TORONTO — When Justin Bieber came calling with a favour, three Toronto Maple Leafs‘ stars were more than happy to answer.
That’s how Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Tyson Barrie found themselves taking part in a Boxing Day skate at 95-year-old William Allman Memorial Arena in Stratford, Ont., on Thursday afternoon. Bieber was back in his hometown for the holidays and invited the Leafs to join his childhood buddies for a shinny game at the home of the Jr. B Stratford Warriors.
"We had nothing else going on and that’s something you don’t want to miss," Marner said Friday. "Obviously, we jumped at the excitement of that and we had all three of us go down.
"It was a lot of fun and it was cool meeting all of his friends as well."
Naturally, their presence created a small stir in the community of 30,000 people about two hours west of Toronto. The Leafs obliged requests for selfies before and after taking the ice with the pop star and his buddies.
Bieber is a big Leafs fan and sat directly behind the home bench wearing a Matthews sweater for the Oct. 25 game at Scotiabank Arena. Matthews, meanwhile, loves fashion
and routinely wears items from Bieber’s Drew House clothing line.
They’ve struck up a friendship in recent months and that’s where the planning started to happen for Thursday’s shinny session.
"It was great. It was a lot of fun," said Matthews. "I’ve never been in that part of Ontario, so it was kind of cool to see where he grew up and meet a lot of buddies that he grew up with and everything.
"It was definitely a pretty fun experience for all of us."
The players were split into two teams and they played 4-on-4 — Bieber had both Matthews and Marner on his side, while Barrie was on the other — which gave the Leafs players a chance to stretch their legs during the three-day holiday break.
Bieber’s team won, but the game wasn’t overly competitive.
"Those guys, I think Christmas holidays, they were all just coming from work, drinking beers and having fun," said Barrie.
As for Bieber himself, the entertainer drew positive reviews. He skates often and participated in the celebrity game during the 2017 NHL all-star weekend in Los Angeles — memorably taking a hit from Chris Pronger.
"He’s actually better than I thought he was," said Marner. "I saw videos of when he skated here (at Scotiabank Arena) the first time and you don’t really see too much, but he’s got really good hands and he’s got a pretty good shot on him.
"I think he surprised me and Matts quite a bit, and Tyson."
The Leafs certainly seemed to enjoy their visit to Stratford. Barrie had never met Bieber before and came away impressed.
"He was a really nice guy and it’s a cool thing what he does for all of his buddies there," said Barrie. "It was a cool day."