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Matthews, Marner shine in 'The Nutcracker' for National Ballet of Canada

Maple Leafs forwards sport eye-popping costumes for cameo role as Cannon Dolls during performance in Toronto

by Pat Pickens @Pat_Pickens / Staff Writer

Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner are good at hockey, but apparently they can move off the ice as well.

The Toronto Maple Leafs forwards wore eye-popping costumes and took the stage for a cameo role as Cannon Dolls in the National Ballet of Canada's production of "The Nutcracker" in Toronto on Wednesday.

Tweet from @MapleLeafs: And...scene!#LeafsForever

"It was nerve-racking going out there before but I just got out there and let my emotions take over, it was a lot of fun," Matthews said.

The show is a long-running Christmas tradition in the city, and celebrity Cannon Dolls are a staple of performances of "The Nutcracker" worldwide. Matthews and Marner became the latest to dress up as Russian Petrushka dolls who shoot off a cannon toward the audience at the end of Act 1.

Tweet from @MapleLeafs: Stage presence.@Marner93 and @AM34 made their debut at the @nationalballet in #TheNutcrackerNBC. #LeafsForever

"Not really (too nervous)," Marner said. "Right before we went on, we were joking about how nervous we were but as soon as you got on stage, you can't really see the crowd too much so it was just kind of more excitement I think, it was fun."

Even though they were only on stage for about 50 seconds, Matthews said it felt a lot longer than that.

"Six hours. It felt like forever," Matthews said. "At one point we turned to the guy who was steering the cannon who was great as we were jumping around and asked him how much longer because we were freaking out, not sure what else to do."

The highlight of their performance came when Marner leapt into Matthews' arms in "fear" of the cannon and was carried off the stage. While it might have looked spontaneous, Marner said it became quite clear prior to the performance who would play each specific role.

"When we got there, we got told there were two roles and we each had to pick one," Marner said. "For me, I wasn't going to carry Matthews off the stage so that's kind of how it all came about."

Matthews, who called his costume one of the most comfortable outfits he had ever worn, said it was the first time he had attended a ballet. He stayed to watch the second act and was impressed by the skill of the real dancers.

"They're very talented; it's crazy what they can do," Matthews said. "Every time they jumped I was thinking in my head I would for sure fall and break my ankle doing this."

The ballet's Twitter feed was complimentary of their performance.

Tweet from @nationalballet: The National Ballet���s newest recruits Toronto @MapleLeafs Auston Matthews @AM34 and Mitchell Marner @Marner93 scored on their Cannon Doll debut in #TheNutcrackerNBC. #CannonDolls

So too were some of their teammates. Morgan Rielly, who attended the performance with his mom, thought Matthews and Marner did well.

"She loved it, I loved it, it was fun," Rielly said. "I got nervous for them so I'm sure they were nervous but they were great. Good for those guys for getting up there."

Travis Dermott felt their performance was too good for anyone to give them a hard time.

"I think it's too cool almost, I'm kind of jealous," Dermott said. "I think it's just something that everyone sees as something that was pretty cool for them to do. I don't know if there will be too many chirps coming their way for that."

Matthews told on Dec. 6 that he was nervous about the role, but Marner said he was confident.

"I'm a great dancer; I don't really know what I'm supposed to do out there, but if it's dance, I'll break it out," Marner said that day. "Ballet probably isn't my specialty, but … it should be a good experience."

The Maple Leafs teammates were not the first NHL players to participate in the ballet. Former Toronto captain Mats Sundin performed as a Cannon Doll in 2007, and Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele had two cameos in a performance at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's show in 2016. Correspondent Dave McCarthy contributed to this story.

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