TORONTO — Mitch Marner’s world has shrunk.
His days in self-quarantine are spent working out in the basement or hitting golf balls into a backyard net or playing video games. There are occasional walks along the river with Zeus, the 11-month-old chocolate lab he and his girlfriend adopted last summer, and FaceTime or Zoom calls with friends.
There isn’t much else going on for the Toronto Maple Leafs star in this time of COVID-19.
“That’s kind of the new way right now and it’s better to stay in and stay healthy than trying to go out there and do something,” said Marner. “All it takes is one person to get sick and spread [the virus] on to a lot more people. Just trying to do our part.”
For Marner, that also means finding ways to give back.
That’s why the 22-year-old posted a handwritten note on his Instagram feed in support of “Kids Help Phone” last week, noting that some young people are getting scared about what’s going on in the world right now and that he is, too.
Kids are writing letters of support to each other. I wanted to offer mine. Thanks to @kidshelpphone, young people are never alone. Show your support by volunteering, donating at kidshelpphone.ca/neveralone, or write a letter letting kids know they can text Kids Help Phone at 686868
76.4k Likes, 1,230 Comments – Mitch Marner (@marner_93) on Instagram: “Kids are writing letters of support to each other. I wanted to offer mine. Thanks to…”
It’s also behind a new initiative from his charity — The Marner Assist Fund — which is raising money for “Second Harvest” to feed children and families during a difficult time. They have started raffling off autographed merchandise to support first responders as well — aiming to “get them the right tools to stay healthy on the front lines and do their job as best they can,” according to Marner.
“Hopefully we can raise more and more money to help them out,” he said.
For as much of a hockey nut as Marner unquestionably is, he stressed the importance of patience while on a conference call with reporters. He isn’t opposed to the idea of playing through July and August if that’s what it takes to complete the paused 2019-20 NHL season, but he mentioned that health and safety had to be paramount when determining the way forward.
“However long it takes to get this COVID finished and conquered, I think everyone is willing to do their part and make sure that they’re putting that ahead of whatever their job is and what they need to do,” he said.
Should the season resume, Marner believes the Leafs will be better for having this pause to “reset.” He tries to speak with multiple teammates each day and thinks there’s a general understanding about what needs to be done to address the up-and-down nature of their play.
Reflecting on his own performance, the skilled winger said he didn’t feel like himself for the first 15 to 20 games and then suffered a high-ankle sprain that kept him out nearly a month. He returned to form starting in December and had 67 points to show for the 59 games he had played when the season was halted March 12.
“I mean obviously the ups and down weren’t great … the games kind of being a flip of the coin of seeing how we’re going to play,” said Marner. “I think that’s something that I take a lot of responsibility [for] myself — trying to be a leader and trying to be a guy that goes in every night and tries to get our team ready to play.
“It wasn’t something that we wanted to be known as or want to keep going, especially if the season does come back.”
If it doesn’t, Marner sounds like a guy who will keep his mind in small places.
He seems to have a pretty healthy perspective about what’s going on beyond the current confines of his quiet existence.
There have already been discussions about how his annual Marner All-Star Invitational charity event might continue on in the event COVID-19 prevents it from going as scheduled on July 23 and 24.
When Marner reflects on his life in self-quarantine, he speaks from a position of gratitude. He appreciates the work being done by the policeman, firefighters, healthcare workers and everyone else performing an essential service amid a global pandemic.
“Just the amount of courage it takes to do it, it’s unbelievable,” said Marner. “Obviously our nurses and doctors are doing a great job, and I think a lot of people are kind of forgetting about the delivery services [too]. I think everyone that’s risking their life to keep the rest of us going, it’s a huge thank you to you.
“Without you guys and without what you’re doing a lot of things would be going wrong.”