Chansler's Blog


September 27th, 2011

Ryan Identified by Discipline

Kenny Ryan is Superman.

I'm sure of it.

Ryan doesn't wear glasses, neither does Superman. Like the DC Comics character, Ryan's identity is made up of dual first names. And, as we all witnessed during the Leafs opening game of preseason, Ryan fears not jumping in front of a speeding bullet (check the 3:30 mark of the night's Game in Six).

When Ryan was assigned to the Toronto Marlies on Sunday he was sent with a positive message; he had established his identity. Ryan had asserted his hardworking nature, built over years of preparation, showing the Leafs staff he will develop into an NHL bottom six forward.

"My Mom always said 'if you can follow a black line at the bottom of the pool for two hours a day, you can pretty much do anything you want,'" Ryan shared. The Leafs' second round draft pick in 2009 had spent 12 years swimming competitively. A sport which, like hockey, requires an immense amount of training and discipline.

"It's not the easiest thing to get up in your summers at 6:30am and swim every morning from seven to nine, but I think in that way it disciplines you and it makes you realize that if you want something you have to work for it, it's not going to be handed to you."

If one's ability to be disciplined could be isolated within the genetic code, Ryan would definitely be a beneficiary of a long line of self-governing. His aunt, having graduated from the University of Indiana, plays both violin and bass. Ryan's grandmother and grandfather attended Northwestern, leaving with music degrees. His grandmother, at age 78, still teaches piano.

"Christmas' at our house are pretty fun just because my grandma and grandpa would play the piano and my aunt would get on the bass or the violin and we'd all just hang out and sing along."

Although having played the piano and owning a guitar, Ryan admits the musical gene "must have skipped over my generation."

Though his talents may not earn him a guest spot on the next episode of Glee, the regulation required to study the language of music definitely stuck. It has become the cornerstone of his identity, and earned him two looks during exhibition action with the Leafs, as opposed to the originally scheduled one.

With his heart presently trained on making the Marlies and furthering his career at the professional level, Ryan knows that by continuing in his disciplined nature, a role in the NHL is ahead of him.

"At the end of the day this isn't the side of the rink you want to be, you want to be on the other side with the Leafs. That's the goal."

We may not be able to get Ryan into blue tights, but perhaps a set of blue socks would be better suited.


Sondre Olden practiced with the Marlies on Tuesday. Although having already started his season with the Erie Otters, immigration paperwork has kept the young forward in Canada for the time being. Alongside Olden, wearing a red sweater, was Kyle Neuber.

The remaining five forward lines were as follows:

Caputi - Colborne - Scott
Mueller - Zigomanis - Hamilton
D'Amigo - Ryan - Acton
Brenner - Irwin - Wilson
Devane - Caruana - Painchaud


Seven returning Marlies donned new numbers Tuesday (former numbers in parenthesis).

Marcel Mueller: 9 (25)
Will Acton: 14 (38)
Tyler Brenner: 16 (36)
Luca Caputi: 17 (19)
Matt Caruana: 20 (39)
Jerry D'Amigo: 29 (27)
Mike Zigomanis: 93 (17)

Zigomanis' number 93 is the highest worn by a Toronto Marlies player in the club's six season history.

Your buddy,

September 23rd, 2011

Marlies Camp Opens!

A camp like no other.

It sounds much like a bad horror movie released in the late 90's. I assure you despite both containing 'cuts,' this one will be far more enjoyable to watch.

The lights on the Toronto Marlies practice pad at MCC turned on Friday morning and for the first time this season, a group wearing Marlies sweaters took to the ice; 11 skaters and one goalie. Marlies camp is open for business.

The Toronto AHL club took its current form after the Maple Leafs made their first round of cuts to what once was a 70-man preseason squad. It was a large camp, a roster that included every player who participated in the rookie tournament, and with that comes a Marlies group with an extra week of focus and training.

One who admitted to benefitting from the extra time was Marlies forward Matt Caruana, signed to an AHL deal over the summer. It was Caruana's first time attending Maple Leafs camp, and only his second main camp of his career.

The Bowmanville, Onatrio, resident admitted the extra time was like nothing he had experienced before and strongly believed it has provided him a leg-up on the upcoming season. Caruana played 33 games with the Marlies last season as an injury recall from the ECHL Royals and made the most of his opportunity potting six goals and 10 points in the AHL after leading his team in Reading.

Another name well known to Ricoh regulars who was on hand Friday. Offensive defenceman Josh Engel, who is coming off his best goal output since highschool with eleven tallies, took part in skating drills with Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins and assistant coach Derek King. Although unsure if he'll be slotted in on the wing or the blueline, the multitalented Wisconsin native showing last season he can handle both, Engel is confident he can build on last season's performance to put up another year of career offensive numbers.

With the option of playing at the American league level for the first time of his career, it was encouraging to see young Jamie Devane on the ice dressed in Marlies colours. Eakins admitted to being impressed by Devane's development during the three-game rookie tournament, and now will be permitted a longer look at the Maple Leafs third round selection from the 2009 NHL entry draft.

Of note on Friday was both Dale Mitchell and Jussi Rynnas participated in the morning drills. Mitchell has been sidelined since the spring with a lower body injury sustained after a hit by Mike Liambas during the ECHL playoffs. Rynnas, sporting a new helmet for the upcoming season, received a minor ankle injury during the Leafs main camp and looks to be back in full form for the Marlies preseason games commencing October 2nd.

Unlike last season, all those entering the Marlies training camp are coming from a week of development with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eakins has been granted a group that have already started their on-ice work, drill development and positional planning. For those involved, it is an AHL camp like no other.

Now it's time for the season to match.

Notes: Joining Caruana, Devane and Engel on assignment to the Marlies are Will Acton, Tyler Brenner, Dave Cowan, Brayden Irwin, Kyle Neuber, Denny Urban and Kelsey Wilson … of the ten, six are returnees to the AHL club.

Your buddy,

September 20th, 2011

Gardiner Feels Pretty Good

Imagine never being nervous.

Late night cram sessions before a test would be a thing of the past. Never would there be that awkward moment when you pray 'Insufficient Funds' doesn't appear on the debit terminal. And let's not even discuss first dates.

Despite Jake Gardiner admitting otherwise, in his first game at Air Canada Centre he appeared to be no more nervous than if you had asked him to rhyme off the alphabet. Gardiner's on-ice presence was that of confidence and poise, from the opening face-off right through to his post-game interview taken on-ice after being named the game's third star.

"The first shift I was feeling pretty good," said Gardiner, who was acquired by the Maple Leafs earlier this year in a trade with Anaheim for Francois Beauchemin. "I felt really confident with the puck and without the puck. I had the legs going tonight."

Gardiner's comments were offered up with a perma-smile, as he finished the contest against the Ottawa Senators with two assists.

"[I was] playing defence first, but if you can get some offense and get a couple points, it makes it even better … For a first game, I was pretty happy with it."

After joining the Toronto Marlies for ten games late in the AHL season, Gardiner contributed three assists. A feat he almost matched in the Leafs opening preseason tilt. As was the case at Ricoh, the rookie was quick to turn the praise over to his teammates.

"Playing with [John-Michael] Liles it makes it pretty easy for me. He talks to me out there and he moves the puck pretty well."

Liles, also new to the blue and white though being an NHL veteran of seven years, was evidently a good pairing for Gardiner, helping the youngster through his first shifts.

"He's a pretty quiet kid so I was saying to him before every shift to make sure he was talking," offered Liles.

"You're just making sure that you're getting in front of guys for him, he's getting in front of guys for you, and you're letting him know that you either got time or there's somebody coming down on him. It's one of those things, you make the jump from those scrimmages in training camp to a preseason game - it's obviously a jump up -  a lot quicker, you got to get your reads quicker. I think he played great today."

Gardiner may appear to be master of his emotions while on the ice, but the once collector of Mats Sundin hockey cards admitted he found it tough to find sleep the night before. After all, for many of us growing up, playing for the Leafs is a dream come true.

"Putting on that Maple Leafs sweater is a great honour, so many great players here that have played before me. Playing an NHL game is something that not many people do. I've been working for it my whole life."


Another stand out performance from a Marlies' player of seasons past was that of netminder Ben Scrivens. After replacing Jonas Gustavsson at the 11:17 mark of the second period, Scrivens played a little more than six minutes before having to make his first save. The Senators didn't wait nearly as long to test the Cornell University graduate in the third frame, as Scrivens had to make a quick pad save 23 seconds in as the puck found its way to the stick of an Ottawa forward parked just outside the crease.

Scrivens saved 13 of 14 shots, with the only goal against having changed direction after deflecting off Clarke MacArthur's stick.

Your buddy,

September 6th
, 2011

Leafs Hit the Links

I'm a guy that shoots an 88 on the golf course… in 9 holes.

A week ago if you had told that I'd be spending my Tuesday afternoon out on the green, I wouldn't have believed you. I feel far more at home within the confines of an arena. Yet there I was, tooting around Rattlesnake Point at the Scotiabank Leafs & Legends Charity Golf Classic in a cart with LeafsTv's Paul Hendrick behind the wheel (who, might I add, is a spectacular driver).

As surprising and irregular as it was, being dressed up in a golf shirt and white shoes with little rubber nubs on the bottom, I was even more shocked at some of the minute details unearthed throughout the day's activities with regards to members of the blue and white brigade. Truly, it is amazing some of the the things you learn while out on the course - perhaps this is why hockey players golf so much.

The Longest Drive
I know I'm not golfer, but I would have believed the longest drive would end up being awarded to an upper-body powerhouse. Perhaps Luke Schenn would be a good recipient, or better yet, Colton Orr. But the award for most yardage earned off the tee belonged to none other than Phil Kessel (selected first by many of his teammates when asked to pick their team's top foursome). Three hundred and thirty yards that ball sailed before landing squarely on the fairway. Pretty darn impressive.

Trick-shot Deluxe

While the oft-serious captain maintains flawless composure and focus during post-game scrums, who could have guessed that he'd be so willing to open up his glossary of trick-shots for just such an audience. A backhanded swing with an upside-down club is how Phaneuf lead off on one of the holes, and he still could have made par.

Highschool Golf Pro
Sure, he looked like he fit in - but at a golf tournament, doesn't everybody? It wasn't until this former Culver Military Academy grad broke up the mini binoculars that all knew his game was serious. John-Michael Liles shot a birdie on that hole and the three other members of his "best ball" foursome couldn't be happier. It looks like the year of golf on the Culver team continues to pay off.

Most Feared Foursome
I alluded earlier to the fact that we asked several of the players today who they would pick to complete a foursome for a round of golf. Kessel came as no surprise after seeing him perform with a driver, but it was interesting that Cody Franson ranked high of the list as well. I am still yet to see the guy golf, but by the sounds of it the guy's a beauty. Joining as well would be captain Phaneuf, who's revered for his golf skills regardless of how he holds the club. The fourth is the Bert to Kessel's Ernie. Yepp, you guessed it, Tyler Bozak. The slippery centre may not be known for having the biggest rocket on the ice rink, but he sure knows how to drop the ball where he wants on the green.

Golf's Best Dressed
The day's of multi-coloured plaid pants and too-small sweater vests have passed, and the the era of golf course couture has come. A tip of the Titleist hat must be given to Matt Lashoff and Jonas Gustavsson, who both looked sharp heading down the green, but neither could hold a candle to Mike Zigomanis. White shoes, white plaid pants, off-white sweater and white hat - this guy was ready to go. First time seeing the guy outside of blue hockey pants and a white jersey.

It was a fun day out on the course, with proceeds going to benefit the MLSE Team-Up foundation. But despite the golf cleats and metal clubs, one thing was for certain; the Leafs are back in town.

Happy Hockey Season.

Your buddy,

September 1st
, 2011

A Rose for Wade Belak

I grew up in a small town about an hour north of Toronto.

When a tragedy occurred, the community would leave a rose in memory of our neighbour. The display of flowers demonstrating the town's collective support.

In yesterday's tragic death of Wade Belak we lost a member of our community.

Many of us knew Wade from our interactions in the living room. We celebrated alongside him as he broke his scoring drought and we chuckled as he gave us his often-humorous post-game thoughts.

As we all reflect on the loss, the day has been spent rekindling old memories, favourite moments and key exchanges, and interchanging them with each other. It reminded me much of those hometown rituals, the flowers laid in memory of one lost.

I'd like to add mine.

I'm not sure which part was more unbelievable; the thought of a professional hockey player wanting to perform the latin dance or the notion they would allow us to look on. Yet there he was, dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeved red shirt, Wade Belak walked into a downtown dance studio with his wife Jennfier at his side and cameras in tow. It was part of a series called Wade a Minute (the name decided upon after Belak's own comical suggestion of "The Boring Life Times of Wade Belak" was nay'ed) allowing us all to see behind the curtain of the Maple Leaf.

At one point he almost drops his wife as they practice the final dip. Wade chuckles as he admits he's having a hard time coordinating his shoulders, hands and feet while attempting to learn the salsa routine. He would later call his awkward dance steps the Saskatoon shuffle, again a testament to the hockey pro's comedic talent. He may not have not been the best dancer in the room, but he certainly was the funniest.

As I watched along with my brother, Wade in a black fedora and Jennifer in a giant red boa, I saw the effect it had on my sibling. Having never really had the hockey gene - that predisposition to the iced sport that pushes many of us to skate before we can walk - the middle brother of the Hansler brood was immediately attached to the personality displayed. It marked his first real tie to the sport, the first player he followed unconditionally even after trades to both Florida and Nashville.

Belak offered us precisely what we all search for, the ability to relate. He went from being a sports star, one of less than a thousand in the world to be playing at the NHL level, to a neighbour, a father, a husband. He did what all of us do, laugh at himself when put in an awkward situation.

Wade's comedic timing, friendliness and good nature transcended media and attracted those who watched. It both made a fan out of my brother and became my reason to pursue broadcasting - that hope of connecting the community with the players and together sharing the laughs had away from the rink.

I choose not to remember Belak by yesterday's events, nor by the pain one can only perceive he experienced, but rather by what he offered; the laughs, the cheers and the pride in our community. I thank him for the fact that my brother can share my passion for the sport, and the resulting influence on my career path.

Now it's your turn. Which rose do you leave?

Your buddy,

23rd, 2011

No Ruby Slippers

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.

A young, heavy on hope, light on experience, Dorothy began one of my favourite childhood movies wishing only to be taken away somewhere over the rainbow. It wasn’t until after being swept away to a magical land filled with fairy godmothers, emerald cities and horses of a different colour, wicked witches from the west and flying monkeys, that it was at home she was most comfortable.

The thought of being on the road – restaurant food, experiencing a different city every night while bonding with the team – seems grand at first look. However after two long road swings last season, the Marlies, like Dorothy, were confronted with the fact that some guys look great in ruby slippers (scratch that) there’s no place like home.

It’s all in the travel hours. And this is where our blue-and-white friends part from the ruby slipper parallel. It took three clicks of the heel for Dorothy to return to Kansas. The Marlies aren’t so lucky.

I recall the look on former Marlies Captain Alex Foster’s face after a 5-1 afternoon defeat to the Hamilton Bulldogs in mid-December. The team had been in Cleveland, Ohio, the night before. The trip from Cleveland to Hamilton is five hours on a good day, not including time spent checking a bus full of Canadian, American, Finnish and Slovakian passports at the border. This wasn’t a good day, it was a winter night.

Here’s your itinerary. You get off the ice at 9:30pm and are on the bus for 10. Casey, the team driver (and teller of great stories), peels out of the parking lot at 10:15 after all the gear has been packed and meals have been handed out. Still buzzing from the game, you pick at your food and shout celebratory cheers out to Marcel Mueller who scored his first North American hat-trick. Weather’s not great but the bus plugs away until getting to the border. Your eyes are heavy but your back is stiff, flashes of that third period offensive zone hit come back with each bout of pain. The hours tick on and on. You don’t know how long it’s been, but you know a significant amount of time has passed. You finally start to sense familiarity as the bus tries to make up time on the QEW. Your breathing finally slows and you’re closer to sleep than you have been for the past 20 hours. Your body jerks forward as the bus comes to a halt in front of the hotel. Checking your watch for the first time you realize it’s 4am and you begin counting the hours remaining until you have to be at the rink, the result being your chance to sleep. You’re in front of a national audience tomorrow, CBC game, which also means early game time – 1pm start. Another thirty minutes to get settled in your room. Travel wears you out.

Three clicks of the heel would be so much easier.

The AHL has made changes in the structure of the schedule to help alleviate these stresses. Dropping four games from the previous 80 contest schedule as well as extending the season by one week is meant to help with the sometimes tough travel schedules. Although the recently released Marlies schedule is much more attractive when it comes to road trips, the team spending consecutive nights on the road only twice from January 15th onward, the upcoming campaign will still present its fair share of challenges. Four to be exact.

Four times the Marlies will play Friday night on the road only to trip home for an afternoon game on Saturday. All four games will see the Marlies trekking from Grand Rapids (Oct 14/15, Dec 2/3, Mar 16/17 and Apr 6/7), generally a six hour trip. Just to prove that nothing comes easy, all four Saturday’s will be played against conference rivals.

Brass tax: playoff points are up for grabs.

Eight points is a lot. Half as many extra points against Lake Erie last season (the Marlies losing the final five versus the divisional foe) would have earned the team a playoff spot. The Marlies 2011 playoff hopes may very well rest on these four inconveniences in the schedule. Going back to Dorothy, Toto and the land of Oz, these four games are the Marlies’ wicked witch trying desperately to take their ruby slippers (perhaps I’ve taken this ruby slippers thing too far). It’s a proving ground. A chance to display character. Will they splash their opponent with a bucket of water, or hand over their shiny footwear?

You’re not going to know unless you’re there.

See the ending unfold October 15th vs. Lake Erie, December 3rd vs. Houston, March 17th vs. Milwaukee and April 7th vs. Grand Rapids.

The schedule’s out friends, time to start circling dates.

Notes: The Marlies longest road trip will span nine games and 17 days from October 27th through to November 14th … Travel goes both ways: Lake Erie will travel from playing in Cleveland on Oct 14th, Houston will be in Rochester December 2nd, Milwaukee will travel from Cleveland March 16th and Grand Rapids will travel to Toronto for the back half of the home-and-home on April 6th

Your buddy,

16th, 2011

The Rise of Optimus Reim

It’s only fitting, on the day in which he owns the stage at Real Sports Apparel for another addition of All Access, that we have a quick chit-chat about the rise of James Reimer. Do you remember the first time you heard his name?

I faintly remember his call to the Toronto Marlies from the ECHL Royals around Christmas of 2008. To be honest, I didn’t know if he won or lost his initial start (it was a win, in a shootout none the less). I first witnessed his style, most notably his happy feet, later that season. I took my brother to watch the WBS Penguins when they came to town; we both agreed their jerseys were pretty slick. Reimer had the nod in net as his Marlies team came under siege by the offensive Pens. We watched an energetic forward named Luca Caputi race around the ice made sized up who would win in a fight, Ryan Hollweg or Paul Bissonnette. Miroslav Satan opened the scoring, and the Penguins didn’t let up. Reimer allowed four goals that game, but it was his 35 saves that stuck out in my mind. It was an outstanding performance for a rookie who was up against a club that would finish second in the league in goals for that season.

It would be months until we first exchanged words and it remains my favourite Marlies game of all time. It was November 27th, 2010, and Binghamton was in town. It would be the first time I watched the future Leafs take on the baby Sens. Bad blood rant hot, even between the AHL affiliates. Reimer left his net to pick up a lightly cleared puck near the faceoff circle to his right; he was met by a charging Paul Baier who sent the tender into the air. Reimer attempted to continue, but his agony was apparent and he soon left. The team went on to score four straight goals, battling back from a three goal deficit, to win the game in regulation for their injured netminder. He wouldn’t play again until February.

He was on his way out of the rink when I caught his eye. Despite the injury, and the apparent limp from the high ankle sprain, Reimer still offered one of his patented smiles. He hobbled over and chatted while I waited for my ride, explaining how he saw the play and what he could do different. I was amazed at his personable demeanor, so humble for such a great athlete.

It would ten months until James made a splash in the pre-season, facing the Philadelphia Flyers in sixty-five minutes and eleven rounds of the shootout, when Leafs nation really took note. Not even four months later, in his first NHL start, Reimer rejected 32 shots and allowed only a single goal to earn his first victory in the show – against Ottawa. The karma is superb.

When was the first time you heard the name James Reimer? Was he announced at the Ricoh Coliseum as the game’s starting goaltender? Perhaps it was in discussion between personalities on LeafsTv following his fantastic pre-season outing? Maybe you were the first to use ‘Optimus Reim’ when talking about the Manitoba goaltender amongst your friends.

Now, when will you first speak with him?

Real Sports Apparel. Tuesday, 5pm. Hint hint.

Your buddy,

26th, 2011

Breaking Records and Taking Names
(Photos courtesy of Twitter's @MarliesLens)

Everyone wants to be part of a record being broken.

I grew up trying to hold my breath longer than my dad and attempting to drive a golf ball further than my brothers. I’ve also tried to eat seven crackers in 60 seconds – and failed (miserably, might I add).

The desire to be a part of something bigger and better is buried deep within the mind driving us all whether it’s at sports, at music or at work.

Since this is a trait I know we all share, I would like to congratulate all those who joined me at a Marlies game this past season. Yupp, that’s right – we broke a record!

The Marlies 2010-11 campaign saw more fans come through Ricoh than ever before. Toronto saw an increase of approximately 600 fans per game over last year and nearly a thousand more than the season prior to that. Due directly to the fans strong and loyal support, the Marlies attendance ranked higher than the affiliate clubs of four of the Leafs five Canadian competitors; Hamilton (MTL), Oklahoma City (EDM), Abbotsford (CAL) and Binghamton (OTT).

I brought this to the players thinking I had a little-known fact I could surprise them with and capture first reactions. Little did I know they had been aware of the increased crowds all season – I guess you have to wake up a little earlier if you want to pull a fast one on a hockey player.

“I’ve been here for two years now and I actually noticed a huge difference with the crowd. It seemed that we had a lot of really packed nights and a steady fan flow through the year,” said the recently re-signed Ryan Hamilton. “Speaking from a player, the game feels more exciting and you have that added energy to want to perform harder. It makes the game exciting. It’s not just the players on the ice, the fans become involved and they have an effect on the game.”

When asked what message he wanted to convey to all those that came out for a game Simon Gysbers started off simply, “the fact that we notice.” The rearguard elaborated by saying “players feed off the fans, the fans energy. We feel it when there’s a really big crowd.”

I don’t believe there was any better example of this than the team’s final game of the season. Marcel Mueller registered three goals and five points, Jussi Rynnas nails the shutout and Greg McKegg nets his first pro goal all in a 6-0 bludgeoning of the Abbotsford Heat in front of a little fewer than 7,000 fans.

Rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner noticed the crowd, impressing me with the fact that he remembered the attendance numbers, “when there’s 7000 there [against Abbotsford] that’s pretty cool, pretty special to play in front of that many people.”

“You need fans in your home building to excite your players and when we’ve been here and had great crowds – and our guys have noticed the increase in attendance this year – it’s hard not to be up for the game,” said the Marlies bench boss, Dallas Eakins. “You’re coming in, you’re playing your third game in two and a half days, you’re tired, you’ve got nothing left and then you go out there and your rink is fairly full, it gives you a little extra boost and that’s important for our organization and for our players.”

Joe Colborne, the towering centre who joined the club late in the season after being acquired from the Boston Bruins, admitted that he didn’t know what to expect from the fans walking in, but was pleasantly surprised with the turnout. “I was in shock at how unbelievable the fans have been, the support, they’re out waiting for us after the games and everyone’s talking and excited. The atmosphere is just electric when we’re on the ice. People talk about home ice advantages and that, I think, is where it all originates – is with the fans.” Every fan counted; every filled seat, every cheer, every clap.

You all helped set a record. Feels good, doesn’t it? Well here comes the catch. I’m challenging you to break it again next season.

After all, everyone wants to be part of a record being broken.

Your buddy,

28th, 2011

Leafs Draft Feeds Marlies

Success in the National Hockey League is more a journey than it is a destination. Those who venture down the long path of professional puck spend countless seasons climbing the ranks through everything from midget to major league, and all that lies between. It is not uncommon for even the most accomplished players to spend time after being drafted bouncing between the NHL and the American Hockey League. And for the nine drafted by the Maple Leafs in Minnesota this past weekend, ones who already have spent countless years forging their way to the top of the pack, still may experience another step or two before cracking the Leafs lineup.

As adjustments to the professional life are made and bad habits are curtailed, the AHL's doors have been opened to developing players for 75 seasons and developed some 87 percent of today's big-leaguers. A look into the Marlies past shows that a little time with the Toronto AHL club may be exactly what the Leafs latest additions have in store.

Leafs draft selections spanning ten years have appeared on the Marlies roster over the team's six year course back in Toronto. With exception to Tuukka Rask who left the organization in a trade, five of the seven first round selections by Toronto in the pst decade ventured through the AHL en route to the NHL club - three having wore the Marlies sweater. With neither Tyler Biggs nor Stuart Percy expected to make the Luke Schenn-esque jump directly to the Leafs, the likelihood of them joining Carlo Colaiacovo (2001), Jiri Tlusty (2006) and Nazem Kadri (2009) as Marlies alumni is high.

Josh Leivo will be in good company if his development carries him through Toronto's AHL club. Twelve players previously selected by the Leafs in the third round have made their way onto the Marlies line card. Dale Mitchell, drafted in 2007, is still with the club and expected to make a larger contribution next season as fellow round three choice Greg McKegg, who scored his first AHL goal in only his second game, completes his career in major junior prior to making the permanent jump to pro.

The Leafs prosperity with translating picks into pros does not end in the early rounds. James Reimer, who at the completion of the 2010-11 season was a household name in Toronto, honed his talents in the AHL after being selected in the fourth round, as did Korbinian Holzer who made his NHL debut with the Leafs this past season. Marlies defender Juraj Mikus was a fifth round selection and recently renewed Leafs blueliner Carl Gunnarsson was selected in the seventh, plenty of reason for Tom Nilsson to be confident in his future professional career.

From rounds six through eight Toronto's AHL system has seen nine players emerge from the prospect pool and continue careers in either the AHL or NHL. Fans can look forward to David Broll, Dennis Robertson and Tony Cameranesi hopefully continuing this trend. Garret Sparks, drafted in the seventh round with Max Everson, is in line to be the first drafted prospect to take net for the Marlies since Reimer - certainly big shoes to fill.

Success for Toronto's latest nine isn't a destination, it is a journey. It is not a journey for the faint of heart or the weak of knees, but one of patience, hard work and constant effort. The Maple Leafs however have created a pattern of success starting at the draft, in all rounds, and continuing straight up through the Marlies. All 2011 picks from Biggs to Everson have before them a path that has been previously traveled, an example to follow. Now all that's left to ask is; who will be the first to make the step?

Your buddy,

Notes: For those curious, the amount of drafted Leafs to enter the Marlies by round are as follows: First - three, Second - three, Third - twelve, Fourth - five, Fifth - three, Sixth - four, Seventh - three, Eighth - one and Ninth - one.

June 17th, 2011

Phaneuf and Schenn Inspire Youth

A musician can not help but smile as they stand on stage and listen to the crowd sing the lyrics back. For Marvel there is likely no greater compliment than when hundreds of mini Spider-Man's fill the streets for Halloween. And for a hockey player, it is the primary association with one or two sewn digits; Bobby Orr's 4, Sidney Crosby's 87 or Wayne Gretzky's number 99.

Imitation is the biggest form of flattery.

With or without a recent post-season, the Maple Leafs' mark on Toronto youth is no different. Proof is in that one moment - the one clearly identified by the wide-eyed, quivering voice and silly grin - when a youngster meets their hero. Within that short moment; a picture, a handshake, the exchanging of a few short words, dreams become reality and ideas for the future take hold.

It was certainly evident on the face of Steve Martin, a 15 year old defenceman for the AA Toronto Blues.

"I looked over and I saw Luke Schenn and Dion Phaneuf, he is one of my biggest heros especially sitting back there on the point - it had me really excited," said Steve. "First thing I saw was Dion Phaneuf's huge shoulders, the guy's built like a rock. Then I looked over at Luke Schenn, and Luke Schenn's pretty built too. The next thing I noticed was there was people around them and they were taking pictures and they were being really nice to people."

It was with this moment in mind that both Phaneuf and Schenn were both invited to join a fitness combine that tested young Toronto athletes between the ages of 13 and 19. The Leafs' involvement resulted in an immediate effect on Steve who had already set his heart on imitating what he had witnessed.

"I find that's probably the most important thing to me playing hockey is if you play pro you have to give back and if you don't you just try to have to go back and help out more in the community."

Both Toronto blue-liners remained for the testing the young athletes underwent; a modified beep test, agility test and standing long jump were among the tasks completed. It was with the goal of instilling proper training habits and growing a culture of encouragement that Toronto's youth were brought together, and the addition of Toronto's Maple Leafs only precipitated this.

"When you got the big-shot NHL guys there you want to go hard and impress them a little bit. But just things like this give you an extra ounce of motivation than you already had," shared Steve. "It's all motivation."

Mia Goldberg, a 14 year old left-winger who splits her time between hockey and speed-skating, was still slightly flustered after having the opportunity to meet her hero, Team Canada women's hockey gold medal winner Tessa Bonhomme.

"My dad got a picture printed for me of her and she signed it and wrote a little message to me of encouragement," said Mia. "I think someone who's very encouraging is good on a team. As a team player, I think encouraging is very important, but also someone as an individual who can persevere and go through anything not just break a stick or swear."

Bonhomme's encouragement to Mia was for her to "dream big," with the explanation that one has to dream big if they hope to go far. With this, Mia immediately started looking ahead.

"She's someone who's definitely gone far in life and she's someone to look up to and she's very positive and hard working person."

"My next goal is hopefully to take this team - we have a couple new girls coming up - so my next goal is to get them to the same level and get us competing at a good rate and then also to get to the provincials."

In that wide-eyed, quivering voice and silly grin moment when youngster meets hero, Bonhomme's encouragement in turn bread encouragement. Phaneuf and Schenn's focus on the community then instilled a desire in a youthful defenceman to play a bigger role off the ice. We all select our heros, and it is encouraging to see those who are imitated for the right reason.

Your buddy,

May 28th, 2011

Restored Rivalry for Earl

Rivalry breeds competition. At its core, this simple but fundamental point of the human spirit is what runs through the veins of an athlete as well as breeds a group of face-painting, jersey-wearing, hair-dying, horn-blowing, I-refuse-to-sit-for-the-final-five-minutes fans. It is what we live for.

Hockey's greatest rivalry exists between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. Few bother to dispute this. And following suit with their parent clubs, the Hamilton Bulldogs were voted by Toronto fans as being the Marlies' most heated rival. Twenty-two contests over the past two seasons between Ontario's only American Hockey League clubs have helped to fuel the enmity burning between the Big Smoke and the Hammer.

"It was a rivalry," said former Marlies' forward Robbie Earl, who recently finished a gruelling Western Conference finals against the Bulldogs as part of the Houston Aeros. "We played here a lot, so my two years there, there's a lot of here-there-here-there."

Houston now returns to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since wining the championship in 2003.

As the Chicago born Earl contends in the AHL championship series for the first time of his career, he uses the Marlies 2007-08 campaign, the club's most successful yet capturing the North division title, as a reflection point.

"That whole year it was fun to be a part of that, I got hurt obviously so I was watching from the stands, but it definitely was something that was a good experience for me but this time around ... I'm a bigger part of it."

Earl's fondest memories with the Toronto organization came forth from that season.

"We won our division. We had great guys. Specific moments in that season; I was able to make it up to toronto, that was very special playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just as a whole, that whole year from the coaching staff to the players were special."

The Toronto forward was traded the following season to the Minnesota Wild organization in exchange for Ryan Hamilton.

Prior to being dealt, Earl registered 3 goals and 10 points against Hamilton during the 21 times he squared-off against the Bulldogs as a member of the Marlies squad. He admitted his personal satisfaction in defeating his former rival as his Aeros moved past the Canadiens affiliate club in seven games, Earl contributing two goals and an assist along the way. "I didn't really like them, I still don't, but it's still the same feeling as when I played for the Marlies," he said reflecting on le bleu-blanc-rouge.

Rivalry breeds competition - in every shift, every period, every game. The Marlies' largest rivalry rests with the Hamilton Bulldogs but for the Aeros, and former Toronto forward Robbie Earl, perhaps they have found a new rival in the Binghamton Senators as the two battle for the right to hoist the Calder Cup.

Catch all the Calder Cup action on AHL Live. The next game is scheduled for Wednesday, June 1st.

Your buddy,

May 18th, 2011

Leafs' Blacker Makes History

With the J. Ross Robertson Cup above his head for the second time, the first coming in 2009 with Windsor, Maple Leafs prospect Jesse Blacker knew that with this victory came something far more special than he had ever earned in the past.

"Making history with this team is awesome," said an out-of-breath Blacker still on the ice with his Owen Sound teammates after winning the Ontario Hockey League title in overtime against Mississauga. "[We're] breaking all the odds - no one actually thought we'd be able to do this."

It was indeed a historic run for the Owen Sound franchise who now will have their names inscribed on the OHL championship trophy for the first time in the team's 22 year history. After completing the regular season with more points (97) and wins (46) than any other Owen Sound team previously, the Attack ventured into the OHL finals as pioneers for the franchise - the team having only once previously made it past the playoffs' second round.

While maintaining his always steady defensive game through the playoffs, Blacker, selected in the second round by Toronto in 2009, upped his own play considerably in the offensive zone. Contributing an impressive 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists), Blacker finished the OHL playoffs second in defensemen scoring behind former Windsor teammate Ryan Ellis.

"We knew we could do it, we always knew we could," Blacker exclaimed when asked about the vibe in the dressing room prior to the game seven overtime. "That's part of the reason we won, we never doubted ourselves."

The championship winning goal came 3:27 into the game's extra frame when an unlikely deflection beat Mississauga netminder JP Anderson.

Blacker will now move onto the Memorial Cup to face the championship teams from the OHL's two sister league's; the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Waiting for redemption will also be the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, who receive a buy into the Memorial Cup as the host team.

Now nearing the conclusion of Blacker's fourth year of major junior, the Toronto born defenseman will be eligible to join the Marlies at the conclusion of training camp next season if he does not stay with the Maple Leafs. Another chance for Blacker to make history.

The Maple Leafs are yet to have an AHL affiliate win the Calder Cup Championship. The Saint John's Maple Leafs came the closest in 1992, losing in the seventh game to the Adirondack Red Wings (an exciting goaltending match-up between future Leaf Felix Potvin and former Leaf Allan Bester).

Blacker hopes that his success in Owen Sound is only a foretaste of championships with Toronto. "That's the plan. Hopefully next year I can make a big impact where ever I play and hopefully it's somewhere pro."

But as the future Leaf skates off to join his teammates he confesses, "but right now I'm going to celebrate this."

Your buddy,

May 4th, 2011

Marlies' Germans Proud to Play

Nothing makes one feel closer to their favourite sports team than donning their jersey. It's true, look in the windows of any of Toronto's fine watering holes and you will see a smattering of folk dressed in blue, proudly displaying the maple leaf crest on their chest, all ready and in uniform at times hours prior to puck drop.

We all have one, be honest. It's a sense of identity, belonging and of true pride.

For those who wear jerseys to work everyday - the same ones who have replaced the usual square-cut dress shoe with a neatly laced skate, dress socks with hockey socks and a neck tie for a fight strap - the pride felt when wearing the colours of the team dearest to them, that of their local team or country, can only be compared to that of the little boy who received an Ovechkin jersey for Christmas (if you haven't seen the video, you're missing out).

"As soon as I knew that [the Marlies] didn't make the playoffs, I just hoped for the call that I can go to the World Championship," said an enthused Korbinian Holzer, the Marlies defenceman who was described by the Marlies Head Coach Dallas Eakins as being the most improved over the course of the season. "As soon as i got it, I was very happy, very proud. I remembered the Olympics last year and the World Championship in Germany." The invitation for Holzer to play in the Worlds marks the fifth time the 23-year-old will wear the black, gold and red of his country on the international stage.

Holzer, along with fellow countrymen and Marlies forward Marcel Mueller, have truly made the most of their opportunity so far at the World Championships.

Building off of last year's fourth place finish, the team's best since medaling in 1953, Germany currently ranks first in their four-team group with wins against all three of their divisional opponents. Their shutout victory over Russia to open the tournament marked the first time Germany had ever defeated the Russians at the World's, and only the second time in IIHF competition at any level.

Holzer leads his teammates with a total 61:33 of ice time. By comparison, the young German has played over ten more minutes than team Canada counterpart Luke Schenn, and less than three minutes fewer than Leafs Captain, and team Canada alternate Captain, Dion Phaneuf. The defensive skills developed on a Marlies team that boasted the AHL's top penalty kill unit has easily carried over, Holzer ranks a plus-2 after three games and has been a part of a unit that has killed penalties at an outstanding 92.3% efficiency.

Mueller has shown his comfort in his return to the international ice surface, registering a goal and an assist in the team's second game, a 4-3 win over Slovenia.

"Every time it's a pleasure to play for your country," were Mueller's modest remarks only a few hours prior to boarding a plane in Toronto to join his German team. Mueller's 44:30 of ice time is ranked fifth among forwards on the team.

Fans of the Marlies' German contigent, most of which are already cheering for the red and white, can be thankful that Holzer and Mueller will not face Phaneuf, Schenn or former teammate James Reimer any earlier than May 11th. Both Canada and Germany have their sights set high and are tooled in a way that could produce a medal for either country if not both. The possibility is very real that the two of them will meet in one of the tournament's final games.

"It makes me proud every time I get the call," said Holzer. "I am really looking forward to playing for my home country and representing it in Slovakia and trying to go as far as we can."

Your buddy,

April 30th, 2011

Welcome to the 2011 Duke Awards!

The funniest part of selecting awards to give away for a six-year-old sports franchise is definitely naming them. That, however, is precisely what I set out to do over the past week. Seven different players will be named in the words below, each for a separate achievement.

When looking through Marlies history in efforts to name these prestigious awards of excellence I was surprised by some most interesting facts. Who knew that the highest scoring rookie to wear a Marlies uniform was Tim Stapleton?

When choosing what to name the title awarded to the team's highest goal scorer, who better fits the title than Johnny Pohl, who earned 36 goals in the team's inaugural season?

Alas, with seven separate distinctions to be awarded and only six years of history, the award names are bound to have a few people scratching their noggin. Bare with me, have some fun and who knows - you might even learn something.

Tim Stapleton Award
Point Leader

The 2008-09 season was Tim Stapleton's first with the Toronto Marlies, it was also his rookie AHL year. Of the 80 game AHL schedule, Stapleton played 70 with the Marlies and appeared in his first four NHL games donning the blue-and-white as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Stapleton's 79 points with the Marlies not only ranks him first among all rookie scorers to dress for the Toronto AHL club, but also edged the previous single-season point record (75) of any skater.

With a team-leading 47 points, it is my very great pleasure to name Mike Zigomanis as the first ever recipient of the Tim Stapleton Award (I must admit, I find it a little funny giving the award to someone a year older than the person the award was named after - but that's beside the point). After spending the first month of the season with the Maple Leafs, Zigomanis re-introduced himself to the Marlies with 3 goals and 9 points in his first six games. He then continued the season, never missing a game, until an upper body injury kept Zigomanis out of the lineup from March 23rd on.

Want to chat with Mike Zigomanis? Perhaps pass along your congratulations on his receiving this esteemed prize? Catch up with Zigomanis on twitter by clicking right --> here.

Johnny Pohl Award
Goal Scoring

If you want to etch your name into the history books of any one team, it always helps when you're spectacular in the club's first ever season. After relocating from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Toronto prior to the 2005-06 season, the Marlies welcomed aboard Johnny Pohl who had played parts of three seasons with the St. Louis organization. In his first season with the Marlies, and the Marlies first season in Toronto, Pohl rallied 36 goals - a marker yet to be broken in the years following.

Despite an injury and two recalls, the very first Johnny Pohl Award is presented to Nazem Kadri. Kadri scored at a near point-per-game pace finishing his AHL season with 41 points in 44 games, collecting a team-leading 17 goals along the way. The talented rookie was indisputably at his hottest right before his final recall to the Maple Leafs when he registered 3 goals and 5 points while on a line alongside Zigomanis.

Kris Newbury Award
Penalty Minutes Leader

After two seasons with with St. John's Maple Leafs, Kris Newbury made the move to Toronto with the franchise that was to be rebranded the Marlies. In his 198 regular season games with the new Toronto AHL club, Newbury accumulated a franchise high 471 penalty minutes, including a single-season high 215 in the team's inaugural year.

Leading the penalty minute pack for the Marlies, and the first ever to earn himself the Kris Newbury Award, Matt Lashoff completed the most recent AHL season with 137 penalty minutes. I know what you're thinking, I couldn't believe it either, but when he four times received 10 or more penalty minutes in a single game it all starts to add up.

Like Zigomanis, Lashoff too has joined the twitter ranks. Perhaps you would like to give him tips on how to write his acceptance speech. If that's the case, you can get in touch with Lashoff --> here.

Colin Murphy Award
Rookie of the Year

Now this is where the debate will likely set in; the awards not based purely on numbers. How fitting is it then that the name of the award itself has had it's fair share of conflict. Many suggestions had been tossed my way as to which Marlies player was the most memorable in their rookie season, but none stood out more than that of Colin Murphy.

Murphy started what would be his rookie year in 2005-06, just as the Toronto Marlies opened up their first season in Toronto. The team's first game, played on the road in Rochester, was an 8-5 loss to the Americans. Amidst the loss and disappointment there was one bright spot glaring more brilliant than an Escalade that had left it's high-beams on, Alberta born Murphy. The 6-foot winger scored not only the first ever Toronto Marlies goal, but the second one as well; truly a note-worthy rookie contribution in the Marlies history books.

It is funny that when giving away the Dukes for the first time, the Colin Murphy Award is presented to one who didn't necessarily post the most points - in fact he made it through the season without scoring a single goal. The 2010-11 award for Marlies top rookie goes out to Ben Scrivens. Scrivens, after moving to Toronto during the 2010 summer, was soon packing his bags again and heading for the ECHL Reading Royals. Upon recall to the Marlies in November, Scrivens earned his very first AHL victory against rival Hamilton, the win being secured by way of the shootout. After James Reimer was recalled to the NHL, Scrivens' play then merited an AHL starting position. He was called upon in a team-leading 15 straight regular season games down the stretch where he kept the opponent to two-or-fewer goals in nine contests. It's hard to stand out much more than that.

A graduate of Cornell University, one can only assume that Scrivens enjoys reading. Feel free to send him some reading material by way of twitter, perhaps to the tune of 'get well soon' as the netminder was injured in his return to the ECHL for the playoffs. Send your well wishes to Ben --> here.

Ian White Award
Breakout Player

Ian White was probably remembered best as a Toronto Maple Leaf for his heart, his passion and his 'stache - it had been quite some time since Toronto had seen a soup strainer that good. As a Marlie, however, White's legacy will be that of overcoming all obstacles and truly breaking out and establishing himself as a legitimate professional ice hockey player. Often criticized as a blueliner for his 5-foot-10 frame, very few believed he had the makings of a regular big-leaguer. Thirty-seven points and 42 penalty minutes over 59 games with the Marlies in 2005-06 proved otherwise. Ian White broke away from the pack and has not returned to the AHL since.

Although many Marlies could be rewarded for establishing themselves with the Leafs throughout the season, it was the play of Wisconsin native Josh Engel, who is yet to play his first NHL game, that truly stood out. After starting the season with the Reading Royals, Engel quickly moved back up to the AHL to play with the Marlies doing anything to stay in the lineup - including playing several games as a forward (a striking similarity to White). Engel finished the season with 11 goals ranking him seventh on the club and crushing his previous personal best of four. It is for his hard work and stand-out play that Engel has earned the newly named Ian White Award.

If you have stayed with us up until this point, I urge you to continue. I promise there are only two more left.

Marc Moro Award

Marc Moro, the Toronto Marlies first captain, retired from hockey in 2007 after six seasons with the blue-and-white. Moro lead both Ben Ondrus and Alex Foster, who would wear the 'C' after his departure. His leadership is still spoken about years after he has left as he acted as the heart-beat of the team through highs and lows.

It is interesting to note as we award a player for being the heart-beat of the team, that he at one time struggled with an irregularity in the beat of his own heart. Last year Ryan Hamilton underwent heart ablation surgery to correct a minor disorder, and despite missing 33 games he lead the team with 16 goals at the conclusion of the season. Hamilton suffered setbacks in 2010-11 as well as he sat for a lengthy period as the result of a knee injury. Hamilton again posted 16 goals, including seven goals in the final seven games of the season, to finish one back of the team leader. Forever commended by Head Coach Dallas Eakins for his work ethic, and by his teammates for his leadership, there can be no better choice than Hamilton when picking the first winner of the Marc Moro Award.

Now here it is, the last one of the year.

Joey MacDonald Award

I recall a story Eakins told me in the off-season about how Joey MacDonald's back was at times so injured, and the netminder was in so much pain, that he had trouble walking in and out of the dressing room. In speaking to the Pictou, Nova Scotia, born goalie, you would never suspect any discomfort. MacDonald greeted everyone with a smile and a handshake. Regardless of the team's success or short-comings, MacDonald was determined to stay positive in his own game and the future success of the team.

I'm just going to get this out of the way because it really should come as no surprise to anyone - the player named for his outstanding character, the recipient of the Joey MacDonald Award is none other than James Reimer. Described as the gosh-gee-golly kid, Reimer's appreciation for his lot in life has never wavered, allowing the small-town country boy to maintain an ever-positive attitude. Reimer's smile is infectious, and his light-heart is refreshing for all who encounter him. Although my pocket-book is thin and I couldn't get my superiors to spring for any real trophies, with the impressive stats Reimer put up with the Maple Leafs, I am sure he is not too far off from receiving some real hardware in the not too distant future.

There ya have it folks, seven new awards and seven first-time recipients. I could have just named seven special players, scrapping the whole award idea and likely the blog would have been much smaller, but it would have been no where near as fun.

With 12 months to plan the second annual Duke awards, I have plenty of time for reader input - especially when it comes to the naming of the awards. With no comment feature in the blog, I hope you'll have to track me down on Twitter or Facebook to share your thoughts. Let me know which award names were fitting, which weren't, or perhaps what player from this most recent Marlies season may have been left off my list that you think was deserving of an award.

Look forward to hearing from you. Now get off your computer and go enjoy the sun.

Your buddy,

April 23rd, 2011

Class Dismissed

It has been nearly two weeks since the Toronto Marlies played their last game and the book was closed on the 2010-11 regular season. My year, however, did not end before experiencing one final first. A new occurence that I admit I had hoped would have been delayed just a little while longer.

As the players packed their bags, cleaned out their lockers and headed off for the summer, there I sat in the hallway outside the team's Ricoh dressing room for the end-of-season interviews.

The Marlies team, which I had spent the season watching enter the dressing room in suits and exit in full hockey uniform, were near-unrecognizable. Christian Hanson was decked out in quite the fashionable peacoat and Puma hat while Danny Richmond, with his backward baseball cap, was a little more laid back in a white t-shirt and grey zippy.

One-by-one, players signed two tables worth of sticks and then collected a DVD that had been compiled by the Marlies' staff. Teammates chatted back and forth about summer plans, some making preliminary arrangements to meet or train together.

It mirrored, almost perfectly, those moments at the end of the school year when you entered the highschool halls for the last time before summer vacation. The cleaning out of the locker, mine always taking a little longer than most, the signing of yearbooks and exchanging of phone numbers.

Having spent time together almost every day, both on and off the ice, from September to the summer break, a group of friends were heading their separate ways. It took until the very last day to realize how close this group had really come.

"We had such a good group of characters in the dressing room, and I'm going to miss those guys," confessed Richmond. "Everyone's a good person here, and we all got along really well. I think all of our quirkiness kind of rubbed off on each other, and it's just a fun group to be around."

As the team filed through their LeafsTV interviews, many pointed to the same turning point of the season that marked the team's coming together.

"I think that one roadtrip we went on … we went all over the East coast, and that's a real defining moment for our team and we came together really hard," shared Mike Brennan. "i think we could have done a lot of damage in the playoffs with the group of guys that we had - i think it's hard to find. Every day guys came in that room happy to be there, happy to come to work, happy to practice."

Team members Marcel Mueller and country-mate Korbinian Holzer, newcomers Jake Gardiner and Tyler Brenner as well as staples Joe Colborne and Jussi Rynnas, all will have the chance to rekindle the friendship and chemistry developed this past season as they will return to compete once again side-by-side. Building on the highlights they each experienced together off the ice.

For the rest of us, the one's who were not on the bus or in the dressing rooms, we point to the on-ice play for our favourite moments of the season. I compiled my Top-10 plays of the year, and I wrapped them all up in a pretty little package in the video below - consider it a parting gift.

With a lot of time to kill between now and the Marlies next home game (I'm already counting down) I would love to hear your top plays of the club's season. Perhaps a favourite goal, monster hit, stellar save or sweet setup. Hit me up with your season highlights on Facebook (click here).

Enjoy your summer, and keep in touch.
I'll try my best to do the same.

Class dismissed.

Your buddy,

April 3rd, 2011

Cross-Over Crosses Off Marlies Playoff Hopes

Amidst their longest dry spell, only four points over the course of nine games, punctuated by a loss at home against division rival Manitoba on Sunday, the Toronto Marlies playoff hopes have now extinguished. With 81 points, ranking them fifth in the North division, and only three games left, the Marlies are now left without an opponent to catch in the Calder Cup playoff race.

With their victory over the Marlies on Sunday, the Manitoba Moose have become the first North division team to clinch a berth in the post-season. Manitoba sits 12 points ahead of the Toronto's Marlies. Out of reach as well are the Hamilton Bulldogs and Lake Erie Monsters, both of which have crossed the 90-point threshold and out of the reach of Toronto, who can finish the season with no more than 87 points.

The only opponent left within striking distance of Toronto is fourth-placed Abbotsford. In a perfect world this would count as enough to gain entry into post-season play.

Unfortunately for the seven-team North division, the AHL cross-over from the West division has imposed a threat on the utopian concept of four North clubs competing for the championship.

The 30-team American Hockey League is divided into two conferences, each of which has two divisions - one contains seven teams, and the second eight. In efforts to keep a level playing field for all teams in the division-based playoff seeding, the AHL has stipulated that in the event that the fifth placed club of an eight-team division has more points than the fourth placed club of the seven-team division, then the team would be permitted to cross-over into the opposing division, usurping the playoff berth.

In the Marlies case, the West division's Oklahoma City Barons sit fifth in the West with 87 points, six better than Toronto and five ahead of Abbotsford. Even if the Marlies were to earn their remaining six available points and the Barons were to lose all outstanding games - putting the two teams into a tie - the playoff position would still be granted to the Barons as they would finish the season with more non-shootout wins than Toronto's team.

Although undoubtedly frustrated by the their shortcomings late in the season, the Marlies players and coaching staff can take pride in the incredible development and progression of many of it's original roster.

James Reimer, Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb, Jay Rosehill, Keith Aulie, Nazem Kadri and Matt Lashoff, all who started the season within the AHL ranks, have moved on to a seemingly steady roll on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rookies Korbinian Holzer and Marcel Mueller both made their debuts in the NHL during the season, while the more seasoned Luca Caputi and Christian Hanson also spent time wearing the white-crested Leaf jersey.

The Maple Leafs organization, although not walking away this season with a Calder Cup, seems to have bolstered the franchise in a much-more valuable way.

Your buddy,

March 25th, 2011

There's No Place Like Home
(photos courtesy of griffinshockey)

He is a few days shy of his 23rd birthday, he has just signed his first professional hockey league contract and iced the cake by kicking off his first game with a pair of goals.

Despite all of the excitement Tyler Brenner, the latest addition to the Maple Leafs prospect list and the Toronto Marlies roster, admitted "The city is a nice change for once, but there is no place like home."

Brenner, a native of Ontario's town of Linwood, was not short of words when he spoke of his hometown - he perhaps even offered more words than the town has residents.

"There's maybe 500 people there," said Brenner with a smile. "It doesn't even have a stop light."

"It's quite the place to grow up in. It's a hockey town for sure," said the 6-foot-2 winger. "It's nice being close to home."

Being close to home was a theme often repeated by Brenner, who was hard pressed to hide the excitement of signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that he had spent his childhood watching. Although presented with offers from two other NHL clubs at the same time Brian Burke and Dave Poulin invited Tyler to join the Maple Leafs, Brenner confessed that making the decision to chose the blue-and-white was an easy one.

Brenner's father had spent years idolizing Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and the Boston Bruins. When Tyler decided to turn down an offer from the Boston Bruins and instead sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he boasted that his parents could not be happier.

"My dad and my mom were just as excited, they didn't care where I was but it was nice for them to be close to home. It was good, close to all my friends and my family and my girlfriend's family."

In fact, when reminded of his father's previous allegiance to the Boston club, Brenner hurriedly answered "it didn't even come into the back of my mind." The rookie forward still spoke highly of the Bruins adding "I was there at camp. They're a greet organization too."

Brenner spent his last four years at the Rochester Institute of Technology south of the border. While attending R.I.T. he also attended the Boston Bruins summer camp. It is there that he met former Bruins prospect, and present Marlies forward, Joe Colborne.

"Brenner and I went to the Bruins summer camp last year, so I kind of new him already coming in," indulged Colborne.

"It's nice coming in here knowing somebody" shared Brenner, who admitted to being nervous when he first joined the club.

Centring a line with both Brenner and Fabian Brunnstrom (Brenny and Brunny), Colborne has a unique perspective of how his new line-mate will improve his own game.

"He does a great job at not tying up the D-man but really he takes all their focus off us. So if I can then beat my guy off the wall, or if Brunny and I can run a give-and-go, or if Brunny beats his guy, then all of a sudden we have space to make a play."

"I love having him down low and then popping out in front of the net."

The trio of Brunnstrom, Colborne and Brenner will for the first time act as the Marlies top powerplay unit, as well as combine for Dallas Eakins' top line combination as Toronto hosts the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday at Ricoh Coliseum.

There's no place like home.



Brunnstrom - Colborne - Brenner
Hamilton - Foster - Hanson
Cowan - Caruana - Scott
Engel - Acton - Voros


Gardiner - Holzer
Mikus - Gysbers


Ben Scrivens - Jussi Rynnas

Your buddy,

March 10th, 2011

Scrivens' Getting the Opportunity
(Photos courtesy of Twitter's @MarliesLens)

As the lights come up at Ricoh Coliseum and the players take to the ice, the arena air is filled with a track from a well known Michigan-born artist. 'If you had one shot, or one opportunity,' a fitting lyric as goaltender Ben Scrivens leads the Toronto team onto the ice.

It is the feel-good story of the year that, if made into a motion-picture, would make an excellent addition to anyone's DVD collection.

"I'm in the same situation as [James] Reimer where we didn't really expect to be here, but he and I are just trying to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to us," expressed Scrivens in his usual, positive tone when compared to the ever-steady Reimer who made the jump from the AHL to the NHL this season.

After going undrafted and spending four years at Cornell University Scrivens signed with the Maple Leafs and was later assigned to the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League at the conclusion of training camp. Scrivens headed for Pennsylvania with an appreciation for the opportunity to be under contract with an NHL organization, regardless of which league he was presently playing in.

"I came into this season not really having expectations about 'I want to play here, I want to play this amount of games in one spot or another,'" stated Ben. "I just went where I was told and played the best I could where I was told." Scrivens dropped three of his first four with Reading, but then went on to win his next nine.

As the story continues to unfold, Scrivens' hard working attitude opens yet another door earning Ben his next opportunity. After a short recall without a start during the Marlies' Royal road trip, Scrivens would be granted his first AHL start on November 20th against Toronto's biggest rival, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Scrivens would earn a victory in his very first start, a 4-3 decision awarded after a seven-round shootout.

Scrivens seized every opportunity from then on, helping the club earn points in six of his next seven starts. Injuries to J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson saw Scrivens, who started the season in the ECHL, dress for the Toronto Maple Leafs, backing up former Marlie, Reimer.

Upon returning to the AHL, an injury to Jussi Rynnas would place Scrivens in the lead-chair for the first time. Required to start four straight games leading up to Tuesday's home contest mentioned at the onset, Scrivens lead the team to five of a possible eight points, picking up a shutout along the way.

It is apropos that Scrivens' victory over Rockford on Tuesday, his fifth straight start, would come in a similar fashion as his first, by way of the shootout. For Tuesday would be a landmark game for the Spruce Grove, Alberta, native. In order to be counted among the league's leaders, a netminder must cross 1260 minutes played. The overtime period versus Rockford placed Scrivens at 1265.

"I didn't really know about that," Scrivens said with a grin that rivalled a child's at Christmas. Modesty quickly set in, "we're focussed on wins here… it's more just a watermark than anything."

Scrviens' first 1265 minutes of professional hockey play at the AHL level has seen the netminder stop 929 of every 1000 shots, ranking his save percentage third among all AHL netminders and first among rookies. His goals against average (2.23) is ranked sixth overall, and second among rookies behind only Eddie Lack the leading goaltender for the Manitoba Moose - a team that has allowed 24 fewer goals so far this season.

To add to his accomplishments, Scrivens tenth victory lifted him past Reimer to lead the team in the win category. And with a tremendous season in both the ECHL and AHL comes reward.

Tuesday morning, prior to the netminder reaching the 1260 minute milestone, the AHL released the Clear Day rosters. Each team is required to name a 22 man roster for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs with additions allowed only in the result of an injury, recall or suspension, or of those players finished their regular season with their respective junior or college team. Listed as one of the two netminders for Toronto was Ben Scrivens, solidifying his place on the Marlies for the remainder of the season.

But for those who spend their Saturday afternoon's in the company of the big screen and padded seats of their local movie theatre, or ones who have extended their DVD collection to the point of rivalling the neighbourhood video store, you will know that the protagonist never remains content with what they have already accomplished.

"What we are really focussed on here is the playoffs, and getting wins in and points every single night. That's where my focus lies and that's where it'll lie for the rest of the year," Scrivens remarked looking ahead.

"It's great that I'm getting an opportunity here,"

***That's it for today. Marlies are in Rochester tonight in preparation for tomorrow's game against the Amerks. The club will return home Saturday to face the Lake Erie Monsters, and will finish off their three-in-three Sunday at home against the Texas Stars. Luca Caputi traveled with the team to Rochester, and Coach Eakins alluded to Christian Hanson and Marcel Mueller possibly returning this weekend.***

Your buddy,

February 22nd, 2011

The New Kid on the Block

It's Tuesday morning. Three days and two games have passed since Joe Colborne first joined the Toronto club but it's not until now that he practices with the team for the first time.

No pressure at all.

"Obviously there were some nerves in the first few shifts," Colborne exclaimed after his first game.

It took the towering centre only 27:12 of playing time to net his first tally for Toronto, a goal sweetened by the fact that it was scored in front of a home town crowd of just over five thousand, one of which was father.

"It's pretty neat to put on the blue and white after you see them pretty much every week on hockey night in Canada growing up," added Colborne, a Calgary native, in that same first interview. "My dad's a huge fan, he's from Sarnia. He was in the stands tonight and I'm sure he's pretty proud right now."

Big Joe, as fans have already began calling him, scored a second goal  during the shootout of his first game. His stature may be big, but his hands are soft. Even though goals scored in the AHL's tie-breaker are not counted with regular season stats, and those reading the game sheet may not see it as anything spectacular, the heart's of those watching were immediately turned in favour of the 6-foot-5 forward and all questions remaining regarding the trade that brought him here were removed. (If you missed the goal, I included it below… it's a doozy)

In game number two Colborne combined on the powerplay with the Marlies other top-prospect, Nazem Kadri, for the team's first goal. Kadri would add one later in the game, then Colborne would add his second.

That had me thinking; both Colborne and Kadri play at centre, both are in their first year pro and both are looking up to the NHL. Seated next to each other in the dressing room, are we seeing the beginning of some friendly competition?

"Yeah, absolutely," was Kadri's immediate response when asked. "He pushes me, and I push him."

In only two games, Colborne and Kadri stats total for five goals, six points and eight shots. Keep pushing.

"I'm hoping we're going to be teammates for a long time," added Kadri.

And at this rate, so do we.

Colborne stepped into the Marlies lineup after missing only the first contest of an eight-game home stand, leaving Toronto fans plenty of opportunity to see the blossoming forward. With the recent success of the team paired with the return of Jonas Gustavsson to the AHL club to complete his conditioning stint, all in attendance will certainly receive fair return for their ticket.

Meet Me at the Marlies!
(glove tap to @MarliesLens for the picture)



Hamilton - Foster - Scott
Cowan - Colborne - Brunnstrom
Mueller - Zigomanis - Hodgman
J. Mitchell - Kadri - Voros
Hanson - Caruana - D. Mitchell


Lashoff - Gysbers
Richmond - Brennan
Engel - Holzer


Jonas Gustavsson - Andrew Engelage - David Brown

Your buddy,

January 21st, 2011

The Boys are Back in Town

I really don't mind the long journey to MasterCard Centre, it gives me time to catch up on the previous evening's tweets. Today though held extra reason for excitement - the Marlies took to the ice at MCC for the first time in 2011.

The team arrived back at home yesterday after a nine game, 21 day, road trip that saw them depart December 30th for Grand Rapids. Without missing a beat, the Marlies were worked hard in practice this morning in preparation for back-to-back home games this weekend against Peoria and Houston.

It was a reunion of such, not only for myself, but also for many of the players. Jeff Finger met with the team prior to practice, although unable to join them on the ice. Taking part in today's drills for the first time since November was Greg Scott, the energetic forward who was on pace for a career offensive season before being sidelined with a high ankle sprain following a community practice in November.

Alex Foster, who returned home midway through the trip with an infected hand, also joined the club on the ice alongside Ryan Hamilton who has missed all but two games since early November. Marcel Mueller, who played three games with the Maple Leafs on a recent recall in place of the suspended Mike Brown, returned to the Marlies today as well.

Dallas Eakins was unsure who, if any, would be off the injured list prior to this weekends matches, but did say "I'm fingers crossed that after the All-Star break that we [have] basically our team back." Good news for a Marlies squad who has been riddled with up to eight regulars out on injury for any given game so far in 2011.

Interesting to note, the Marlies are still carrying three goaltenders, as James Reimer, Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens all worked with Francois Allaire this morning.

For those curious, both home games this weekend will be televised. Be sure to catch the Marlies versus Rivermen Saturday at 3:00pm on RogersTV, and Toronto versus Houston on Sunday at 5:00pm on LeafsTV.

Here are the five lines rolled out in today's practice, as well as defensive pairings (with all the bodies, it reminded me of camp again).

(asterisk denotes additional player)

Cowan - Zigomanis - Brunnstrom | *Foster
Mueller - Hanson - Kadri
Rosehill - Irwin - D'Amigo
Hamilton - Slaney - Greenop | *Scott
Engel - Caruana - Mitchell


Richmond - Brennan
Aulie - Holzer
Lashoff - Gysbers


Reimer - Rynnas - Scrivens

That's all I have for you now. If you're at either of the games this weekend, be sure to tweet at me (@chansler) so I can come say hello.

Your buddy,

January 18th, 2011

Injuries, and Recalls, and Bears - Oh My!

Okay, I lied. There are no bears, I just liked the Wizard of Oz reference.

Today I looked back at the Marlies roster from their season opener against the Rochester Americans - I barely recognized it. Greg Scott, Darryl Boyce, Ryan Hamilton, Nazem Kadri, Joey Crabb, Luca Caputi, Alex Foster and Marcel Mueller all played in season's first contest for the Marlies. None will dress tonight as Toronto faces Manitoba.

In fact, when this original roster was put together, there was not yet a need for Justin Hodgman who too is injured. On October 9th, the date of the contest versus the Amerks, Jeff Finger had yet to be assigned to the AHL Marlies - where he succumb to back spasms in December that has left him sidelined since.

The graduation to the National Hockey League is part of a natural progression, and signs that the development system Toronto has in place is working. That said, I must admit it has been with mixed feelings that I have watched Crabb, Boyce and Mueller leave, all of which are tremendous contributors to the Marlies club.

Excuses are a plenty if the Marlies were ever in search of them.

There is however, as often can be found, a silver lining. Just as the Wizard of Oz's Dorothy found her answer by completing her journey, so too the Marlies have found their identity by staying this rocky, injury-riddled, course.

Team Work. Although Toronto is approaching 150 man-games lost due to injury, the Marlies completed the first half of the AHL season on pace for 90 points and sitting third in the North Division, good for a playoff berth.

Determination. Of the 43 games played up by the Marlies this season, they have been outshot by their opponent 25 times (doesn't sound so great, does it). Of the 25 times the Marlies have been outshot, only eight of those games have resulted in a regulation loss. With 15 wins and two shootout losses, the Marlies waded through the offensive attacks of opponents, determined to secure at least a point.

True Grit (much more than just a movie title). There are only 10 teams that have played in more one-goal games than the Marlies. This was something Head Coach Dallas Eakins expected going into the season. But of those 10 clubs, only three have registered more points than the Marlies, and just two sit in a better position in their respective division.

I was once told that one of the best coaching tactics was the "us against the world" mentality. Nothing sparks the competitive side of an athlete more than knowing that they're up against all odds. For team sports, the same scenario creates near unbreakable bonds between players. And it is those same tight bonds, the deep kinship between teammates, that can drive a team deep into the playoffs.

I don't like to make predictions, but contemplating where the Marlies will be when their offensive assets return spurns many exciting thoughts.

Speaking of offensive talents - how about Fabian Brunnstrom? Three points in his first two games with the Marlies. If you haven't had the opportunity to see it yet, here is Brunnstrom's first interview with LeafsTV after being acquired in a trade for Mikhail Stefanovich.

That's it for now. Will be back soon, but for now I have to get ready for the Marlies & Moose.

Your buddy,

December 24th, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Regardless of what you celebrate during this time of year, we all have reason to be joyful - it's not every day that we get time off work. Like all of us, the Marlies too have three days off to take in the newly fallen snow, visit with family and wake up ready to open the sometimes funny, but often thoughtful gifts tucked under a decorated tree.

I have never been one to write out a wish list. I am yet to address an envelope to the North Pole, or whisper my wants into the red man's ear. That was, until today. Though I refuse to sit on anyone lap - I am finally ready to provide five things, all of which I would be happy to see come December 25th, or shortly thereafter.
(it's all team related… of course)

#5: Fewer Penalties

The Marlies 711 penalty minutes equates to almost 12 full games spent in the box, more than one third of the 33 games played to date this season, third highest in the AHL. And though Toronto can be proud of their 84.6% kill rate when short a player, the goal should not to be short at all.

#4: Powerplay

Toronto is able to score on only one of every seven powerplays. The 13.5% rate of success has the Marlies powerplay as one of the lowest in the AHL, ranking 25th. Even more disturbing is the eight shorthanded goals allowed against, second highest only to Rochester.

#3: Greg Scott

Dearest Mister Clause, please grant Greg Scott a clean bill of health.

  An offensive force on the penalty kill, a source of energy while playing five-on-five, and on pace to surpass last season's offensive performance, to say the team misses Scott would be an understatement. In fact Scott's linemates, Darryl Boyce and Jay Rosehill, were also on pace for career AHL offensive numbers before the injury. On the team's annual November road trip, the line had become Head Coach Dallas Eakins' favourite to start each and every game.

#2: November's Jussi Rynnas

During the month of November, Rynnas was 5-2-0-1 and allowed only 13 goals against over 10 appearances in net. With a few days of rest, relaxation and warm food, the man the team calls Juicey should be ready to impress.

#1: A Win Against Hamilton on Sunday

Hamilton has taken four of the six meetings between the two clubs thus far and sit atop the North division with 42 points, six ahead of the Marlies. Toronto's 36 points have them tied with Abbotsford for the division's second spot with a game in hand, a game that will be played against the Bulldogs on Sunday. It will also be one of three remaining home games before Toronto leaves for a nine game, 21 day road trip.

To the team, all of my hockey friends and to those who are reading but I have yet to meet, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays. I'll leave you with a short Ben Scrivens pack - he has been tremendous when on recall from Reading.

Your buddy,

December 16th, 2010

Man Cave'ing

A caveman. Mister bare-essentials.

His man cave knew nothing of corning-ware or curial cabinets. His view of the outdoors was not impeded by fancy, multi-layered drapery, and his bed was not covered with multiple pillows he never intended on using. His meals consisted of meat - and that's it. No garnish, no entrees and definitely no seasoned squash.
The times may have changed, but the man hasn't. After thousands of years, what has been deemed "the essentials" of a Man's Cave are exactly the same. Nick knows.

Nick moved into the Real Sports Man Cave Monday morning at 8:00am. He is on day four of eight, and it's safe to say the cave has transformed from the perfectly designed den it once was and now looks more like my place, and the place of thousands of single-dwelling males across North America - perfect!

A quasi-neat pile of clothes lay in the corner. A dish of nachos from a lunch four hours previous still sits on the table - all the cheesed-up chips having been eaten, leaving only the bare ones to bask in the open air. The bed has been made, sort of; if you consider sheets-covering-the-pillow as made, then yes, the bed is made.

It is the ultimate cave for the modern day man, and as I went around the Nick's dwelling it surprised me how few elements have changed from that of our homo-erectus predecessor.

The Club: That which was once comprised of poorly sculpted wood is now cast from only the finest and strongest of alloys. The modern, slimmer club also sits in it's own bag - a bag that can hold several other clubs if the man so chooses.

The Fire: Once created by violently bashing two rocks together, Nick's fire is attained in a much easier fashion. A click of the button on the RogersTV PVR displays a comfortable fire brightly on the 55" LG LED TV. The modern cave fire may be a little cooler while on, but Nick also doesn't have to worry about stepping on stray coals when he wakes up in the morning.

The Meat: Nothing has changed here. The mating of man and meat is as old as life itself. Possibly the simplest of all meals came by way of warming raw meat over a hot fire thousands of years ago. No different is the process in today's Real Sports Man Cave meal - a healthy cut of beef cooked over the fire of the newly opened e11even restaurant.

It was all there - and for this cave man, it was all that was needed.

Sound sweet, doesn't it? Well, it is - and it can all be yours (maybe not the steak - it was devoured in only the most primitive of ways). The TV, the Rogers PVR, the TaylorMade clubs and the rest of the items stuffed inside the Man Cave are being given away at the end of this, all you have to do is enter (despite all my begging, I am not allowed).

If you're interested in previewing your upcoming TV, or any of the other items up for graves in the Real Sports Man Cave, I can't encourage you enough to stop by.

That's right, you can join Nick inside his cave and perhaps throw around the football, or play some PS3. With the Leafs game on Thursday night, the Raps playing Friday, Marlies on the tube Saturday and then Sunday football - you have all the reason in the world to head down.

First thing I did in the man cave - shot some hoops. If you head down, hit me up on twitter (@chansler) and let me know the first thing you did.

If you can't make it down to Real Sports to check it all out, you can watch Nick live on the Cave Cam - you'll likely see me there at least one more time.

I leave you with a vid of Nick's Man Cave tour, enjoy.

Your buddy,

December 10th, 2010

Idle Time

I'm not a fan of the road trips.

Don't get me wrong, I know why they have to happen, but it doesn't mean I have to like them.

I miss the practice, the arena food, the live action and the loud music in the dressing room after the game.

With the added time, though, I am trying to appreciate some of the finer details of the league. I have immersed myself in the origins of the AHL's 30 teams; for instance, did you know that the recently renamed Connecticut Whale is the sixth reincarnation of the Providence Reds that were formed in 1936.

I have also been trying to examine the cities (on paper, not in person… yet) that have supported the American Hockey League continually despite various franchise and affiliation changes. New Haven, Connecticut, although not currently home to an AHL franchise, has housed the AHL Eagles (twice), Ramblers, Nighthawks, Senators and most recently the Beast of New Haven (1997-99).

I have read some of the worst team names, and seen the best logos while looking through the league's history.

The AHL has provided 75 years of hockey, it's hard not to appreciate that. As a point of comparison; the NBA was formed in 1946, the first Super Bowl was played in 1967 - and don't even ask me to name all the countries that have been founded since 1936 (the AHL's first year).

So I guess my lesson for the day is… if you're bored, there's always something to read!

For those who history is not really their forte, I've included something for you as well. In a recent post-game interview, James Reimer told LeafsTV the story behind the interesting attire he was wearing. Although asked as an off-the-cuff question, the answer ended up being quite great. Check it out in the video below.

According to Captain Alex Foster on twitter (@Alex23Foster) the Marlies are bowling in Cleveland today trying to lift the spirits after two tough losses. Toronto will take on the Lake Erie Monsters at the Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday at 7:30pm - a game we can all listen to on

Between now and the next time we talk, feel free to send me your favourite tidbit of AHL history on twitter (@chansler) - I might even share it in my next blog.

Your buddy,

December 2nd, 2010

New News...

Is 'New News' redundant? For that matter, any idea where the word 'News' came from?

If so, let me know.

But on to more important things. The Marlies skated today at Ricoh Coliseum, and it served as my first look at some new line combinations. Josh Engel has moved up to play forward on the Zigomanis line in absence of Joey Crabb. Greg Scott was not on the ice, Barts had told me he went down funny along the boards at the team's community practice on Tuesday evening. In his place another defenceman, Mike Brennan, had been fitted into the left wing position on the Boyce line (full line combos towards the bottom).

One of the highlights of the season came when I was given the chance to chat quickly with James Reimer about his new mask. Reimer was kind enough to let me snap a few pics for all of you. Reimer's anxious to play, and I have a feeling he'll put on quite a show this weekend.

Reimer also said he enjoyed practicing with the Leafs during his recent call-up, but the shots came at him a lot harder - no kidding, just ask Mike Brown.

Ryan Hamilton skated prior to the team practice. That was the first time I have seen him on the ice since his injury early on the team's long November road trip. Hamilton had six points and 17 shots on goal over 11 games before getting hurt. After the skate he said he felt pretty good - hopefully that's sign of a speedy recovery.

Before I sign off, I have a video to leave you with. @CarrollThorpe wanted to ask Jussi Rynnas why is it he skates out to between the face-off circles and stares at his net during television timeouts - so I brought the question to Jussi, and here is his answer.

Find me on twitter (@chansler) and send me your questions, and I'll try to get them answered one-by-one in practice. But for now, I'm going to shut my eyes and try to pretend it's not fridgid outside. Oh and before I forget - Meet Me at the Marlies this weekend. We're giving away a pretty nifty Leafs Fan Experience including exclusive access to the pre-game skate, game tickets and a personalized jersey. 


D'Amigo - Zigomanis - Engel
Foster - Hanson - Mitchell
Irwin - Hodgman - Mueller
Brennan - Boyce - Rosehill


Mikus - Finger
Richmond - Gysbers
Lashoff - Holzer

Your buddy,

November 25th, 2010

Trying Something New

I've neglected you recently, I know.

The road trip was absolutely nuts. The ten-game roadie brought the Marlies back home with an astonishing 6-1-0-3 record. It will now go down in history as both the longest trip of the team's five-season history, as well as the most successful (previously registering a total of 12 points in consecutive road games).

Since coming home the Marlies have played 2-1, and now sit in the division's third spot only one point out of second with a quarter of the season behind them. That said, there's still a lot of time left and a heavily competitive division. Only a week ago the North Division was the league's only with all team's above the .500 mark, and presently it remains the only division to have only a single team (Rochester) under .500 (pretty good when you compare it to the East with three teams under).

Trying out a couple new things.

First, it's my new goal to share a game photo - one that I particularly like - with you on a consistent basis. Today's is brought to you by Jay Rosehill.

Wednesday's third period was an all out melee. Rosehill kicked it off with a tilt against Greg Armadio, the Griffins tough guy who had been stirring the pot all game long. Following Rosehill's battle, Danny Richmond, Christian Hanson, Korbinian Holzer, Darryl Boyce, Matt Lashoff, Luca Caputi and Greg Scott all dropped the gloves before the game ended.

Rosehill's second and final fight was against Brandon Straub (pic). After the game Rosehill admitted he didn't want to engage Straub, and only wanted to complete the line change - Straub should have taken the pass, as he ended up leaving the game bloodied after fighting the Marlies enforcer.

My second addition to this space will be to hopefully add video content. I have been privileged enough to attend Marlies practice on a fairly consistent basis - but why keep it to myself?

I have received numerous questions, especially since the Marlies turnaround on the road and Jussi Rynnas' being named Reebok/AHL Player of the Week. Instead of trying to answer your questions, or keep your comments to myself, I am going to bring them along with me to practice and share them with the players. I'll then package each up into a nice little video and put it up for all to see. Sound good?

I realize I risk over-indulging your senses, but here's a vid with Danny Richmond after a few commented about his caffeine habits.

That's all for now. Stay warm.

Your buddy,

October 29th, 2010

Captain Consistent: A Look at Alex Foster

Professor. Doctor. Dad.

A title can say a lot about a person. It can tell of their past; where they have been, what route they have pursued. Or a title can speak of the present; a recent accomplishment, commitment, or victory. But a title never pertains to the future. One isn't named a husband before he is married, or allowed to practice law before passing the exam. A title is only granted to someone who, through some level of consistency, determination and effort, earned it.


One of the most respected titles in hockey. One that speaks of someones skill on the ice, their character in front of the camera, and their interaction with teammates and staff.

One week ago the Toronto Marlies named the team's third-ever Captain since returning to Toronto in 2005-06. Alex Foster is the sole player remaining of the squad that suited up during the inaugural season. He has played under, and alongside, both former Captains, Marc Moro and Ben Ondrus.

"[Moro] was strong," Foster reflects on his first leader, "when he said something every listens."

"Benny [Ondrus] was along the same kinda lines, and I don't fall necessarily in that category," the team's current Captain states modestly. "So I'm just trying to pick up bits and pieces of that so that it will hopefully round me out as a good Captain for the guys." And 'a good Captain for the guys' is precisely what Toronto found in Alex Foster.

"I had to live in his apartment with [Tyler] Bozak and [Viktor] Stalberg our first summer up here and he's kinda crazy," Christian Hanson jokes of his team's leader, "i think they'd probably make a movie out of him as a landlord but as a guy he's great."

"He always leads by example. You can watch him on any shift, powerplay, penalty kill, even strength and he's out there giving one-hundred percent," added Hanson on a more serious note.

Foster's reputation of taking the team's newer players under his wing, whether they are new to the league or just to the city, proceeds him. "He's a great influence," said rookie Jerry D'Amigo. "He's been around the league for a while, he works hard in practice and he's just a great guy for the rookies especially."

D'Amigo, the Binghamton, New York native confesses, "I don't know my way around Toronto, so it helps out."

"I try to stay pretty consistent, I don't want to be the kinda guy where if the coaches are around you're one way and then if they're not you're another," comments Foster about his approach to his teammates off the ice. "Younger guys like [Nazem Kadri], I'm trying to always be in his ear. He's a good friend of mine already and I'm trying to teach him what I know and hopefully it'll develop that much quicker."

Foster certainly has a lot to share with Kadri, and all the other first-time pros. After all, of the eight all-time records a forward could hold with the Marlies, Alex is listed among the top-five for six of them (points, goals, assists, games played, shorthanded goals and game-winning goals) with plenty more gas in the tank.

This too provides yet another testament to Foster's personality. Speaking of Foster's time in Toronto, Darryl Boyce - the longest serving Marlie alongside Foster - said he "knows how to lead by example." But try asking the newly named Captain about his personal accomplishments.

"It doesn't take three guys, or four guys that wear the letters to win games. It's going to take the 20 guys that are playing and they need everyone. If guys aren't going everyone needs to step up in the locker room, on ice, off ice," Foster stated firmly. "It takes 20 leaders to win games, not three, or four, or one."

Alex Foster, of your Toronto Marlies, had a title given him last week, that of Captain. But his role as a leader on the Toronto AHL club stretches much farther back. This title was given to Foster because of his years of hard work, along with his present commitment to the sport and to his teammates. Foster is well liked by his peers, respected by his superiors, and revered by the fans.

More importantly, though, Foster was presented with one of the most respected titles in hockey because, as Alex himself said, "I'm trying to be the same guy that I was last year and the year before, that I am now."

"I try to stay pretty consistent."

Captain Consistent, that's Alex Foster.

Your buddy,

October 14th, 2010

Feeling the Loss

Have you ever been hit right in the gut? Maybe while horsing around with your sibling (trust me, it happens - I have two brothers) or during grade four softball tryouts when an errant line drive catches you right in the sweet spot (no surprise, I had that happen too). Think of that feeling.

Monday, like every game day (all two of them to date), after the final buzzer sounded I made my way down to the dressing room. With the Marlies having just dropped their second straight game, this one being lost in the final few minutes, I had expected the room to be quiet. But as I entered and saw the faces of much of the team still sitting in their stall, that hit-in-the-gut feeling is all I could think of.

Losing's hard for a fan. Losing's near unbearable for a player.

Handling a loss for the first time, and then two in a row, made this past long weekend a completely new experience for me. And as I spoke to the players one-on-one, collected their thoughts on the game, it all hit me.

While millions of people across Canada gathered with their families over their extended time off, the 27 remaining Marlies were hard at work. While families were in their kitchen preparing large turkey dinners on Sunday, the team was in the rink working on powerplays and penalty kills. Hockey is one of the only places in which you can go into work over a long weekend, poor countless hours doing everything you can to prepare, and at the end still be no further ahead of your competition.

As I made my way around the room, that thought was evident on the faces of every player still in their stall, especially Jussi Rynnas.

"They score in the last minutes and you're just thinking about the game in your mind, and thinking what you did wrong," were the sobering thoughts of the netminder Rynnas. "A goalie has to make a big save."

I could see it being a hard balance for players, appreciating the things done well and at the same time giving due attention to the areas that need improvement. While the Marlies put 36 shots on net against Abbotsford, and had their fair share of scoring opportunities, it didn't get them the win.

"Obviously an 0-and-2 start isn't want we wanted, but there's a lot of good things we can build off of and we can't get discouraged," said Matt Lashoff, who scored his first goal of the season against the Heat.

"I always, on that night, think about the game and what I can do better and after that i just forget," Rynnas expressed in practice on Thursday. "I just want to be realistic to what I can do better, then it's over."

Realistically, the team is a lot better than what their 0-2 record lets on. Five posts have been hit between the first two games in which the Marlies have been outscored by only three goals cumulatively. The work ethic is there. The chances are there. The goals will come.

Experiencing back-to-back losses with the Marlies won't go down as one of my most treasured experiences, but it showed me a lot.

Hockey, and sports in general, is a tough business. A win is the only thing that can balance the time and effort a player spends honing their craft - especially over a long weekend. And as hard as the media can be, the best athlete's are their own biggest critic.

As the team completed practice at MasterCard Centre on Thursday with recently assigned defenceman Jeff Finger, the team was positive. With a day of rest and three days of practice, the Marlies are ready to face their Ontario rival, Hamilton, at COPPS Coliseum on Saturday for the Bulldogs home opener.

I'll be deep undercover in Bulldogs territory for the game, so find me on twitter (@chansler) to find out what goes down.

Your buddy,

October 8th, 2010

Making the Tough Decisions

"It's tough," was the sentiments of Christian Hanson.

Most would automatically think that with those words he was referring to his recent assignment to the Marlies.

Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite.

Hanson's comment was directed at watching the roster trimmed of those he had worked alongside in camp. It is tough to know that teammates with whom time had been spent training and preparing for the season would have their hope of starting the season in the AHL cut short.

Cuts are hard, no matter what side of the line you are on.

"It's kind of a bitter sweet position, because as guys go you're a little more closer to securing your job but at the same time you're watching guys that you developed relationships with go," reflected Hanson.

The depth of talent in this year's Maple Leaf organization, from NHL first line right through to AHL fourth, is far greater than any of the previous five season's since AHL hockey made its return to Toronto. Serviceable NHL players will be battling for minutes in the minor league, leaving the AHL'ers competing hard for the remaining spots.

Since training camp opened, the Toronto Marlies have cut nine players. Andrew Engelage, Richard Greenop, Robert Slaney and Matt Caruana have been assigned to the ECHL. Rob Kwiet, Louis Liotti, Kyle Rank, Jared Ross and Kevin Bruijsten on the other hand, have been released from the team and their professional try-out contracts.

The addition of Hanson, along with Nazem Kadri, Luca Caputi, Jay Rosehill and Danny Richmond on Monday and most recently the assigning of Matt Lashoff to the Marlies, means the team still has some trimming yet to do.

"Looking at the roster up and down this year, I think the coach is going to have some tough decisions trying to finalize our roster for opening night," said Hanson.

"They are putting more than enough guys in the organization to not only make the NHL team but to be in the AHL, and make a daily push for not only the guys on the AHL team to stay there, but at the same time for the guys in the NHL knowing that you gotta give more every night because there's a heck of a lot of guys ready to take your spot." And you can believe Hanson, who had improved dramatically over the off-season, is one of those guys ready.

So no, the opening words were not in regards to the organization's depth nor Hanson's resulting assignment to the Marlies, but the following ones are; "that's great."

And what reason does the shutdown forward have for such optimism?

"I think there is more than enough guys on this team that could fill not only an AHL roster, but an AHL roster that can compete to make the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs."

Yeah, cuts are hard - but since when was having too much talent a bad thing?

Your buddy,

October 4th, 2010

September 30th, 2010

Hockey's in the Air - Marlies Camp

Hey Marlies Nation,

Before we start, for those of you who know me; hey, thanks for stopping by! But for the rest that don't, let me introduce myself. I'm Clayton Hansler - but you can call me Chansler.

I have spent the better part of the past two years living and breathing the Toronto Marlies on LeafSpace, and I am now excited to start my first season working from Ricoh Coliseum and MasterCard Centre. I am part of the super-interactive team that includes the Leafs' Monika-with-a-K and Steve Dangle, the Raptors' RaptorSpace Kat and RaptorSpace Akil, and Real Sports' Gail Gabrielle. I will hold up my end by keeping you 'in the know' with the latest Marlies news and acquainting you with the team - well, to the best that I can.

So follow along. I'm going through all this for the first time. Join me on my blog as I see what it's like to follow the hockey club from preseason to playoffs. Go through the season highs and lows, winning streaks and losing skids ('cause we both know it's not all shutouts, shootouts and overtime winners), callups and injuries. And what better way to start our journey than by joining the team in training camp - which, as a matter of fact, just opened this week.

Depth is an incredible thing. And in the time that I have spent following the Marlies, I have never before seen depth of talent like what we will see this season. With still a few players to be assigned to the Baby Buds from the big club in the coming days, this week's Marlies camp saw 16 forwards, 9 defensemen and 4 goaltenders skating around the Marlies pad at MCC. On the ice was a group that included Olympians Marcel Mueller and Korbinian Holzer, World Junior Championship gold medalists Keith Aulie and Jerry D'Amigo, recently acquired goaltenders Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens, 6th season Marlie Alex Foster and an incredible amount of talent among all the camp attendees.

"We've got a lot of good players, a lot of depth in the organization," said Darryl Boyce, the Marlies' hard-hitting forward,in conversation with play-by-play announcer John Bartlett. "On paper this feels like a special team."

Boyce, along with the 28 other prospective Marlies participated in a number of offensive and defensive drills that intensified day by day from Tuesday to Thursday. Focus was placed on defensive responsibility, regardless of whether a player was in the defensive, neutral or offensive zone. That large team of defenders were instructed on specific techniques used by Leafs' captain Dion Phaneuf and other members of Toronto's NHL defense corps with emphasis on the fact that these were the little tips that pushed one's own game to the NHL level.

After a couple of hours inside the Marlies quadrant of MasterCard Centre, the cold seeps into your bones. Fingers slowly lose their regular feeling, and your nostrils start sticking together - but I know that you'll agree with me that no matter what the conditions, you wouldn't trade the opportunity to attend camp for anything. That said, I'm thankful Timmies is only a block away!

This is going to be an exciting season. I'm ready. The players are ready. The coaching staff is ready. Are you?

Preseason kicks off tomorrow in Bradford, ON against the Rochester Americans. I'll be sure to let you know how the team's two exhibition games go. Until then, come find me on twitter: @chansler.

Your buddy,

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