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Mats Sundin announces his retirement during a news conference at a hotel in Stockholm on Wednesday. ((Claudio Bresciani/Associated Press))

Mats Sundin announced his retirement from hockey on Wednesday, ending a professional career of nearly 20 years.

"It was a tough decision," Sundin told reporters at a news conference at Stockholm's Grand Hotel. "It's sad to tell you today that my career as a pro hockey player is over."

Sundin, 38, said he made his decision this fall.

He played for the Vancouver Canucks last season following 13 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the Maple Leafs, he became the longest-serving European captain in NHL history and called Toronto his "second home."

Sundin told Toronto radio station AM 640 on Wednesday that he felt that he should be part of the crowd rather than on the ice at this point in his life.

"There's nothing better in the world than skating out in front of 20,000 people … there's nowhere I'm going to get that feeling for the rest of my life. It's something I will miss [but] this really feels like the right decision for me now.

"For me, it was not an easy decision — I've played since I was five years old [and] over 17 years professionally at the highest level," he said. "It's tough to say goodbye, but I just listened to my own body … with the season starting it feels pretty nice to watch from the sidelines."

Sundin's career NHL stats

Season  Team  GP  G  A  Pts.
  90-91  Quebec  80  23  36  59
  91-92  Quebec  80  33  43  76
  92-93  Quebec  80  47  67  114
  93-94  Quebec  84  32  53  85
  94-95  Toronto  47  23  24  47
  95-96  Toronto  76  33  50  83
  96-97  Toronto  82  41  53  94
  97-98  Toronto  82  33  41  74
  98-99  Toronto  82  31  52  83
  99-00  Toronto  73  32  41  73
  00-01  Toronto  82  28  46  74
  01-02  Toronto  82  41  39  80
  02-03  Toronto  75  37  35  72
  03-04  Toronto  81 31  44  75
  05-06  Toronto  70  31  47 78
  06-07  Toronto  75  27  49  76
  07-08  Toronto 74 32 46 78
  08-09 Vancouver 41 9 19 28

 

 NHL career 1346  564  785 1349

Gold medallist, world champion

The Swede recently ruled out participating for his country in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Sundin was one of the country's key players when it captured gold over Finland at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

He also played in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City where he led in goals and points and made the tournament all-star team.

After nine months of weighing his options after his final contract year with the Maple Leafs in 2008, Sundin signed with Vancouver as a free agent in December and made his debut with the Canucks in January against the Edmonton Oilers. Over 41 games with the Canucks, he recorded nine goals and 19 assists, adding three goals and five assists in eight playoff games.

"I don't know if I'll be involved in hockey in the future," he said. "But I will always have a close relationship with hockey. My love for hockey will always be there."

Winning Olympic gold and playing in the NHL playoffs were the highlights of his career, he said. He also told AM 640 that his return to Toronto as a member of Canucks on Feb. 22, where he received a standing ovation after scoring the winning goal in a shootout and being named first star of the game, was "a very special moment."

"Coming back to the Air Canada Centre and the reception I got from the Toronto Maple Leafs and fans was really tough to take in and it was a very emotional night …it will be something I will be thinking about for the rest of my life."

An eight-time NHL all-star, Sundin was the first European player to be drafted No. 1 when the Quebec Nordiques selected him in 1989 and is tops among Swedish players with 564 goals, 785 assists and 1,349 points in his NHL career. That's good enough for a share of 20th in all-time goals with Joe Nieuwendyk and sole possession of 25th place in career points.

His one regret? Not hoisting the Stanley Cup. "It would have been fun, but I've experienced so much," he said.

Known as "Sudden" in Sweden, Sundin also won three IIHF World Championship titles with Sweden, in 1991, '92 and '98.

Agent not surprised

Sundin's longtime agent, J.P. Barry, said he spoke with his client a few times in the off-season.

"I had been over in Sweden in August for his wedding and we sat down and had some long talks about the future," Barry said. "He indicated that [retirement] was likely his decision."

Barry said Sundin's decision wasn't due to lack of interest of his services from NHL clubs.

"He had approaches by the Canucks and a few others … but he felt this was the right time [for retirement]. His advisers told him to take his time and he did, and came back with this decision," Barry said.

"If you look how well he played in half a year …  he could've been in training and would've returned as a strong, strong impact player and brought leadership qualities to any team. But he has to be comfortable with his decision and he was most comfortable with [retirement]."

With files from The Canadian Press