Former Toronto Maple Leafs Star Mats Sundin Helps Kids Shape Up

Mats Sundin (left) takes part in MLSE's Shape Up Program on Thursday afternoon at James S. Bell Elementary School in Etobicoke (Kanishka Sonnadara)

Leafs Great Speaks at Etobicoke Elementary School

Mats Sundin (left) takes part in MLSE's Shape Up Program on Thursday afternoon at James S. Bell Elementary School in Etobicoke (Kanishka Sonnadara)

Former NHL star Mats Sundin may have ended his career as a Vancouver Canuck, but he made a welcomed return to his “second home” as a Toronto Maple Leaf.

As part of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) Shape Up program, Sundin along the Leafs mascot Carlton the Bear and radio personality and Leafs public service announcer Andy Frost made a visit to James S. Bell Elementary School in Etobicoke on Thursday.

Sundin entered to loud cheers and applause – just like he did as a member of the Leafs. But instead of more than 18,000 fans cheering him on – it was a gymnasium full of teachers and students from kindergarten to grade eight. And once again Sundin was wearing the familiar blue and white jersey with the maple leaf crest that he became synonymous with for 13 seasons.

“I’m shocked they still remember me here – even the young kids,” said Sundin with a laugh feeling humbled by the warm reception. “It was great. That was fun.”

The former captain is back in the city for a visit and to watch the Leafs play the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre. While he’s here Sundin volunteered his time to take part in a couple of community events.

Sundin takes part in a push up competition with a lucky student - it ended in a tie (Kanishka Sonnadara)

On Thursday morning he visited the Hospital for Sick Children before speaking at the elementary school in the afternoon. On Friday morning, Sundin will appear as a guest instructor at a skating clinic for school kids.

“I think once you’ve retired and you reflect back to your career,” said Sundin. “(I) appreciate everything the city of Toronto and the organization has done for me so I was happy to come back and be part of this today and I’m looking forward to watching the game. I watched a couple of games on TV that the Leafs played this year and the team looked great.”

Shape Up is now in its second year and is a free program focused on using professional sports to promote healthy, active living opportunities for children in Grades 1-8. Many kids are spending more hours sitting in front of a computer or TV and less time doing physical activity – a problem that Sundin feels is becoming more of a concern for today’s youth.

“I think it’s a world-wide issue actually,” said Sundin. “I know in Sweden and everywhere that kids are becoming more inactive. The computers and other things that doesn’t include physical activity is taking over. I think it’s a huge issue and a great cause.

Students raise their hands to ask Sundin a question (Kanishka Sonnadara) “I think it’s great that the Leafs are involved and I’m happy that I can get the chance to be out and talk about it too. I think it’s something that all kids need to keep doing. I think when I was a kid we all played street hockey, summer, winter or all-year round or soccer. I think kids nowadays need to be out there doing more physical activities as well.”

As part of the program teachers are provided with access to online Daily Physical Activity and Health & Physical Education (H&PE) resources such as video demonstrations, model classrooms, activity cards, circuits and missions from the Leafs, Toronto Marlies, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC. 

Classes participating in the program are also eligible to win school visits and clinics with players, as well as a chance to attend an exclusive MLSE Shape Up event highlighting MLSE’s four teams.

Sundin did not leave the Leafs organization under the best terms having refused to waive his no-trade clause when the team wanted to prevent losing its star player for nothing. However, his contract ended and he eventually signed with the Canucks the following season leaving many fans in Toronto upset with Sundin for leaving the team and the Leafs getting nothing in return.

The situation could have been handled better by both sides, but despite all that transpired, everyone has seemed to have learned to forgive and forget and maintain a positive relationship going forward. 

“I’m just happy the Leafs want to have a relationship with me,” said Sundin. “I think it’s very important for me, as I said I spent the best part of my career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“And Toronto is my second home. It feels like coming home every time I come here. The Leafs and the city of Toronto gave me so much and I’m just happy to give back a little bit.”

Click below to see a video of Mats Sundin speaking to the students at James S. Bell Elementary School as well as answering questions from a student and radio personality and Leafs public service announcer Andy Frost.

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Photos courtesy of Kanishka Sonnadara. Click HERE to view more pics from the event.

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