“To me, coming to Toronto is coming home”: Dispatches from All-Star week with Mats Sundin and Curtis Joseph

Photo credit:Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
5 months ago
Hotel X hovers over the Toronto skyline but the five-star venue appears to be better suited for the Hollywood Hills. A kilometre-wide gate encircles the property, and you have to climb up a hill to enter the boutique building that is best known to locals for its gorgeous, inaccessible pool.
Wednesday night was an exception as the hotel opened itself up to host Maple Leafs legends Curtis Joseph and Mats Sundin, both of whom arrived in town to attend NHL All-Star Week. Joseph and Sundin need little introduction to Maple Leafs fans, certainly not to the hundreds of fans who paid up to $200 to see the duo that were imperative to the team’s relatively successful run at the turn of the century.
Joseph and Sundin were on a panel with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and before the event officially commenced, The Leafs Nation were granted a walk-and-talk interview with the 56-year-old goaltender, who looks like he could return between the pipes on a moment’s notice.
It is a full-circle moment in some respects as this is the first time Toronto has hosted the All-Star Game since 2000, where Joseph and Sundin were both participants. The passage time naturally affords reflection and the iconography of both legends was readily apparent in a room full of starstruck admirers. Joseph reflected on the quality of competition he faced during the 2000 All-Star Game, his third and final selection of his decorated career.
“Sometimes they run together but I do remember the skills competition and facing (Jaromir) Jagr, (Pavel) Bure and (Teemu) Selanne and I’m like well, look at who you stacked me with! Because those were some of the premier shooters,” Joseph reflected to The Leafs Nation.
The 1999-2000 season was special for Joseph beyond the All-Star Game weekend as Joseph won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to a player who showcases leadership qualities on and off the ice and made a concerted, humanitarian effort in their city or community. Joseph built a program at SickKids (The Hospital for Sick Children) called CuJo’s Kids which took children with illnesses to Maple Leafs games with a box suite.
“We had a good relationship with SickKids hospital, and we still have a room there, CuJo’s kids. It’s a legacy that carries on and I’m very proud of that,” Joseph said.
Sundin simply operates in a different stratosphere. He’s arguably the greatest player in Maple Leafs history and 15 years removed from his playing career in Toronto, he’s still the most beloved athlete this city has ever seen. It’s only natural that The Leafs Nation had to sneak a quick interview with a gracious but tired Sundin, who arrived in Toronto on Wednesday and like Joseph, was looking forward to catching up with old teammates.
Wearing a black long-sleeve shirt and blue skinny jeans, Sundin very much looks the part of a modern superstar and is highly aware of his demigod status in Toronto and certainly appreciated the awestruck treatment he received from fans and hell, who are we kidding, portions of the media. After the event concluded, hundreds upon hundreds of fans brought home made signs, countless jerseys and memorabilia for Sundin to sign and he was more than gracious with every attendee, stopping to take photos and getting to know a bit about what he means to them.
“To me, coming to Toronto is coming home,” Sundin told The Leafs Nation, down by a corridor that intersects between the front desk and foyer at Hotel X. “I lived in Canada for almost 20 years so it feels like coming home. I love being here, I love the support. The fans the Toronto Maple Leafs have are very fortunate to have the city of Toronto and the fans behind them. It’s great. It’s (like) coming home!
“The whole hockey industry is in town and Toronto is the capital of the hockey world so it’s very fitting when the All-Star Game is in Toronto.”
Sundin has been an avid supporter of the Maple Leafs since his playing career wrapped up, but this year’s iteration is dear to his heart. Max Domi — Tie’s son — signed a one-year deal worth $3 million this summer to join the Maple Leafs and the 28-year-old has spoken extensively about his lifelong friendship with Sundin this season.
“I watched Max play minor hockey since he was seven years old, I went to watch him play games. For him to wear the Leafs jersey, it’s very special. It’s great to see him play and I think once the playoffs start, he’s going to be a very important part of the run that the Maple Leafs are going to make.”
The cumulative pressure of seven consecutive failed playoff runs presents a daily referendum in Toronto and few people can grasp the innate pressure this market presents better than Sundin. He was dismissive of the notion that this team is facing a unique hardship from the legion of fanatics that have processed playoff heartbreak into a Sisyphean hurdle.
“It’s always going to be pressure playing in Toronto,” Sundin said. “They’re young and they’re grown and every time they go into a playoff run, they’re going to learn. And they made some additions with some players, Max including, that are going to make them when the playoffs start.
It’s terrific advice and hearing it from the venerated No. 13 perhaps could be a guiding force for this year’s team that enters the break trailing the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers in the vaunted Atlantic Division.
For the time being, we should perhaps heed Joseph’s advice about the weekend more broadly.
“Just enjoy the All-Star Game for what it is, it’s about entertainment. It’s probably the only time hockey is not about winning and losing, it’s about a great show and appreciating all the talent out there,” Joseph said.

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