National Post

Strome, Marner friends again for Team Canada

Former rivals well over their early teen enmity

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T ORONTO • Hockey hate can sometimes be a hard thing to define. It is not always about a cross- check, cheap shot or e- ven a nose that was blood ied in a fight. Often, it is born from two players who simply want to be the best and are stopping the other from doing the same.

That is how Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner began their on-ice rivalry.

G- rowing up, each was al ways the star on his team in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. So when they played each other — Strome was a member of the Toronto Marlboros and Marner played for t- he Vaughan Kings — it be came a challenge of trying to stop the other from scoring. Sometimes, it was done by w- hatever means were neces sary.

“I didn’t really like him too much when we were younger,” s- aid Strome, whom the Ari zona Coyotes selected third overall in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.

“- We were always play ing against each other and didn’t know each other really well,” said Marner, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect who was chosen with the No. 4 pick. “So i-t’s kind of a hating relation ship because we were both good at hockey and wanted to beat each other.”

It was not until they were put on the same line at the Under- 17 tournament that they realized how much they complement­ed each other. While Team Ontario lost to R-ussia in a shootout and fin ished fifth overall, Strome had six goals and 11 points in five games, while Marner had six goals and nine points.

“The first game we weren’t on the same line,” said Strome. “In the second game, we were down 4-1 after two periods and the coach switched things up and threw us out on the same line and (Marner) ended up getting a hat trick in the third period.”

“We had chemistry right off the bat,” said Marner. “We won the game and from then on we became friends. I think when we finally got to play with each other and got to know each other we kind of realized we’re good buddies and had the same personalit­y and things clicked.”

Since then, the pair has been inseparabl­e. They have played together at the Under-18 championsh­ip, in t- he Super Series against Rus s- ia and in the CHL Top Pros pects Game.

T- hey even play road hock ey together with the same g- roup of friends in the sum mer.

So when Hockey Canada was choosing players for the world junior championsh­ip, it made sense that Strome and Marner were pencilled in on the top line. The only question was who would join them.

F-or now, the answer is Law son Crouse.

“I think they complement each other because they both think the game at a high level,” Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski said of Strome and Marner. “We joke sometimes that there might not be enough pucks on the ice for Mitch Marner and yet his intuition is to pass the puck. And Dylan Strome is so smart that he’s always going to be in the right spot and is always going to find the open ice so Mitch can find him. That’s the beauty of it.

“They certainly looked good in practice so far. That’s really not a surprise, but the nice thing is that Lawson has fit very nicely with them.”

With Strome and Marner, it i-s all about skill. The two play ers finished one- two in OHL scoring last season — Strome, a six- foot- three centre with the Erie Otters, finished with 1- 29 points; the five- foot- elev

I didn’t really like him too much when we were younger

en Marner scored 126 with the London Knights — and are both in the top-5 this year.

Crouse’s job, meanwhile, is simpler: go to the net and look for a rebound.

“Obviously they’re very skilled and they seem to have a lot of chemistry, so it’s nice to be on a line with them,” said the six- foot- four, 211- pound Crouse, who was selected 11th o- verall by the Florida Pan thers.

“I just have to be strong all over the ice, play big and get them the puck. They’re skilled players and they’ ll find me. Just get to the front of the net and hopefully bang in a couple of goals.”

It is still very early in the process, so no one knows if this line will remain intact w- hen the team heads to Hel sinki. Maybe Crouse will get replaced with Brayden Point or Travis Konecny or even Vancouver Canucks prospect J-ake Virtanen, who Team Can ada officials are “crossing their fingers” will be loaned for the tournament.

B-ut one thing is almost cer tain: Strome and Marner are not going anywhere.

“It should be a lot of fun,” Marner said of playing with Strome. “We’ve known each other for a lot of years now, playing with each other. We’ve had a lot of success. Hopefully it continues.”

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