Former Toronto Marlboro John Tavares comes home

Published On July 4, 2018 | By scavard | Sports

John Tavares returned to Toronto after signing with the Maple Leafs for seven years on July 1. (Robert Kowal/Flickr)

Scott Savard

NHL centre John Tavares — and avowed Oakville boy — returned to his hockey roots in Toronto, where he grew up playing the sport.

Tavares signed a seven-year deal worth $77 million on July 1 to join the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was a long time coming for him after spending time playing for the Toronto Marlboros of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL).

Michael Chraba, general manager of the Toronto Marlboros, had Tavares play for his squad as a youth and was extremely impressed with the qualities he possessed.

“On the ice the fact is that he has all the necessary tools to be a superstar,” Chraba said. “I consider him to be one of the superstars, if not top players in the NHL.

“He has all the skills, he’s got the soft hands, he’s got good footwork,” he said. “If you ask him he would probably tell you his foot speed could be quicker but he has got that and he’s got a real good mind for the game, sees the ice extremely well and he uses his teammates, he is not a selfish player. From an on-ice area those are the skills that he brings to any team.”

Tavares was a standout with the Marlboros during his time in the GTHL both on and off the ice.

“Off the ice, he is one of the most gentlemanly-like men I have ever had time to spend with. He is very, very humble,” Chraba said.

“I can’t think of a negative comment that I would have to say,” he said.

Tavares was the first player ever to receive exceptional player status which allowed him to play in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) a year early at the age of 15.

This was a big moment for the hockey world but just a normal day for Tavares as he spent his whole hockey career being an underage player.

“The OHL began looking at exceptional players and it just happened to be the year John Tavares was the exceptional player,” Chraba said.

”So I think when he had his interview process … there was no reason why he wasn’t ready to move forward,” he said. “He had played underage all his [hockey career], so he was always playing in that age group and excelling … there was no reason why he would have been turned down.”

Tavares was able to feel at home in Toronto after coming from Oakville, the GTHL’s Marlboros as he was accompanied by some of his closest friends.

“I think he was ecstatic,” Chraba said. “Initially he came from Oakville and he did have some friends from Oakville that gradually made their way to the organization and became teammates of his.”

“A number of his close friends, but [centre] Sam Gagner for sure, who he spent a lot of time with and just lived around the corner from him in Oakville, who is in the NHL as well,” he said. “[American Hockey League defenseman] Cody Goloubef was another one who he spent a lot of time with … it was such a close knit group. The chemistry in the dressing room was phenomenal.”

Tavares will be comfortable at home with his parents able to attend games more often like they did when he was in the GTHL. Just don’t expect his mom to bring sandwiches for the team like she did before.

“He has a very close nit family,” Chraba said. “His mom and dad used to go on all the bus trips to the U.S., and mom used to bring two coolers full of sandwiches for the players and the other parents. His mom always took care of everybody.”

He says Leafs fans should be over the moon with the signing.

“I think the Leafs fans should be extremely excited,” he said. “A generational player to come into the OHL underage, he has excelled in New York, lead the team since his time there, he has gotten better every year, and I think with this young Leafs team with the players that they have in their core at this time, you are going to see John just excel to another level.”

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