Being a professional athlete comes with immense pressure regardless of what city you play in, but certain markets crank up the heat significantly more than others.
Toronto Maple Leafs players know what they sign up for when they put on their sweaters every night to represent one of the most storied franchises in the NHL, but that doesn’t make it any easier to play in front of a harsh fan base.
Mitch Marner, who grew up in the Toronto area, embraces everything that comes with suiting up for the Maple Leafs, even though the team’s supporters can be ruthless.
“I think you can see the excitement and how much enjoyment I have, whether it’s having fun around the rink or just wearing that jersey,” Marner said in a recent interview with NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger. “I know there are more lovers than haters out there. Far more. The haters are just louder. There’s nothing you can really do about that. There are people who are friends to your face but say a lot of things behind it.
“So for me, it’s about staying away from all that stuff. I know our team loves each other. I know every guy in that locker room has a lot of trust in the guy beside him and the guy across from him. We’ve got a lot of joy and excitement in our locker room and that’s what keeps you going.”
Marner has enjoyed tremendous on-ice success over his seven-year career, producing 554 points in 507 games. The 26-year-old is one quarter of the Leafs’ “Core Four” alongside Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander.
Those four players make upwards of $40 million combined per season, so they catch the most flak as the Leafs’ infamous Stanley Cup drought grows longer. Marner knows the team’s best players need to carry the load to get Toronto over the hump, but understands four guys can’t do it alone.
“Look, we want to take a lot of responsibility,” Marner said. “Yeah, we definitely have a lot of weight on our shoulders, but it’s weight that we’ve all wanted and have asked for pretty much with what we do on the ice.
“At the same time, it’s definitely a team sport, you need everyone out there, and we all know that we need to be better to achieve our ultimate goals. So there’s nothing you can really do about it other than just kind of ignore the outside noise and know that everyone in that locker room appreciates each other.”
Marner, who is getting married this summer, has become particularly close with Matthews and Nylander during their time as teammates. Matthews and Nylander are both eligible for contract extensions this offseason, but Marner wants to stay out of the business side of things as they go through a stressful process and be there for them on a personal level.
“I’m definitely their friend before a teammate. Both those guys, their friendships mean a lot to me,” Marner said. “I’m looking forward to having them both at the wedding and having a good time with them. Obviously there’s a business aspect of our life and hopefully everything works out. Both of them have a lot of passion and love for our team and know we can do something special here.
“But unless I really need to get involved, I’m going to try to sit back and just be a friend of both of them. I don’t really want to be talking anything hockey with them too much. It’s more about just how they’re doing. How’s your summer been? How’s life going?”