PARADISE, N.L. — They came here as Maple Leafs. They’ll leave as honorary Newfoundlanders.
Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen and Tyson Barrie puckered up with a cod on Saturday night, taking the opportunity to join the Order of Newfoundland Screechers with a traditional Screech-In Ceremony during their training camp visit to St. John’s.
“That was interesting for sure,” Matthews said Sunday. “I kind of heard about it: I knew you had to kiss the fish and do the shot. But I think the whole ceremony beforehand — just kind of laying down some facts and some history about the area, about The Rock — that was pretty sweet.”
The tradition is used to welcome visitors to Newfoundland and dates back to the Second World War.
The Leafs players were presented with certificates after being screeched in at Christian’s bar on George St. They had varying opinions on what it was like to smooch the same frozen fish.
“It was great. Lovely,” said Rielly. “A good-looking cod.”
“I definitely made a mistake going last,” said Barrie. “Freddie got it before me and it was just all wet. It looked disgusting.”
The defenceman also wasn’t a big fan of the Newfoundland steak he had to eat — “It was just like really fake bologna or something. It was tough to choke down,” he said — or the Screech rum shot that topped off the ceremony after he’d kissed the cod.
“I like rum and that didn’t taste good at all to me,” said Barrie.
“He’s done it before so he was making it seem like it was the worst thing ever,” said Matthews. “I mean it didn’t taste great but it definitely wasn’t like gasoline or anything.”
Long may your big jib draw pic.twitter.com/URc39pF1Im
Still, despite the challenges to the palate, the Leafs players came away with positive reviews about the experience overall. It should further endear them to locals who have welcomed them here by packing the Paradise Double Ice Complex for practices and scrimmages.
The Leafs will spend a couple more days in Newfoundland before travelling home and Matthews and Co. left other members of the organization planning to partake in their own Screech-In Ceremony.
“I’ll get screeched in here,” said coach Mike Babcock. “I’m not leaving without it.”