Interview conducted by: Ben Shelley and Peter Baracchini
Over the course of the Marner All-Star Invitational, Paul Marner, Mitch Marner’s father, took the time to speak with us and answer some questions on planning the event, the chemistry on the Maple Leafs, media coverage of the team and Mitch’s desire to give back.
What do you think of Mitch running this event?
Obviously we’re proud of him for having the initiative to take this on. I think from an early age, especially when he was in London, the Hunters ran that team like a professional team and at an early age he learned about the importance of community, visiting hospitals and of course [with] being a Leaf, that’s part of the territory. He always wanted to do something once he was a little more established and decided to take a shot at it this year, so we were really happy.
When did the idea come up and what was the planning like?
The idea probably came up late last fall. We weren’t sure if we were going to try to pull it off this year or wait another year. But then in late February or March we decided we were going to go ahead with the event and we’ve been planning it since then so four or five months goes into pulling this all together.
Are you surprised at how quickly the event gained notoriety and player involvement?
I mean I think that goes to show what a close knit group of guys were on the Leafs— I say were because Matt’s no longer there— but the players as a group are very close so I think they like to help each other out. Natasha Borota from The It Factor did a great job getting media involved and promoting the event. Mitch has been lucky, he’s got some really good corporate partners with him now like Intact Insurance, Chevrolet, Red Bull, Sport Chek, Canadian Tire, True Hockey, the list goes on and I don’t want to forget about anybody. When all of his corporate partners heard he was doing it they were all really eager to get on board. So when you have those folks jump on right away it makes the event come together a lot quicker and easier.
Is this an event that you see happening annually?
We’re really happy it’s been a success and our plan is to go forward with the event from now on and I think it’ll only get bigger and better. We didn’t quite sell out, we had 25 teams targeted and I think we ended up with 18 but the [Draft Party] last night was over capacity. So I think next year you’re going to see a lot of people want to be involved. We had quite a few people in the last few days say “Hey, I’m in” but we couldn’t accommodate.
What did you think of the Draft Party last night?
I’ve got to be honest, I was really nervous at first. You see different events, golf tournaments and different things and all of them have a different level of professionalism, so I was nervous. We left it in Natasha’s hands— she pulled it all together and she did a great job. We walked in and it was honestly like a Hollywood type of event… every single person I talked to was surprised at how big and how polished it was especially for our first event. We were really happy with that.
When we first met Mitch a few years back at a training session, he was all about giving back is this something that you instilled in him?
I would say I’ve always told him the kids are going to be your fans for life, just like I was a fan of Ron Ellis and Davey Keon, I’m still a fan of theres and they don’t play hockey anymore. I said to Mitch, ‘When you give yourself to the fans, they’re behind you 100 per cent.’ I don’t want to say that I had to talk him into that because he’s always been a really generous and giving kid. And I’ll give you an example. When he was probably eight years old, we would go to spring hockey tournaments and at that age he was kind of the perennial all-stars at that age and sometimes he’d win 3 or 4 MVP 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. He did it from a very early age. I’d say a lot of it is his character, I’d like to take credit for it but a lot of it is just him.
Where will the money that’s raised be going?
We’re going to give to multiple charities. We’re going to give to Jumpstart, Muskoka Woods and The Robbie Naccarato Foundation and then we’ll pick a few more charities after that. 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. 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.
Speaking of social media, were you surprised by how much attention Mitch gets and how much of a public figure he’s became?
I’d say I’m not really surprised. I’ve grown up in this market for a long time and I’ve seen how the media can be good and I’ve seen how the media can be bad. I think when things are going well in this town, it’s probably the best town to play in. If you’re going through a rough patch or the team is struggling, it’s not a fun place to play. That comes from a media perspective, it gets more attention than probably any other team in the world and that’s baseball, hockey, etc. Hockey here is massive.
Are you impressed with how Mitch has handled the media attention?
I talk to him all the time it’s a tough place, as I said, to play because if your coach decides to throw you on the fourth line, it becomes a huge story. If your coach cuts your ice- time or doesn’t put you out in certain situations it’s a big story and Mitch, like a lot of players of his draft status and caliber, usually don’t go through that. Mitch has gone through it a fair bit here already for a couple years and I’ve been proud of him, he’s handled it a lot better than I would have.
The tightness of the team has been well documented. Have you noticed this as well?
Yeah. I think the team is very tight and I think it’s pretty tight because it’s a young group of players and a lot of them came onto the team around the same time with some really good veterans like Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri, Ron Hainsey, guys that I’d say are seasoned veterans that have seen a lot of young guys. I think there’s a really good mix there. I think teams that win have really good goaltending and team chemistry. I don’t care how good you are or how bad you are, I saw it in London. That first year Mitch was in London as a rookie, on paper, that’s one of the best teams that has ever been assembled in junior hockey. Bo Horvat, Chris Tierney, Josh Anderson, I’m missing a bunch of guys. But if you look at how many guys are playing professionally from that team, I don’t think there are many teams that had that many pros. But there wasn’t a lot of great chemistry on that team, it didn’t click for whatever reason. They got knocked out in the second round of the playoffs and then got swept in the Memorial Cup. But then Mitch’s final year, it was a really good team. On paper, I didn’t think they should be a Memorial Cup contender but then you see what they did. Look at Vegas Golden Knights. Great goaltending, great chemistry and a coach that brought that team together in a very short time and became Stanley Cup Finalists. I really believe this Leafs team has that chemistry.
Big thanks to Paul for taking the time to speak with us!