Today, Patrick Marleau is regarded as one of the fastest players in the NHL, but his skating wasn’t always so effortless. Growing up in a town of 40 people in ice-bound Saskatchewan, Canada, Patrick and his siblings learned to play hockey on a frozen barnyard pond where they would have to dodge drinking holes carved into the ice for the family’s cattle. At the age of 17, he was selected second overall in the 1997 draft by the San Jose Sharks. Over the last 18 seasons, he’s racked up franchise scoring records, six All-Star game appearances, and two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada. He now lives outside of San Jose with his wife, their four sons, and Stanley and Jo—the two cats they famously rescued after Jo snuck onto the ice during a playoff game. Patrick kindly invited us to his home to talk about life as a professional athlete and play a little backyard hockey with the boys.
You were drafted at 17—you were basically a kid. If you could go back in time and talk to the 17-year-old Patrick Marleau, what advice would you give him?
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I think that’s something I sometimes still need to tell myself now and then. Things are going to work out if you put in the work. I’ve always wanted to be the best I can be. Obviously, there are ups and downs, and as a young kid, you have to learn how to deal with those. Even being so far into my career, there are still ups and downs, but I like to think I’m a little bit better at handling them than I was when I was younger.
I also think the biggest thing I had to learn as a player was that the defensive part of the game is a lot more emphasized in the NHL than it was in juniors. I would tell me myself that defensive is part of the game, so get used to it [laughs]. As a young kid at time you say, “I’m an offensive player. I don’t need to play defense.” But the truth is, defense is only going to make you a better offensive player.
Have you developed any game-day rituals or superstitions through your career?
I’d say it’s more of a routine. It’s not like a superstition where if I don’t do something, it’s going to mess me up. We have a morning skate, stretch, then we have our meetings. After that I go to the same restaurant, eat the same meals (Chicken Spinach Salad and Penne Pasta With Veggies & Chicken). Then I come home, relax for a little bit and take a little pre-game nap. I get up and then I go to the rink probably two and a half to three hours before the game.
From there are a lot of little routines and stretching. Those things have evolved over the years where you add a thing or two each year or take something away just based on how you’re feeling. When you get to the rink that early, you have to try and find things to fill up the time.
The Sharks travel more miles than any team in the league. How do you pass the time on the road?
A lot of Netflix. I try to do a lot of Facetime with the family back home. That doesn’t always go so well [laughs]. Things can get pretty chaotic with four boys and I’m just another person that’s there watching on the screen. I read a lot of books on the plane and I’ll YouTube TED Talks every now and then.
What book has changed your behavior the most?
Probably The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. It’s a self-help book about self-awareness. It has a lot of great quotes about how to live your life and how to make the most out of it in different situations. It’s a good reminder to go back and read through the highlights. I read a lot of non-fiction. Another book I liked was Michael J. Fox’s biography—also Andre Agassi’s.
Besides a good book, what other travel gear do you always pack?
Now I take vitamins on the road, and some type of roller or bands to work out with in the hotel room. We also wear compression pants or socks on the plane. As soon as we board it’s off with the suit and into the compression.
You find that works? When you land is your body recovered better?
You know what? I don't know if it's a placebo or if it actually works, but I've been doing it for years now [laughs]. A lot of people swear by it. Being on the plane, the body swells up and the compression seems to help. With as much as we travel, it’s about doing whatever we can to help with recovery.
Do you feel like you've slow down physically, or do you feel you're just as effective as when you first came into the league?
I feel like I’m more effective. You figure out these are the spots I need to be in during the game. Obviously, it’s a fast-moving game so you might not be in the right spot, but you know how to recover. If you don't have your legs one night, you'll still got to find a way to help contribute. For us it’s the little details that go unnoticed besides the goals and the assists.
What do you think is the key to balancing home and work life, especially with so much travel?
For me, I try and separate the two. If I have a bad day at the rink, I don't bring it home with me. The biggest thing is just to be present wherever I am. When I’m at home, I’m not just a zombie sitting there thinking about hockey when I could be playing with the kids. I try to give them my full attention. That makes for better quality time, even though I might not get the quantity of time I’d like with being on the road.
As a player, what is the highest pressure moment you've ever been in? How do you calm yourself in those big moments?
The highest pressure moments I’ve ever been in would probably be in overtime in the finals of the Olympics on home soil in Vancouver, and in the Stanley Cup Final last year.
In those moments it helps looking around knowing that everybody else in that locker room, we all have the same goal and we’re all going through the same feelings and want to do our best. That gave me comfort in what I needed to do, knowing everybody else in that room was doing their best.
You’re one of a few players who have played in over 1,400 NHL games. What do you think has been the key to your longevity and staying healthy over the years?
Probably good genetics and I’ve had a really great supporting cast with the trainers here throughout my career. They always bring new ideas to the forefront. Honestly, when I first came in guys weren’t taking vitamins every day or eating healthy. It’s evolved over the years. More and more guys are turning to that healthier lifestyle. It helps players such as myself stay young, stay fit, and keep the fire burning.
Every player has little things they do away from the rink as well, whether that be a massage person that they go see from time to time. There’s many different types of massage now, like the cupping you saw at the Olympics. You go around and you try different things and you see what works for you and you apply it, and those people become part of your supporting cast. I’ve had numerous massage therapists with different techniques. You get to know a lot of therapist around the league so even when you’re on the road you know who to call. It’s about staying on top of all the injuries. Those little bumps and bruises—if you don’t take care of them they add up and turn into something major.
Is there anything that’s become part of your routine that you were hesitant to try at first?
There’s been a lot of things I've tried that you get funny looks from people, like, “You do what?!” [laughs] One thing that I do is I'll go jump in a cold tub during intermission sometimes to either cool off, or sometimes if I do it between the second and third period it makes me feel like I'm going back out for the start of the game.
Who are your role models?
Well growing up I liked the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is ironic because we lost to them last year in the Finals. Mario Lemieux was there at that time so he was one of my idols growing up. And obviously Wayne Gretzky.
My first year in San Jose, we had an older team and I was very fortunate I got to live with Kelly Hrudey and his family. That was a huge bonus for me getting to pick his brain every day. I played with Gary Suter, Tony Granato, Bernie Nicholls—all these guys were veterans and guys I grew up watching on TV. They made me feel like part of the team right away. Going out to dinner and being on the road with all of these guys I got to be a fly on the wall not saying too much and just taking it all in.