Attention Leafs Fans: The Toronto Marlies are in the Playoffs

Preparing for playoff hockey in Toronto (Mark Ascione)

The city of Toronto is once going to get a chance to witness professional playoff hockey.  Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs have still been eliminated.  You don’t have look very far to see the furrowed brow of General Manager Brian Burke and you’ll know that the playoff hockey isn’t the kind he was brought in to fetch.   But make no bones about it, Burke is a proponent of the AHL brand of hockey and he is hugely pleased about his AHL Marlies and their successful season.

For Fans, this will be the first time in 3 years that the Marlies have made it to the post season.  In 2010 they were kept out and that cost Greg Gilbert his job as coach.  In 2011, Gilbert was succeeded by current coach Dallas Eakins who was also not granted admission to the second season.  But try as they might, this team pushed through and has really started to grow together.  This season, they not only got in, but they made it in style.

On Tuesday night, while the Buffalo Sabres were extinguishing the Maple Leafs flame in a ome from behind OT win, the Abbotsford heat were helping the baby Leafs to clinch not only a playoff spot, but the Sam Pollock trophy for being the North Division’s top squad.  For Dallas Eakins, all of the hard work and all of those laughable ‘every game is a tryout’ commercials have paid off.

So while the Maple Leafs are playing out the string, the Toronto Marlies are moving on.  Although it’s a team effort, I wanted to pay kudos in the direction of a few key players.

Mike Zigomanis:  Tied for 7th in assists with 42, Zigomanis also had 19 goals and currently sits tied for 11th in AHL scoring.  A case could be made for Zigomanis as league MVP considering what he has done for his club.  This is especially true when you account for his 6 game winning goals, which is good enough for 5th overall, and that 3 of those GWGs were in OT which he ranks 1st in the league.  Don’t forget about the fact that this veteran native of Toronto is playing against the other team’s best players every night.   He is certainly the Marlies MVP.

Ben Scrivens:  This former Cornell Big Red netminder has emerged as one of the AHL’s best goalies.  In the month of March he went 6-3-0 with a 1.40 goals against average and a whopping .952 save percentage and top of that 3 of his 6 wins were shutouts.  Scrivens has played the last two games in the NHL for the Maple Leafs as both stoppers for the Buds have been injured.  This could end up being just the type of preparation that helps Scrivens to be an unstoppable force in the playoffs, especially considering the amount of rubber that he’s had to stop.   This kid however, is much more than just a good goalie.  Scrivens is a great team player and a great community member.  He’s also the Toronto Marlies nomination for American Specialty AHL Man of the Year for his community leadership on his message of anti-bullying.  Have a look:

Nazem Kadri
Nazem Kadri's name has come up plenty of times this season (Tony Ding/Icon SMI)

Nazem Kadri:

Although Kadri gets a lot of negative attention in this hockey mad city, what many fans have to remember is that he is just 21 years old and that he is not a savior, he’s a hockey player.   But with that being said, Kadri has been a real performer for the Marlies.  In 90 career AHL games, he has 78 points.  With 3 games to go in this season, the Lebanese Canadian from London, Ontario has 17 goals and 37 points in 46 games.  Don’t forget that he’s also been called up a few times this year which has to be much more difficult on the kid who has gone up and down like a yo-yo.   After Sunday’s game against Grand Rapids, a game in which Kadri had the Game Winning Goal, Dallas Eakins had this to say to the Canadian Press:

He’s an excellent player, He’s dangerous every time he goes on the ice.”

You also have to like the fact that Kadri is developing and this type of playoff experience can only be good for him.  Although there is no shootout in the playoffs, Kadri’s offensive skill is unmatched and could be the difference as the Marlies hunt down the Calder Cup.

The Rest: I don’t mean to leave out other solid contributors but there really are a lot of great performances to recognize and I would be remiss to go on without mentioning the great play of a few other key players: Ryan Hamilton who leads the team with 23 goals, Jerry D’Amigo who is one of the best penalty killers on the league’s best penalty killing unit and Jesse Blacker whose play has calmed down has developed into a top 4 pro defenseman.  Fortunately for Toronto fans, there are so many more, but too many to name.

When the NHL season ends, look for Jake Gardiner, Matt Frattin & Carter Ashton to all get sent down so that they can experience the other side; the winning side.  You can also look for some of the younger players who have been eliminated from OHL action to get the call. David Broll has already joined the team and Stuart Percy, last year’s first round draft pick and Captain of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors joined the Marlies today after being eliminated in the OHL playoffs by the Barrie Colts in Game 6.

There are 4 games left to play in the Marlies 2011-12 season.  The Marlies will host this the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Hamilton Bulldogs in their final two home games this weekend at Ricoh Coliseum.  The Marlies will then end their season on the road taking on the Abbotsford Heat for two in BC next Friday and Sunday of next week.  For the Marlies it’s about being prepared to win the big prize.  No AHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs have ever won a Calder Cup trophy.

While we don’t know yet the Marlies will play in the first round, we do know that the Marlies have clinched home ice advantage.  Will Leaf fans who are clearly frustrated with the way the season has ended for the big club, exercise their revolt by staying away or will they pick up the phone tomorrow at 10 am and get tickets for the only Professional Hockey playoff games to take place in Toronto in quite some time.  Brian Burke hopes that it’s the latter.

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3 thoughts on “Attention Leafs Fans: The Toronto Marlies are in the Playoffs”

  1.  On the one hand, I am with you Kyle. There are issues with this franchise, issues that were supposed to be totally fixed when a real, experienced general manager like Burke came in, after what was supposedly a huge mess left by a rookie (JFJ). And 4 seasons later, it’s the same situation.
    But, it is important to note the work done by the Marlies. AHL success does not always translate into NHL wins, but it is a positive step for MLSE.
    It’s important for guys like Kadri, Frattin, Scrivens and Gardiner to get a taste of playoffs at a pro level, even minor pro. It’s important to build a winning culture, much as it was for New Jersey and Detroit and their farm clubs in the 1990s.
    The Marlies success this post-season is definitely not going to turn the Leafs’ fortunes around this coming fall. But, players like Leivo, Percy, Biggs, Devane, Ross… those guys are going to be Marlies at some point. Holzer, Colborne, Kadri, they can learn something from playoff games. More if they could win a round.
    It’s sad, but you gotta hang on to the few positives there are from this season. The Marlies is one.
    Keep the faith.

  2. Not bashing the article..BUT
    Who Cares? So what the Marlies are in the playoffs…The Toronto Blue Jays also won 24 preseason games
    The point is that it’s useless. AHL vs AHL the Marlies might be half decent. Have those guys playing at the NHL level and we’ve seen what the results are.
    The Leafs minor system-for all the crap they’ve got through- is only in the middle of the league.
    The Leafs stink. I have been a hardcore Leaf fan – and still very much am- for the whole 20 years of my life. My room is painted blue and white, I have a CuJo poster behind my bed, and I own a TML light fixture.
    The problem is that there is no hope at the end of this deep dark cave. No light at the end of the tunnel. What’s to say we won’t suck next year? We absolutely will, if this keeps up.

    • Kyle, I hear ya man.  I listened to Ken Dryden on the radio last night on my way home…and what he said was that remember the times.  In the league today, there’s 29 losers and just 1 winner.  He also said that at the beginning of last season nobody had the Bruins making the playoffs let alone going all the way.  Not to say that they’re close, but with the late 90’s and early 2000’s Leafs they had really good goalies a la Cujo and the Eagle.  With a good goalie back in this town, who knows where they could have ended up.  And that’s not really to knock Reimer or the monster, but they just didn’t bring it.  Also, the Leafs top line was one of the best all year. Sure it was exposed a little at the end without Lupul, but if Kulemin and the second line was any more consistent, this could have all been different in Toronto.  
      I appreciate the thoughts.
      Don’t give up.

      On a different note, there will be some dandy hockey to watch in the post season with or without the Leafs.

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