Barts Bytes


Binghamton Senators Win Calder Cup

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June 8, 2011

Well folks, it might be fitting that in the AHL’s 75th Anniversary Season, the Calder Cup Champion comes from a city with a long history in the AHL. From their only other appearance in the Calder Cup Final as the Whalers in 1982, to the Rangers and now Senators, it’s been a long wait for the fans in Broome County, but they can finally call themselves Champions.

It was a wild Game 6 in Houston as well. The hometown Aeros had a crowd of 10,125 supporting them at the Toyota Center, and they held a one goal lead going into the 3rd period. Binghamton would tie it up just over three minutes in when Ottawa prospect Bobby Butler scored a power play goal, his 13th goal of the playoffs to make it 2-2. The eventual game winner came at the 9:09 mark, when Senators captain Ryan Keller, came down the right now and snapped a perfect shot over the short side shoulder of Matt Hackett, under the crossbar and in the net. A 3-2 lead is all the B-Sens needed as they locked it down and held off the Aeros to win the Calder Cup.

19 year old Binghamton goaltender Robin Lehner was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the Calder Cup Playoff MVP. He was 14-4, with 2.10 gaa, .939 save percentage and had three shutouts.

The victory was an emotional one for Binghamton. After winning Game 5 at home in front of a rabid fan base and sold out crowd, the players saluted their fans as a thank you for the incredible support through the playoffs. It was deafening at times inside the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena during the playoff run, and was great to see. A small building, in a smaller market but with a loud and proud fan base, that had not seen playoff hockey for the last 5 years. They were treated to one heck of a run, and now will have a Calder Cup banner to hang in the rafters to always remember.

That was Saturday night, on Sunday the unexpected happened. After experiencing chest pains at the Arena, Binghamton assistant coach Steve Stirling was taken to hospital and underwent a quadruple bypass surgery. He did not make the trip to Houston, but the team did not forget him. Knowing his was back home in hospital, they wanted to make sure they could win the Cup for him, and have it to celebrate with and aid his recovery upon their return.

The tough part for Binghamton fans when all is said and done, will be to understand that their Championship team will most likely be broken up by promotion. The Senators won this Cup with a 19 year old in net, and some of their biggest prospects doing their part along the way. Binghamton’s roster featured 15 players that appeared in a combined 232 NHL games with Ottawa this past season alone. Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, did the best he could down the stretch in the regular season to shuttle players back and forth to help Binghamton secure a playoff spot, so his prospects could gain post-season experience. It worked. A 5th place finish in the East, earned them a cross-over spot to the Atlantic Division, and from there an eventual Calder Cup Championship.

Along the way, the B-Sens set a new AHL record with 10 road victories in 12 road games. They also went 15-4 in their final 19 playoff games after falling behind Manchester 3-1 in the opening round series. In fact, if it wasn’t for a Robin Lehner penalty shot save in double OT against the Monarchs, the Senators would never have made it out of the first round. They did it with a lot of key injuries to their blue line. Derek Smith returned in the Calder Cup Final. Corey Locke missed the first round entirely against the Monarchs as well. Locke and Andre Benoit were the only two Calder Cup winners in the Sens dressing room, as they both won with Hamilton. Now, the entire room will have a ring, including first year head coach Kurt Kleinendorst.

As for the Houston Aeros, they had a great playoff run themselves. Back to back 7 game series victories to earn their trip to the Final. A balanced team of veterans and experienced AHL players. It was a good run, but sometimes you run up against a team that seems to have a little destiny going for them. That may have been the case this year.

It was a great Calder Cup Playoff season, that saw some excellent games including five Game 7’s and 21 games go into overtime. On top of that, 5 series ended with an OT game. What a way to cap off the 75th Anniversary season.

The summer will be a busy one, with everything from what looks like a return to Newfoundland, affiliation changes and schedule and division tweaks to accommodate all the changes. It will be interesting to keep an eye on and see how things pan out. Now, the season is over. It’s time for everyone to take a break, step back and enjoy the summer. Training camp comes fast, and everyone needs the breather. You just can’t help but think that summer will be a little sweeter this year in Binghamton.

Congratulations to the Binghamton Senators, the 2011 Calder Cup Champions.


Senators and Aeros To Battle For Calder Cup

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May 25, 2011

The stage is now set for the 2011 Calder Cup Final, and we know who the players will be. The Eastern Conference Champion Binghamton Senators will face the Western Conference Champion Houston Aeros, starting this weekend at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

The Senators have been waiting in the wings for over a week, resting up their banged up line-up after dispatching of the Charlotte Checkers in a tidy 4 game sweep that wrapped up on May 18th. That will give them a full 8 days off in between games. There blue line continues to be an injury ward, but they did see the return of Patrick Wiercioch last round and there is hope Craig Schira might be back for the league final. It’s tough to keep a team sharp with that long of a break in between games at this time of the year, so Tuesday morning, Sens coach Kurt Kleinendorst decided a rehearsal game was in order. So, he split the team up for an intra-squad game, the included a full warm-up in game sweaters and two 25- minute periods with full referees and all. They even opened up the arena for fans to attend free of charge. Quite the novel idea to gear his team up for their first Calder Cup Final appearance, and the first for the city since 1982. All this rest was allowed as a result of the Western Conference Final going the distance.

After losing Game 3 on home ice in Hamilton, the Bulldogs looked like they were out of gas and it was lights out for them against the Houston Aeros. Their top line of Nigel Dawes, Dustin Boyd and Aaron Palushaj was run into the ground and had nothing left. Yet, somehow, the Bulldogs found a second wind and came back with an 8-1 win over Matt Hackett and the Aeros in Game 4. The victory sparked life back into Hamilton, and they fought back to win Game 5 in Hamilton and then Game 6 in OT at Houston. The Bulldogs became just the third team in AHL history to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in a series. The previous two teams were the 1960 Rochester Americans and the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings. Ironically, both of those series were also for the right to advance to the Calder Cup Final. The Americans won at home, but would lose the Calder Cup to Springfield, while the Red Wings won in Glens Falls and would also hosit the Calder Cup that year. Hamilton would try to become the first team to win Game 7 on the road.

The Aeros jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but the Bulldogs tied it up before the end of the first period. The teams would exchange goals in the second, making it a 3-3 game heading into the 3rd period. Then, heartbreak would ensue for Hamilton on a controversial goal. With 1:13 left in the 3rd, Patrick O’Sullivan would throw the puck to the Hamilton net, as goaltender Drew MacIntyre made the stop and appeared to cover up the puck. Jon DiSalvatore, then drove the goal and put both MacIntyre and the puck into the goal. Referee Terry Koharski was right on top of the net and signaled the goal. In his post-game comments, Bulldogs head coach Randy Cunneyworth said Koharski told him he had sight of the puck the entire time. Then to add to the heartbreak, in the dying seconds with the Bulldogs pressing to tie, it appeared as though a Houston player had covered the puck in the goal crease, which would have meant a penalty shot. The Aeros hung on to win, and Hamilton’s shot at AHL history ended in Texas. Tough way to lose a series that was made very exciting by the improbable comeback.

And with that, here we are with the Aeros and Senators to battle for the Calder Cup in 2011. Houston won the Cup in 2003 defeating Hamilton of all teams.

The Aeros have received some solid netminding from Matt Hackett, the nephew of former NHL goaltender Jeff Hackett, when he wins in the playoffs. He has only allowed 3 goals in 2 of his 12 playoff wins, the other 10 victories have been 2 goals against or less. However, in his 6 losses he has allowed 5 goals against 4 times and 3 goals against the other match-ups. O’Sullivan leads the Aeros in playoff scoring with 4 goals and 15 points, but is a -5. Jed Ortmeyer has 11 points, while Colton Gillies leads the way with 7 goals. Houston’s scoring is spread out and they have a large collection of experienced players.

The Senators have been on an incredible underdog run to reach the final, after making the playoffs as the crossover team from the East into the Atlantic Division. Robin Lehner is 10-2 in goal for the Sens in the playoffs and has sported a .932%. Despite that, Barry Brust has appeared in 6 post season games and has a 2-3 record. Lehner will be counted on again in the Final to make some key saves and help out the depleted Binghamton blue line. Ryan Potulny leads the AHL in playoff scoring with 14 goals and 25 points in 17 games. In fact 3 of the top 5 playoff scorers come the from the Senators. Ryan Keller is 3rd with 22 points and Kaspars Daugavins is 5th with 17 points. Andre Benoit, who won a Calder Cup with Hamilton, has provided an offensive boost on defence with 14 points, and rookie Bobby Butler also has 14 points. The Senators have relied on scoring to help win in the playoffs and overcome their injuries on defence.

So, the final series of the season is here. While Houston has had a great run, they have faced back to back 7 game series against a very tough Milwaukee squad, and then squandered the 3-0 series lead against Hamilton. There key will be to try and catch the Senators napping from too much time off early in the series. From day one of the playoffs, I thought what Ottawa did by shuttling their young players back and forth to ensure a post-season birth and experience for their prospects was a good move for them. It has paid off big time. The Senators have been the underdogs all playoffs long, as they knocked off the division champions in Manchester, a very tough Portland team, and then swept a Charlotte squad that dispatched the league’s top team from Wilkes-Barre. Binghamton, despite their injuries, have found a way to become stronger as the playoffs rolled on. If they have stayed sharp during the break, and feed off the energy from the fans in Broome County, then the city of Binghamton will be the home of the 2011 Calder Cup Champions.

Lucky 7’s Set Up Conference Finals

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May 11, 2011

It’s always been said that nothing is more exciting in the playoffs then a Game 7. For AHL fans in the Western Conference, it was a pair of Game 7’s that set the stage for division champions.

In the North, the Manitoba Moose rallied back against the Hamilton Bulldogs, forcing a Game 7 on Monday night and brought a 4-0 record when facing elimination this year into the match-up. It turned out to be an all time classic. Eddie Lack stood on his head in the Moose goal, while the Bulldogs peppered him with shots. Manitoba held a 1-0 lead into the third period thanks to an early game PP goal from Sergei Shirokov. The Bulldogs tied the game just over 6 minutes into the third period when a Nigel Dawes shot deflected off the stick of Travis Ramsey and past Lack. That’s when the game went from being a tight checking game to what looked more like a track meet. The game went to overtime, marking the 17th time in AHL history a Game 7 went past regulation. Hamilton held a 33-16 advantage in shots after regulation. The first overtime saw chances at both ends with a wild pace. Nothing was decided and with that a new AHL record was set, marking the first time a Game 7 OT had gone into double overtime. The second extra frame saw the same end to end action and a thrilling pace. The shots were 23-14 for the Bulldogs in the two OT periods. The game though would end quickly in triple overtime, when Dustin Boyd would dump the puck in the Moose zone off the opening face-off, then chop at it off the back boards and over the shoulder of Eddie Lack for the series winner just six seconds into period six. That would end the longest Game 7 in AHL history and give the Bulldogs the North Divison title.

Meanwhile in the West, the Houston Aeros and Milwaukee Admirals would go to Game 7 on Tuesday night in Milwaukee. The Admirals got some help from Nashville in the form of Matt Halischuk, Jonathon Blum and Blake Geoffrion. As is the case sometimes, adding new players in a Game 7 doesn’t always translate into the victory. Halischuk would score, but the Aeros came out on top with a 4-2 road victory and West Division title, setting up the Conference Final with Hamilton.

The Aeros have soared along these Calder Cup playoffs and will have home ice against the Bulldogs. Hamilton over came the Barons in round one and were a mere shot away from being eliminated against the Moose. The Bulldogs had a tough schedule down the stretch and made a big push to win the division. Their top line seemed to be running low on fuel against the Moose late in the series. Drew MacIntyre has been stellar and will need to to the same against Houston. If the Bulldogs find some new energy, they’ll have a shot at heading to the Calder Cup Final. But, if the big horses on offence have been over played and have no gas in the tank, it will be the Aeros flyin high into the league final this year.

Over in the East, the upsets will now meet each other in the Eastern Conference Final. My darkhorse pick from Binghamton are the Atlantic Division champs despite coming from the East division thanks to the cross-over, after dismissing the Portland Pirates in six games. Kudos to the fans in Binghamton for providing such a great atmosphere at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. The joint was jumping for Games 3, 4 and early in Game 5, which is a big boost to the home team. The help in which Ottawa provided Binghamton down the stretch, shuttling players back and forth to help the club make the post-season is paying off with big time experience now for the Sens prospects. They also were afforded a few days rest, which they need badly. While the Senators offence has helped carry them a long way, they’ll need to rely on some big time goaltending from Robin Lehner in the Conference Final. Binghamton is hurt badly on the blue line, with as many as 6 of their starting defencemen out with injuries right now. The challenge will be a big one to overcome if they want a trip to the Calder Cup Final.

The East division champion is the new kid on the block, after the Charlotte Checkers took down the AHL’s top team this year in the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. Mike Murphy has been giving the Checkers some great goaltending down the stretch and was able to out duel the league’s top net minder Brad Theissen in the series. Continuing the story of upsets on the Eastern Conference side the of the playoffs, the league’s top team and both division winners have now been eliminated.

This will be a very close series and will all come down to goals against. If the Sens can manage to overcome their injuries on the blue line, then I like their chances a lot of keeping their playoff drive going and advancing to the Calder Cup Final. Charlotte has been in a lot of close games all playoffs long, and if it comes down to games with just that one breakdown on D, or power play goal, then the Checkers could very well squeeze past the Sens, and become the second straight team to advance to the Calder Cup Final in consecutive years, as the Texas Stars did last year.

All in all, these conference finals should be some great hockey to watch.

And finally, I have to throw a big shout out to Red’s Kettle Inn Restaurant in Johnson City, just outside of Binghamton. You may recognize this name, as it’s the restaurant in Jerry D’Amigo’s family that hosted the Marlies for a team meal back in November after Jerry’s homecoming game. While I was in Binghamton for the Sens-Pirates series, I brought a couple of my old colleagues from the Team 1200 in Ottawa over to Red’s for dinner. AJ Jackubeck and John Abbott both gave 5 star reviews of the meal and we had a fantastic time. If you’re ever in the Binghamton area, make sure you stop by for a meal, and check out the Jerry D’Amigo memorabilia corner. Great family service and cooking!

Division Finals Are Ready To Roll

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April 26, 2011

Well folks, I’m batting .625 after the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. 5 for 8 in my first round of guess work. Yes, I hesitate to use the term “prediction” as the playoffs are a time where everything is quite unpredictable, and that’s what makes it so much fun.

We’ll start off in the North, where the Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead down to Oklahoma City, but got in some trouble during games 3 and 4 as the Barons evened up the series. Yet, Hamilton came through and fought off the Barons and wrapped up the series with a win on home ice in Game 6. As for the other North series, the Lake Erie Monsters held a 3-1 series lead over the Manitoba Moose. Yet, the Moose fought their way back and found a way to win 3 in a row, including a 4-1 win in Game 7 at the Q in Cleveland in front of over 10,200 fans! Both teams had the revolving door going in the goal crease in the series, and it came down to Eddie Lack edging out John Grahame in the finale.

This sets up an interesting North division final between the Bulldogs and Moose. This series might come down to which team gets the big saves from the goaltenders in each game. Look for another long series, with 6 or 7 games to come. It will be a match-up of the two farm teams for the NHL’s two Canadian playoff squads.

The West division saw the Houston Aeros fly by the Peoria Rivermen while the Milwaukee Admirals had their hands full with back to back OT wins to dim the Texas Stars in 6 games. Again, the interesting part for Milwaukee will be how far Nashville rolls as to who might come back to boost their line-up. The Admirals have a good squad and good goaltending. I expect another battle with these two teams, but don’t be surprised if the Aeros get out to an early jump in the series thanks to the extra rest. The Admirals might have more steam though in the long run.

Over the East, the bid for the three-peat is over in Choclatetown as the Hershey Bears were eliminated by the Charlotte Checkers. The Bears kept it close, but in the end, did not have the same powerhouse team that has carried them the past. On the other side, the AHL’s top team survived a first round scare with the Norfolk Admirals and rallied from 2-0 series deficit to win in 6 games. They say sometimes the hardest series to win is Round 1. The Pens may have got their scare out of the way early, and now seem poised to take a run at Charlotte, who may have to try and overcome the hype of knocking out the defending Cup champions.

One of the most exciting series in the first round came in the upset win by the Binghamton Senators over Manchester, knocking out Monarchs in a thrilling Game 7 OT win. In fact, the Sens won the last 3 in a row in OT, including a double OT win in Game 6, where the Monarchs had a penalty shot in OT, where Robin Lehner stopped Bud Holloway. That was a season saving stop. It sets up an Atlantic division final against the Portland Pirates, who took out the Whale in Round 1. The Sens made it in as the cross-over team, and now have a chance to be a East division team and win the Atlantic title, which the Pirates held the regular season title. Should be a beauty, and if there was another upset in the making, it might be this series with the Sens.

There has been some great hockey so far in the AHL Calder Cup playoffs, and like I said at the start, the best part is that it’s unpredictable.


Calder Cup Playoffs In Full Swing

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April 18, 2011

The post-season is off and running in the AHL, and there are a few interesting Round 1 match-ups to keep your eyes on, as teams set their sights on a Calder Cup championship.

We’ll start off in the North, where the Bulldogs have jumped out to an early 2-0 series lead on the Oklahoma City Barons after a pair of games at Copps Coliseum. The Barons, who made it into the playoffs by virtue of the cross-ver spot, got a boost from the Oilers in their line-up, but have not been able to capitalize on it. Hamilton has rode the hot hand of Drew MacIntyre in the first two games and now head down to Oklahoma City for the next three games. When Curtis Sanford went down due to injury, Hamilton knew they needed a solid net minder, and the acquisition of MacIntyre was a brilliant move that paid off down the stretch, helped them win the North Division title and seems to be working in the playoffs. The Barons are in a tight spot and face a must win in Game 3 on home ice at the Cox Convention Center, or it will be lights out with a Bulldogs sweep or win in 5.

The other North division series has the Lake Erie Monsters all tied up 1-1 with the Manitoba Moose after the first 2 games in Cleveland. This is the first time the Monsters have ever made the post-season in franchise history, and the fans are pumped in Cleveland. With crowds of 7,908 and 8,822 for the opening of the series, it’s easy to see why the Q has been a tough place to play this year. Colorado missing the NHL playoffs helped the Monsters as they got some help back with players such as Mark Olver. After Eddie Lack took the 6-4 loss in Game 1, Claude Noel went with former Monster goalie Tyler Weiman in Game 2, and the Moose fought back with an OT winner from Rick Rypien to tie the series, heading back to Winnipeg for the next three. While I still think the Monsters could be the surprise team to come out of the North when all is said and done, look for a battle at the MTS Centre this week and for the series to come back to Cleveland either way for a Game 6 and maybe even 7.

In the West division, it will be a great battle between the Admirals and Texas Stars, all tied up 1-1 heading to Austin for the next 3. Milwaukee’s chances at escaping the West might very well be impacted on how long Nashville sticks around the NHL playoffs. The Predators are playing Blake Geoffrion, Jonathon Blum and Matt Halischuck right now. All of them are on the Admirals Clear Day Roster.

Houston has jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on Rivermen thanks to an OT win in Game 2 at the Toyota Center in Texas. Now the with series shifting to Peoria, the Rivermen were a very good team on home ice this year, and look for them to bounce back, but the Aeros still have the advantage overall in this series.

In the East, the AHL’s top team from Wilke-Barre is down 2-0 losing both games on home ice to the Norfolk Admirals. Norfolk was known all year long for their offence, while the Pens are known for their team defence concept. A 2-1 and 2-0 win shows that the two clubs are fighting each other’s strengths tooth and nail. With the next 3 in Norfolk, don’t be surprised to see the Pens upset in Round 1. I had mentioned to a few people that maybe, just maybe, Pittsburgh’s injuries and Norfolk’s offence might catch up to the Pens in this series. Game 3 will be critical for the Pens.

The possible upset in the East comes from the Senators trying to knock off Manchester. While the Monarchs have a 2-1 series lead in Binghamton for another 2 games right now, it was thanks to an OT win in Game 3. Ottawa helped Binghamton get into the playoffs via the cross-over into the Atlantic by shuttling players back and forth, and the B-Sens have a strong, young line-up. This series seems destined for a 7th game and you have to wonder in the Sens NHL experience will pay off.

The defending Calder Cup champions won Game 2 in Hershey and avoided going down 2-0 heading to Charlotte for the next 3 games. This is not the same Bears team that won the Cup the last 2 years, but you can’t overlook their experience in the dressing room. This series might be a different story by the time they return to Giant Center in Hershey. Look for a close series, but the Bears to find a way to win, as they somehow always seem to do. Might be another 7 gamer here.

15 points and 7 wins separated the Portland Pirates and Connecticut Whale in the regular season. The Pirates won the Atlantic division and while the Whale are in the series with a 2-1 Pirates lead, Portland might be too much for the Whale to handle coming down the stretch. The Whale have a lot of experience on the team with players like Wade Redden and Jeremy Williams. If they step forward and show some leadership on the ice, the Whale have a good shot in this series.

Curtain Falls On Playoff Drive

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April 4, 2011

Well folks, sad to say that Sunday night the Marlies playoff drive officially came to a close. After winning just 1 of their last 9 games, the math no longer worked in their favour and for the first time in the Marlies franchise history, the team will sit out the Calder Cup playoffs in back to back seasons. It hasn’t been from a lack of effort, just simply a lack of production. Not enough goals scored when they needed it.

If you want to circle a point on the schedule that may very well have been the biggest hit to the playoff drive was back in the middle of March when Toronto was shutout 1-0 in Syracuse on a Friday night, then lost 3-1 to Adirondack. Those were two games that had four points written all over them, but as it happens so many times, teams come on late in the year and make a push to play the role of spoiler. While the standings still looked close at that point, the games in hand meant big trouble for Toronto and put them behind the pack.

Yes, the Leafs call-ups took some zip out of the Marlies offence and yes, the injury bug was no help either. It’s all water under the bridge now, as the season will end next Sunday at Ricoh Coliseum.

That being said, the Marlies will have a chance to throw a wrench into Lake Erie’s bid for a North Division title on Wednesday in Cleveland. I fully expect the Marlies to still play hard down the stretch.

Despite the fact the team will not compete in the playoffs, don’t let that cast a shadow over some very bright spots for the Marlies and Leafs future. We’ve already seen what players like James Reimer, Keith Aulie, Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb and Matt Lashoff have been able to do for the big club. The progression of Nazem Kadri continues, as he has come a long way this year. There is reason to be excited about Joe Colbourne and Jake Gardiner. Ben Scrivens elevated himself to a solid AHL starting netminder and continues to get better. We’ve seen some great strides made by players such as Simon Gysbers and Korbinian Holzer. And there is still more to come with players like Jerry D’Amigo, Matt Frattin, Greg McKegg and Jesse Blacker just to name a few that are coming down the pipe.

There is genuine excitement around the fan base as well. If you’ve been to a game at Ricoh Coliseum over the last few months, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Since the calendar year turned to 2011, the Marlies attendance has risen and it’s been great to see. In fact, the Marlies this season will set a team record for the highest attendance in their six seasons in Toronto.

So, while the Marlies won’t take part in the Calder Cup playoffs this year, the future looks very bright for the blue and white, meaning next year, the young guns will take the lessons learned and translate that into success on the ice. And that’s what the development is all about.

Cross Over Gets Crossed Up Now

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March 28, 2011

Well, just when you thought the playoff picture couldn’t get any tighter in the AHL’s North division, it does. While the Marlies are facing an uphill battle to secure the 3rd and final guaranteed spot in the North, they are still in the mix. Yes, they do need some help along the way on the out of town scoreboard, thanks to the games in hand held by their divisional foes, not to mention the remaining head to head games between North teams.

Here’s where things get interesting. Thanks to results over the weekend, the crossover playoff spot from the West division no longer appears to be a lock, and has opened up the possibility of the 4th spot in the North division becoming a playoff spot. Enteriing Monday, the Marlies find themselves with 81 points, which is only 2 back of Peoria, Chicago and Oklahoma City, who all sit tied for 4th, but have the same or more games played than Toronto. Only 6th place San Antonio has one game in hand and also sit at 81 points.

Now, just as the North has, the West teams will face each other down the stretch guaranteeing points for squads, but the gap has shrunk and opens the door of opportunity for the Marlies. While they seemed to have snapped their scoring funk, the loss to Lake Erie was a big one. But much like Dallas Eakins said after the game, he couldn’t ask his players to do any more than they did. John Grahame played very well in goal. They now have to will themselves any way possible to a victories down the stretch. It has to start on Wednesday morning in a rematch against the Crunch, a team that blanked them 1-0 in Syracuse two weeks ago. Then, another huge head to head with the Monsters on Saturday and home date against the Moose on Sunday.

If the Marlies can pull out some wins this week, it won’t just help them in the North standings for 3rd place, but could also push the cross over spot back to the West division and help Toronto squeeze into the Calder Cup playoffs.

Of course, it all still comes down to one simple task for the Marlies for this to happen. Win.

No Time To Rest, Every Game Is A Big Game Now

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March 22, 2011

Well, it wasn’t exactly the kind of weekend the Marlies hand in mind. Only scoring one goal in two losses to the bottom two teams in the AHL doesn’t help much for the playoff race, but all is not lost. Now, it has to be all about winning.

With just 8 games left in the regular season, the Marlies now face their most important week all year. A road game in Grand Rapids on Wednesday night and a home game against Lake Erie on Saturday afternoon. Four points that the Marlies must earn to keep their playoff aspirations strong. Toronto enters the week two points back of the Griffins, but they hold a game in hand. Meanwhile, a 5 game win streak has pulled the Monsters into first place in the division. They hold a 4 point lead over the Marlies and also have 2 games in hand.

There is not much more you can do right now than worry about winning your own games. Will the Marlies need some help on the scoreboard for a playoff birth? The truthful answer is yes. That being said, they still have the opportunity to control their own destiny, which will be key.

Something needs to re-spark the offense on the team, which has stumbled ever since holding a 6-0 lead over the Amerks in Rochester two weeks ago. Since then, the Marlies have only scored 4 goals in 4 games, and went through a shutout streak of over 163 minutes. They also have only managed one point during that 0-3-0-1 stretch. Now, the heat is on and there is no time to look back, only forward. The playoff race is intense and only 8 games remain. That alone should be enough to get those competitive juices flowing and bring the offense back to life.

From here on out, it’s a fight to the finish, and the this week could go a long way to knowing what kind of a finish it might be.

Games Hand Mean Scoreboard Watching

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March 15, 2011

Hard to believe, but there are only 10 games left in the regular season for the Toronto Marlies. Yes, hard to believe, because there are a lot more games remaining for every other team in the North Division playoff race right now. Which means this week, despite what the team might tell you, will be a week of scoreboard watching.

With the team fighting the injury bug as it is right now, having the week off before the next game on Friday in Syracuse is a bonus. A chance to rest some bodies after a busy stretch of 7 games in 10 days. Now, they’ll sit back and watch the Moose, Bulldogs, Monsters and heck even the Griffins and Heat in action for a few games this week. With the cross over spot so tight, the margin for error is slim and you have to presume that the only safe and secure playoff spot is a third place finish in the North Division, so that is the focus.

The Marlies sit in 2nd place entering the week, two points behind the Moose, who have 3 games in hand, one point ahead of Hamilton, who has 4 games in hand, two points up on Lake Erie, who has 3 games in hand and then 4 and 5 points up on the Griffins and Heat, who both have 3 games in hand. So, it doesn’t take a star pupil in math to figure out the trouble that could face the Marlies if all those games in hand are wins.

The key for the team right now is to rest up and prepare for a big weekend. You have the Crunch and Phantoms to deal with, where 4 points are a must against the teams from outside your own division. Worry about your own games, and don’t concern yourself with what you can’t control. There are still key head to head match-ups to come in the final 10 games with the Moose, Griffins, Heat and most importantly maybe, the 3 remaining games against Lake Erie.

So, with the race coming down to the wire, it’s going to be an exciting finish. And while it’s all eyes on the prize, you can’t help but think, an occasional peek at the out of town scoreboard this week won’t be out of the question.

Another Big Weekend

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March 11, 2011

Well, it might sound like a repeating record, but another big weekend is upon the Toronto Marlies.

It kicks off tonight in Rochester against the Americans. While the Amerks are on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture, they are a team that has been playing much better hockey as of late and will prove to be a tough opponent. Figure in the fact that the Amerks hold a 4-2 record against the Marlies this season, and you can see how big of a game this will be in the season series.

Saturday’s game against Lake Erie at Ricoh Coliseum is the first of three games against the Monsters down the stretch. Those three games could very well dictate who makes it into the Calder Cup playoffs in the North Division. Thanks to a wild schedule that sees the Moose, Bulldogs and Monsters all with games in hand on Toronto, the Monsters series is the closest in games played and points scenario, and therefore gives the Marlies the best opportunity to control their own destiny.

Don’t look past the Texas Stars only visit to Toronto on Sunday either, as they are in the thick of things when it comes to the West Division playoff race and the crossover spot. Come Sunday, both teams will be approaching the game much like it was a 4 point game in their own division, so look for a big affair.

Injuries are causing some issues for the Marlies right now, as they are missing players on the Clear Day roster such as Hanson and Mueller. It’s still giving opportunities to players like Matt Caruana and Dale Mitchell to help contribute down the stretch. Luca Caputl is also practicing with the team, and while still a ways off from game action, might have an opportunity to get into a game down the stretch if the injury bug continues.

It’s all about battling for every possible point now at this point in the season, which is why it makes every game a big one, and has been making this one of the tightest and most interesting stretch drives the AHL has ever seen.

One Deadline Passed, Another to Come

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March 3, 2011

Well the NHL Trade Deadline day has come and gone, and rosters through the AHL have felt the shake-up. The Marlies only lose John Mitchell from their roster and are now pretty much set for the stretch drive. The next deadline is the AHL Clear Day Rosters which are due by 3pm ET on Monday. That’s the day that dictates who is eligible to play the remainder of the AHL season and in the Calder Cup playoffs.

A couple of deals over the last week will have some impact on the North Division and the Marlies key opponents. Hamilton may have made moves with the most impact on their team. They’ve added some extra depth in goal adding Drew MacIntyre from the Chicago Wolves to go along with Curtis Sanford. The addition of Nigel Dawes has also been a boost for the Dogs up front, who have lost a lot of their scorers to the Canadiens this season. Dawes has 6 goals and 7 points in his first 4 games with Hamilton.

The other impact comes on the blue line in Manitoba with the loss of Evan Oberg. With Captain Nolan Baumgartner expected back from injury very soon, and the depth now up top with the Canucks, the Moose will most likely have a very stable and consistent line-up down the stretch.

The key to the Marlies playoff hopes may lie in the 3 remaining games against the Lake Erie Monsters. Third spot in the North Division is the goal to guarantee a trip to the spring dance, and while the Bulldogs, Moose and Heat all have games in hand against Toronto, the Marlies and Monsters are even, making the six points on the table head to head very interesting.

This is not to look past any other game down the stretch. It starts off with the AHL’s top team on Friday night as the Pens Roll into town. The Marlies suffered a 5-1 loss in Wilkes-Barre back on December 8th in the only other match-up this season. Then it’s a huge home and home series with Hamilton on the weekend. A four point sweep against the Dogs would change the look of the North standings by Sunday night. On Tuesday night, Rockford comes to Toronto before the Monsters on Saturday and Texas Stars on Sunday. Despite the Stars being in the West, they are in the thick of things when it comes to taking the cross-over playoff spot.

It’s evident that there are no dog days of the season this year and every point available in the final 17 games of the regular season for the Marlies will be important. It’s going to make for an exciting race down the stretch.

Home Sweet Home, For A Long Time

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February 17, 2011

Well, the Marlies made their statement in Winnipeg. With back to back wins, the race in the North Division is tighter than ever, and that’s a good thing for the Marlies. After dropping both games in Abbotsford, it was very important that Toronto could find a win to not only win in Winnipeg, but find a way to beat the Moose this season. Mission accomplished, for now at least. Next weekend will mark a two game set with the Moose at Ricoh Coliseum.

A great two game set by Ben Scrivens has earned the victories, while Ryan Hamilton has caught fire as of late recording his first career hat trick against the Moose in Wednesday’s win. No rest for the weary, it’s a travel day on Thursday before 3 games in 4 days and 5 in 6.

After 35 road games this season, the Marlies now prepare for the long stretch at home and it starts off with an 8 game homestand against Hamilton on Friday night. 19 of the last 24 games will be at Ricoh Coliseum, so it’s a benefit for the team that has so far spent the majority of the season on the road. It’s now time for the Marlies to take advantage of home ice, while try to secure a hold on a playoff spot in the North division. The battles will be tough down the stretch, but for the Marlies, at least they’ll be on their own turf.

Moving Time Is Upon Us

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February 14, 2011

Well folks, we’re closing in on the big home stretch drive of the season coming up for the Marlies, and it’s a critical time in the North Division. We’re on now upon “moving time” in the AHL.

Moving time is very similar to Saturday at the Masters, also known as Moving Day. It’s the time of the season where teams are more or less settled in their rosters, battling injuries and call-ups and facing a lot of inter-divisional games. Hence, the standings start to break apart as teams move around to try and form the Calder Cup Playoff picture.

The Marlies head into Winnipeg to face the Moose for a pair of games in a building they haven’t won in yet this season against a team they have yet to beat, but could potentially become a first round playoff match-up. After dropping the two game set in Abbotsford, the Marlies have fallen to 5th spot in the division, but do have some games in hand on both the Heat and Monsters. It looks as though the cross-over spot will happen as the 7th place team in the West (Chicago) has as many points as 4th in the North. The 5th place West team (Texas) has a four point lead on the Monsters for the playoff spot. That being said, the goal has been set to at least finish in 3rd spot, the final guaranteed playoff opening in the North division.

This series in Winnipeg can be a great opportunity to jump right back into the thick of things and make a statement. And it’s going to take a full team effort at every single position. There is no overlooking the fact that James Reimer and Keith Aulie are key players who are now helping the Maple Leafs, but so are Jay Rosehill, Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb, and they've been up for a long while now. There is a full cast of players down here that can make a big impact as well. This series would mark the time for players like Mike Zigomanis, Fabian Brunnstrom and John Mitchell to lead the way and find their magic scoring touch. The team is also going to need a solid goaltending tandem, and while Ben Scrivens has played very well, Jussi Rynnas will need to find the form he displayed in November when he was named Player of the Week in the AHL.

It’s coming to crunch time, and now is when players have the ability to make an impact and help the team into a post-season dance.
And Winnipeg might be as good a place to start as anywhere.

The Final Frozen Frontier..On the Trip

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February 7, 2011

Well, folks here we go back at it for the second half of the season, after a very well deserved All Star break for the Marlies. When you consider the amount of travel the team had to contend with during the last month or so, in addition to the injuries and call-ups the team faced, they certainly were a tired bunch heading into the break. Now, it’s back into the swing of things with 5 of the next 6 games on the road, with all five road games against divisional opponents. This is the time of the year where the standings start to shake up and teams start to show their depth and what they are made of.

Traditionally, the post All-Star break chunk of the schedule is when teams are battling through the most injuries, and when they deal with the most call-ups as the big clubs are going through the same issue. So, the standings reflect this time and movement begins to happen. For the Marlies, they’ll start things off in Rochester with a little bit of a juggled line-up, starting in goal with the conditioning stint for Jonas Gustavsson, which also sends Ben Scrivens back to Reading. With Jerry D’Amigo heading off to Kitchener, there is some room up front now with healthy bodies coming back into the line-up. Greg Scott and Ryan Hamilton returned just ahead of the break, and it appears as though Justin Hodgman might not be too far behind. It’s all good timing, considering the time of the schedule and how close things still remain in the North division. With four big games coming up against Abbotsford and Manitoba on the road, the Marlies are going to need all the help they can get.

This is why the All Star break couldn’t have come at a better time for the Marlies. It has given the injured players an extra week to heal up, and allowed the players that have been carrying the heavy load during the last while to relax and recharge the batteries for the second half of the season. It’s all big games from here on out, and the team should come back with an extra jump in their step ready to compete at the high level it’s going to take to ensure a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs.

With 19 of the last 24 games at Ricoh Coliseum, now is the time to start building that playoff foundation.

The Final Frozen Frontier..On the Trip

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January 18, 2011

Brrrrrrrrrr! Well, folks, there is no other way to put it then to say it’s really, really cold here in Winnipeg! With temperatures going below -30 and wind chill factors as low as -45, it certainly is a crisp air outside! What a dramatic change from our last week on the West coast in Vancouver and Abbotsford. Or sure, it rained every day in Abbotsford and was cloudy the entire time, but was anywhere between 7 and 11 degrees. You’re afraid to go anywhere within 15 feet of a doorway around these parts without a coat on. Good ol’ fashioned prairie winter.

As for the Marlies, it’s another big 2 game divisional battle with the Moose to deal with. Hard to believe that both teams have hit the midway mark of the season and this marks the first meeting between the two rivals. Should make for a very interesting series, with just two points separating the clubs coming into the week. The Marlies are trying to survive this 9 game, 21 day trip by earning points, staying in the pack and battling through the injuries. They have done well on all accounts so far, and hopefully some healthy bodies are on the horizon by the time the team returns home. None the less, everyone has been chipping in any way they can, which has made Dallas Eakins a happy camper. You can’t fault the work ethic.

The addition of Fabian Brunnstrom has been a good one to start off. Not only has he registered points in back to back games, but he also has found some quick chemistry with Mike Zigomanis. Christian Hanson has also found himself working well on that line, which is good news all around. I was glad to see Marcel Mueller get a chance for a call-up and make his NHL debut. His play has improved a lot as the season has progressed and it was well deserved. Don’t be surprised if a few more players get the call before the season is out, as there might be some other deserving candidates in the line-up.

With James Reimer back right now, there is no lack of depth in goal, which is never a bad thing to have in an organization. And you know how much he loves playing here in Winnipeg and how many family and friends love coming to the MTS Centre to watch him.

As for the trip, well, it’s been a journey all right. It’s hard to believe that we haven’t seen home yet in 2011. As long as the trip seems, it is amazing how time can fly by. Going from city to city, the focus is always on the next game, which makes the 21 days seem more like 12. And now for the Marlies, the big focus will be on the two games at hand with the Moose and how important the 4 points are at stake in the standings.

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Tour Continues On The West Coast

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January 11, 2011

Well folks, it seems somewhere along the way, we lost count of what day of the road trip we’re on. So we’ll just say somewhere in between games 5 and 6. It’s off the West Coast now, as the Marlies have arrived in Vancouver, where they will spend a few practice days before heading out to Abbotsford for the weekend two game set with the Heat.

The team crossed the halfway mark on Saturday night with the 40th game of the season in Milwaukee. What a night for Ben Scrivens to record his first AHL shutout, only he takes a loss with it. Heck of a game though when you see it come down to a 0-0 tie into overtime. It certainly wasn’t as entertaining as the New Year’s Eve game, but it had its moments.

Fact of the matter is since Scrivens came into the game on Wednesday in Chicago, he played 205 minutes in a stretch of 5 days. During that stretch, he sported a 2-0-1 record, with a 1.72 gaa and .938 save percentage. He also ran a shutout streak of 150:38. Not too shabby for the ECHL All-Star Selection.

The team is battling right now through the injuries that always come up at this time of year. Between the call-ups and forwards down on the IR, it’s been a steady battle to score goals and have D men playing up front. But, the team is grinding it out. Evidence from their win in Chicago on Sunday and the fact they pulled out 5 of 6 points on the weekend and find themselves right at the top of the North Division. It’s all about staying alive and in the hunt right now.

The team will take a few days in Vancouver, much like they did in Chicago, to mend some bodies and get some good practice time in before the weekend action in Abbotsford. Here’s hoping some days in between games will allow some aching bodies to mend up and help ease the forward pain up front.

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New Year And On The Road Again

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January 04, 2011

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you had a great holiday. And here we go on the 9 game road trip for the Marlies now. It’s off to a similar start of the November one, with a shootout.

What a game New Year’s Eve in Grand Rapids! That is one people will talk about for a while to come.
A fantastic goaltending duel between Ben Scrivens and Joey MacDonald, with both goalies stopping over 40 shots and only allowing a goal each during 65 minutes of hockey. Lots of shots, great scoring chances, some hits, fights, sold out crowd and a party atmosphere. They don’t get much better than that in the middle of the season. And no bad goals. Hanson was a great tip from Mueller, who made an excellent play to start the rush. Pare’s goal was a desperation play in a mad scramble in the crease to tie it. And only one penalty all night. Many of the players were saying the game had a big time playoff feel to it.

After the 3 in 3 stretch, the team has a few off days in Chicago before a date with the Wolves on Wednesday night. Good chances to rest up some banged up bodies and take a breather on what will be a very busy and important road trip. The North continues to be incredibly tight, and with a cross over rule to worry about, games against teams in the West Division will matter even more than normal. 7th place in the West would be 2nd spot in the North right now, so every game counts.

Look for a beauty on Wednesday night in Chicago. It will be an 8pm ET start time on AM 640.

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Home For The Holidays

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December 28, 2010

Happy Holidays folks! I hope you all had a great Christmas and are enjoying the festive season!

With the shortest break in the AHL for the Marlies, it was a tough one to jump back on the ice for an afternoon game on Boxing Day. You have to shake off the turkey legs. With such a short break, only a few of the players had a chance to go home to see family and get some home cooking. Could you tell Keith Aulie was one of them with his two goal performance against the Bulldogs? It was a big win for the team as every divisional game will be so important for the rest of the season.

Now comes the final two home games of 2010 before the Marlies embark on a 9 game road trip as the boat show rolls into Ricoh Coliseum. Five of the 9 games will feature divisional match-ups including the New Year’s Eve tilt in Grand Rapids, and a pair of games against both Abbotsford and Manitoba. Up first though is the always tough Chicago Wolves on Wednesday night. Don Lever just recorded his 300th coaching victory on Monday in a win against Grand Rapids. Former Marlies Jaime Sifers and Andre Deveaux are also in the line-up. Thursday night will see another battle with the Rochester Americans. The last home and home series got physical, we’ll see if that carries over to this game.

The half way mark of the season will roll up on the team during that road trip, and it will be an important month of January. It becomes the long stretch of the season where teams start to battle injuries and call-ups. It also leads up to the period of movement in the standings, when every team has now settled into a groove and look to make their move in the standings. Exciting times ahead, and the way the North Division is playing out this year, it’s going to be a great battle.

Monday night, I had the chance to return to Newmarket and MC the Battle of York Charity game between the Hurricanes and Stouffville Spirit. It’s the 6th year the team has hosted this game to help support the Southlake Cancer Centre ( in honour of the late Kevin Lord), Holland-Bloorview Kids Foundation (in honour of the late Josh Sedore) and the K.J. Ramolla Memorial Trust ( in honour of the late K.J. Ramolla). All three were young men involved in Jr A hockey in Newmarket and are missed by everyone. It’s always great to see familiar faces again and return to my roots where it all began years ago. Thanks to everyone who helped support the event as they have raised well over $100,000 over the six years.
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Closing In On The Holidays

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December 16, 2010

This weekend, the Marlies will cross the 30 game marker as we enter the midway stretch of the season. It's the time of the year when you must endure injuries, long stretches of the schedule and the inter-divisional battles. That's where the Marlies are at now. 

Heading into the last few games before Christmas, the team will face a virtual non-existent Christmas break and then jump into a very busy schedule that rolls right into the big January road trip. 

Sunday in Hamilton was an example of overcoming adversity for the team. Wtih two defence on forward and a 3am arrival, the team had to try and battle through. With some good news coming on the injury ward front, it might be just in time for the team to roll into the busy stretch. 

This weekend is another important four points in the North division up for grabs with the Amerks. Everything is so tight in the North, that each point could be critical come the spring and entry into the Calder Cup playoffs. 

In the meantime, try to take some time to enjoy family, friends and the holiday season. Heck, why not do them all together at one of the Marlies home games.
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Sometimes You Just Have To Forget A Game

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December 7, 2010

There is no other way to describe Sunday's game at home against Chicago than to simple call it a pure stinker. It happens to teams every once in a while, where things don't go well, and you just lay an egg. So, for the Marlies it's moving on.

The team seems to have already done that with a great atmopshere around practice today in Wilkes-Barre ahead of a very big game against the AHL's top team. The Pens are 20-4 on the season and have won 5 straight.

The game is also a bit of a homecoming of sorts, as Luca Caputi will make his return, after 120 regular season games in a Pens uniform. Danny Richmond also played 55 games for the Pens in 08-09, and Mike Zigomanis never played in Wilkes-Barre, but was a member of the Pittsburgh organization.

All in all, it shapes up to be a very interesting game on Wednesday night.

Also, congrats goes out to Jerry D'Amigo for being named to the U.S. World Junior team. It will be very exciting for him to play in the tournament on home soil and close to home in Buffalo. No doubt, he'll have the full round of family and friends at the game. The Marlies will miss him, but it's a great call for his development and a fantastic opportunity to defend his gold medal.
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On To A New Month With A New Direction

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December 2, 2010

It certainly is a different look to the Marlies for the start of the month of December compared to the beginning of November. Instead of a team coming off a 2-6 start to the season, it's a team riding a 10-2-0-3 record through November and a much different sense of confidence.

From the 8 games in 11 nights on the road that opened the month, this time the Marlies will face three straight on home ice before heading out three road games. A  big difference this month will be the increase in games against divisional opponents. While it was the road trip and victories against teams in the West that put the Marlies back into the race, it will be the all important four point divisional games that will determine where in the race they will run. This month will be full of interest in that department.

The Marlies did pull off big wins at home against Hamilton and Grand Rapids, showing that they indeed are a better team now and can play at home the same way they found their game on the road, which is good news for all fans.

With over a quarter of the season already gone, they will face a busy schedule and no doubt adversity along the way with call-ups and injuries as they already have. It's how you fight through and over come those things that can define you as a team. It's an important month, especially at home, because January the boat show rolls in, and the Marlies again will roll out. A good December can mean the difference about where you float in the standings come January.

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Home For Some Quick Laundry

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November 15, 2010

So, before the Marlies left for the 8 games in 11 nights, they were 2-6 and sitting last in the North Division. After the 8 games, they are now fourth, on a four game winning streak, have earned 14 of 16 points and still have two more games on the road to go before returning to Ricoh Coliseum. The team is on a roll.

After arriving back in Toronto around 5am Sunday morning, everybody has a chance to do some laundry and get ready to roll right back out. To give you an idea of how much this team has bonded and enjoy playing for each other right now, they turned an optional ice time on Monday after a light workout, into a fun mini 3 on 3 tournament. No coaches, no structure, just the team going out to basically play some old school pond hockey for fun, on an off day. This is not the same team that has only won a single game on home ice. So, fans be ready to come back and see them in person. 

The first 8 games of the trip featured games against teams outside the North Division. This week, it's a chance for the Marlies to battle some four point games. Three of the next four matches will be against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Toronto has a chance to move as high as second place in the North this week. Friday's tilt in Cleveland against the Lake Erie Monsters will also be a challenge as the Q will be rocking on a Friday night.

The entire team has come together now. Mike Zigomanis and Jeff Finger bring a very calm and supportive roll to the dressing room. It has helped bring up the level of game in everyone from Mikus, Engel, Brennan and Lashoff on the point, to getting the offence rolling with Crabb, D'Amigo, Hodgman, Scott, Boyce and Foster all chipping in key goals at big times on the trip.

And the goaltending has been big when needed. Rynnas earning the AHL Reebok Player of the Week is a great nod to his recent strong play, while James Reimer continues to make the big game saver stops to preserve the two points.

While there is some serious momentum rolling with this team right now, the key will be to keep in going, even after a quick stop at home for some nights in your own bed and separating the whites and darks. The difference is confidence, which this team has a lot of right now.
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Rolling On The Road

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November 12, 2010

This team just continues to build as the road trip rolls along, and it's no shock that players are going to get an opportunity with the big club if they keep producing with the Marlies.

A solid victory in Glens Falls against the Phantoms moved the Marlies to the .500 mark for the first time this season. Joey Crabb has scored in 4 straight games. Mike Zigomanis continues to make a big impact with 3 goals and 9 points in 5 games. He's a big difference maker out there. Matt Lashoff has 7 points and a plus 5 rating on the trip so far, as the back end has stepped up it's game. Mike Brennan is a +7 rating on this road trip and has not had a minus game all season.

Nazem Kadri has continued to show his development into the pro game, and tallied a goal and 4 assists with a plus 5 rating in the last 3 games. Keith Aulie as a goal and 2 assists with a plus 6 rating on the road trip. It just goes to show that good play will be rewarded.

Meanwhile, the task at hand still remains to climb back into the North Division. Hitting the .500 mark was a good step, but keeping this road trip rolling is even bigger.
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Road Magic Working So Far

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November 9, 2010

Well folks, it appears that all this team needed was to get out of town after all. As I had previously mentioned, it was time for a change of scenery and that’s what has provided the Marlies with a boost. Collecting 6 of a possible 8 points to start the trip has been solid. Even more important though has been watching the team finally bond and build its chemistry together on and off the ice. The time on the plane, bus and in hotels is starting to cross over to the performance in games with this squad, and it’s been great to see.

It’s a different looking team now, playing with much more confidence and taking care of the little details. If it wasn’t for a bounce here or there, we could be talking about a 4-0 start to the trip for this team. Nazem Kadri had a chance in each OT against Houston and Oklahoma City for a winner. His line with Hodgman and D’Amigo has been coming along. The addition of Mike Zigomanis has not only been a huge boost for the team, but has also sparked the play of Joey Crabb, as the two of them work very well together.  The goaltending has been solid. Reimer earning the shutout and Jussi Rynnas has been solid during his time in the pipes.  Jerry D’Amigo has found his first pro goal and Jay Rosehill had a pair in the opening four games.

No matter how you slice it, this team is finally coming together and is a lot more fun to watch. The key will be continuing to build on the success and produce the W’s and points to climb up the North Division Standings.

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The Time Has Come To Hit The Road

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October 27, 2010

 Sometimes home sweet home gets to be a little tiring. That might be the case when it comes to the Marlies so far this season. While it’s still very early in the season and not time to panic, a 2-4 start with only one win on home ice was not something anyone expected from this team. The reality though is this team is full of new faces and still need time to build that chemistry. Much of that gets built away from the rink, which is why this team needs to hit the road!

Since the opening of Marlies training camp on September 27th, the Marlies have only skated away from the MasterCard Centre just 9 times. There were two exhibition games, one practice at Ricoh before the home opener and the six games to start the season. That’s a lot of time in the last month spent inside the same walls and going home every night.
Anyone who has played the game will tell you that being on the road together helps a team bond. Once you spend a few hours trapped on a bus with the same guys, you get to know them better. When you go out for meals together on the road, you get to tell stories and learn about each other. When you share a room with a teammate, find out who leaves the TV on late and who snores in their sleep. Essentially, you become a team.
After this weekend, the Marlies will play 10 straight games on the road, which opens up with a 7 game in 9 night road trip. There will be a lot of miles covered down to Texas, through Oklahoma, up through Connecticut, down to Pennsylvania and back up through New York State. The only downfall of this first trip is the lack of off-days in between games. None the less, this team will get a chance to spend time together away from home.
No distractions, nobody talking about the Leafs and no pressure of playing at home. Get on the road, focus on playing a simple game and get the two points.
Just as in any other work atmosphere, when you are friends with your co-workers, things always seem to get done better. The same goes for the team, and the Marlies are hoping the road will provide a bonding session that will breed success.

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Home Sweet Home Not So Sweet So Far

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October 18, 2010

So, what is going on with home ice these days in the AHL’s North Division? Two weeks into the 75th Anniversary season of the league and the guests of teams in the North have not played very nice in other buildings. The road teams are 11-3-0-1 to start the season so far, while the home teams are 2-9-0-2. That includes the Marlies who are 0-3 on home ice so far.

That’s not to say that the games haven’t been close or exciting. Considering the Marlies fired 42 shots on the Senators goal on Sunday, and two of the three have been one goal games, it’s been entertaining. There are still another 76 games to go in this season, so no need to get all bent out of shape over the start, as this team still has a lot of talent and potential to come. There are a lot of divisional games still to go in this very young season, and plenty of time to make up some ground in the North Division.

The Marlies right now are a team that is still trying to find out what makes them click. Over the first four games, we have seen moments of brilliance from the line-up where you get a glimpse of what this team can do. Then there are the missed passes and bouncing pucks that show of a team still working on its chemistry. It will come with time, and the attitude within the team right now is strong and positive. They are working on making it happen.

This is where the AHL schedule comes into play during the month of October. Teams usually only have two games a week and they are based on the weekend. That means you have 5 days a week of practice time available, which offers its pros and cons. Pro, is you have a week of practice to work on combinations, special teams, breakouts and just building chemistry in general. Con, is you have a week of practice in between games, when sometimes all a player wants to do is great right back at it in game action. It’s a tough balance to work, and with so many home games on top of that, finding the team bonding time can be tricky. I can assure you all that a couple of weeks from now, the 1-3 start will seem so far away, and this team will appear so much different together. Might be perfect timing for a road trip and that’s exactly what they’ll get. In the meantime, another week of practice will lead up to the weekend’s match-up with Oklahoma City and Grand Rapids. They’ll be two big games on home ice.

Congrats though this week go out to Brayden Irwin and Nazem Kadri who both scored their first pro goals. Jerry D'Amigo also earned his first pro point.

This weekend also marks the return of former Marlies Captain Ben Ondrus, who will enter the visitor’s dressing room at Ricoh Coliseum for the first time. Ondrus still remains as the franchise leader in games played. He was always a true professional and gave it his all on the ice every game, even when banged up. He now wears the “C” for the Barons and has a new squad to lead. It will be good to see him back in Ricoh and I would expect a warm welcome from the fans.

Sunday will mark Grand Rapids first visit of the season and a return of goaltender Joey MacDonald, as he signed back with Detroit over the summer. MacDonald picked up a shutout over the Moose on the opening weekend and ranks very high in the Griffins franchise leaders for wins and shutouts. They will provide a tough game for Toronto in what’s becoming a very competitive North Division.

It’s been a busy few weeks of community visits and charity events. Special shout outs to the students at St. Norbert School in Toronto and Sir Richard W. Scott School in Markham as we dropped in for our anti-bullying visits.

And a special thank you goes out to Lana Duke of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Many in Toronto might know her voice from the commercials where she displays a little Louisiana accent with her line of “Come hungry darlin’”. I had the great pleasure in co-hosting the Thanksgiving dinner with her at the Mississauga location last week. Lana and her wonderful staff have put on this event for the last 3 years, where she hosts about 75 kids with Peel Children’s Aid at the restaurant for a turkey dinner with all the fixings, including dessert as an appetizer and post meal delight! Lana, who grew up in St. Catherine’s with a foster family, went down to New Orleans at 19 and began selling pots and pans door to door. Today, she is one of the most successful business women in North America and is most known for her connection with Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse chain. She will also be hosting the same dinner for kids at her San Antonio location for the U.S. Thanksgiving. Lana never forgot her roots, and is one of the most caring individuals I have ever met. She shared such an inspirational message for the kids about how you control your own life and no matter what; you can achieve what you believe in. It was an honour to not only meet her in person, but share the evening with her and see how big her heart is. As Mayor Hazel said “If there were more people like Lana, the world would be a better place.” I couldn’t agree with you more darlin’.

E-Mail Barts anytime at and follow him on Twitter @bartsbytes.

No Need To Panic After Opening Weekend

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October 12, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope you had a great holiday weekend. So, the season kicked off with a pair of losses to division rivals for the Marlies. While this isn't the start they were looking for, there are plenty of positives to take from the two games and much promise when looking forward.

The home opener against the Americans, was a case of a team looking like they heard how good they were going to be, but not playing that way to back it up. This is from the players' own admission. The final six minutes of the third period, when they cranked it up a notch, was more of an idea of what this team can do. Rochester hardly touched the puck and Toronto had all the pressure.

On Monday, they came out of the gate much better, and it was a very entertaining close game. Mitch Wahl made a very nice play to set up Cam Cunning on the winning goal. A tough loss, but good learning lessons this weekend.

You can tell that this team is still getting used to playing with each other. Much was made of Nazem Kadri's debut, which didn't go as planned. That being said, he looked better on Sunday and you can see where he will learn the pro game as time wears on. Making the jump from junior to the pro level is tough, and players will tell you, sometimes playing in the NHL is easier than the AHL, due to the skill level around you. It's all part of the process. Kadri wasn't alone on Sunday when it came to players who looked much better in just their second AHL game. Marcel Mueller has hit about four posts in the first two games. He played physical and showed some great strength and talent. Brayden Irwin was more of an impact player as well. I also thought Jussi Rynnas played well as he still is adjusting to North American ice. He will get more comfortable on the angles as time wears on.

As a whole, the team was miles better on Monday compared to the opener. Now, it's a full week of practice leading into a big rivalry showdown in Hamilton on Saturday afternoon. This game will also be the Bulldogs season opener, so you know they'll be ready to come out flying after a long wait for their first game of the season. Toronto will have to be ready to match the intensity right from the start. It never takes long for the sparks to fly between these two teams, so look for Saturday to be a wild one, and for the Marlies to be that much better after another week of working together as a team.

E-Mail Barts anytime at and follow him on Twitter @bartsbytes.

Time To Raise The Curtain On Season 6

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October 5, 2010

Here we are folks, ready to kick off another AHL season in Toronto. Hard to believe it's Season 6 at Ricoh Coliseum already, but this year might have the most promise and excitement around it than any of the previous years. All for good reason I might add.

No other year has the Marlies line-up been so full of young talent and Leafs prospects than it will be to start this 2010-11 campaign. While much of the hype through all of training camp was surrounding Marlies forward Nazem Kadri, there are many other reasons to be excited about watching this team. Every player on this Marlies team has a shot at getting the call to the NHL with the Maple Leafs. That's right, your future Maple Leafs will be playing some darn exciting hockey for $10 a ticket at Ricoh Coliseum this year!

This year, anyone who says they are a Leafs fan, has no excuse to not come out, watch, support and cheer on this Marlies squad for $10 a ticket! You can't say you've never heard of these guys, or they'll never have a shot at the Leafs. This year, they all do! And some of them have already proved that a few times. The new marketing slogan for the team this year is "Every Game Is A Tryout". It couldn't be more true.

This year's nine pre-season games for the Maple Leafs gave ample opportunity for Ron Wilson to show off some of the Marlies players. Leafs fans took notice of some new faces and familiar names. Hearing some people speak about the play of James Reimer, Tim Brent, Ryan Hamilton, Darryl Boyce, Alex Foster, Simon Gysbers, Juraj Mikus and Keith Aulie was great! Some were surprised by these players, and didn't know the talent level they had or the skills they posess. But, if you've been to Ricoh Coliseum and followed the Marlies the last two years, you'd know all about them.

Now, with new faces added to the mix such as Kadri, Marcel Mueller, Korbinian Holzer, Brayden Irwin, Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens, just to name a few, it has peaked the interest of many fans. Already I have heard people say "I'm going to get out to more Marlies games this year!" Again, all these future Leafs for just $10 a ticket.

With more games on TV this year than ever before, and our new radio schedule that inlcudes over half of the road games, fans will have a great opportunity to follow this year's team and see the growth of the players.

I can tell you in chatting with many of the guys during camp, they are all excited for the season. The room has a very good mix and chemistry is already building. They can see around them on the ice each day at practice how good this team could be. They all know that hard work and production could lead to a call-up. They are all pumped up for a big season.

So, as a fan, there is no better time than Opening Night (or afternoon as the case may be). You're team is ready to go, it's time to start playing for real. It's a long 80 game season, but there is a lot of great hockey to be played on the way. I hope you're all as excited as I am to come along for the ride.

Let's drop the puck!

E-Mail Barts anytime at and follow him on Twitter @bartsbytes.


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