Patrick Marleau is about to hang up his skates, finally.
Don’t panic. This is not a surprise retirement announcement. We’re being literal.
The Toronto Maple Leafs ironman is still sliding his feet into a set of his beloved Reebok 9K Pump skates — a product initially released 13 years ago.
But, Marleau told Sportsnet, he is down to his final pair, and they won’t last through the end of this season. Ruh-roh.
The switch Marleau has gone to great lengths to delay is coming.
The time is nigh.
"Pretty soon," Marleau said. "This season I’ll be in the new ones.
"I’ve been trying to get into the new ones for years now. I just haven’t pushed it hard to get into them — but now I gotta get into them."
Hockey players, by nature, are creatures of habit, but when it comes to the equipment in his bag, the 39-year-old Marleau is the Last of the Mohicans.
"It’s cool to see how effective he can be with the old gear. Kind of a different era," says 22-year-old teammate Travis Dermott, who grabs a box-fresh pair of blades every 45 days.
"It’s kind of an old chirp to be shooting at him, but it’s kinda cool. I mean, he still uses a two-piece stick, all the old stuff. His shoulder pads? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use shoulder pads like that."
Beautiful. As John Tavares speaks to 50-plus reporters about his emotional return, Patrick Marleau, in flip flops, is casually blowtorching together his two-piece hockey stick in the background.
— luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) February 28, 2019
Some perspective: When Reebok’s Pumps made the leap from the hardcourt to the ice rink, Auston Matthews was nine years old.
The boots fit Marleau like Cinderella’s slippers. The weight, the flex—perfect. So when Reebok announced, years ago, that it was discontinuing the model, Marleau bought in bulk and started rationing. The strategy has helped him outlast Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek, another Pump loyalist who wore through them.
"Right when they said they were running out of material, I got like 12 pairs. Something like that. That was when they told me. I used to go through four or five pairs a year. Now I’m down to two a year," explained Marleau, who’s played more NHL games than all but six skaters in history.
"You deal with it. They get really soft once you use them for a while. It wasn’t ideal, but I just kept trying to work with them.
"I’ve been using them for years. Over the years they’ve changed them a little bit here and there. The main reason I got a bunch made was, the bottom wasn’t graphite. It was this big, thick plastic, and I was used to it. Now, I have to go lighter. Maybe it’ll be better. We’ll see."
Marleau hasn’t scoured Toronto’s Play It Again Sports and never did follow up with the fan who tweeted his wife, Christina, saying he still had a set to donate to hockey’s Dee Brown.
A contingency plan has been in place for a while now.
Marleau experimented with several different boot models during recent summers before settling on a set of CCM Ribcor 70Ks, the ones that felt most similar to the Pumps.
The winger requested the brand custom-mold the Ribcor into the 9K pattern, and CCM obliged, but the material isn’t quite the same and he still notices the difference.
Now he’s wearing the CCMs for every practice and morning skate, saving the last Pumps and breaking the new boots in for the big night when he’ll have no choice but to make the leap.
"I probably should’ve got a new pair a long time ago," Marleau concedes.
"It’s just something you’re used to. There’s always that awkward period where you’re getting into new skates. I just never really wanted to go through that. I tried in the summer a few times to do it, but it’s been awkward. I never fought through that awkward stage, so I always went back to ’em."
As the man the young Leafs call "The GOAT" scratches and claws to register his 16th 20-goal and 19th 40-point campaign — he’s at 14-19-33 with 17 games to go — the end of an era beckons.
Watch his feet.
"It’s been a damn long time. It’s going to be weird seeing him with the new ones," Dermott says.
"God knows how long he’s had the jock for."