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This past week, the Toronto Marlies were looking at games three and four of their current seven-game road trip after garnering three out of four points the previous weekend in St. John’s. The Marlies played the Iowa Wild (Minnesota) on Wednesday and the Chicago Wolves (St. Louis) on Friday. Toronto won both games in OT and came out with all four points, continuing their road success.

The Marlies are now 22-11-2-2, leading the North Division by six points over Hamilton with two games in hand. They sit third in the Western Conference, seven back of second-place Texas but with four games in hand on the Stars.

Jim Hughes

MLHS’ Alec Brownscombe recently caught up with Director of Player Development Jim Hughes to check in on the progress of the younger Maple Leafs.

Hughes and Claude Loiselle had recently traveled to the World Juniors together to take in Frederik Gauthier and Andreas Johnson’s performances for Team Canada and Team Sweden respectively, as well as one viewing of Fabrice Herzog for Team Switzerland.

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The Marlies came into the past weekend facing a back to back set against the St. John’s Ice Caps on the road.  Since our last Marlies report (Dec. 7), the Marlies have won seven of 11 games, including the AHL Outdoor Classic and a previous home win against the Ice Caps (3-2W) on December 15. The Marlies came into the weekend looking to take as many points as possible; this was the beginning of a 7-game road trip, and in a tough North Division starting a long road trip with some points in the bank is crucial for morale.

As those who could tolerate  the Fox Sports commentators and the poor camera angles can attest to, the Marlies staged a late comeback effort to win 4-3 in shootout over the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Hockeytown Winter Festival Outdoor game. The Marlies sit 17-10-3 at the 30-game pole and now lead the North Division by three points over Hamilton with three games in hand.

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MLHS is pleased to have Daniel Kovalevsky, better known as Pent_House around these parts, contributing some Marlies writings going forward.

A pivotal match against the Montreal Canadien’s AHL affiliate, The Hamilton Bull-Dogs, awaited the Marlies at the Ricoh on Saturday, as these divisional foes met up for their 5th of 12 regular season contests. Along with being the Battle of Ontario in the AHL, this game was important for the Marlies as these teams are divisional rivals in a tightly-grouped North Division, with the 4th place Bulldogs only 2 points behind the 1st place Marlies. The Marlies came into the game with the Western Conference’s highest home ice winning percentage, with 8 wins in 10 home-games (.800%). The Marlies have been playing at the top of their game recently, winning 6 of their last 8 games and, despite having one of the youngest squads in the AHL, have managed to stay atop of the North Division. With the Ricoh being a tough building to play in for road teams, recent hot play for a rested Marlies team, and a tired Bulldogs team, the Marlies came into this game hoping to take full advantage and to create some separation in the standings.

Courtesy of the Toronto Marlies:

“The Marlies posted a record of 1-0-1-0 in two games this past week. On Friday night, Toronto traveled down the QEW for their third meeting of the season against the Hamilton Bulldogs, AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Despite Josh Leivo scoring his first goal of the season just over five minutes into the game, the Marlies were defeated 2-1 in overtime. Martin St. Pierre tallied both goals for the Bulldogs, while goaltender Drew MacIntyre stopped 35 of 37 shots in the loss.

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The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, defeated the Toronto Marlies by a score of 3-2 Wednesday night at Ricoh Coliseum.

Greg McKegg’s second goal of the season opened the scoring at 4:18 of the first period. The Marlies would take a 2-0 lead on Carter Ashton’s second goal in as many games. Rockford tied the game at two on goals from both Alex and Terry Broadhurst before the end of the period. Jeremy Morin notched his 4th goal of the season with under six minutes remaining in regulation to give the IceHogs their 5th victory of the season.

The Marlies return to the ice on Saturday evening when they host the Rochester Americans, AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, at 5 p.m. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling the team’s ticket line at 416-597-PUCK (7825).

Game Highlights:

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From earlier:

Your weekly update courtesy of the Toronto Marlies:

“The Toronto Marlies posted a record of 1-1 over the course of two games this past week.

The Leafs are officially in the midst of their first losing “streak” of the season. Tuesday’s contest sees the 7-1 Anaheim Ducks visit town, which will be another difficult test for a Leafs team who have yet to really hit their stride despite being 6-3 on the season. The Ducks shellacked the Stars 6-3 last night, and Getzlaf, Perry, Jakub Silfverberg, Selanne and Mathieu Perreault, who is getting a chance to center their second line, are all off to hot starts.

The Leafs wrapped up what was a pretty good weekend by imploding in the third period and losing handily, but that doesn’t take away from some of the positives that were shown overall.

There were some youngsters who had good weekends, others who had very good weekends, and a few who struggled. In other news, the Leafs also have a new player coming to training camp in Mason Raymond.

You know hockey is back when there are actual relevant games and players to talk about all of a sudden. Here are some scattered thoughts on the weekend that was:

Welcome to the Battle of Ontario edition of our Rookie Tournament coverage.

As we all know, Ottawa sucks and while I have no idea who will dress for the Baby Leafs tonight at this point, I can’t imagine that we’ll have any problem walking all over them; their parents probably won’t even watch out of shame and embarrassment.

The Leafs have won both of their games in the tourney so far and the players who you’d expect to standout have done just that.  Brad Ross, Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy, Petter Granberg, and Josh Leivo (before his injury) have all been great and Zach Yuen turned a few heads in last night’s game.

It will be interesting to see who gets into the lineup today — you’d have to think that management is hoping to get a long look at some of these prospects against like-aged players before NHL camps start.

So with Rielly, Leivo, MacWilliam, McKegg, and Sparks all sitting this game out and Finn leaving mysteriously after a period of play, you might have guessed that this would be a tough one for the Leafs rookies but you’d be wrong.

Stuart Percy was the best player on the ice, and Brad Ross was the best forward for either team pacing the Leafs to a 4-3 shootout win over a Penguins team with no competent forwards.

Zachary Yuen was probably the game’s biggest surprise.  He had a solid game in every respect and almost certainly opened some eyes with his performance tonight; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dressed again tomorrow for the team to get a better look.

The game itself was a back and forth affair, starting with a bang in the first (Pitt goal, 2 fights, Tor goal) and ending with a fizzle (shootouts are kinda lame).

Toronto’s first goal was scored by Matt Rupert on the PP.  With Biggs providing the traffic in front, a rebound from a point shot found its way to Rupert’s stick and he punched it in.

The second goal was scored by Fabrice Herzog after some nice retrieval work by Ross and Verhaeghe and a pretty sweet behind the back pass from Ross.  Herzog was given too much time in front and he took advantage of it.

Toronto’s third goal was a nice little passing play between Andrew Crescenzi and Jamie Devane in transition with Crescenzi potting the goal on a first touch shot, over the goalie’s shoulder.

Shootout goals were scored by Ross and Percy — the Leafs’ two best players tonight.

With that, the Leafs move to 2-0 on the tournament and will play against Ottawa’s rookies tomorrow night.  Hopefully we’ll get to see some more of Leivo and Rielly, and with any luck whatever took Finn out of tonight’s game isn’t anything serious.

See you all tomorrow.

Here’s the shootout. Check out the liveblog for more game details and goal videos.

Here we go again.

With Brian Burke back in the news, it’s fitting that his greatest contribution to the Maple Leafs – a rebuilt farm system — take center stage in the days leading up to actual meaningful hockey.  The Baby Leafs have a gold-plated defense group and a forward contingent that breaks down fairly nicely into scoring lines and checking lines; the lines should pretty much roll themselves.

With players like Morgan Rielly trying to make an impact prior to the start of Leafs camp, and guys like Leivo, Biggs, and Percy looking to solidify key roles with the Marlies, the stakes are a lot higher for these kids than they may seem to fans on the surface.  These aren’t your typical pre-season games and they’ll provide a great glimpse at what the future has in store for the big club.

HOCKEY.

The Maple Leafs’ annual Rookie Tournament is upon us. Toronto hosts Chicago Jr. tonight at the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario. Toronto Maple Leafs new and ‘not-so-old’ will have a chance to display their talents for the Maple Leafs Brass in what should be an entertaining tilt of careful pre-pre-season stepping and spirited verbal jousting.

For all your basic rookie tournament info needs, the Leafs’ official website pretty much has you covered. View the roster and schedule breakdown. Read the primer for tonight’s game, which includes broadcast details. Or watch an interview with Marlies coach Steve Spott in which he talks about the weekend’s promise and touches on a few key roster points.

But most importantly, join the party at MLHS and follow @TOTruculent as I live-Twitter tonight’s action! Embedded below, for your non-having-to-switch-tabs pleasure.

I’ll be covering the action from the press box in London. Check back here for updates throughout the night, and a post-game recap. Unless things go really poorly right at the end, in which case I’ll be locked in a dark room, fighting off a wave of painful flashbacks to May 13th.

Projected Lines vs. Chicago
Starting lineup vs. Chicago
 
 
FORWARDS
Josh LeivoCarter VerhaegheBrad Ross
Connor BrownGreg McKegg (C)David Broll
Sam CarrickFrederik GauthierRyan Rupert
Tyler BiggsAndrew CrescenziJamie Devane
DEFENCE
Matt FinnMorgan Rielly
Petter GranbergStuart Percy
Andrew MacWilliamKevin Raine
STARTING GOALTENDER
Garret Sparks

Live Updates:


Period #1

The Leafs outshot the Blackhawks 14-6 in the first period, despite a healthy amount of play taking place in the Leafs’ end in the early going. Early standouts included – as expected – Morgan Rielly, who at any given moment seems like he could do something dangerous. Rielly took two early wrist shots, one from the point and one from the half boards, that both found the net in dangerous ways.

Josh Leivo also made an impact. From creating offense out of situations you wouldn’t normally consider opportunities to using his teammates well, he impressed from the get go and was rewarded with a power play goal. Leivo doesn’t immediately strike you the way his 6’2 frame would suggest, but he uses the size well. Keep an eye on him this fall.

So far, the Leafs’ rookies are by far the better team. Outpacing, outshooting, out puck-moving, out-hockeying. Chicago seemed to land a few more memorable hits, though. Here’s hoping for a truculent second frame.

1-0 Leafs.

Period #2

Marked difference from the first frame. Chicago closed the shot gap, but the Leafs continued a high effort across the board and played pretty solidly for a young team thrown together in recent weeks. A few standouts emerged beyond the first period crowd, providing a great look at some other Leaf prospects.

Tyler Biggs might be one of the more interesting young Leafs. We’re all aware of his purported skating limitations, but on first glance, he’s added speed since my last viewing. In close, the mobility still seems like an issue – but that’s one of the hardest elements of proper skating technique to develop. Nevertheless, he brings a 100% effort level on every shift and gets his job done by making the right play. Gritty. As I mentioned on Twitter and am happy to stand by thus far – from the press box, he looks like David Clarkson in a different jersey.

With all the focus on the Bernier/Reimer debate heading into next season, not much has been made recently of the Leafs’ net depth behind the top two. Garret Sparks has turned in an impressive night so far, stopping several shots through traffic and snagging at least one high, hard snapper with the glove hand impressively enough to make Francois Allaire wonder, “You can do that?”

Also, have I mentioned the power play pairing that is Rielly and Finn? The power play pairing that is Rielly and Finn.

2-0 Leafs.

Period #3

After a comeback by the young Hawks, the Leafs eked it out in a shootout to win 3-2, with Rielly and Biggs coming through in the skills comp for the jr. Leafs. Thus concludes the third period recap, which was truncated in favour of running downstairs for the postgame scrums.

Wrapup

The Leafs’ rookies took the tournament opener as a result of their energy, skill, and goaltending. They outpaced a Chicago group that was forced to rely more on physicality to gain ground. They caught the Leafs temporarily, but in the end Toronto came away with a win they probably deserved.

Check the period summaries above for a few observations on the standouts (Rielly, Leivo, Sparks) and watch the Game in Six below. Notable highlights from Steve Spott’s postgame scrum:

-On the mobility and skill of his young defensive corps: “Wow.”
-Spott was impressed by the team’s ability to come together quickly and
-He was also enthusiastic about Sparks’ performance, only calling out the first goal as one Garrett might potentially want another shot at.
-Spott confirmed Leivo missed the third period due to a chest contusion suffered when he took a hit earlier in the game.

Game in Six

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MLHS’s Michael Stephens conducted an in-person interview with Steve Spott, head coach of the Toronto Marlies, at the Mastercard Centre earlier this week. Spott touched on a wide variety of Marlies-centric stuff, including the biggest challenges facing the team headed into the new season and the  opportunities the Leafs prospects will be embarking on in the 2013-14 campaign.