He may have 18 years on Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but Patrick Marleau is more than the Toronto Maple Leafs’ team dad. (Although he does lead a pretty mean family carpool karaoke.) He also happens to be one of the greatest hockey players of all time — and he’s still got it. Consider: the 39-year-old led the Leafs in playoff goals last season. Not a bad guy to have around as the Buds embark on another playoff run. And seeing as he’s fifth on the NHL’s all-time list of games played, the man’s seen a lot of playoff runs.
The truth is, Marleau’s future Hall of Famer status would’ve remained the same whether or not he stayed with the San Jose Sharks in the summer of 2017. But the allure of Toronto and the chance to join a young core elite whippersnappers was ultimately too much to turn down. After agonizing about it, Marleau made the decision to uproot the life he had known for nearly two decades and come north to Toronto. Make no mistake, though. It was not an easy decision for the native of Aneroid, Saskatchewan.
“Just leaving all the friendships and teammates that I played with over the years, battling with and trying to win with,” Marleau said of the move. “That was probably the biggest thing I had to get over — just leaving all those friendships behind for now.”
Ahead of the Leafs’ playoff series against the Boston Bruins, we sat down with the living legend to discuss fatherhood, his old ride-or-die Joe Thornton, his dream post-hockey job, and how he’s managed to stick it to Father Time.
What was the biggest thing Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello told you during the recruiting process that convinced you to come to Toronto?
It was all about how skilled this team was, how they’re up and coming with so many good young players, the way they play fast. I think that was the biggest thing for me — the speed they have and the way they want to play.
Do you have a favourite Joe Thornton story?
I would just say it’s how he’s always having fun in the dressing room and around the rink, but when it’s game time, you know he’s ready to go. He has that competitive fire, obviously, to be in the league as long as he has and put up the points he has. He’s always got some side thing going on, though, whether it’s trying to get the trainers to grow beards or shave their heads. He’s always getting after something funny.
Could you ever grow a beard like Joe?
Could I? No. I mean, I could grow one, but I just couldn’t handle it.
You recently Mark Recchi for fifth all-time on the NHL games played list at 1,657. Can you put into perspective what it has been like to play that many games?
I mean, no, not really. Growing up I was always looking at the stats and hockey books and wondering what if? Coming from Aneroid, Saskatchewan, a small farming town, to play as many games as I have, it’s truly humbling, really.
What has been the biggest reason for your longevity?
Honestly, I just love hockey. I love playing the game and I just keep always looking to do whatever it takes to keep playing.
What does it mean to you to be able to play long enough that all four of your sons are at an age where they can appreciate what dad does? And that they’ll all have lifelong memories of watching you play?
I think it’s pretty cool. Whenever they come to the games, I get super pumped to play and want to do well in front of them. They’re playing hockey too now so I just try to play the way I’d like them to play. You always want them to end up being better than you, but what I can try and show them is the work ethic and commitment you need to get to a high level.
How much do your sons talk to you about the game when you get home?
They talk quite a bit, but they’re really supportive. My whole family has been. They still want dad to play, so it’s great having them alongside me at this point in my career.
Do you know how many career fights you’ve had in the NHL?
I have a ballpark. I think it’s around five?
Close. It’s seven. Any chance of another one?
You never know. It’s a game that gets heated sometimes, but I’m certainly not going out there looking for one. That’s for sure!
Who’s one current player, not on the Maple Leafs, who you love watching? Someone who always shocks you every time you see their highlights.
Oh, Connor McDavid for sure.
What’s one thing that has nothing to do with sports that you are passionate about?
Oh boy. Wow, that’s a good one. You know what? Real estate, I’d say. I just like reading about it and learning about it. Maybe it’s something I’ll get into when I’m done playing.
Who is one person you’ve met — maybe an athlete, actor, whoever — who you’ve found yourself star struck in front of?
Wow, maybe when I first met Wayne Gretzky. Or Garth Brooks, I guess, from a non-hockey perspective. Wayne and Mario Lemieux were my favourite players growing up.
When your playing days are over, many years from now, do you still see yourself being involved in the game somehow?
Maybe. I don’t know at this point. I think I’ll take a lot of time first to be with my family and try to catch up on what I’ve missed over the years. But maybe they won’t want me around that much and they’ll throw me out of the house. So we’ll see.