TAMPA, Fla. — Tyler Johnson despised the guy for years but really didn't see Patrick Maroon's true colours — until now.
The two are teammates with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Johnson admits he now understands what makes Maroon tick and why he's been such a valuable contributor with other organizations.
He really likes him now, too.
"I played against him in the NHL and the American Hockey League, and to be honest I absolutely hated him. For lack of a better term, he's a pri— out there. He gets under your skin, he's always talking, he's always playing with a chip on his shoulder," a grinning Johnson, Tampa Bay's top-line left winger, said Friday after practice at Amalie Arena.
"But it's different now. He's just a great guy. Pat's one of those guys that brings everyone together. As soon as he joined us, he fit in right away. The more winners you have on the team, it definitely helps."
Tampa Bay signed Maroon to a one-year contract worth US$900,000 in August. The St. Louis product, a physical specimen at 6-3, 225 pounds, had just helped complete the final chapter of a storybook season for his hometown Blues who captured the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
Lightning brass was certainly patient and didn't pay a king's ransom for the burly forward, but clearly believed in Maroon’s worth as an experienced grinder who not only survived but thrived during a long post-season run. By all accounts he's provided a major shot in the arm for a team doing everything it can to erase the stain of last year's unthinkable first-round playoff exit.
Remember, the Lightning — with its abundance of offensive riches — finished 62-16-4, tying an NHL record for most regular-season victories, and claimed the Presidents’ Trophy. But that didn't impress the Columbus Blue Jackets much, who dispatched of them four straight.
It's an interesting dynamic now that Maroon played for the team that shouldn't have won it all but did, and is now with the team that should have won it all but didn't.
"It was rubbing off on guys because the media kept blowing it up at the beginning of the year of how they lost, and what do we need to do to get better. And it kind of rubbed off on me and I was feeling the pain," said Maroon, who skates on a bottom-six unit with centre Cedric Paquette and Yanni Gourde. "I think we're putting that stuff behind us now and we're focusing on how we're going to get better as a team.
"Play the right way but play a heavy game. The skill and fastness is all good but we have to find ways to be stronger on pucks."
Maroon, who scored his fourth goal of the season Thursday night in a 9-3 blowout of the New York Rangers, said it's not in his nature to be a wallflower and he tried to take on a leadership role with the Lightning almost immediately.
"I have a personality where people can come talk to me. I'm not a guy that shies away from that. With so many language barriers in the league and with some guys it's easy to break through or some guys it's harder. For me, I'm easy to talk to," he said. "It all comes down to personality and getting to know each other, and that brings the swagger and the guys feel more comfortable on the ice.
"My mom and dad raised me to be kind to people and to never judge anyone by what they do or who they are. I've always been a big teddy bear with a kind heart. There's no bad blood anywhere I am. I love the game of hockey, it's brought me so many memories and it's given me a living to live my dream."
The thick beard, the hearty laugh, the engaging personality. And a devoted family man. Indeed, Maroon's a tough guy not to pull for — unless you're lining up against him. He's keenly aware he's not a beloved guy outside his own locker room.
"That's my job. I'm a big guy and not the fastest skater. I gotta find some way to get noticed, and if that's being a pest out there every single game, I have to do it. That's why I'm in the league," he said. "If I can get a couple of goals, here and there, it's a bonus. But I can't get away from my game, dropping the gloves when I need to get the team going and finding ways to get energy for the team.
Maroon played 74 games in his only season with the Blues, registering 10 goals and 28 points to go along with 64 penalty minutes. He also suited up for all 26 playoff games, scoring three goals and adding four assists, and savoured the unforgettable moment of getting his big hooks on the Cup.
"It was all a blur to me. It happened so fast, from being in last place... to hoisting it June 13, 2019 in Boston. Just a character road game, and that's what that team was the last stretch of the year," he said. "It was a journey and a great celebration with my family, at home, which was icing on the cake. But it's over now. When the Cup goes back in the case when you've had it on your Cup day, it like, "OK, it's over. Let's go try to win another one.'"
That's all in the past and his preference has been to provide a veteran presence on and off the ice, while keeping those championship memories to himself.
"I don't like talking about it with the guys here. It's not fair to them. I'm just here to try to produce and help this team win as much as I can as an individual and get this team going, because we really do have a good hockey team," Maroon said.
"That's kind of rubbing it in someone's face if you're like, "Oh, this is what St. Louis did.' That's not fair. It's what Tampa does now, it's not what St. Louis did last year. We need to figure out what Tampa needs to do to get to April, May and June."
Assistant sports editor
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