TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau knew exactly what he wanted to give his four sons for Christmas this year.
Growing up in Aneroid, Saskatchewan, Marleau fell in love with playing hockey on a frozen pond near his home, spending hours skating with his older brother, Richard, and older sister, Denise.
Living in Northern California during his 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, he never had a chance to skate outdoors. But after signing with the Maple Leafs on July 2 and moving his family to Toronto, Marleau finally could pass on one of his most-cherished childhood memories to his kids.
While he and his wife, Christina, and four sons, Landon (11), Brody (8), Jagger (6), and Caleb (3), visited family in California during the Christmas break, Marleau had a contractor install an ice rink, complete with boards, blue lines and a Maple Leafs logo at center ice, in the yard of his Toronto home.
"Selfishly it was because of my childhood," Marleau said. "I wanted to give it to them and let them have that experience as well. For me growing up in Saskatchewan we had a pond that we'd clean off in the winter and skate on and I thought that was pretty cool. Being up here in Toronto in the snow and the cold, I thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to skate whenever they wanted."
Marleau said he and Christina did their best to keep the rink a secret until showing their sons a picture of it on Christmas. Not surprisingly, they couldn't wait to get back home. Since returning to Toronto, the boys head right to the rink as soon as they get out of school.
"We didn't really tell them about it, and then on Christmas we showed them the picture and they were pretty pumped," Marleau said. "They loved it. They couldn't wait to get back on the plane and get on there. They've definitely got the use out of it so far."
Marleau said he has been on the rink a few times, mostly to help 3-year-old Caleb, who is learning to skate, but so far has stayed out of the games.
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"I think my wife's going to be the one who's out there more than me," he said. "Hopefully our 3-year-old will start picking it up pretty quick; we got one of those push things when you're learning to skate for him, but he just seems to want to watch his brothers right now."
Marleau said his three older boys have behaved themselves on the ice, which is a good thing since there are no penalty boxes on the rink.
"I guess they're used to playing in the basement so they're just carrying it outdoors," Marleau said. "I'm just happy to see them having fun, seeing them playing with each other and spending hours out there. Kind of gives mom a break."
Marleau said he's been impressed with how eager his sons have been to take on the responsibility of maintaining the rink themselves, but wondered why that same desire has not extended to other chores around the house.
"It's nice seeing my kids going out there when there's snow to shovel it off," Marleau said. "I can't get them to pick up clothes off the floor but they'll go shovel the snow."