The Toronto Maple Leafs are gearing up for two games in Sweden starting today Friday, November 17, as part of the 2023 NHL Global Series presented by Fastenal. The home audience will be tuning in to watch hockey in a different time zone this weekend, swapping beer for cornflakes. The Leafs are scheduled to face the Detroit Red Wings on Friday (2 p.m. ET; BSDET, NHL, TSN4) and the Minnesota Wild on Sunday (8 a.m. ET; BSWIX, BSN, NHLN, SNO)
Despite a sluggish start and some notable letdowns, the Leafs have taken their performance to an international stage. They embarked on a red-eye flight to Sweden on Monday night, and upon landing, the players headed straight to the hotel without catching a wink of sleep. Experts recommend staying awake to adjust to the time change, so a fatigued but determined group hit the ice to shake off the cobwebs.
In Sweden, the spotlight shines on William Nylander, the most celebrated Maple Leaf in the country. Currently ranking fourth in overall NHL scoring, Nylander is on a hot streak, registering a point in every Leafs game this season. He’s exhibited puck-handling skills that border on magical, even outshining fellow stars Matthews and Marner. With a potential ten to 12 million dollar contract on the line, Nylander’s outstanding performance becomes all the more significant.
Reaves & Klingberg
However, the same cannot be said for John Klingberg and Ryan Reaves, both offseason additions under new Leafs GM Brad Treliving. Klingberg, allegedly injured or perhaps a healthy scratch (uncertainty surrounds the situation), has struggled in his own zone, while his renowned offensive prowess has been less than stellar. Reaves, expected to bring some grit to the lineup, sat on the bench last week when Brad Marchand of the Bruins committed a controversial slew foot on Nylander. Despite the potential for serious injury, Reaves showed no immediate response or retaliation, drawing disappointment from Leafs Coach Sheldon Keefe. Reaves has recently found himself as a healthy scratch, prompting speculation about potential trades for both him and Klingberg by American Thanksgiving. While Toronto is known for its demanding hockey atmosphere, the fans and media’s disappointment in these cases seems justified rather than hysterical.
In a season marked by ups and downs and a lack of consistency, a workation in Sweden might be the perfect escape for the Leafs, providing a respite from the intense scrutiny of the Toronto media.
It’s All Willie
“I never imagined playing NHL games over there, and now it’s going to happen,” Nylander expressed, “I mean, you never think about a scenario like that, and now it’s about to come to life. It’s going to be very special.”
Nylander aims to continue his impressive run in front of friends and family at Avicii Arena in Stockholm. “I think we’re all super excited to go back to Sweden with friends and family and stuff,” Nylander said. “I mean, I have some friends and family that haven’t been able to make it over to watch a game, so I think that’d be very special for them to see that. And, of course, all the people in Sweden can now watch some NHL hockey games at a decent hour there. Obviously, with games in North America, the games start at like 1 a.m. there, so not a lot of kids can watch those games. I think this is an important chance to show them NHL hockey.”
Despite Nylander’s Swedish citizenship, he was born in Calgary, spending much of his youth in North America while his father, Michael Nylander, played in the NHL. Michael, with an illustrious career playing for teams like the Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers.
Since 2016, William has played for the Maple Leafs, chosen as the No. 8 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, while his brother Alex plays for the Rochester Americans, the AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, selected as the No. 8 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Returning home holds special significance for Nylander beyond the chance to play in front of family. This week, the NHL Alumni Association created the Borje Salming Courage Award to honor the impact of the late Borje Salming, who opened doors for Swedish players in the NHL. The award will be presented to Detroit Red Wings Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
Nylander, a student of the game, acknowledges Salming’s role and recalls a memorable meeting with him in Sweden. This time, Nylander will play a different role, serving as a tour guide for his Maple Leafs teammates.
Mats Sundin and Max Domi
Max Domi is excited for his inaugural visit to Sweden not just to play a couple of hockey games but to be reunite with his hero and mentor Mats Sundin. Their relationship, built on a foundation spanning more than two decades, traces back to the time when Sundin and Tie Domi, Max’s father, were teammates with the Maple Leafs—an enduring connection that has only strengthened over the years.
In a recent interview, Domi expressed, “He means everything to me, man. He’s just one of the best, if not the best Maple Leafs of all time, and he earned it all. So, he was my favorite player and the guy I’ve looked up to my entire life for that exact reason.”
Domi’s admiration for Sundin transcends the on-ice achievements of the former Maple Leafs captain, who holds franchise records for goals (420) and points (987). Sundin is more than a hockey icon; he’s a close family friend and a pivotal figure in Domi’s life.
“He was a very close family friend of ours and is like family to me to this day,” Domi said. “He was one of my dad’s best friends. So yeah, he’s a huge part of my life and a big reason why I fell in love with the game of hockey and a big reason I was and still am a Leafs fan.”
The unique bond between Sundin and Tie Domi, teammates in their first season when Max was born in 1995, has endured through contrasting personalities—Mats, the tall, skilled forward from Sweden, and Tie, the short, tough enforcer from Windsor, Ontario.
As Max attended his father’s games from a young age, informal games in the Maple Leafs dressing room with Sundin became a cherished tradition. Sundin’s interest in Max’s minor hockey career marked the beginning of a lasting connection that has seen Max grow from a young fan to an accomplished player.
Type 1 Diabetes
Sundin, reflecting on Max’s journey, noted, “It’s been fantastic to follow his career and what he’s done. And all while he’s had type 1 diabetes. It’s been fantastic, just fantastic.”
Memorable moments for Max, including skating with Mats at Scotiabank Arena and posing for a photo that captures their connection, have added layers to their relationship.
“I remember that pic,” Max said. “I was the captain of the team and wore No. 13 because of him. We weren’t wearing the exact same jersey, but pretty similar colors and both had one three on the back and a C on the front. There’s almost like a Sundin and Domi connection, but in this case a senior and junior kind of thing. Pretty special stuff that, I mean, I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
A significant milestone in Sundin’s career, scoring his 500th NHL goal in 2006, remains etched in Max’s memory, emphasizing the impact Sundin had both on and off the ice.
“He had so much presence. He didn’t have to say much. He let his actions do the talking for him. And what I admire about that is that he was such a great captain, a great leader, a great team guy,” Domi remarked.
As Max’s NHL career progresses, Sundin continues to offer support, attending games in Toronto and providing guidance on physical fitness. Their enduring connection will be further celebrated as Sundin joins the Maple Leafs for a staff dinner in Stockholm during the team’s day off.
For Max, this reunion serves as motivation for a prime goal in his career.
“I think Mats is still underrated when history looks at him,” Max said. “And think about this. My dad and Mats, for all the great things they did, they never got to win a Stanley Cup with the Leafs. I think there is some unfinished business there, not just for me, but for all three of us.”
by Myles Shane