The games we see. The morning skates, and practices, we hear about.
But what else do the Toronto Maple Leafs get up to when they go on the road? It’s a mix of eating, playing cards, playing video games, reading, doing puzzles, if there’s time some sightseeing or walking, taking a nap, of course, and the occasional little game of “who gets to foot the bill?”
The Star spoke with many members of the Maple Leafs about the road. Here’s a look at what happens on the plane, in the road city and on the day of the game. It’s not the same every trip. Injuries, call-ups and demotions can mean a different mix. But here’s more or less what goes on.
They gather at a private terminal at Pearson airport, boarding an Airbus A319 aircraft, equipped with 58 seats and two tables at the centre of the craft — perfect for the group that plays cards.
The Raptors and most of the other Canadian NHL teams use the same Air Canada Jetz charter service. It was the Maple Leafs’ Pat Quinn era that saw the team stop flying commercial.
There’s a pecking order for seats: Coaches, management, training staff, equipment staff and media relations members sit at the front. Players at the back.
And the conversation is casual, and all about the nicknames. Mango, Vintage, J.T., Tony, Marvin, Mo, Bear, Goat, Skin Doctor and Pete are the more interesting nicknames beyond Kappy, Willie, Mooresy, Hollsy, Hymes, Mitchy, Muzz and the like.
William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen head straight to the back row. That’s new for them this year. The guys who used to sit there — such as Nazem Kadri — are gone.
“We’re all the way back,” Nylander said. “We just started sitting there this year. They were empty.”
If they don’t put their heads back to sleep, or watch a movie, they play a card game: Snarples. It’s part Euchre, part Hearts where you have to bid on tricks to earn your points.
“I play different kinds of card games with William,” Kapanen said. “I’m not a big poker guy. I mean, I’d like to play, but I feel like I’d be donating a lot of money to the guys, so I’m trying to stay away from that.”
Four of Travis (Skin Doctor — from dermatologist) Dermott, Andreas (Mango) Johnsson, Martin (Marvin) Marincin, Trevor Moore and Justin Holl — trips to the minors and injuries have wreaked havoc on this group — sit right in the back in two rows opposite Nylander and Kapanen. The four play a mini game inside Mario Party. It’s been Moore and Johnsson against Holl and Marincin. Dermott is in there lately.
“There’s a soccer game in there,” Johnsson said. “It’s a very simple game, so it’s nice because you don’t really have to think. It’s something to do. And it’s fun.”
And they keep track of who wins.
“I’d like to say we (Dermott-Johnsson) win 70 per cent of the time,” Dermott said.
As he’s getting to know his new teammates, Tyson (Bear) Barrie sits behind the card table, usually beside Auston Matthews.
“Kind of near the back of the plane, but still in the mix a little bit,” Barrie said. “I like to chat, have conversations. Watch some TV. Nothing too crazy really.
Lately, he and Matthews have been watching “Money Heist.”
Frederik (The Goat) Gauthier — who likes to do 1,500-piece puzzles at home — might play cards or watch a movie. Or he’ll get his book of Sudoku puzzles out. A pen and paper guy.
“Depends what you’re in the mood for,” Gauthier said.
Sometimes it’s poker.
An older player, Jason (Vintage) Spezza — who sits at one of the card tables — has a bit of a different routine.
“You take your suit off, you put your shorts on and compression stuff,” Spezza said.
“It keeps the circulation going on your legs. Compression tights.”
Of the poker group — and it’s not necessarily always the same guys: Spezza, Gauthier, Jake Muzzin, Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, Alexander Kerfoot, and when he was with the team, Nic (Pete) Petan — who usually wins?
“There’s no clear-cut horse (winner) yet but there’s a couple losers that are widening the gap,” Morgan (Mo) Rielly said.
And on the flight, there will be food, approved by head chef Tommy De Medeiros.
“It’s all good. You can’t go wrong,” said captain John (J.T.) Tavares.
Some players have their favourite.
“Curry,” said Johnsson, a.k.a. Mango. “Big curry fan.”
“I like the simple things in life,” Rielly says. “You know, chicken fingers, turkey sandwiches. We’re treated very well by this organization, that’s what you get used to, but you definitely don’t take it for granted.”
Tavares sits right behind the poker crowd, taking the plane ride to himself.
“I try to use that time to catch your breath and relax,” said the captain. “Either watch a TV show that you’re into, or try to read or even just kind of close your eyes and listen to the podcast or just relax.”
He’s got another big job. Bigger now that he’s captain. Choosing a restaurant after the plane lands.
“I do a little bit of homework for where do we want to go for dinner,” Tavares sayid. “Try something new. Yelp or I’ll just check on Google. Just try to go for something that’s fresh and local.”
Once at the hotel, the players typically just check in. Players on entry-level deals share rooms. Everyone else gets a room to himself. If there’s time, they might get a quick nap.
Rielly, however, has a different routine.
“I move my stuff around the hotel room,” Rielly said. “
Get more sports in your inbox
Get the Star’s Sports Headlines email newsletter for a daily round-up of the latest big news.
I don’t like it for example when there’s clutter on the desk, so you’ve got to move that stuff.”
After that, Rielly and the rest are all about a meal in the visiting city.
“You create a group text or group chat, if there’s no plan in place already,” Rielly said. “I like to go to a place where you know you’re able to walk to, just so you got to stretch the legs a little bit, experience a bit more a place you haven’t been to.”
Rielly, Andersen, Kerfoot and Auston (Tony) Matthews often go out for dinner together.
“We like the same stuff, and we don’t like to do like a big long dinner with a whole bunch of people, right. We pretty much have steak and we take it easy and just chill.”
They also play a game: Credit card poker. When the bill comes, they put their credit cards together. The server picks one.
“I have a pretty good record this year. Freddie’s had a tough go,” Matthews said.
“I have a theory that it’ll even out over time,” Andersen said. “But I don’t mind treating the boys once in a while. I’ll take it.”
The players break off into various dinner groups — anywhere from four to 10. But they tend to want to get a text from Tavares.
“Whatever spot J.T. picks,” Nylander said.
“He does a really good job of selecting restaurants,” goalie Michael Hutchinson said. “That’s one really nice thing about this team: there’s no real cliques, or anything like that, so you feel comfortable joining anyone for dinner.”
If Tavares’s group gets too big, the bill gets divided.
“When you get in a group of eight guys, those cheques get pretty big sometimes, so sometimes it’s best just to kind of split it up.”
Depending on the trip, the players can try to act like tourists. Some trips offer more time in cities than others. And each player seems to have a different idea of where and how they like to spend that time.
“I try to walk,” Tavares said. “Getting fresh air is very good for you, just being outside. So I try to be active..”
In the dead of winter, it’s the sunny climes they love.
“You just naturally feel better when you’re in that warm air,” Tavares said. “Maybe grab lunch and sit outside.”
Says Matthews: “If you have a couple days, in Florida it’s nice to get down to the beach, in New York it’s nice to walk around or shop.”
The day of the game is also about routine. There’s the morning skate — more frequently an optional one. But there are still workout sessions and video sessions.
And, of course, there’s the pre-game nap. That’s almost universal. Almost.
“As I get older, I don’t seem to sleep as long, and sometimes I don’t sleep much at all,” Tavares said. “I always put my head down and close my eyes for 30 minutes to an hour. Sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes I don’t. So, (I’m) not a massive nap guy, but definitely take a period of time to kind of just relax and do something to distract you: read or watch TV.”
After the game, the plane ride home is the same.
“The food, the poker, everything,” Rielly said. “Obviously, if you win you’re in a better mood so it’s a lot more fun.”