Canadian scientist receives Nobel Prize, meets idol Mats Sundin

Canadian scientist Arthur McDonald was formally presented Thursday with his Nobel Prize at a ceremony in Stockholm, but received a prized gift earlier in the week from one his idols, former Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin.

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McDonald, a retired professor from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., was the co-winner in physics for his work on tiny particles known as neutrinos.

"It is a great honour to receive this prize," McDonald said in a statement. "It is wonderful to share it with many of my (Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) colleagues and their partners here in Stockholm and with hundreds more who contributed so much to our success, at Queen's and our other Canadian and international institutions."

McDonald and Japanese scientist Takaaki Kajita were cited for the discovery of neutrino oscillations and their contributions to experiments showing that neutrinos change identities.

They determined that neutrinos have mass, which fundamentally changed the understanding of the laws of physics.

The prizes in medicine, chemistry, literature and the Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences were also handed out at the ceremony, each receiving a medal from Sweden's king, Carl XVI Gustaf.

McDonald's work was trumpeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"This is a proud moment for Canadian science and for all Canadians," Trudeau said in a statement.

"The Canadian government values the work of our country's scientific community -- and fully supports it -- by encouraging excellence and respecting scientists' independence. We will ensure that all future decisions on matters that affect Canadians will be informed by scientific evidence."

McDonald attended the ceremony with his wife and family.

But if anything could rival receiving a Nobel Prize, it may have been a meeting arranged by the Canadian embassy in Sweden where he hobnobbed with Sundin and former Leafs defenceman Borje Salming, both Swedes.

He had a busy week that included giving the customary Nobel Lecture on his work and a meeting Tuesday with former members of his favourite hockey team, the Maple Leafs.

Immediately after receiving word from Sweden that he had won a Nobel Prize, McDonald hugged and thanked his wife. Shortly thereafter he spoke with his friend, Lars Bergstrom, a Swedish physicist, according to a Queen's University spokesman.

The talk quickly turned from the award to hockey, with McDonald telling Bergstrom he wished Sundin still played for the Leafs. The Swedish embassy caught word of the story and invited Sundin and Salming to a reception with Canada's ambassador to Sweden, Kenneth Macartney, and McDonald.

On Tuesday, Sundin presented McDonald with a signed Maple Leafs jersey with the physicist's name on the back and the number "1."

In an interview with Sverige Radio at the ceremony, McDonald said he became a Leafs fan as a child in the 1950s, when he was allowed to stay up late in his Sydney, N.S., home to listen to their games on the radio.

His passion for the Leafs extended to more contemporary squads.

"Mats was the heart and soul of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the whole time he was there," McDonald told the radio station. "As a captain, he was probably the greatest captain ever of that team."

On Salming: "Very good, hard shot from the blue line and in particular the consistency in his ice sense -- the ability to decide where he should be at any given time -- was his principal characteristic that I remember."

In addition to the signed Leafs jersey, McDonald will split the Nobel Prize money -- 8 million Swedish kronor ($1.3 million CAD) -- with Kajita.

With files from The Associated Press


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