Martina Ortiz-Luis is the Maple Leafs’ first anthem singer to be given the job for the whole season. The 15-year-old is a Grade 10 student at Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts. Photo courtesy Ortiz-Luis family

Catholic teen stands on guard for Leafs

  • October 12, 2016

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t given fans much to cheer about in recent years. But a 15-year-old girl from a Toronto Catholic high school hopes to help turn that around.

Martina Ortiz-Luis is sure to bring the crowd to its feet Oct. 15 when she sings the national anthem prior to the Leafs opening home game of the season against the  Boston Bruins. The Grade 10 student from Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts was recently selected from among more than 500 applicants to be the team’s official anthem singer for home games.

“At my age we haven’t really experienced a memorable Leafs’ moment,” said Ortiz-Luis. “Now because we have a lot of new players and young players I think this is the year of the Leafs. (But) the fans in Toronto really need more pumping up to help pump up our young team.”

That’s where Ortiz-Luis comes in.

“I’m just really excited to pump up the crowd at every home game this season,” she said. “It’s like a dream come true and I am so happy.

“I’m a fan of all of the Toronto teams. I really wanted to sing for one of them.”

When it comes to hockey, she says all of her friends are fans but the Leafs are the only team she follows.

“When my parents moved here (from the Philippines) they started getting into hockey,” she said. “You have to support the Toronto teams.”

She hasn’t met any of the players, although that “would be amazing,” but she has quickly become a fan of 19-year-old Mitch Marner, the exciting rookie who, like Ortiz-Luis, spent recent weeks auditioning for a job.

“Watching Mitch Marner is actually really cool,” she said. “He just flies across the ice and he’s got a different vision from all of the other players — and he’s young too. So he’s my favourite.”

Another of her first observations is the temperature at ice level.

“A lot of people don’t realize how cold it is down by the ice,” she said. “It’s below zero.”

In the 100-year history of the Leafs, this season marks the first time one person has been chosen to sing the anthem at every home game. Ortiz-Luis, who had never attended a Leaf game prior to this fall, earned the job after advancing through several audition rounds against several hundred other aspiring anthem singers. By the end of September, she had become the top choice selected by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment officials, who failed to respond to a request for comment.

“There were a lot of professionals and I was really nervous because I was one of the youngest ones there,” said Ortiz-Luis. “Thankfully, though, I got the gig.”

Similar to the players, Ortiz-Luis spent the preseason traveling to Hamilton, St. Catharines and Halifax to hone her anthem singing at exhibition games. She made her exhibition season debut at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 2 when the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in overtime.

“It was surreal,” she said. “The capacity of the ACC is like 19,000 and it was sold out that night. I was really pumped that night and after I was done it hit me that oh my God, I just sang at the ACC.”

She was excited to start the regular season.

Her father, James, admits watching her perform “is nerve-wracking for a parent like me,” but he believes his only daughter is up to the challenge.

“As an anthem singer you’ve got to be able to make the people feel,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure involved but she likes it. She loves to sing and she loves to perform as part of big crowds.”

He added that although working with the Leafs “wasn’t even on our radar … until a month ago,” his daughter has been preparing for such a role most of her life.

“Even though she is only 15, this is 10 years in the making,” he said. “It is not like it happened yesterday.”

Even as a toddler, her Manila-born parents recognized her gifted voice and she began voice training at the age of three. While studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Ortiz-Luis’ repertoire included all types of music, from classical to pop.  At the age of 12 she wrote and performed her first original song, “True Friends.” The video included several other students from Cardinal Carter and the song was a semi-finalist in an international songwriting contest.

Her ambition is to become a professional singer and songwriter. Accomplished on the guitar and violin, the honours student who attends St. David Parish in Vaughan, has song at numerous music festivals and concerts. In 2014, she wrote and performed “The Spirit Christmas,” the official Christmas song of World Vision, which earned her the Fr. Andrew Cuschieri Humanitarian Award from the Toronto Catholic District School Board for charitable work. She hopes public recognition through the Maple Leafs will help here charitable endeavours.

“Once I started performing for charities I realized that I wanted to use my talents to help other people,” said Ortiz-Luis, a 2015 contestant in the Philippines version of the reality TV singing show “The Voice.”

And while some are cynical enough to call working with the Leafs as an act of charity, Ortiz-Luis expects to see changes this season going well beyond the national anthem.

“I am just really, really excited to go out there and do my thing,” she said. “I grew up with all of my friends being hockey fans … and we all think this will be the year of the Leafs.”

Along with singing O Canada in English, Ortiz-Luis will also sing the anthem in French when the Montreal Canadiens or Ottawa Senators are in town.  When the Leafs face-off against an American team she’ll follow O Canada with the Star Spangled Banner.

Like the players, Ortiz-Luis plans to arrive at the arena a few hours before game time in order to do a sound check and warm up with singing exercises. Similar to the athletes, “you’ve got to stretch and warm up before you sing,” she said. That is particularly important when working a hockey game.

“Being down at the ice, it is really cold,” she said. “So whenever I sing I have to get my body used to that temperature because I can’t always wear a jacket.”

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