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Training Camp

Marner, Tavares welcomed by Maple Leafs, fans at training camp

Forwards arrive in Newfoundland after signing contract, birth of son

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

PARADISE, Newfoundland -- Mitchell Marner and John Tavares were greeted by loud cheers from baggage handlers and other airport personnel when they arrived at St. John's International Airport on Saturday.

The ovation paled in comparison to the one Marner received when he stepped onto the ice for his first official workout of Toronto Maple Leafs training camp at Paradise Double Rinks Complex on Sunday.

For Marner, who'd missed the first two days of drills, the show of public enthusiasm for his return to the Maple Leafs left the 22-year-old right wing overwhelmed after he signed a six-year, $65.358 million contract Friday.

"It was pretty cool," Marner said. "When we got off the plane, there were people waiting for us there. When we were driving in to the hotel, you could just feel the love for us in this city. It shows how passionate these fans are. It's not a close place to Toronto, so you see how many fans you have worldwide. It's so cool seeing that. It was great being back on the ice."

Marner wore a smile for most of the hourlong practice. He took time out from one particular drill to skate to the glass and acknowledge a group of wide-eyed kids who'd been chanting his name.

"There you go. [He's enjoying] just being here, just being a hockey player," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "When you're doing the business side of things and you're not a businessman, you don't like it very much. It's not easy for anybody.

"We're pumped he's here. He gets the weight off his back, gets feeling good about himself and get going from there."

Marner and Tavares spent a significant amount of time working on the power play. The plan is for Marner to shift from the right to the left wing with the man-advantage to potentially give him more open shots.

The fact that Tavares and Marner traveled to Newfoundland together is fitting, given the strong relationship they've forged since Tavares signed a seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1, 2018. The sales pitch to Tavares, who was an unrestricted free agent at the time after nine seasons with the New York Islanders, included a video featuring Marner on the Scotiabank Arena ice promoting how good they potentially could be if they played together.

That proved to be the case last season when Tavares and Marner combined for 182 points while playing on a line with left wing Zach Hyman. Marner led the Maple Leafs with 94 points (26 goals, 68 assists), and Tavares set NHL career highs in goals (47) and points (88).

With Babcock estimating that Hyman could be out for the first 15 games of the regular season after having knee surgery in April, forward Kasperi Kapanen got his first taste of replacing Hyman on that line. That line likely will be together when the Maple Leafs play the Ottawa Senators at Mile One Centre in St. John's on Tuesday (5:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN4, TSN5, NHL.TV).

"Playing with those guys, it will be skating, getting the puck to them, and standing in front of the net," Kapanen said when asked what he expects his role to be. "I'll let them do all the nice things and I'll do the dirty work. [There were] a lot of smiles out there today. I like fooling around with [Marner]."

Count Tavares among those players who were grinning a lot. And with good reason.

Tavares, who turns 29 on Sept. 20, was allowed to spend an extra day in Toronto after the birth of his son, Jace, on Wednesday. Marner quipped that the arrival of the center's first child might make Tavares a little less intense.

"He might be a little looser now that he's got a kid, which could be nice in the locker room," Marner said. "I was talking to him about it and I'm super happy everyone's healthy in the family and how happy he is having a boy."

For Tavares, being a dad brings new perspective.

"As I've gotten older over the years, I've gotten a lot better at it, to focus on everything, giving complete, 100 percent attention to detail and focus and obviously commitment that you do at the rink," he said. "You always put extra focus on it away from the rink, always trying to take care of yourself, but I think mentally it will be just an amazing thing to be a father and to go home and have him and my wife to look forward to and just cherish those times and those memories. That's what life is all about.

"It's been a [heck] of a few days, especially for myself, with my little guy and knowing I was going to have a partner (Marner) flying in with me [Saturday] morning. Just great to kind of get everyone in. Obviously, we've talked about Mitch's importance to our team on and off the ice; the type of player he is, type of guy he is. It's just about getting ready for the season and focusing on a long journey ahead and building towards that. It's been really exciting to get him signed and get him in, but now the work starts. It's obviously great to have him and now we just want to get better."

Tavares has a new baby. Marner has a new contract. They have a new linemate.

Now their goal becomes writing a new chapter for a team that has not won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004.

"We've known each other for a long time, so we have high expectations for this team," Marner said. "It starts here, it starts now and we all have to make sure we're all getting ready for the season in these next couple of games coming up. Preseason is all about trial and error, seeing the mistakes we're making and try to get better for the season."

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