I have something to ask of you all, something that won’t be especially easy right now. I’m aware it’s a big ask, and I probably shouldn’t make a request this outrageous. After all this time we finally have a future worth looking ahead to. So you may wonder why now, as we approach almost touchable, reachable, tangible, hope for what’s to come? In spite of all this light we are seeing as we approach the end of our tunnel I still want to do this for me. Just for today, then we can return to our everyday Leafs life.
I would like for everyone of you reading, right here, right now, to forget that Mitchell Marner is property of the Toronto Maple Leafs. You heard me.
Why on God’s green earth with what we just witnessed would you want to do that? Leafs fans have waited what seems like an eternity to laud and fawn over a prospect, a star on the rise. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a talent quite like this emerging in our system. And with more to come, isn’t now the perfect time to look forward and ponder what we can be as an organization, and in this instance what Mitchell Marner can be? Well, you would be right. It’s a great time to look ahead. Though sometimes there’s a problem with focusing on the future, isn’t there. When you look too far ahead, often you can miss what’s right in front of you in the present. We forget to appreciate today. .
I know personally, when it comes to Marner, I’m guilty as charged. All season long, and now culminating in this magical Memorial Cup run, the debates, the expectations, the comparisons have run rampant. I’ve been at the heart of many of these online conversations, predicting the future like “Leafstradamous”, void of appreciation for the moment. What’s happening before our eyes, directly in front of us, “Knight after Knight”, if you’ll allow the wordplay. The truth is, even myself as certain as I may be, none of us know what tomorrow will bring. You can write out projected lineups. You can say ready, not ready, kind of ready, too ready, whatever. It’s all conjecture, which is part of the fun as fans. But in all actuality it’s quite meaningless. The only bridge you can cross is the one you are on. The bridge Marner just crossed during his dominant season and then blew it apart with dynamite play. He isn’t going backwards, only ahead. But lets stop and look at where he is and what he has done. First in London, now in Red Deer.
So I implore you if only for today or a few more to follow, don’t think about what Mitch Marner can do. Not where he’ll play or what he WILL accomplish. I ask you celebrate and embrace what he HAS accomplished. Not the fourth overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the co-captain of the London Knights.
As far as junior hockey season’s go, Marner’s falls nothing short of greatness. It’s my intention to talk with #93 about the year that was and, after the grace period of living in the present I’ve asked for today has passed, his thoughts on the path ahead. With that in mind, let’s not delve too deep into the specifics of what’s made this year so remarkably special. I’m sure I’ve learned somewhere what makes a rainbow, but most times I’d rather just look at it. Today I don’t look for the end of the rainbow, I just want to sit back and say “That’s something else, man. Spectacular.”
It would make sense though for us to at least do a quick recap from a statistical standpoint, the numbers certainly help tell the tale or offer the “Coles Notes” version. 114 points in 57 regular season games, 44 points in 18 playoff games, and perhaps the most staggering, astonishing, (choose your own adjective) of them all, 14 pts in 4 Memorial Cup games. I might add the record mark of 16 points was set in 5 games. So 172 points in 79 games. In an era when goal scoring is down, it seems as though Mitch Marner and his London Knights line mates were not notified. It would be unjust to speak of Marner’s accolades without mentioning Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk. Fantastic players with careers awaiting them that you have to wear shades to view. But make no mistake – Marner is the engine of this line and for that matter his London Knight Memorial Cup Championship team. His play, his demeanour, his junior hockey excellence, has driven everyone on the Knights to new heights. The level of play from this group, and Marner, is very possibly like nothing I’ve witnessed during the years I’ve followed hockey. I’ve likened it to the CHL edition of the 1980’s Edmonton Oilers, where one star helped all the others shine their brightest. Both Marner and the proud franchise the Hunter’s built went on an historic run in 2016, finishing with 17 consecutive victories. Nothing short of brilliant when you consider those wins came against Kitchener, Erie, Niagara, and the great teams we saw this tournament. This is in essence why I’ve asked you, the HOCKEY fan, to forget tomorrow. Forget about the Leafs for now. I know it’s not in our DNA, just do me this solid.
Let’s talk about Mitch Marner and what the scale says another time (though if he jumps on with all his hardware I’m guessing he’s about 440 lbs). Cracking the lineup, 1st line, 13th forward, back in the O, how about we save it. We have all summer and beyond to entertain ourselves with our own opinions and, as the kids are saying, “hot taeks”. Instead, as lovers of the pure sport of hockey, put aside our dreams of a greater Toronto and simply say “Way to go, Mitch. That Knights team of yours was truly awesome.”
I’m not so sure how it came to be, but it did, and I’ve had the unforgettable pleasure of having a birds eye view of this season unfolding. I’ve watched every game and more, including countless discussions with many closest to the Knights Co-Captain, not excluding Dale Hunter and Mitchell himself. And I will tell you without reproach what stands out above it all. There’s been jaw dropping dangles, ridiculous point totals, records, and a U-Haul full of trophies. It’s all been incredible. Yet, as amazing as all of that was, the experience will be etched in my memory as long as I am of sound mind, without compromise, because of the constitution of Mitchell Marner, the young man.
It’s been a long time since the boy with the Wendel Clark haircut and the Cowlegs poster on his wall had this feeling. To have a player invoke emotion the way our hockey heroes of the past have done, it was almost a forgotten sensation. Yes, at times, not unlike now, he’s inspired the part-time hockey writer. However, more so the 19 year old Marner awoke the fan inside this grown ass man. A fan who hasn’t had this passion dredged up in quite some time. Goals, assists, and beautiful plays alone isn’t enough to do it. I’ll tell you what is. Back checking like your life depends on it, diving in front of slapshots while killing four straight minutes of penalties, the complete and total unselfishness displayed every night, and lastly, handing the league Championship trophy over to a teammate battling Cancer. That’s what it takes to capture the spirit of our great game and bring out the childlike fan who lives in us all. That my good friends, that is what Mitchell Marner did this year for me and likely any of you who have had the opportunity and privilege to get to know what this kid is all about at the core. On and off the ice. I promise you, the people of London will never forget it and he will be eternally loved there. For the awards, for the achievements, but most importantly, for the Canadian hockey player’s spirit living inside of him that transcended on to those fortunate enough to be pulled out of their chair time and time again this year. Mitch Marner made us care not only about the game, but about the player, the person. The results of the Memorial Cup, as thrilling as they were, really didn’t matter. We, the fan, had already won.
Now let’s raise our glass, tip our cap, clap our hands, for Mitchell Marner – the OHL regular season and Playoff MVP, the Canadian Hockey League MVP, the Memorial Cup MVP, and the Captain of the CHL Champion London Knights.
Today….today it’s the Knights and their time.
Live in the moment. Leafs Nation, our day of inspiration is coming.
See you all tomorrow.