PARADISE, Newfoundland -- Auston Matthews and several of his teammates with the Toronto Maple Leafs wanted to assimilate themselves into Newfoundland culture this weekend.
So they kissed a fish.
The Maple Leafs center was joined by goalie Frederik Andersen and defensemen Tyson Barrie and Morgan Rielly in a ceremony known as a "screech-in" in downtown St. John's on Saturday. The local ritual, which is performed by non-Newfoundlanders, involves doing a shot of screech (rum sold in Newfoundland), a short recitation, then the smooching of a cod.
"It was fantastic," Barrie said Sunday. "It's quite the scene. I (normally) like rum and [the shot] didn't taste good to me, but (the experience) was something else.
"We had a good time doing it, but I was the last in line to kiss the fish. It was kind of a bit slobbery by the time it got to me … I kind of knew the gig but I definitely made a mistake going last. [Andersen] got it before me and it was just all wet. It was disgusting."
Matthews showed veteran savvy by being the first to go through the screech-in ceremony, followed by Rielly, Andersen and Barrie.
"I figured I'd probably kiss it first, and then they could have the sloppy seconds," Matthews said, breaking into a wide grin, "so I'm happy I went first on that one.
"You kiss the fish and do the shot, but I think the whole ceremony beforehand -- laying down the facts about the entire history of the area, The Rock -- it was pretty sweet."
The screech-in ceremony was held at a local watering hole named Christians on George Street, a three-block strip known for its bars, eateries and live music.
"We had a fun time," Rielly said. "The guy in charge was awesome and made it really enjoyable. And I got my little diploma (for being screeched in) so I'll be hanging on to that."
How does it feel?
"A wave comes over you once you're done and you just feel like a Newfie. It's pretty nice," he joked.
"No, [the guy in charge] did a cool job. He was playing Irish music for us, turned the lights down and had a big speech. Then you're eating something, kissing a cod and doing a shot. It was pretty fun."
Coach Mike Babcock said he had not been through the screech-in ceremony but that it was on his agenda.
"I'm not leaving without it," he said.
The ceremony was a snapshot of the overwhelming welcome the Maple Leafs have received since arriving here for training camp Thursday.
Hundreds of fans were already lined up outside Paradise Double Ice Complex 18 hours before the doors opened for the team's first practice session at 10 a.m. Friday. Dozens more have camped outside the team hotel, politely asking for autographs and offering chants of support for the players.
The parking lot outside the complex was clogged with a crowd estimated at about 500 during a meet-and-greet with the players on Sunday afternoon.
The event culminated with Matthews giving a jersey to a young boy sitting on his father's shoulders.
"The support we've received here has been pretty amazing," Matthews said. "These people are just so passionate."