Marleau, Matthews, Marner show friendship ties still run strong

Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau are put to the test on their Zoom conference, to see just how much they know about each other.

In an alternate universe, Patrick Marleau would have been on the ice with the Pittsburgh Penguins preparing for another run at an elusive Stanley Cup.

Instead he spent Monday morning on a NHL-initiated Zoom call with good buddies Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner, playing a version of the “Newlywed Game” and sharing some laughs to break up the monotony of the COVID-19 pause.

It was an excellent illustration of how weird a stopped NHL season is, especially at the outset of a week that was originally supposed to include the start of the playoffs on Wednesday night.

Marleau waived his no-movement clause to facilitate a deal to Pittsburgh hours before the Feb. 24 trade deadline and suited up in eight games with his new team before the novel coronavirus halted play on March 12 — meaning that he’s now been away from the Penguins in self-quarantine longer than he was ever with them.

“The short amount of time I spent there was great, the guys were great,” Marleau said during Monday’s call. “Yeah, just a great opportunity for myself to get another shot at winning a Cup with the Penguins and everything’s been great with the organization. They’ve helped every step out of the way.

“I’m looking forward to getting out of the house — I’m sure like everybody is — and get back to normal and get out there and start playing again.”

Marleau famously became fast friends with Matthews and Marner during his two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, adopting two considerably younger teammates into a family that already included four boys of his own.

With no games on the horizon and NHL players instructed to remain in quarantine through at least April 15, the three men spent time Monday going over the well-worn details of a friendship that began when they watched “Cars 3” together during a Leafs road trip early in the 2017-18 season.

“Then it became kind of a tradition: Every road trip we’d put on a movie and order dessert,” said Matthews.

He and Marner became fixtures at the Marleau house, getting together for holidays and engaging in some raucous mini-stick games with the Marleau boys: Landon, Brody, Jagger and Caleb.

“I don’t think the first time we brought shorts or anything, and then every other time we went after we brought an extra pair of clothes,” said Marner. “We knew we were going to get all sweaty and play mini-sticks for hours. I think that’s kind of just where the real relationship started — when we started going over there and hanging out with all the kids and just kind of feeling like really we were part of the family.”

If the “Newlywed Game” they engaged in proved anything, it’s how strong those ties still run.

There weren’t very many contradictory answers to questions that ranged from who is most likely to pick up the cheque at dinner (Marleau) to who could survive solely on pizza (Marner) to who is most likely to be found binge-watching “Love is Blind” (Matthews).

The amount of chaos on the conference call was as entertaining as it was relatable in this time of staying home to flatten the curve. Marleau’s sons were crawling over the couch behind him. Marner’s dog barked in the background. And then a phone started ringing in his house until Matthews finally stepped in and said: “Mitch, please.”

“I’ve been here for like three weeks and I have never heard that once,” Marner replied. “I thought it was one of you guys. I don’t know what that was.”

For half an hour, anyway, there was little thought about hockey — although Marner did cop to being frustrated about the NHL’s pause despite acknowledging that there’s more important things to worry about right now.

“I think we’re itching and dying to get back just as much [as the fans are], but like Mitch said obviously there’s some things that are bigger than hockey and this is definitely one of ‘em,” said Matthews.

Marleau, ever the ultimate hockey dad, gave a reminder about the importance of washing your hands for at least 20 seconds and limiting trips out of the house to only those that are absolutely necessary.

The 40-year-old could miss out on his final crack at the playoffs if the NHL doesn’t find a way to resume the 2019-20 season and is obviously going to do everything he can to see that it doesn’t happen.

“I think the sooner we do all the right things, the sooner we’ll be able to be in front of the fans and enjoying playing again,” said Marleau.

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