CHICAGO—Mitch Marner smiled that hockey player smile for the first time. You know, the one without a tooth or two.
It was good to see because the Maple Leafs winger hasn’t had much to celebrate this season.
“It definitely feels good to smile,” said Marner. “Enjoy this moment now. Move on to Saturday. Make sure we’re ready to go.”
Marner picked up an assist on a John Tavares goal, one that cued a comeback from a 2-0 deficit that David Kämpf and William Nylander would turn into a 3-2 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night at the United Center.
The win ended Toronto’s four-game losing skid. For Marner, the assist ended a six-game points drought. He didn’t go more than two games without a point last season, and hadn’t gone six since 2017-18. He appeared to be wearing the Leafs’ losing streak more than most.
“We still do come around this rink every single day with a lot of joy, having a lot of fun,” said Marner. “Obviously when you go on that ice, we go into full battle mode and make sure we’re trying to help each other better. This road trip didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We wanted to make sure we finished off strong. Didn’t start to where we wanted to, battled adversity, came back and just every single guy kind of chipped in throughout this game.”
Teammate Wayne Simmonds had chirped Marner earlier in the day, calling him a “pretty boy” who now looks “funny” with one tooth missing and another chipped. It happened Monday against Carolina behind the Leafs net, Marner raising a defender’s stick.
“The mouth just went numb on me,” said Marner. “I didn’t know how bad it was. Got up on my knees and I saw one of the Carolina fans and he just gave me a disgusted look. So that’s when I knew it wasn’t good. Go back to the bench and obviously still didn’t really know what happened.
“But Paul (Ayotte), our athletic trainer, said it wasn’t pretty. So be there’ll nice little dentist date coming up.”
He took the Simmonds chirp in stride.
“People at home don’t mind it too much,” said Marner. “Definitely I’ll try to fix it up so it looks a little better, look a little more presentable. But (I’ve got) a little bit of a hockey face. Hopefully it’s not my look for long.”
Coach Sheldon Keefe was happy to see the smile on Marner’s face and the jump in his step.
“That’s a big part of who Mitch is,” said Keefe. “That personality that he has, the energy he has. He brings a lot — not only for his own game, to be out there feeling free and flowing, but also for our team.
“He brings a lot of energy and helps guys relax. That’s a lot of what he and I have talked about as he’s gone through this, just trying to find ways to connect with his personality, allowing that to come out. That’s been what was really nice to see.”
Kevin McGran is a Star sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran