TORONTO – With a small crowd around him anticipating his reaction, Mitch Marner is looking at a reporter’s cellphone. Staring back at him are images of the friend and teammate he set up for a slick-looking snipe past Carey Price about 12 hours earlier.
But these Auston Matthews highlights feature Dolce & Gabbana suits, Uniqlo turtlenecks (the Don Waddell Collection perhaps?), and statement sweaters by Givenchy and a camera glare that can only be described as Scottsdale steel.
“Oh, no,” Marner chuckles. “Good for him. Hey, I respect it. It’s pretty funny. He’s a big style guy, so I respect it.”
After being complimentary, Marner waits a beat for comic effect.
“It’s obviously going to be different when I see him face-to-face in the room,” Marner says. “He likes to do some crazy stuff with his style, and I respect it.”
Zach Hyman, too, caught a glimpse of the shots. “Interesting,” Hyman smiled. “I’m definitely going to ask him about it.”
Over the course of an hour or two during the player media tour, Matthews (and Oilers star Connor McDavid) got decked out in three different ensembles for a GQ shoot, strapped on his Rolex Submariner (a gift to self once he started raking pro hockey money), and flashed his best auburn steel for the lens.
“It was different, something I hadn’t really experienced before. But it was a lot of fun,” Matthews said Thursday after practice, dressed in boring old hockey gear like everyone else. “Definitely something that got you out of your comfort zone.”
Even as a rookie, Matthews made waves for his sartorial flair, sharpening his fashion sense playing over in Switzerland. Accessories are big: Louis luggage, Bottega Veneta backpacks, blingy bracelets, scarves, attention-grabbing chapeaus. Gucci is Matthews’ go-to designer label, and he’s named Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Westbrook as stars he admires for their wardrobe.
In the past, Matthews has mentioned a desire to get into the fashion business at some point, and it’s not a stretch to imagine a not-so-athletic clothier joining Bauer among his sponsors in the future.
Matthews named former Leaf Matt Martin, wingman William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly among his teammates with decent style.
“Mitch just copies everything I do,” Matthews quipped. “Nah, just kidding. Mitch has got a good sense of fashion.”
— Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91) December 20, 2016
Not listed among the Maple Leafs who can dress to impress? Matthews’ other wingman, Patrick Marleau, the type of trend maven dads everywhere can relate to.
“I leave my fashion to my wife. When she does it, it’s really good,” Marleau says.
“If it’s left up to me to go into the closet, it’s like I got dressed in the dark.”
Marleau, a GQ reader, was the first Leaf to compliment Matthews on the spread — and he’s being sincere.
“I think it’s a big deal,” Marleau said. “It’s really cool that he was able to do that.”
Although the Leafs had a little fun with the topic Thursday — the pre-season is a grind, folks — the fact McDavid and Matthews are being featured in a mainstream fashion magazine is another small step toward hockey breaking free from of its monochrome reputation.
“I think the NHL, compared to other sports, is a little more reserved and traditional,” Matthews told GQ. “We wear suits to all of our games. Other sports, they’re free to wear whatever and be creative. But I definitely think it’s evolved quite a bit. The guys are younger and they like to wear different stuff, like stuff that stands out and not just black and white.
Maybe he’s just copying Matthews, but Marner echoed the sentiment: “It is pretty cool getting yourself out there as an athlete and trying different things.”
• Hyman returned to practice with the main group but was sporting a red, non-contact sweater as he recovers from the hip pointer he suffered Monday night. Don’t expect Hyman to dress for either of the Leafs’ remaining pre-season games, but he should be ready to join the John Tavares– Marner line for Wednesday’s season opener. “The most important thing for me is to be 100 per cent when the season starts,” Hyman said. “I’m confident that I’m in shape enough that if I don’t play these next couple of games, I’ll be ready to go.”
• Travis Dermott and Frederik Gauthier are both cleared for contact and practising with the main group.
• Mike Babcock is all for Marlies bench boss Sheldon Keefe and Leafs assistant D.J. Smith graduating and becoming NHL head coaches in their own right.
“I’m pulling for them to get jobs. I’ve worked with a lot of guys in the past who are head coaches in other places,” said Babcock, noting how close Smith came to taking over Lou Lamoriello’s Islanders. “Smitty looked like he was in line there for the job on the Island, and then they hired a real good man in Trotzy. These guys are all looking to have opportunities. The better job you do with the Leafs, the more we win, the better opportunity there is for those guys.”
• Fans with tickets to Friday’s pre-season game at Scotiabank Arena will be pleased to know the Leafs will dress a legitimate NHL roster, similar to the one that defeated Montreal 5-3 Wednesday. Some season ticket holders were critical of the AHL-calibre roster that lost at home to the Canadiens in Monday’s exhibition, and a sarcastic “Let’s go, Marlies!” chant could be heard in the third period.
“I apologize for that, but we play eight exhibition games, and we have to have our team ready,” Babcock said post-game. “I’m getting the team ready.
“I get the fans in the short-term. But you know what the fans want us to do? Okay.”
• As the coach begins to delineate training camp’s Leafs group from the Marlies group, Connor Carrick and Garret Sparks are falling into the latter category. No hard decisions have been made yet, so read into that what you will.
• One player Matthews studied to improve on his already-lethal shot release: Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov.