It certainly wasn’t the opening weekend that Brian Burke was hoping for when their Baby Leafs were eliminated from the Calder Cup Final in four straight games last June. Ideally the Leafs Brass would be gathered in a booth at the ACC ready to watch their summer plans come to fruition as the other Blue and White team takes the ice. However, a pair of sold out crowds to pay attention to the newly stocked proverbial cupboard would be an acceptable remedy.
A Marlies opening weekend would typically be a second choice for the Toronto Hockey Fan excited to see the other pro team escape from their 45 year championship-less hell. However it was the Marlies still playing hockey in June while the other club has not had a post season berth since being eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2004. Speaking of eliminations, do you remember the way the Marlies lost game three of last year’s Calder Cup final? Does the name Mike Kostka ring a bell? The Maple Leafs franchise liked this play so much that they went out and signed the talented blue liner.
But with no NHL hockey in TO, there was definitely a little something to get excited about this weekend and all of the big dogs were at the Ricoh Coliseum to witness it. Jake Gardiner, now a force on the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line, is a first line D-man on the Marlies and looking to build on a great breakout season in the NHL. Brian Burke, an interested bystander in lieu of no Maple Leaf hockey to watch, made an appearance on the Marlies in his luxury box and on the TV broadcast. And speaking of broadcasts, the all-star duo of Joe Bowen and Greg Millen known for calling Buds games were in attendance calling the first two Marlies games. By the way, did I mention that both games were on television? Saturday’s game even happened to appear on Rogers Sportsnet in primetime. Not bad for the AHL which is putting out a great brand of hockey.
Despite all of the hype, I have to admit that I didn’t watch the game live. Instead I recorded the game so that I could go out for dinner out with family. It is a rare occurrence for a family dinner to be scheduled on a Saturday night in October let alone a on a Saturday at all during the hockey season. Upon returning home and putting my family to bed, I settled in to watch the game, just me and my fast forward button.
Dallas Eakins and his somewhat new look Marlies squad prepared to face-off against their cross lake rival Rochester Americans who were a team seeking revenge on Toronto after a three and out elimination in last year’s AHL playoffs. Due to the NHL lockout, the home opener featured some high profile, sure to be NHL players such as Jake Gardiner, Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson to name a few. The result was a 3-1 victory for the home side as the AHL version of Toronto’s team scored 3 power-play goals on a Rochester team that was mostly outskilled. Jake Gardiner didn’t disappoint, he was on the ice for all 3 goals, all of which came on the PP. The young defender from Deephaven Minnesota notched the game’s first goal on a nice feed from Nazem Kadri and also added an assist. Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton scored the other two Marlies goals including the put away third goal on a Mikhail Grabovskiesque downlow spinorama move which was very impressive to say the least.
On Sunday, with an equally important matchup against another division foe, the Marlies failed to live up to expectations. They were squashed like a like an insect under the hand of a Lake Erie Monsters team that clearly wanted it more. For the Marlies the final score was 4-0 despite only allowing 18 shots against. Conversely, Calvin Pickard a highly rated Avalanche prospect stopped all 40 Toronto Marlies shots. The Baby Leafs who had gone three for eight in Saturday’s game could not capitalize on twelve power play chances in Sunday’s affair. Coach Eakins told reporters after the game that although some of the power-plays were effective and spurred many chances, there were too many lone wolves trying to do it all for themselves. The play of the game had to be Tyson Barrie’s beauty goal in which performed a reverse spinorama at the point and surprised everyone carving his way through the Marlies defense and going backhand shelf on Scrivens to make it two to nothing.
Even with the up and down weekend, there were a lot of positives to build on in Marlies land. As expected, Jake Gardiner partnered with Mike Kostka, was amazing with two points and eight shots in two games. Keith Aucoin is dandy with the puck and although he is not a large player, had an immediate impact with Nazem Kadri and Carter Ashton. Speaking of Kadri, he didn’t appear to have lost any bounce in his step even with the rumors that he is out of shape. And finally Greg McKegg showed heart and determination on top of his skill in both games and looks to be a nice addition to the Marlies.
The 1-1 Jekyll and Hyde Marlies are now preparing for a three game weekend which includes a home and home with the Hamilton Bulldogs followed by a Sunday matinee against the Grand Rapids Griffins. With the poor performance on Sunday, the question is will we see Leafs prospects Brad Ross or Jamie Devane make their 2012-13 debuts? Will Jussi Rynnas get his first start of the year? Here’s another question for you. With no NHL hockey on the docket, will you be tuning in to see a Toronto vs. Hamilton matchup? It may not be Toronto vs. Montreal, but it’s the next best thing for now. Isn’t it?
I also recommend you have click and read Alison Myers’ AHL Power Rankings.
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Stephen is a writer for thehockeywriters.com covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and other Hockey Matters. Stephen attended Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario where he studied Broadcast Journalism and covered local sports for both Radio and Television. This included news coverage for the OHL’s North Bay Centennials. In his personal time, Stephen blogs for his several fantasy hockey leagues.