Lace bite to NHL breakout: Inside Mason Marchment’s hockey journey


Mason Marchment is in midsentence when a surprise intruder cuts him short.

And the Dallas Stars forward can’t resist the interloper.

“Sorry about that,” Marchment said on a recent call with ESPN. “I just got in and my dog couldn’t wait to say hi. He needs some attention.”

His pup might be the star at home, but it’s Marchment who’s in the NHL limelight. Which was, frankly, a long time coming.

These days Marchment is the toast of Dallas hockey, a top-six winger fresh from signing a four-year, $18 million contract last summer. Marchment was a hot name on the free-agent market after a breakthrough season in 2021-22 with the Florida Panthers, where he blew away all of his previous career marks, scoring 18 goals and 47 points in 54 games. It was no surprise then, when Marchment rolled into this season on a heater, posting a two-goal debut with the Stars and netting six points through his first four games.

“Honestly, it’s been awesome,” Marchment said of joining up with Dallas. “The Stars were definitely in my top three teams right off the bat in free agency. I’ve known [coach] Pete DeBoer and [assistant] Steve Spott for a little bit now just through the relationship that they had with my dad [former NHLer Bryan Marchment] so it just felt right. I definitely wanted to be comfortable when I came in. They had a great team here with a lot of young talent, so it all just made my decision pretty easy.”

What we’re seeing now is Marchment in his prime. But the 27-year-old is no overnight success.

Marchment was the definition of a late bloomer, his early career marred by the rejections to prove it. The Toronto-area native was passed over at 16 in the Ontario Hockey League draft and spent his next two years playing youth hockey before graduating, at 19, to the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

It was during that season Marchment physically took shape, reaching 6-foot-2 and wielding increased confidence along with his height. The OHL’s Erie Otters finally took notice and added Marchment for the 2014-15 campaign. His 26-point showing that season yielded no takers in the 2015 NHL draft, though, so the now-overage Marchment returned to juniors another season to be shipped around from Erie to Hamilton to Mississauga.

His last stop — during the Steelheads’ playoff run — put Marchment on the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ radar. His five-point performance helped Marchment land an amateur tryout with the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. That turned into an AHL contract for the following season and, eventually, a five-year stint with the organization. But that half-decade would be no ordinary opportunity for Marchment. It became the grind of his professional life, an all-out battle from part-time minor-league skater all the way to eventual Calder Cup champion in 2018.

Toronto started Marchment off in 2016 with a plan that involved playing no games while he worked instead with their stable of development coaches. Marchment was already in his early 20s then, a point when most players are anxious to establish their game on the ice. Marchment wanted that, too; he just lacked some of the tools to get there. So he embraced the Leafs’ proposal, and in doing so met a teacher who helped changed his life: skating coach Barb Underhill.

“I honestly don’t think I would be where I am without her,” he said.

IT WAS JUNE 6, 2016. The first time Underhill watched Marchment skate.

“He was just a gangly, overgrown, skinny kid,” Underhill recalled. “He had not grown into his body yet; that was the big thing I saw in him. I just remember thinking like, ‘Wow, this kid really needs to get stronger.'”

That wasn’t the only thing Marchment needed. Once the session was underway, Underhill instructed Marchment to get his knees over his toes and use more ankle flexion for balance on his blades. She was floored by his response.

“He said to me, ‘I can’t bend my ankle because I’ve had this chronic lace bite my whole life and it’s just too painful,'” she said. “I remember being so shocked, like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I think he thought it was normal to just always be in pain when he skated. I was shocked, and it just made me angry that this was happening, but also just determined to help him.”

Underhill describes lace bite as “super, super, super painful, and it’s because your skates aren’t fitting right.” She and her staff convened immediately to figure out a path forward for Marchment. It would be the start of an unexpected journey for both of them.

“First, we got him a pair of skates that fit properly,” she said. “We just had to get him out of pain. And then he was taking a lot of really weird falls, like out-of-balance falls. At times he almost looked like a marionette in how he would collapse and just really be off balance. So it was trying to get him in a position where he could play heavy, where he wouldn’t get pushed over. And in that initial time together we just formed a nice trust, and we had a good bond from the very beginning, because I think he could tell that I cared and really wanted to help him out.”

Marchment remained an eager pupil. He admits that “coming up, I was never the best skater” and the chance to work with Underhill was too good not to invest in. He could also appreciate her no-nonsense approach to creating improvements.

“I remember when we first started, she said to me, ‘If you give me 100%, I’ll give you 100%,'” Marchment said. “She’s one of the best if not the best out there, a great person, and just easy to get along with and talk to. She was probably the biggest piece for me playing [professionally] and moving up into the NHL ranks. She definitely has a big spot in my journey to making it.”

Underhill believes she logged more one-on-one time with Marchment than any player in her career. It was inevitable they’d become close, especially when Marchment grappled with being on the sidelines.

“I was there with him through a lot of very vulnerable times,” she said. “When he wasn’t even playing [in 2016-17], a lot of the work was not just skating, but it was personal. It was motivating and encouraging and like, ‘Come on; let’s get at this.'”

Those tactics became a staple in their relationship. After Marchment’s initial development stretch, he was sent down to the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears for a 35-game stint in 2017. He played only home games there, until the Marlies — satisfied with his progress — called Marchment back into the fold. At last, Marchment was ready to grab a permanent AHL role for the 2017-18 season. That would be the campaign in which Toronto won its first Calder Cup, and Marchment — playing a fourth-line role primarily with Trevor Moore and Adam Brooks — scored twice in the Cup-clinching victory, including what would be the game-winning goal.

Underhill said the ensuing on-ice celebration was “amazing — to be in that moment with him and see part of his dream come true after the journey we had taken was so cool.” It was the road thereafter that became rocky.

Right as Marchment was hitting his stride a series of injuries — including back-to-back shoulder issues — threatened his future. The second of those shoulder problems happened during Leafs training camp in 2019, and the ensuing surgery delayed Marchment’s potential of working into an NHL lineup. Underhill was back in motivation mode.

“I’ll never forget when he blew the shoulder out again,” Underhill said. “Just seeing him at the lunch table, I felt crushed for him, after all the work that he did to get back. And I just went and hugged him, and I was like, ‘Come on, you can do this’ and I can remember multiple times saying, ‘Look, this adversity, anybody at the top has gone through it, anybody that ever makes it has gone through major adversity.’ I had his back.”

Her positive attitude rubbed off.

“I definitely had my fair share of injuries in Toronto,” Marchment said. “That’s never easy and you have to grind through those and come out better on the other side is the way I look at those. I had a really good support system in Toronto and just having those people around through a lot of the tough times when I was getting hurt and things weren’t really going the way I wanted them to be was huge.”

Marchment did eventually suit up with the Leafs, making his NHL debut on Jan. 2, 2020. Barely a month later, after four appearances with the club, Toronto traded Marchment to Florida for Denis Malgin. The Leafs were overstocked with forwards, so the move gave Marchment a fresh start elsewhere. Still, the news devastated Underhill.

“I remember not being very happy with [Leafs general manager] Mr. [Kyle] Dubas at the time,” she said. “But I knew also that it might be the best thing for him, and I said that to him because I’m sure it was a shock to him as well. And it was the best thing because there was an opening there for him and an opportunity and he made the most of it. That was a big part of him getting to where he is right now.”

Timing, as they say, is everything. Marchment packed his bags and headed south believing he was better off than when Toronto first brought him in.

“I think the biggest thing for me was learning to play a complete game,” Marchment said. “Coming out of junior and really just growing up, I always just liked to play offense. I knew when I got to the pros, at least initially I wasn’t going to be the guy that they go to in those situations and I had to learn to basically play a different role. Being in Toronto taught me that I’ve got to play a different role and play a different way. That definitely helped my complete game going forward.”

SAM REINHART PROBABLY heard Marchment before he saw him.

His new Panthers teammate had that sort of energy.

“The first thing I think of with him is how he was in the room. He’s a personality,” Reinhart said. “He’s going to be himself no matter what, and guys are drawn to that. He’s such a popular and likable guy. It’s an unbelievable trait to have. No matter how he’s doing on the ice, off the ice, he’s the same. He just carries himself in such an awesome way.”

Marchment glided his way into Florida after another brief turn in the AHL. Reinhart was still with the Sabres during Marchment’s first full season with the Panthers (2020-21), where Marchment notched two goals and 10 points through the COVID-19-shortened campaign.

In April 2021, Marchment signed a one-year deal to stay with the Panthers. Reinhart joined the club via trade later that offseason, then signed a three-year contract.

Marchment’s breakout started — in part — when he linked up on a line with Reinhart, their off-ice synergy apparent on a unit with Anton Lundell. That trio played a significant role in Florida’s dominant, President’s Trophy winning 2021-22 season, collecting a combined 173-point effort that ramped up throughout the campaign. On Jan. 31, 2022, Marchment recorded a six-point night in the Panthers’ win over Columbus, and then tallied his first-ever NHL hat trick the following month.

“We had really good chemistry from day one, honestly,” Marchment said. “I really enjoy Sam as a person and a friend. We were close off the ice and we were really close on the ice. We would talk on the bench a lot; we were pretty good at communicating with each other. He’s a really good player, a really easy guy to play with.”

That line kept producing, and suddenly Marchment was on everyone’s radar. He took the mounting accolades in stride, while knowing full well they didn’t happen by accident.

“I always believed that I was capable of getting there; it just had to be the right opportunity at the right time,” Marchment said. “When I went to Florida, [then-head coach Joel Quenneville] he really gave me a good opportunity to succeed and put me in the right places. He’s the reason I started flourishing, because he put me in those positions where I was going to succeed. It just took off from there.”

If Marchment is humble in his personal assessments, Reinhart is happy to brag about him. He got to know “a little bit” about Marchment’s career trek, and felt struck by the perseverance Marchment displayed to reach his target.

“It was a long path for him going through Toronto and slowly working his way up,” Reinhart said. “But to see the confidence he has in himself, and his game is pretty incredible. I think as soon as he came here, he took his game to a whole other level, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing that down any time soon.”

The same thought occurs to Moore, Marchment’s former linemate with the Marlies. He shares a similar story to Marchment’s, going undrafted into the Leafs’ organization and battling his way into a regular role now with the Los Angeles Kings.

That shared history of growing pains bonded Moore and Marchment for almost three AHL seasons, through which Moore could see — well before the rest — Marchment’s ultimate destiny.

“I think people thought of him as just a bigger guy who’s going to hit and be tough, but there was always that skill there,” Moore said. “Like with the toe drags and the shot and the way he saw the ice. That just kept growing every year. Looking at him now and seeing him in the NHL, it’s amazing. There’s all the stuff that he can do as a top-six forward, but it’s not too, too surprising having seen all the steps that he’s taken in the past.”

Marchment is still a tough customer — just ask his supposed friends. Moore experienced that firsthand when his Kings faced Marchment’s Stars earlier this season.

“It was pretty cool, lining up against him the first shift in the starting lineup of an NHL game,” Moore said. “And then he goes and takes a run at me. The full circle moment was a little bit dampened. No, it was good. It’s really cool to see that we’ve both made it this far and I’m happy about it for him.”

MARCHMENT COMES BY that killer instinct naturally. His father Bryan had it, too.

For 15 years, the elder Marchment was a bruising, hard-nosed NHL defender who also laced up briefly for the Leafs. After his playing career, Bryan transitioned into front office positions, his last with the San Jose Sharks.

It was while working for the Sharks at the 2022 draft in Montreal that Bryan passed away suddenly on July 6. He was 53. No cause of death was ever publicly revealed.

The younger Marchment respectfully declines to talk about his father and what transpired last summer. The loss of his family’s patriarch was clearly gut-wrenching. Somehow, Marchment found his way forward — like so many times before — and showed in the wake of intense grief what a special person his father helped raise.

“I think it was [three weeks] out [from Bryan’s death], and I was actually able to see him at [Brandon Montour‘s] wedding in Nashville,” Reinhart said. “For him to be a few weeks from going through something like that — and obviously he wasn’t doing great and was having a hard time with it — for him to put that aside for somebody he’s so close with in Monty and to be able to come to the wedding and show up for him and put on a brave face, I just had so much respect for someone like him doing that. It just shows the kind of man he is and the friend he is.”

Reinhart and Marchment are still close now — Marchment’s girlfriend Alexis will be a bridesmaid in Reinhart’s upcoming wedding — and they’ll take any opportunity to tee it up on the golf course. That will have to wait until summer though; both Reinhart and Marchment hope their teams are on track for a long run ahead.

For Marchment, this season came stacked with expectations akin to producing on a big-ticket contract. Although in famously laid-back fashion, he hasn’t exactly been sweating those details.

“Nothing changes for me,” Marchment said. “I just have the same mindset that you’ve got to work hard every day and try to get better every day. I think with all the added pressures and stuff like that, it even makes more sense to just keep doing the same things. Don’t worry about the outside noise and just have fun and go out there and work hard.”

It’s a perspective that has served Marchment well in achieving this current level — something even his staunchest supporters weren’t sure was in the cards.

“It blows my mind,” Underhill said of Marchment’s NHL success. “I really didn’t see that for him early on. I don’t think anybody did. But there was something about this kid where he just kept kicking, he just kept going and nothing could hold him down.”

That includes the void left by his father. It was six days after Bryan’s death that Marchment signed with the Stars. Even if dad never got the chance to see him in that uniform, there’s no doubt who Marchment is thinking about every night on that ice. Or that a proud father is watching him from somewhere.

“He’s playing for his dad,” Reinhart said. “He’s got that extra incentive. For people to finally notice him, it’s definitely time for him to get some recognition. I’m thrilled to see him doing well. He’s got a massive fan in me and all the support in the world from me.”

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