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Marner feels 'great relief' and sense of closure after arrests in carjacking case

Mitch Marner Maple Leafs Mitch Marner - The Canadian Press

TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Friday ahead of Saturday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Mitch Marner called it "a great relief" to learn Toronto Police made two arrests in connection to his carjacking case. 

"The detective called me a couple days ago and gave me a rundown on everything," the Leafs winger said. "I gave my thanks to them and my gratitude and appreciation because it wasn't easy. There wasn't many cameras or anything around. The sun was going down so it was tough to see everything, but they did a good job sticking with it and getting the job done."

The suspects were taken into custody on Wednesday. 

"It's nice to have the closure," Marner said. "It's finally good that I don't have to probably talk about it anymore, to be honest."

Christon Arman Johnson, 24, of Brampton, Ont., and Anas Adan Farah, 21, of Toronto, are facing a series of charges, including robbery with a firearm. Per a statement from the Toronto Police Service, one unidentified male suspect is still outstanding. 

"I've been getting updates throughout, but not really trying to follow along," Marner said. "Not trying to relive that moment too many times. Trying to just forget about it, get over it and realize, you know, it's just kind of an unlucky situation you're a part of and hopefully a one-time thing."

On May 16, 2022, police responded to a robbery call outside a movie theatre in the Queensway and Islington Avenue area. Marner and his fiancée Stephanie LaChance were getting into a parked vehicle, a 2021 black Land Rover, when a black Honda Civic pulled up and blocked them from leaving. It's alleged that two men, armed with handguns, exited the Honda Civic and approached them while demanding their keys. A third man, armed with a knife, exited the Honda Civic and pointed the knife at one of the victims while demanding a cellphone. The men took the car keys and cellphone. Two of the men entered the victim's vehicle and drove it from the scene while the third man returned to the Honda Civic and fled the scene.

"It's a scary situation," Marner said. "It's a situation that I don't think any person wants to be a part of or experience especially with a loved one."

Following a Leafs home game on Bell Let's Talk Day in January, the Markham, Ont., native reflected on the impact of the carjacking experience. 

"That incident that happened this past summer just really weighs on you mentally if you don't talk about it and don't really express yourself," he said on Jan. 25. "It's something that still kind of goes in your mind every once in a while, when you're getting into car late night or something."

On Friday, Marner acknowledged that Toronto has felt a little different of late. 

"You want this place to be safe as it should be and hasn't always felt like it," the 25-year-old said. "This last year or so it really hasn't felt like that. It's felt a little chaotic and crazy. The cops have done a great job of trying to fix it and help out that problem."


The Leafs will be looking for revenge against the Oilers on Saturday. Toronto dropped a 5-2 decision in Edmonton last week. 

"You'd like to have a response and sharpen up some of our details that we didn't seem to have a week ago," said centre Auston Matthews.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe blasted his players after that loss on March 1 saying they didn't play with "purpose or intelligence." Connor McDavid took full advantage of the lacklustre effort, scoring twice and adding an assist. 

McDavid leads the league with 124 points, which is 27 more than teammate Leon Draisaitl, who is second. McDavid also leads the way in goals with 54, which is nine more than Boston's David Pastrnak, who is second. 

"What he's doing is pretty insane," said Marner.

"It's impressive to watch," said Matthews. "Obviously, he's in a class of his own and what he's been doing is pretty remarkable."

McDavid is on pace for 154 points. The last players to reach that number? Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux

"Two pretty good guys to have your numbers matching up with," said John Tavares with a smile. "He makes everybody look so slow. It's just incredible what he can do. Not just how fast he is, but what he does with that speed and how he thinks the game."

McDavid has already blown by his previous career high of 44 goals set last season. 

"Everyone sees the confidence and how aggressively he's looking to attack the net, shooting the puck and being deceptive with it," Tavares said. "A massive test for us tomorrow."

McDavid was held without a point during Edmonton's 3-2 win at Boston on Thursday. He has only been held off the scoresheet in consecutive games once this season and that was back in October. 

McDavid missed last season's game in Toronto due to COVID. He will be playing his first game here since March 29, 2021. It will be his first homecoming game in front of a full house at Scotiabank Arena since Jan. 6, 2020 when he scored a highlight-reel goal. 

"It's always special a little bit," the Newmarket, Ont. native told reporters. "They always have us playing on a Monday or a Wednesday here or something like that so it's fun that it's on a Saturday."

McDavid has registered at least a point during his last six games in Toronto. He always seems to rise to the occasion. 

"He's clearly exceeded the expectations that have come his way, which have been quite a bit," said Tavares. "Probably only him and Sidney [Crosby] really understand that magnitude [of expectation from] such a young age. It's been impressive what he's doing but, at the same time, you get excited about these challenges."


Matthews is still feeling the effects of a painful shot block that forced him to miss part of last Saturday's game. 

"It still stings a little bit but it's kind of one of those things where day by day it gets better and better," he said. "It was a pretty hard shot. Fortunately it's been able to calm down and I just anticipate it will continue to get better and better. But, still bruised and it is what it is."

Matthews appeared to be hobbled after returning to the game in Vancouver. He played through the pain that night and again on Tuesday in New Jersey where he scored the game-winning goal while logging 21 minutes and 33 seconds. 

"He looked to be skating as well as he has in a long time," said Keefe. "His line came out of their own zone and through the neutral zone with a lot of speed."

Alex Kerfoot hasn’t scored in 19 games, but Keefe feels like the snakebitten forward, who was moved to the top line in a 4-1 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver on March 4, is helping Matthews get revved up. 

"I think that is part of what Kerfoot brings to that group is his ability to make a play on the breakout, get us through the neutral zone and get Auston skating," the coach explained. "I thought Auston was flying through the neutral zone. I had sort of forgotten about the fact that he was nursing something like that, but I do know from some experience that those things do take some time to really go away. It didn't seem to be affecting his ability to really push the pace the other night."


After sitting out Tuesday's game as a precaution, Tavares is ready to return to the lineup. 

"I feel great," the 32-year-old said. "Everything's been great."

Tavares has not played since absorbing a couple of big hits during last Saturday's game in Vancouver. He woke up on Sunday feeling really tired and not like himself so the decision was made to hold him out of Tuesday’s game in New Jersey. 

It's rare to get a week between games at this stage of the season and Tavares hopes to use the extra rest as a "springboard" down the stretch. The Leafs enjoyed two days off upon returning from a gruelling five-game road trip, which spanned three time zones. 

"It was fantastic couple days for everybody," the Leafs captain said. "It was great just to be in your own bed. Great ability to recharge because from here on out it's pretty busy."

Tavares will likely see some extra minutes on Saturday as Keefe goes back to an 11-forward alignment. Tavares skated between Michael Bunting and Wayne Simmonds at practice. 

"I know Bunts' game well and the things he does," said Tavares. "It was great seeing Simmer. He's a big part of our locker room and our team so just great to have him back."

Simmonds, who will be a scratch on Saturday, had not skated with the team since the Ryan O'Reilly trade in mid-February. 

"Wayne has been away from the team for a while," Keefe said. "We wanted to get him regular reps in practice."

As for Saturday's game? 

"It gives me some real opportunities to play around with Tavares, Bunting and who I can play with them to see how that goes for us," said Keefe. 


Sam Lafferty continued to skate between William Nylander and Calle Jarnkrok

"I do like the Lafferty group," Keefe said. "I would like to continue with those guys playing together and try to build on what they did the other night." 

That trio combined on Toronto's first goal in New Jersey. Lafferty used his speed to create space for Nylander who eventually set up Jarnkrok for an easy tap-in tally. 

"He's super fast," noted Jarnkrok of Lafferty. "He moves his feet out there all the time." 

"Lafferty really came alive in the second period," Keefe said. "I thought we really saw signs of what Lafferty is capable of in terms of putting the other team on their heels with his speed. He has done that at different times in earlier games with us but more off the puck getting up ice and applying pressure. [On Tuesday] it was with the puck carrying it through the neutral zone, which is probably a byproduct of him playing at centre. Certainly, he was good and he was good on faceoffs, too, as a right-handed shot. That was really nice to see."


Erik Gustafsson skated alongside Morgan Rielly at practice. 

"He hasn't had a practice, really, where he is paired with someone he is going to play with potentially in the game," Keefe noted. "Our D will be moving around as they have been in previous games when we have played seven. It is just a matter of getting him more in the rotation versus pairing with [Conor] Timmins, who isn't going to play tomorrow."

T.J. Brodie and Jake McCabe remained together while Timothy Liljegren, who lined up beside Rielly on Tuesday, skated with Mark GiordanoJustin Holl was with Timmins on the fourth pair. 

Luke Schenn remains in Vancouver where his wife is due to give birth any day now. 

"It is a difficult situation in terms of him joining the team and such because it is so far away," said Keefe. "It is a tricky one to navigate, but what is most important is that he is there for his wife and his family. We are in full support of that. He is remaining on the ice and staying ready."

Saturday will be the third game in the last four where the Leafs dress seven defencemen. 

"It is more about keeping guys involved," Keefe said. "Gustafsson was thriving in Washington, playing a ton and running their power play with lots of points. He was feeling really good about his season. It has been tougher for him coming in here. Now he is playing behind lots of guys. We are trying to find ways to keep him involved and keep working him in."

Gustafsson racked up 38 points in 61 games with the Capitals before coming over to Toronto along with a first-round pick in exchange for Rasmus Sandin

"I do think he offers our group some things not unlike what Sandin brought us in terms of his ability to move the puck, help us on the breakout, help us in the offensive zone and help us on the power play," said Keefe. "It is important to keep him involved. Right now, it is an 11-7 mix, but we will see how that progresses the rest of the way. I do think both he and Schenn are important guys to get involved in our mix. If we remain healthy, we will have to look at different ways to keep them involved."

Gustafsson has yet to pick up a point through two games with the Leafs. He has started both those games as the seventh defenceman.  

"He's going to get more comfortable and acclimated here and continue to get better and better," Matthews said before cracking a smile. "I'm pretty sure he scored a hat trick against us not too long ago. He's a really good defender and the offensive side of his game really stands out to you and how smart he is and where he jumps into plays and stuff."

The 30-year-old Swede did indeed score three goals against the Leafs on Dec. 17. 

"A very skilled player," said Marner. "Sees the ice very well, makes plays and just is really smooth out there. It's always nice when you get another d-man like that, who can make a lot of plays, jump in the rush and add an extra man on that forecheck."


Jack Campbell is back in Toronto, but it's unclear whether the ex-Leaf will face his old friends on Saturday night. 

"It'd be great," said Marner. "I'm sure he probably wants it, too. I mean, he's a helluva competitor ... I'm sure it'd be very cool for him to play at Scotiabank Arena." 

"It would be fun to go against him," said Matthews. "Obviously, he's a competitor and definitely a game he'd be up for."

Campbell's endearing personality made the goalie, nicknamed Soupy, a fan favourite in Toronto where the crowd often cheered "Sooooup!" after saves.  

"I'm sure the love he's going to get from our fan base tomorrow is going to be pretty epic," Marner said. 

Campbell is 0-1-3 in his last five games with an ugly .845 save percentage and has fallen down the depth chart. Stuart Skinner got the win on Thursday in Boston and also beat the Leafs last week. 

"The great thing about Soup is, as we got to learn, it doesn't matter if he's starting or not, he's still the same guy and still an awesome teammate to be around and a special human being," Marner said. 


Lines at Friday's practice: 

Kerfoot - Matthews - Marner 
Nylander - Lafferty - Jarnkrok 
Bunting - Tavares - Simmonds 
Aston-Reese - Kampf - Acciari

McCabe - Brodie 
Rielly - Gustafsson
Giordano - Liljegren 
Timmins - Holl 


Power-play units at Friday's practice: 

QB: Rielly

Flanks: Matthews, Marner

Middle: Nylander 

Net front: Tavares 

QB: Gustafsson

Flanks: Kerfoot/Liljegren, Jarnkrok 

Middle: Lafferty 

Net front: Bunting