There’s a grin spreading across P.K. Subban’s face as I ask about a certain Internet meme occupying a number of his tweets. He pauses briefly before answering: “the Joël.”
He’s taken aback, noticeably amused that the flamingo-like pose he unabashedly strikes solo and alongside celebrities such as Russell Peters, Kurt Russell, Lou Ferrigno and the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes has become the topic of discussion. He’s gearing up for a morning on-ice workout at St. Michael’s College School Arena in Toronto with several other NHLers, but has stopped, asking, “Can I just do something?” Sure.
He pulls out his iPhone, dials a friend on speaker and explains the lead-off question. There’s laughter on the other end. “This is unbelievable,” the anonymous voice says, clearly just as delighted as the Montreal Canadiens defenceman chuckling beside me.
Even though the fate of this year’s NHL season remains unclear and, as Montreal has yet to offer him a new deal, he’s floating in contractual limbo, the 23-year-old evidently isn’t afraid to enjoy the droll little moments that come his way. “You know what, man,” he says after shifting into pro-mode, “I take my job seriously, but I also love to have fun and enjoy life.”
For Subban, you can either lament misfortune or accept the situation and roll with the punches. “You can’t be negative,” he says optimistically, despite the current NHL lockout. “It’s not a good way to be, and I don’t think you’ll get much success if you’re always negative.” Some days might be tough and others will be phenomenal, “you just got to ride the wave.”
The Joël (or #Joël, as it’s been hashtagged) is just one way he’s keeping things upbeat. It’s meaningless fun, a joke between friends that began after a misfired dance move. But it’s caught fire with the Habs faithful following him on Twitter. He found himself inundated with pictures of fans Joëling at sporting events, in Halloween costumes and even at their own weddings. The response has been overwhelming and somewhat surreal, but as the former Belleville Bull explains, this type of harmless clowning is a great way to keep fans involved. “We actually have been talking about trying to figure out how we can incorporate it into a foundation for cancer and raising money,” says Subban, who is also an ambassador of Hyundai Hockey Helpers, which provides funding for league fees and equipment for children.
In a hockey-less fall, Subban is getting to know Toronto, the city he calls home, in new ways. “I really like Montreal, the city is amazing and I love it, but when I come down the 401 and I see Toronto, it’s just a different feeling,” says the Rexdale-native. “Home is always home.” It’s his first year living downtown and he’s been exploring the city’s culinary scene, noting Bymark, Lee, Jacob’s and Co, and Westlodge as spots he frequents. He’s also been spending time with his family, which, in a household of five kids, where all three boys play competitive hockey, is a rarity. “We worship that time,” he adds.
Between catching up on episodes of Dexter, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Sons of Anarchy, Subban also occupies his time with not-so-romantic encounters. “Well, taking long walks on the beach with Lombo over here,” he jests, as Maple Leafs centre Matthew Lombardi returns the banter.
But as the jokes roll, Subban remains focused on his game. He was up at 5 a.m., in the gym by 8 and on the ice at 10:30, determined to maintain an edge once the season does start. “We have every excuse to maybe do nothing and just be waiting and enjoying our time off,” says the six-foot, 220-pounder in between sets at Laylor Performance Systems, “but I choose to be in the gym.” He wants to be known as one of the best defencemen to ever play the game, and while training is essential, Subban feels attitude is a critical component.
“I think that you have to say it if you want to do it,” he adds. “I have a lot to learn still, but you know what, you need to think that way; you have to believe that you can be that player.”
“He’s hungry, he’s focused,” says Clance Laylor, founder and CEO of Laylor Performance Systems, adding Subban loves to push himself and take on new challenges. “And those are great traits of a hungry athlete — a guy who wants to succeed, a guy who wants to be the best in the business.”
His performance isn’t the only mark he hopes to leave on the game, either: Subban has found an affinity for fashion. “My thing is to be one of the best-dressed guys in professional sports,” he says, noting his fondness for Italian fashion house Zegna. “I love the fact that when people are going to see me they’re going to see that I take pride in the way I dress.”
He dons a striking eggplant Sartorialto suit after the morning skate, and it’s obvious he not only cares about appearance, but an appearance with personality. “How’s the pocket square? Is it clean?” he asks, adjusting the white piece of fabric peeking from his jacket pocket. I nod, and he smiles, content with the sharp look.
He credits the team at Sartorialto, a Montreal-based tailor that custom makes most of his suits, for helping to elevate his fashion game. “He dares to wear different colours and different styles — he doesn’t shy away from being noticed,” says founder of Sartorialto Marc Patrick, describing a teal tuxedo they recently crafted for the Habs blueliner. “Who else will try to wear a teal tux? Not a lot of people have the guts.”
In the eggplant suit, Subban definitely looks like a contender. But he also knows competition is fierce. “Henrik Lundqvist, he’s got great style,” he says, paying respect to the New York Rangers prized netminder. Great hair too, I add. “Yeah, he does have great hair. Not like Komo,” he says facetiously, nodding towards Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek, who is sitting across the room. “But it’s pretty good.”
Subban has to catch a flight, so we wrap things up. He’s off to Montreal for a black-tie gala celebrating the Ritz-Carlton Montreal’s 100th anniversary. The Prince of Monaco will be in attendance. “He’s a good friend of mine. He asked me to come and I said ‘no problem,’” he says, cracking a mischievous grin. Yes, 23-year-old P.K. Subban will be Joëling with the Prince of Monaco. The only question now is will he bust-out the pose after his first goal of the season. Subban, however, remains coy. “You’ll have to stay tuned and watch.”
Photography by Jesse Milns