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Kids make sure Marleau's all right in Maple Leafs debut

Matthews, Marner set up first goal in Toronto uniform for 20-season NHL veteran

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- The drive here from Aneroid, Saskatchewan, takes about 10 hours, a journey through the guts of the Canadian Prairies.

For Denis and Jeannette Marleau, it was worth it. This, after all, was a labor of love.

On Wednesday, their son Patrick played his first regular-season game for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his previous 19 NHL seasons, each of his 1,493 games were played in in the teal of the San Jose Sharks. Even at age 38, Marleau admitted that this would be a special occasion.

 

[RELATED: Maple Leafs score seven in win against Jets in season opener]

 

The decision to join the Maple Leafs was not an easy one. When he became an unrestricted free agent July 1, he was the Sharks' career leader in games, goals (508) and points (1,082). But the Maple Leafs' offer was enticing, as was the chance to play for an iconic team from Canada at this point in his career.

Marleau needed help as he weighed his options. He sought advice. Time to make a call to Aneroid.

"He phoned us at the time to ask us what we thought, and we told him: 'Hey, go for it,'" Denis Marleau recalled. "We thought Toronto had the makings of a good young team. They did well in the playoffs last year."

Marleau heeded his parents' advice. On July 2, he agreed to a three-year, $18.75 million contract.

On Wednesday, a little more than three months after joining them, he scored two goals to help the Maple Leafs defeat the Winnipeg Jets 7-2 at Bell MTS Place. His first goal was assisted by Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner, who were born in 1997, the same year Marleau broke into the NHL.

Video: TOR@WPG: Marleau scores in first game with Leafs

"Were they even born yet when he scored his first NHL goal?" Denis Marleau asked, breaking into a wide grin.

Actually, they were. But they were diaper-wearing infants at the time.

Marleau scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 19, 1997. It came on the road against the Phoenix Coyotes.

He was 18 years old.

Marner was 167 days old.

Matthews was 33 days old.

Twenty years later, on opening night of the 2017-18 season, Matthews and Marner were there helping Marleau enjoy another milestone night in his long NHL career.

"You can see how hungry they are out there," Marleau said. "Not only in games, but in practice. They're striving to get better each and every day. You want to be part of that and you can feed off that for sure."

The Maple Leafs were leading 3-0 midway through the second period when Marner, who was heading to the bench for a line change, had a last-second change of heart and got the puck to Matthews. One pass later, Marleau was stick-handling around Jets goalie Steve Mason and putting the puck into the net.

Video: TOR@WPG: Marleau notches second goal on Kadri's feed

"A great play by [Matthews] getting it over to me," Marleau said. "I kind of kicked it up to my skate and was able to deke around him."

All the while, Matthews watched in admiration.

"That was awesome," Matthews said. "Unbelievable pickup by him and the move was even better. Pretty special play by him.

"I'm sure it feels good for him to get the ball rolling on that so I'm real happy for him."

So does Marner, who says the age difference between Marleau and some of his young teammates has been a topic of discussion in the dressing room.

"He was drafted the year me and (Matthews) were born," Marner said. "It's a pretty funny story. We talk about it once in a while."

Assuming the role of quiet leader, Marleau has taken it upon himself to help Marner work on his shot. There are days when he and Marner are out on the ice shooting dozens of pucks and practicing technique long after the rest of their teammates have exited to the dressing room.

"He's been a big help," Marner said. "And forget about his age. Did you see his moves on that first goal? He's got some amazing hands."

After the final buzzer sounded, Maple Leafs trainers carefully packed away the puck Marleau scored for his first goal. It will be yet another memento for an already crowded trophy case.

Meanwhile, Marleau, having exchanged his hockey equipment for a suit, walked up into the stands to meet his family. After his two-goal performance, there were smiles all around.

"It was just so exciting," Denis Marleau said.

Marleau's parents won't be going to Toronto to see their son play in the coming weeks. There is too much work to be done on the family farm. Cows need to be herded.

"Maybe by Christmas," Denis said.

In the meantime, the memories made in Winnipeg will be etched in their minds for a long time.

"It was pretty darn close to what I'd imagined," Patrick Marleau said. "The way you want to see it go."

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