The first thing you have to understand when talking to Bonnie Marner is that her famous hockey playing son’s name isn’t really Mitch. It’s Mitchell. That’s what Mom calls him.
The other thing is she wouldn’t trade being a hockey mother of a Toronto Maple Leafs player for anything.
“I’m proud, my husband is proud and his brother is super proud of him,” says Bonnie Marner. “It’s cool. “I’m proud of his kindness and his heart. He loves this team. He will battle and, honestly, it doesn’t matter if he puts the puck in the net or if somebody else puts it in. He just wants the puck in the net. He wants this team to succeed. He’d love to bring home the Stanley Cup and celebrate with the city and the rest of his teammates.”
Bonnie Marner has taken a public role as an advice-giving hockey mom, having signed on with car manufacturer Hyundai (which is billing itself as a safe way to get kids to the game).
That’s why she signed on to be part of Hyundai Hockey Parent Fireside Chat in Hamilton on Sunday, happy to answer any questions for young would-be hockey parents about what’s involved when your children — in her case, Mitchell and his older brother Christopher — want to spend their youth in rinks pursuing that dream, or just having fun. “Come see what people are talking about, some of the challenges that they’re facing,” she says. “Come figure things out.”
One piece of advice for hockey moms: Don’t curl your hair on game day. It’s bad luck. Just trust her on that.
Another piece of advice: “Hockey should be fun,” Bonnie says. “It’s very quick … the kids are playing hockey, and it’s just a snap and they’re not playing hockey. My oldest played ’til he was 15 and then he didn’t want to play anymore.
“So just enjoy it, enjoy the opportunity to meet some new folks. I think it teaches the kids some good time management, some good personal skills, because you don’t always in life like everybody you meet, but you do have to get along with them.”
That’s where the subject of Mike Babcock comes up. It’s no secret the Marners didn’t like the way the former coach of the Maple Leafs treated their son, especially in his rookie season. He was frequently shunted to the fourth line. They were furious over an incident revealed after Babcock was fired, which may or may not have inspired a happy dance in the Marner household. Babcock forced the player to write down which teammates he felt had a weak work ethic, then embarrassed him by revealing the list.
Babcock said he apologized. Marner said he got over it, with the help of his family.
“Mitchell told us about it. Obviously, we weren’t very happy about it,” Bonnie says. “We just talked to Mitchell and we supported each other and we got through it. The four of us (Bonnie, husband Paul, Christopher and Mitchell) are a tight-knit support group.”
As for former GM Lou Lamoriello? “He kept their hair short. I like short hair on boys.”
Current GM Kyle Dubas? “ I think he’s a nice man.”
Current coach Sheldon Keefe? “I’ve never met him. Mitchell really likes him.”
Mitch — sorry, Mitchell — told The Star how thankful he is for the support of his family.
“The amount of criticism on me growing up, being a smaller guy in hockey … a lot of people thought I couldn’t do anything with hockey,” the Leafs winger says. “My parents never gave up on me or that dream of me wanting to be an NHL player.
“Without them, I know none of this would have happened. Their sacrifice and time. I think just how much they were in my corner the whole time, and believed in me that I could be an NHL player.”
Bonnie Marner understands the dream of ending up in the NHL is not going to be realized by every eight-year-old that takes up the sport. There can be pitfalls along the way. But the idea is to get out there and play.
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“It keeps them busy, it’s good for their minds, it’s good for their exercise, gets them out of the house, gets them off the telephones and the computers and it just engages them,” she says.
There are issues with hockey: its cost, for one. From registration, to sticks, skates and equipment, to practice ice, to renting hotel rooms for tournaments, to hiring personal skills development coaches, it can get pricey. The better the young player, the costlier things seem to get.
“We just made it work,” Bonnie says. “For Mitch, it paid off. He made it to the NHL, which is very difficult. And Chris, he liked it and he had fun. But some days I’d be looking at my husband going, “What the heck?’
“You just pinch pennies. And sometimes you just don’t because it just costs too much.”
Then there’s how much time hockey can consume, especially if your son or daughter is at an elite level.
“Every one of my vacations, I was in the ice rink,” Bonnie says. “I hardly took any holidays where I wasn’t in an arena, dragging a bag. But we enjoyed it. We really enjoyed it, meeting all those people.”
Bonnie Marner remembers the moment her life as a hockey mom changed forever — when Mitch was drafted by the OHL London Knights. Just a teenager, he was leaving the family home in Thornhill to live two hours away in London.
“I wasn’t really comfortable with it. My mom was definitely was not comfortable with it,” Bonnie says. “But we found a great billet family (the Bartletts) in London and they were wonderful. They let us come up every weekend. We constantly were keeping in touch with Mitchell.”
And Mitch’s move to the OHL came with another bright side. “Buying Mitchell’s hockey equipment was so expensive. And now we go to London and we don’t pay for any more equipment. That was a load off. I’m like, ‘Oh thank goodness somebody else is buying this stuff.’ ”
It’s easy to see where the Maple Leafs forward gets his ever-present playful side. Bonnie was recently caught on camera doing the Floss, an internet dance craze.
“I guess I’ve always been referred to as Mitch’s mom,” she says. “But after I did the Floss, it was, ‘Oh no, now (Mitchell is) Bonnie’s son.’”