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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, left, laughs at an NHL training camp in Toronto on Sept. 23, 2021.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

When he was a child, Mitch Marner would wake up on Dec. 25 in his family’s home just north of Toronto and sprint to the bedroom of his brother Christopher. On the odd occasion it would happen the other way around, but usually it was Mitch, younger by four years, to wake up first with sugarplums dancing.

“I would jump on his bed and shake him pretty heavily to get him going,” Marner said Friday as he reminisced. “I would shout, ‘Let’s go, it’s Christmas! Let’s go get our presents.’

“Then it would be a sprint to my parents’ room where I would scream at them.”

Marner is 25 now and a star right wing for the Maple Leafs. He is in the midst of a 21-game points streak – the longest in franchise history – and it is not lost on him how much his life has been blessed.

It is one of the reasons he is an ambassador for Amazon Canada’s Delivering Smiles Program, which co-ordinates a toy drive and helps raise donations to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Canada. He also takes part in Amazon’s TakingITGlobal campaign and on Friday was host of a virtual workshop with Indigenous youths and others from remote northern communities.

The benevolence is nothing new. A few years ago he established the Marner Assist Foundation to provide help in the areas of children’s education, health and social care and to support environmental causes. Most recently he used it to deliver meals to front-line workers at the height of the pandemic and to help promote a children’s help line. He also has been involved with an Amazon-related school-breakfast initiative.

“It started with my parents,” Marner says. ”From Day 1 they made me and my brother feel that there is always a way you can help someone, and told us if you have an opportunity and a platform, why shouldn’t you do it?

“That’s why I felt it would be really important to join the Delivering Smiles partnership. As soon as I heard about it I wanted to be a part of it. There are a lot of eyes in this market and I have been a member of this community for a long time and want to give back as much as I can.”

Marner is embroiled in the hockey season, which for him continues on Saturday when the Maple Leafs face the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Arena. He sees beyond that, however. For many, it’s a wonderful time of the year. For others, it’s sad.

The toy drive is nationwide and has 10 chapters from coast to coast.

Marner and his fiancée, Stephanie LaChance, will spend time with both of their families on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“Eventually the goal is that soon we can fit everyone beneath one roof,” Marner said. “For me, there was always a lot of joy at Christmas from being with family. I’d get to spend the holiday with my cousins and uncles and then we would have a big sit-down dinner and share stories with one another. The gifts were great as well but that is really the thing I will always remember.”

As he grew up, naturally, his greatest desire on Christmas morning was to find hockey gear beneath the tree.

“Depending on what new stick was out, that was usually at the top of my wish list, regardless of what brand it was,” Marner said. “I always wanted Santa to get it for me and I usually did and I was always grateful and lucky.

“I know now that sometimes it’s not something that happens for everybody. Not everyone gets to experience that feeling and the joy it brings. That is why I am part of this. The hope is to try to make everyone’s life feel special around Christmas because it should be.

“I couldn’t be prouder to help bring this initiative to life.”