For about a decade, the Los Angeles Kings were the only NHL team Jake Muzzin had ever known. So, unsurprisingly, when he got the call in late January telling him he’d been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was a bit of a shock.
But the more he thought about it, the more it sounded like as good a destination as there could be if he was going to get shipped somewhere.
“Well, after the initial holy shit I’ve been traded wore off, once things settled in, I was excited,” Muzzin told Sharp recently. “It’s an opportunity play for a team I idolized growing up, to come closer to home, back to Canada, and to a good team with a chance to win a Stanley Cup.”
The 30-year old defenseman grew in nearby Woodstock, Ontario, idolizing the Leafs. Now, Toronto is hoping Muzzin can bring his Stanley Cup pedigree closer to home and help solidify the blue line as the team embarks on arguably its best chance in recent memory at ending a Cup drought that’s lingered for over 50 years.
We sat down with Muzzin to discuss his non-linear path to the NHL, the biggest adjustment from LA to Toronto, the mentality needed to win a Stanley Cup, and the biggest baller move he’s pulled while wearing his ring.
What’s your favourite Maple Leafs memory as a kid growing up following the team?
I don’t think there was really one memory. For me, it was more just trying to be like the guys when I was playing road hockey. I actually played goalie a lot and was always trying to emulate Felix Potvin.
What was the biggest adjustment from Los Angeles to Toronto?
Hockey-wise, the media is totally different. This is a big market for hockey in Toronto and there’s a lot more that comes with it than just hockey. There’s a ton of attention, you’re on television a lot more, and there’s a lot more eyes on you. Off the ice, when you get traded, there’s a lot more that goes on — it’s not just picking up and moving to a different city and playing hockey. I’ve got my family, my wife is pregnant, and there’s a lot that goes into getting settled in and making sure my family is comfortable. Getting traded when you’re a younger guy, when it’s just you and a condo, is probably a little easier.
You had serious back surgery as a 16-year old, went unsigned after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007, and then went undrafted after re-entering the Draft in 2009. How close were you thinking about giving up on the dream?
You get drafted like I was in 2007 and then you go undrafted, and you kind of start to second guess yourself, like you’re going in reverse. Then you start looking at school packages and I’m thinking, Holy crap, I better give this one last good shot or else I’m going to end up having to go to school and getting a regular job. I wasn’t ready for that. I kicked it into high gear in my last year of junior and battled back to get a contract. It took some ups and downs to get here.
Apart from your parents, who is the one person you would say has had the biggest impact on your hockey career?
It would be some coaches along the way in junior that had faith and believed in me. If someone shows you belief when you are questioning yourself, I think you start to believe in yourself a little bit more as well. Denny Lambert and Mike Stapleton, in my time with Sault Ste. Marie, would definitely be two people I give a lot of credit to.
Can you put into perspective now, looking back, what winning the Stanley Cup, and playing a crucial role on the team, means to you?
At the time I didn’t realize how special and important it was. I was just a young guy playing and then next thing you know we’re in the playoffs and the whole thing was kind of a blur. Then, all of a sudden, here we are winning the Cup. It happened fast but looking back now, there’s so many life lessons I learned. You don’t know how important it is when you’re young; you’re kind of blind to the pressure. It was really kind of a just “go out and play” mentality and I think that’s what is important for us here right now with the Maple Leafs. Just believe in our system and our talent and each other and just go out and play.
What don’t you miss about LA?
Dealing with the…
Yes? Say it!
[Laughs.] No, no I can’t. I shouldn’t. In all seriousness, there’s not much I don’t miss. The lifestyle is great and when you grow up with a team, you have a lot of friendships and memories and there’s a lot of great ones for me. The organization treated me great. I have nothing bad to say about LA, but that being said, I’m extremely excited for this opportunity here.
Do you have a favourite Drew Doughty story?
Oh, there’s a lot. There’s a lot that I can’t say and there’s too many that I can, so it’s tough to say but he did help me out a lot when I was younger coming up. I owe him a lot for my success.
What’s the most baller move you’ve tried to pull while wearing your Stanley Cup ring?
I’ve never put the ring on unless it was just for the ring ceremony when we got it.
So you’ve never flashed it to try to get into an exclusive restaurant or anything like that?
Oh no, I’d never do that. It’s in the underwear drawer back home.
What was your most memorable celebrity encounter with the Kings?
Meeting Will Ferrell was fun. He’s one of my favourite actors, so that was a great time, getting to talk to him after a game. Also, I met Kobe Bryant. He was a cool one, too. Those two stand out the most just for how good they are in their fields.
What’s one thing that has nothing to do with hockey that you are passionate about?
You a good player? What do you shoot?
I try hard. I can shoot anywhere from high 80s to mid 70s depending on the day. It’s one of my passions. I like it best when you’re on vacation with the guys and there’s no care in the world and you’re playing that kind of golf. Those are the fun times I enjoy the most on the golf course.