharine Whiteside, the dean of the University of Toronto's faculty of medicine, said Sundin's gift is "the beginning of an incredible legacy" for promising scientists to work with leaders in their field and improve the health of children.
Sudin said he plans to ensure the fellowships last for many years by working on fundraising on them, both in Stockholm and in Toronto.
On Saturday, the Maple Leafs will honour Sundin's 13 years with the team by raising a banner with his number 13 to the ceiling of the Air Canada Centre. Sundin, who retired at the end of the 2008-09 season after part of a season with the Vancouver Canucks, is the Leafs' franchise leader in goals (420) and points (987) in 981 games with the team.
"I'm very excited and I was very surprised when I found out [about the honour]" Sundin said. "I know it can be many years before your number is honoured."
Flanking Sundin at Friday's press conference was his entire immediate family – his wife Josephine, parents Tommy and Gunilla, older brother Patrick and younger brother Per.