A Leafs Hub Collaboration
By: Ben Shelley and Peter Baracchini
It’s something that every kid dreams about. The opportunity of a life time to meet and skate with their idols.
Fans, majority of who were kids, were lined up throughout the Vaughan Sports Village complex to meet their favourite Toronto Maple Leafs players at the inaugural Marner Assist Fund charity fundraiser. The fundraiser was started by Maple Leaf forward, Mitch Marner, which aims to create sustainable change for under-privileged kids that looks to give them a chance for a better future.
Mitch Marner is a star on the ice. But on Friday, we were able to see the human side of him. He took the time to sign autographs, take pictures with kids and give back to the community so that others could have a future and opportunity to possibly be where he is at in his career.
“The youth and children benefit from this,” Marner said. “We just want to give to kids in need and under-privileged kids, Sick Kids hospital and anything with anti-bullying. We just wanted to raise money to not just pick one charity but donate to multiple and try to make a difference.”
It took a lot of planning hard work, dedication and commitment to go through with the event. Mitch and his family decided to talk about the idea for a fundraiser around late November, early December. But it wasn’t until late February, early March that Mitch decided to go through with it. Four to five months later, the inaugural Marner Assist Fund was born.
“Our whole family, we’re proud of him having the initiative to take this on,” said Mitch’s father, Paul. “I think form an early age, especially when he was in London, the Hunter’s ran that team like a pro team and at an early age, 16- 17, he learned about the importance of community, having visits to hospitals and of course him being a Leaf that’s part of the territory and then he always wanted to do something once he was a little more established and decided to take a shot this year. We’re really happy.”
Mitch received a lot of help for the event to be a success. Natasha Borota from the It Factor was at the forefront promoting the event and media involvement, while Mitch received a number of support from sponsors such as Intact Insurance, True Hockey, Red Bull, Chevrolet, Sportchek and Canadian Tire.
“They were all eager to get on board”, Paul said, “When you have those folks jump on right away, it makes the event come together a lot quicker and easier.”
Mitch Marner’s desire to give back is on display through an event like his charity sports competition. But when Mitch’s father, Paul Marner, was asked why Mitch wanted to do something like his, he said it’s just the kind of person Mitch is and has been, dating all the way back to minor hockey.
Paul told a story of Mitch playing in spring hockey tournaments at a very early age. Mitch would win three or four Most Valuable Player awards at the tournament but he would only keep the first one. He’d pick a player on his team and give that award to them without anything being said from his mom or dad to do so. So over a decade later, it’s no surprise that Mitch is still thinking of others.
“I wanted to be one of those people that kind of started this charity event that make kids realize that when you grow up you can still give back to your community no matter how big you get.” – Mitch Marner
The event included an auction, a draft night party and gave fans the opportunity to hit the ice with NHL stars. Other players helping with the charity were Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Matt Martin, Victor Mete, Dominic Moore, Robert Thomas, Rich Clune, Daniel Ciampini, Sledge Hockey Paralympian Dominic Cozzolino, and Olympians Laura Stacey, Erin Ambrose. James van Riemsdyk was also present on Thursday at the draft party. The fact that so many were on board with the event, shows the bond that the hockey community has and the support they offer.
“I think it goes to show what a close knit group of guys were on the Leafs,” Paul said, “the players as a group are very close so I think they like to help each other out.”
The event also featured former Toronto Maple Leaf and current TSN analyst, Mike Johnson, who was impressed with Mitch’s commitment and dedication as a player to put on this kind of event.
“It speaks to his maturity,” Johnson said, “It’s a lot of work and responsibility to put any kind of event on of this scale and for Mitch to be taking this on at his age, it goes to show what kind of kid he is and what kind of family he is from and how important it is to give back to the community that has helped him achieve the things he already has.”
“This young man is extraordinary in every sense of the word,” said former Toronto Argonauts head coach and player and current vice- chairman, Michael “Pinball” Clemons, “his commitment to community is unparalleled at his age to do this. You can see his family being here, it’s ingrained in him. It’s a part of him. Community is who he is and he wants to help and he wants give back. He started even when he was playing in London.
“What he’s communicating to these young people is that, ‘If I can, you can,’” Clemons added.
The money raised will be split amongst many charities. Among the charities will be JumpStart, Muskoka Woods and The Robbie Nacarrato Foundation and then a few more charities will be chosen from there. Anti-bullying was another place that Marner wanted to put the money.
“Anti-bullying is another one Mitch really wants to get involved with and that’s because he went through a lot of bullying himself when he was younger,” said Paul. “Even though he was a really good player he was always small so he kind of got picked on. Not just by players, by parents and by coaches so he’s a big advocate. Social media can be vicious and it bothers him when he sees things on social media about himself or his teammates and you see it about other people too.”
In terms of the turnout of the event, Mitch is happy about with how the event turned out.
“I’m very happy about it,” Mitch exclaimed, “A lot of fans showed up which is phenomenal, that’s what we want to be about. We want to be about fans coming here and seeing these players and enjoying that moment with them. Obviously in the next few years we want to grow it larger and larger every year, but for our first year I’m very happy with the turnout. I think it turned out great.”
Paul echoed the sentiment saying this year was a success and that this fundraiser can only go up from here.
“Our plan is to go forward with the event from now on and I think that it will only get bigger and better,” Paul explained, “Next year, you’re going see a lot of people want to be involved.”
When Leafs Hub attended Mitch’s training session a few years back, Mitch was all about taking the time to sign autographs and chat with the kids that looked up to him. The generosity and humility was the same last week. Mitch was signing jerseys and taking pictures with everyone. And on the ice, he was involved in a number of games of keep away with some of the younger players. He made sure that they were all having a great time. On or off the ice, Mitch did this with a smile. This speaks a lot about his character and who he is as a human being.
“I’ve always told him the kids are going to be your fans for life,” Paul said who looked up to Ron Ellis and Dave Keon, “I said to Mitch, ‘When you give yourself to the fans, they’re behind you 100 per cent.’ He’s always been a generous or giving kid.”
Mitch is always in the spotlight when he is on the ice. This time around, he wanted to use that spotlight to show that he is more than just a hockey player.
“That was my goal here,” Mitch said. “I wanted to be one of those people that kind of started this charity event that make kids realize that when you grow up you can still give back to your community no matter how big you get.”