TORONTO – Mitch Marner first realized he held the ability to make a real difference outside of the rink when he was in London, Ont., putting up pinball numbers for the high-profile OHL Knights.
“I started noticing I had the power when I was in London — going to hospitals, talking to the kids and enjoying those moments. Now, I’m in Toronto, the biggest hockey market. Even people who don’t follow you [on social media] see your tweets — that’s the thing that’s special about this,” Marner says.
“We have a platform we can express ourselves on that can bring a lot of awareness and help out. I’m trying to do that, and I think we can all do that. If you believe in something and can help out, you shouldn’t be afraid.”
Roy Pejcinovski, a 15-year-old star goaltender for the AAA Bantam Don Mills Flyers, was slain in a triple homicide two weeks ago. Roy’s mother, Krassimira, and 13-year-old sister, Venallia, were also killed.
The Pejcinovski Family Memorial Fund was established in their honour. The funds are being directed to causes including domestic violence and children initiatives such as sport and play.
Roy is described as “a natural athlete and loyal friend … a caring, charismatic and funny kid who loved his hockey team the Don Mills Flyers” by his father, Vas.
Marner played his minor midget year, 2012-13, with the Flyers. He never met Roy personally but knows people who know the family well and still maintains ties to the GTHL organization.
Upon learning of the tragedy, the Leafs winger felt compelled to tweet out his support and direct his thousands of followers to the cause, twice.
“I heard how good of a goalie he was, heard how good of a person he was. That’s just a heartbreaking thing. It’s a crappy thing in this world right now — the amount of people we’re losing to incidents that shouldn’t be happening,” Marner says.
“My trainer in minor midget is now the trainer of that team. After I tweeted that, I heard his reaction off of it and just how heartbroken his team was. It’s brutal. It sucks that stuff like this still happens in our world. I just think it’s important to get awareness out there. It’s terrifying to think that could happen to anyone.”
Cory Fenn, who had a relationship with Krassimira, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder for the slayings. More than $180,000 has been raised through multiple GoFundMe campaigns, and hundreds of mourners turned out to the funeral, held over the weekend at a Toronto church.
Wearing RF74 decals and patches — a nod to Roy’s sweater number — the Flyers won the GTHL championship, qualifying for next month’s provincials.
#RP74 Roy – best tender I ever had. 4ever in my always remembered. I will never 4get u. I promise 2 always think about u. Feeling robbed. U r gone 2soon. Will never understand why. #Hockey #Fornite not the same #senseless #broken #rp74 pic.twitter.com/UW4UpoCQtf
— Brennan Othmann (@BOthmann78) March 19, 2018
“The world has lost a great hockey player, but not just that—a great person and a family. They’re all so young, you’ll never see what they’ll grow up to be,” says Marner.
“The worst thing is, it wasn’t just [Roy]. They lost his mom and his sister as well. It’s a heartbreaking thing to hear about. You feel sorry for anyone who knows them, that void they’ll have now.”
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has noticed Marner’s maturation process over the course of this winter, and it extends far beyond his nine-game point streak or his backchecking.
“He’s 20 years old, isn’t he?” Babcock said. “So, he’s 20, he’s a good kid, he works hard, he’s got great enthusiasm. I think Patty [Marleau] and [Ron Hainsey] and those guys, being around them, you get to learn how to be a good pro each and every day. I think that’s the growth that you need.”
The Pejcinovski family has let the former Flyers star know they’re grateful for his small role in showing support.
“They’re very thankful. The hockey world, the movement they’re doing for them, it’s crazy to see that. It’s awesome. Anything we can do to help them out, that’s what we need to do,” Marner says.
“My life, personally, that’s the bigger picture here. Obviously, you want to be remembered as a great hockey player, but me, I want to be known more for what I do off the ice to help people by trying to bring awareness to things like this.”