BOSTON — It is Mitch Marner’s world and we’re all just living in it.
He had a two-goal performance in Game 1 against the Boston Bruins and drew comparisons to Wayne Gretzky from the opposing coach. Then, the NHL released a behind-the-scenes video of his pre-game preparation, which included stirring chocolate syrup into his vanilla ice cream until it took on the consistency of soup.
What is Marner if not a maestro of a game that is child-like at its core? The Toronto Maple Leafs winger plays with a creative enthusiasm and apparently eats his dessert with that same spirit.
“That’s always something, I know as a kid, I just always stirred it up like that,” Marner said Saturday, before tucking into his meal ahead of Game 2. “I always thought it tasted better. That’s something I just continued to do my whole life and people think it’s crazy, but it’s pretty fun.”
Tyler Ennis with a look at “ice cream artiste” @marner_93’s pregame ritual at the team meal. #StanleyCup Confidential
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The video was shot by teammate Tyler Ennis, who has taken on the task of documenting life with the Leafs for the NHL’s “Stanley Cup Confidential” series. This is his first season in Toronto and he was taken aback when he first saw Marner’s routine for eating ice cream.
“I think it’s funny. I used to do that when I was about four years old and he’s still doing it at, whatever he is, 21,” said Ennis. “Kind of his little ritual and it seems to be working.”
Those behind-the-scenes videos capture the other side of the playoff grind. There’s a lot of time between games in a best-of-seven series — time coaches use to study video and make tactical adjustments, while players largely try to rest and recover.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has spoken about trying to find an answer for Marner, who had nine points in the seven-game series against Boston last year and was a creative menace in Game 1 on Thursday. He scored a goal at even strength and then drew a penalty shot while the Leafs were down a man, beating Tuukka Rask with a gorgeous series of dekes.
“I’m not sure there is an answer,” said Leafs teammate Nazem Kadri. “Mitchy’s Mitchy, he’s going to do his thing. He’s just so elusive with the puck even if you try to hit him it seems like he can slide checks and create plays.”
Cassidy’s comparison to Gretzky revolved around Marner’s ability to find open space in traffic. He believes that makes the third-year Leafs player as tough for opponents to hit as the Great One once was.
For his part, Marner wasn’t really buying it.
“It’s cool,” he said. “I mean I don’t think so, but it’s a cool thing. I’m not trying to think about it too much. It’s a five-man group out there constantly, so all five guys got to work together.
“That’s how you be successful.”
With a 1-0 series lead, the Leafs were anticipating a little more urgency from Boston before the series shifts back to Scotiabank Arena. They also think Cassidy might use last change to keep his “Perfection Line” away from Marner, John Tavares and Zach Hyman more than he did in the series opener.
Either way, Marner’s pre-game ritual will remain unchanged. He’s not skipping past the ice-cream station during the team meal. And he’s going to give it a big stir before eating.
“Vanilla,” said Marner. “Always vanilla with chocolate sauce.”
“It’s kind of his thing. Whatever works,” said Ennis.