We’ve seen a few players get popped from our center ice location at Scotiabank, but never a guy actually pops the question in the press box.
Tuesday morning, prior to the Leafs-Flyers game, superfan Mark Fera completed a clandestine operation to get his girlfriend, Rita Marini, to perch with help from the club, where he surprised her with a marriage proposal.
Marini, who thought she was there to help Fera with media interviews about his vast Toronto hockey memorabilia collection, was asked by event photographer Dan Bodanis to close her eyes while he set up a shot, opening them to find the 48-year-old Fera on bent knee with a ring.
“He got me really good,” Marini said after her tears dried. “This is crazy and surreal. I can’t imagine this going the way it did.
“And we did it here, at a place we now both love. We both bleed blue.”
Fera, a fire and life safety company employee in Mississauga, has more than 3,000 team-related items, including a collection of Auston Matthews’ sweaters going back to his time in the Swiss League and extensive Bill Barilko artifacts. Marini, an office administrator for a property management firm, took the trouble to study through the morning to be ready for her supposed first TV interview about Fera’s Leafs gear.
The couple also had musical accompaniment. Fera arranged for violinist Viera Zmiyiwsky, from the Mississauga Symphony, to be there in the guise of a journalist.
She played while the couple kissed and posed outside among the Legends Row Leaf statues.
“I asked six months ago, as the Leafs don’t normally do this,” Fera said. “But we were able to sneak in, watch practice and then I told her about a quick tour of the press box.
“We had to keep it tight-lipped. We tricked her girls into coming (teenage daughters Olivia and Mia) saying they might meet Auston.
“I’m very fortunate I get to spend the rest of my life with my best friend and fellow Leaf fan. Rita didn’t even like hockey a year and a half ago. She’d say just the sound of the puck bouncing off the sticks of her made her fall asleep before the goal horn went off.
“She didn’t understand my interest in collecting ‘men’s used clothing’. Then she thought it was cute that William Nylander was young enough to be her son and she followed him while I followed Matthews.
Now she’s fully invested in his past time.
“My love for hockey started with his stories,” Marini said. “If you’ve seen his collection of him, it’s one thing to be a fan, but to know the stories behind the game is a whole different world. I couldn’t be more proud of him. There’s a lot more to come and now I’m going to (help him).”