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Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com

‘His strength is his strength’ How Bobby McMann made an immediate impact with the Toronto Marlies

Meet Bobby McMann.

The 25-year-old is in his second season with the Toronto Marlies, just two years removed from his college hockey career.

McMann spent four years at Colgate University, which is located in Hamilton, New York. Throughout the four seasons in college, he had 92 points.

In his final year at Colgate, McMann served as the captain and was also a Hobey Baker Award nominee.

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And that’s when the Marlies signed him to a two-year AHL contract.

He was born in Wainwright, Alberta — just 42 minutes outside of Edmonton. At the young age of two-years-old, McMann began skating.

“I wanted to play hockey when I was four, but I remember sitting in the car and my Dad telling me that I wasn’t allowed to play until I was five.” said McMann. “That was one of my first memories, actually, that I still remember today.”

At 13, McMann was playing Double-A rep hockey with the Under-15 Wainwright Polar Kings. Year after year, McMann moved up, eventually playing under-18 hockey with the Lloydminster Bobcats Triple-A team at the age of 16.

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When players are doing that well at such a young age, it’s tough to pinpoint where they might go in their career. For McMann, he never thought about it like that.

It was just a dream.

“I never really thought of it as a career,” said McMann. “I think I more thought about it as a dream my whole life, to eventually play in the NHL, that was the goal. I always watched in on TV, thought it was the coolest thing.”

After a season playing Under-18 hockey, where he put up 25 points in 32 games, McMann moved to Junior-A with the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the AJHL.

“I think, maybe, once I got to juniors, you can kind of see where you matched up against some of the older guys,” said McMann of what hockey was like when he was younger, “once you’re around 17-18, around that age, I just tried to get a scholarship first and foremost, and then I thought that’d be a path to eventually play in it professionally and making it my job.

The AJHL is home to many players with successful careers in the NHL, like Cale Makar, Brayden Point, and even Colton Parayko. After a few years playing in Bonnyville, McMann committed to Colgate University.

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“I think that’s, I guess, when I realized I had a shot and if I kept working it was possible.”

At college, McMann majored in economics. It was also there where his leadership as a hockey player came to the forefront.

“I think it started when I was younger,” McMann said of where he found his leadership skills, “with my Dad, he was like, ‘you gotta lead by example, if you’re one of the better players on your team, you gotta show how to play, how to be a good person.’ I think that’s what he stressed the most, and then just having good mentors and good coaches on the way up. Like in juniors, I had Rick Swan, who really taught me a lot about being a good person first and being good off the ice before you’re good on the ice. And then, my coaches at Colgate too, with Dana Borges and Juliano Pagliero, and Don Vaughan.

“Just learning from the coaches and then some of the older guys too that are there. You see how guys respond to certain leaders in the room and certain captains, and which captains are the best. I try to pull those traits from those leaders and try and learn from them and just be a good person.”

After a season of going back and forth between the Toronto Marlies and Wichita Thunder, McMann was ready to have a strong showing at training camp. (Last season was the same season where he scored a goal on Carey Price, which he’ll never forget.)

During camp, he was low on the totem pole, centring a third line that seemed destined for the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL. That’s where the 25-year-old began the season.

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But with an injury to Nick Robertson a few games in, and McMann’s good play in the ECHL, he was called up.

McMann was given an opportunity and he ran with it.

Now, the 25-year-old is with the Marlies, playing a key role within the top-six and Toronto’s top power play unit. McMann has established himself in a strong way since arriving back in Toronto for his first real AHL season.

This was one of the reasons why he chose to play in Toronto.

“It gives you perspective in how fast things can change, how thankful and lucky I am to be in this organization.” said McMann of being in Toronto this year. “They use a lot of resources here to make you a better player, better person, so I think it gives me perspective that here is where I think is a great place to excel and there’s a lot of supporting staff and I appreciate that and recognize that every day and try not to take it for granted.”

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McMann understands what the Maple Leafs organization can give him — a legitimate shot at making the NHL.

“Definitely I think the way you’re treated is far and above a lot of places that I’ve heard about in pro hockey,” McMann said. “Whether that’s the time that’s taken to develop you as a player, as a person, and the amount of resources they use is so different than what I’ve experienced in college and in juniors. It’s really feels like they’re taking the time to invest in you and get you to be the best player you can be and reach your potential.”

The 25-year-old’s leadership is on full display with the Marlies. At practices, he’s seen working on his craft alone and usually being one of the final players off the ice — he usually is the final player off.

Editors note: He was actually the final player on the ice for the Marlies before doing this interview.

“Bobby’s been a big player for us,” said Marlies head coach Greg Moore. “His strength is his strength… The one area he’s really leveled up in is his puck play.

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“I think last season and the sample size we got from him was very straight line, very north south, and now he’s starting to find the east west game, he’s starting to find little slip plays in tight spots to create chances for his teammates. There’s a lot more layers he’s added this year.”

McMann loves being at rink and as long as he’s enjoying it, the 25-year-old believes he can be in the game for a long time.

“I like to have fun at the rink. I don’t want it to be a drag, I don’t want it to be a job, I want to have fun every day.” McMann said. “When you’re lifting the guys up beside you and the guys around you, I think that’s most important — that they’re having fun, and then when they’re having fun, you’re having fun. That’s how you stay in the game for a long time from what I’ve heard from older people is, once you’re not having fun, you’re out of the game.”

What are some of the aspects that he’s learned since coming to the AHL?

McMann has moved up the ranks incredibly quick, but from last season (which was a bit different) to this one, what stands out about the way the game is played?

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“Last year was my first step into the American Hockey League and you definitely notice it’s a bit faster, things happen a little bit quicker, and your mistakes are compounded. But this year, it’s even more all those things,” said the 25-year-old. “If you make a wrong decision or if you’re not in the right spot — it’s so much tighter — the game is so tight, it’s played at such a fast speed that if things aren’t clicking with your line, your team, or you’re not on the same page with your systems, things can change so quick and there’s such good players on both teams.

“For one, it’s fun to play with all these guys that are in that locker room, just so many of them and all of them can make such elite plays and know how to find you and will get open for you and do the same thing. So, it’s fun to play with those guys and then also playing against teams, like you know that every guy out there on the other team isn’t gonna quit, whether it’s five minutes left in the game, the first period, first five minutes, they’re always going 100%, so you can’t take a shift off and you just got to be ready to play every night.”

The 25-year-old seems like he’s now a regular in the AHL. In 26 games this season, McMann has 13 points. The next step is working his way to the next level, which is the NHL.

His dream.

While he tries not to think about it, with players like Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins going up, it makes it difficult.

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“You can’t help but realize a little bit when there’s guys on your team playing up with the Leafs,” McMann said. “You see that obviously they’re exceptional players and they know how to play the game at a very high level. But you definitely see that you’re not far off. As far as thinking about it, though, I don’t necessarily think about it day to day. Sometimes in the summer, you kind of reflect and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m right there.’ It helps motivate you in the summer to work a little bit harder because you see how close you are, but yeah, day to day you’re just working on yourself, getting yourself better, preparing for yourself, and hopefully being ready for games and building up the guys beside you.”

The most important aspect of playing hockey is being comfortable, both in the league you’re playing in and on the team that you’re playing for.

McMann is comfortable with both of those things, but understands the job isn’t done just yet.

“I’m confident and happy with where I’m at right now, definitely not content.” Said the 25-year-old. “I always want to be better and obviously I think I’m showing that I wanna continually work every day at practice and in games, watch video and do all the things I can to improve my game, therefore improve our team’s game, hopefully win more games, and then everybody wants a player that knows how to win.”