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Toronto Marlies

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Toronto Marlies vs Abbotsford Heat

The Toronto Marlies have a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Semi-finals and look to deliver a “kill shot” to a team that had their number at the end of the regular season tonight in Abbotsford. The Marlies started the series well in game 1, but had a tough time beating Abbotsford’s goaltender, Danny Taylor. Once the Marlies were able to crack Taylor, The Marlies have had a relatively easy time with the Heat in this series, easily picking apart a team that plays a very heavy trap system. Ben Scrivens has been the talk of this series and has played exceptionally well.

Line up notes

Jesse Blacker is back in the lineup, replacing Matt Lashoff. On forward, David Broll is out, Kelsey Wilson is replacing him. Joe Colborne is still out with a bad finger injury to his middle finger.

Abbotsford Heat’s top regular season and playoff producers, Kris Kolanos, is back in after being a health scratch over ‘internal issues’. That could be an interesting story to follow.

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Toronto Marlies / Abbotsford Heat

Game 1 of the AHL Western Conference semifinals kicks off this evening with a well rested Toronto Marlies taking on the Abbotsford Heat. With the Marlies fresh off a sweep of division rivals, the Rochester Americans, they will need all the rest they can get. Should the series go beyond 5 games, both teams will have traveled across the country 3 times between Ontario and British Columbia. The series will be a 2-3-2 setup, with the Marlies having home ice advantage.

The Marlies went 2-1-1 against the Heat this season, but the Heat have won the team’s two most recent meetings.

But Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins says he won’t make too many changes to the team’s gameplan.

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Photo: Marlies.ca

For the first time ever, the Toronto Marlies have swept a playoff opponent.

Give the players and coaching staff full credit, too. Sometimes when a team mounts a big lead in a series it rests on its laurels, relaxes a little, and takes the pedal off the gas just a tad, enough for the opposition to maybe take a game or two. But the Marlies came out like a team who had no interest in playing any more games than they had to against Rochester. They clearly wanted to end the series last night and were very business like in their efforts to do so.

Here are some notes from the game, which I watched online via AHL Live.

- With Carter Ashton hurt, Jerry D’Amigo was bumped up to the second line to play with Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin, while Marcel Mueller slotted in D’Amigo’s old spot with Nicholas Deschamps and Phillippe Dupuis. Otherwise, the rest of the roster remained the same as it has for the first two games.

Stuart Percy - July 12, 2013

Leafs fans are showing heightened interest in the Marlies lately, and deservedly so as they have officially begun their run for the Calder Cup. While AHL success in the playoffs is always a fantastic experience for any player – especially young ones – fans of Toronto hockey at the end of the day are asking themselves one thing: How does this help the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Earlier in the year, I wrote a piece looking at Calder Cup Finalists translation to NHL success. That leads into the current edition of the Marlies as we look at who on this team is being counted on to help the Leafs moving forward and which players are likely to become productive NHLers and part of the long-term solution here.

Now, I want to stress that there is a difference between a long-term NHLer, and a fringe AHL-NHL tweener. A player like Darryl Boyce is an AHL-NHL tweener, meaning he’s a very good American league player, but struggles to get into a National league lineup consistently. Usually players that struggle to translate their games are missing one key ingredient that they can get away with in the AHL, but not the NHL – Be that a lack of speed, size, vision, strength, shooting ability, defensive ability, and so on.

So, inevitably, when someone says “where is Greg Scott,” well, Greg Scott brings a lot to the table, and hey, he could potentially make the Leafs as their 12th or 13th forward, but he is not a long-term solution to anything for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thus, when we are looking at the players below, we aren’t just looking at players who may or may not crack the Leafs next season, we are looking at players who are being counted on to be contributing Toronto Maple Leafs for years to come in the ongoing quest to make the playoffs.

Photo: Marlies.ca

It was another 4-3 game in which the Marlies gave up a two goal lead and Jerry D’Amigo scored twice, including the game winner in the final minutes. In many respects it was like watching the same game as Thursday night’s. Did we mention that Zigomanis scored and Foligno, Verone and Brennan were the same Rochester goal scorers from Game 1? All that matters from the Marlie perspective is that it was the same result and they now hold a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

An announced sell out crowd of towel wavers provided a good atmosphere, particularly in the final moments following the D’Amigo winner. Onto the notes:

-For whatever reason the Marlies have let up on those – cliched, but true – always dangerous two-goal leads, but you can tell when it comes down to it, and when the Marlies need to score the next goal, they seem to believe in the game plan and that they’re capable of pulling it out. Winning a game despite giving up a two goal lead – and giving up leads in the third on both occasions – is not as easy as the Marlies have made it look the last two games. That type of resilience and abiding belief in their abilities should help take them deep in these playoffs.

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Photo: Mike Peake/Toronto Sun

With the quirky best-of-five quarterfinal arrangement in the AHL playoffs, holding serve at home puts the higher seed one win away from the Conference semi finals. Following a 4-3 win on Thursday, the Marlies look to put themselves in the driver seat this afternoon with a Game 2 win over Rochester at Ricoh Coliseum.

In keeping with the ten regular season meetings between the two sides, a one-goal margin decided Game 1. Like in seven of the those ten games, the Marlies came out on top. Jerry D’Amigo scored twice, Matt Frattin and Mike Zigomanis added to the total as the Marlies staved off an Amerks comeback from 3-1 down to win 4-3.

The Marlies outplayed, outchanced and outshot the Amerks for large spells, and the game plan will be to replicate that success without the slip ups and penalty trouble that allowed the Amerks back in it after the Marlies scored three unanswered to lead 3-1 in the third frame.

There’s an expected sell out, or close to, today, with Ricoh hopefully providing the seventh man for the Marlies. Myself and Anthony Petrielli will be in attendance. I’ll be interacting in the comments throughout and Anthony will have your game story later on.

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In case you haven’t heard, the Toronto Marlies beat the Rochester Americans last night 4-3 to take a 1-0 lead in their first round best of five playoff series.

The game story and video highlights can be found here on the Marlies website. The readers digest version goes like this: the Marlies took the play to Rochester in the first, yet it was Rochester who finished the first period with a 1-0 lead. The Americans’ goalie, David Leggio, was peppered with shots throughout the game and the Marlies D’Amigo finally broke through in the second period as the two teams went into the third period tied at one. The Marlies then scored two goals to take what looked like a commanding lead, only for Rochester to storm back and tie the game. D’Amigo scored once again with under five minutes to take a final 4-3 lead as the Marlies held on for the win.

I linked the game story because I don’t plan on writing them. Below I have some game notes, interesting tidbits and takeaways from conversations I was lucky to have with the players. I want to supplement the standard game stories that can be found on numerous websites rather than duplicate them. So here it goes:

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Photo: hockeyeastonline.com

The Maple Leafs have signed 23-year-old left winger Spencer Abbott of the Maine Black Bears, according to reports.

[Abott] had his best season offensively and was named this week one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award that goes annually to the top player in U.S. college hockey.

Too small to play major junior, Abbott played Junior A with the Hamilton Red Wings. He had a late growth spurt to reach 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. He was an alternate captain on the Black Bears.

Abbott’s offensive numbers rose each year with Maine — he led the team in scoring this year with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists). He believes he’s ready for the NHL.

“When I came into this league, I was more of an offensive guy. I’ve been trying really hard to get better on the other side of the puck, defensively. It’s tough to do, especially at the next level. I hope to be a two-way player.”

Abbott worked out last summer with Gary Roberts at his high performance training institute and the plan is to go back this summer to get ready for life in the pros.

“Speed, skill and strength is what I’ve been trying to implement in my game. I’ve been working hard in the off-season. (I’ve got to) put on more weight, get faster, bigger, stronger. I think I’ve done that consecutive years.”

-The Star

Christian Hanson, Tyler Brenner and Brayden Irwin taught us all too well not to get too excited about these college free agent signings. The small but speedy and skilled Abbott did earn nomination as a Hobey Baker finalist, however, and seems to have much more natural talent than any of those three. This signing aligns more closely with the Bobby Butler (2010 Hobey Baker nominee) and Stephane Da Costa (2011 nominee) signings by the Senators, which is not to say those are smashing successes so far either. But at the low cost of a Standard Player Contract slot, these type of pickups are always a worthwhile experiment for an organization equipped with the Leafs’ financial might.

Abbott will join the Marlies for their Calder Cup bid on an Amateur Tryout Contract.

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Brian Burke / Tyler Biggs / Dave Morrison

As mentioned earlier, I had the privilege of chatting with Maple Leafs’ Director of Amateur Scouting, Dave Morrison this morning to glean some his insight for an upcoming piece in this year’s edition of the Maple Leafs Annual. For that content, you’ll just have to wait until September. However, I was given the go-ahead to pass along for your enjoyment some of the content that will not be used in the Annual. Bear in mind, the flow of the interview may appear a little off as these are excerpts pulled from various sections.

James Reimer really burst onto the NHL scene with a fantastic stretch of games as a rookie, but seemed to struggle a little bit toward the end there. Is conditioning one of those things James needs to work on in order to solidify himself as a true number one goaltender?

Morrison – You’re right Alex, this was his first real extended stretch of games at the NHL level and that was a big challenge. He certainly proved himself at the AHL level, but the workload he shouldered there at the end… any goalie would start to feel the effects of that. That part of James’ game and the process of him learning how to be THE guy are going to come with experience and maturity. He understands what he needs to do. The management staff as well… they’re going to work with James as well to know when he’s okay to play and when he may need a night off here and there.

After James Reimer was promoted to the big club, it was Ben Scrivens’ turn to steal the show as a rookie goaltender with the Marlies, putting up some very impressive numbers. Should Jonas and James be looking over their shoulders a little bit at the NHL level?

Morrison – Haha, well any goalie should be always looking over their shoulders. The skaters should be too. There should always be an element of competition there at all times because it forces everyone to stay honest and continue to want to improve. We know Scrivens is a very good young goaltender and that he’s chomping at the bit to see some NHL action. At some point, he will push for an NHL job and that could be as early as sometime next year, but I certainly expect James and Jonas to be prepared for that possibility and to work their butts off to keep their jobs. We’re in a great situation with a bevy of good young goalies moving forward.

Jesse Blacker seemed to have quite the breakout offensive season in the OHL this year thanks to increased ice-time and responsibility. How does he compare to Stuart Percy and Jake Gardiner in terms of puckmoving ability and offensive upside?

Morrison – Oh boy, that’s a tough question. Well Jesse’s definitely a good one. All three of those guys are excellent puckmoving defensemen but each of them approaches the game with a bit of a different feel. Stuart’s not as flashy as Jesse or Jake but his intelligence more than makes up for it as he possesses an excellent understanding of the game. That’s not to take anything away from the other two, but Stuart just seems to incorporate it more into his game. Jesse and Jake on the other hand, are a little stronger on their feet in terms of agility and rushing ability. I suppose in the end, one of them will end up being the best of the group, but it’s doesn’t matter who. We’re in a great situation to have three high upside defensemen who should all be able to contribute at the next level.

You traded up for your top selection of this year’s draft, snagging power forward Tyler Biggs, a ferocious checker, with the 22nd pick of the first round. What were some of the skills you saw that really drew you to him? Word is you guys actually had Percy rated a little higher than Biggs, but you called a draft floor audible to make sure you got both. Tell us about that.

Morrison – Like you said, Tyler is a big, strong guy with a great physical element to his game. He’s got the upside of a power forward because he can play with a hard hitting, nasty edge but he’s also got the offensive skills to complement a scoring line. We love that he goes out there and gets his nose dirty in the corners. These types of players are very hard to find because teams just don’t let them go.

We were sitting there at the draft table with picks 25 and 29 coming up and we knew there was no way we were going to get both where we were. So after trading up for the 22nd pick, I just had a feeling that Biggs was going to go before Percy within the next few picks. This is just one of those instincts you develop after years of experience and being on the floor for several drafts. It was something I discussed with my colleagues, who also shared the feeling. So we went ahead with our selection and just crossed our fingers, hoping that Percy would make it to 25. We really had no idea if it was all going to work out but we’re very thankful that it did.

Let’s switch gears a little bit and finish off with some draft related questions. There was talk this year of teams putting a lot more time and effort into the interview process, even meeting with players that were significantly out of their projected range. Was this simply a matter of the 2011 draft class being one where there was little difference between say picks 20 through 50, thus prompting the need to be prepared for any scenario?

Morrison – Absolutely Alex. That’s one part of it. You always want to be prepared for anything, whether that’s a player being unexpectedly available or trade options presenting themselves. The other aspect of it may simply just be the evolution of scouting as teams realize the importance of drafting well in the cap era. More time and money is being invested into the process and the teams that do so will reap the benefits later on down the road.

With the recent regime change in the management team of the city’s baseball team (Blue Jays), current General Manager Alex Anthopoulos talked about a new approach to drafting where the organization sought out players with a 10% chance at developing into a star preferentially over players with a 50% chance of developing into an average player. What are your thoughts on such a drafting philosophy? Is it realistic to draft that way in hockey?

Morrison – That’s an interesting question. My team and I are always trying to find that diamond in the rough… a true difference maker as it were. But like with baseball, it’s important to keep in mind that there are different ways for a player to positively impact a team. Some organizations have gotten especially good at identifying those riskier, high upside guys. Over the years, our team has been targeting increasingly higher risk-reward type players, much more so than four or five years ago. It becomes a lot easier to do so when you manage to acquire depth through free agent signings like Tyler Bozak, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas. That frees you up to get a little more adventurous on the draft floor.

Let’s say you’ve selected a couple of higher risk players in the early rounds. Do you seek to contrast those selections with some safer guarantees with defined roles in the later rounds? I would imagine it’s quite important to ensure you leave the draft floor with at least a few NHL contributors?

Morrison –Maybe in the past we would do a little more of that. Now, we feel pretty confident taking high risk players because of all the homework we do to learn about a player, from a personal, medical and physical standpoint. A certain player may be further away from becoming an impact player but if we see that they have the right mentality and character to put in the work to get there, that makes us feel a lot better about a particular selection. Extensive homework is what gives us a better chance with these high upside risks.

When scouting a player, on average, how many games do you feel are required in order to make a proper assessment of that player’s abilities?

Morrison – You see Alex, it honestly depends on the game. Sometimes it’s one game… sometimes it’s two games… sometimes it’s six games. I read and receive a ton of reports everyday from all of our scouts and those are extremely important. If I were to go see a player, there could be any number of factors in play that could skew what I’m seeing. It could be a Sunday afternoon game for example where that player is tired after three games in two and half days, so perhaps I would consider coming back and watching him play on a Friday night.

One last question.There seems to be considerable hype building for the upcoming 2012 draft class. What’s your early impression of that next crop of young players? Could it be realistically likened to the 2003 class where you see several all-star calibre players like Getzlaf, Perry, and Parise being selected in the late first round, or is that a little on the optimistic side?

Morrison – That’s probably a little optimistic. I will say that the next group of players certainly looks very good and that throughout the course of this past year, the reviews on some of these underage players have been jumping off the page. However with any young player, a lot can change over the course of a year, so I like to stick with a wait and see approach before passing any final judgment.

Well, that’s it from me. A big thank you from both MLHS and the Maple Leafs Annual for letting us interrupt you during your much deserved time off.

Morrison – My pleasure Alex. Anytime.

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According to the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox, the Leafs are expected to sign 24 year old forward prospect Leo Komarov to an entry-level contract at some point in the near future. The Maple Leafs hold Komarov’s NHL rights as a 6th round selection, 180th overall back in 2006. Komarov was born in Estonia, but grew up playing hockey in Finland where currently holds a duel-citizenship along with Russia. He has spent the last two years playing in the KHL, earning himself an all-star appearance this past season. In 52 games played for OHK Dynamo Moskva, he recorded 14 goals and 12 assists, in addition to 70 penalty minutes. Komarov also impressed during a brief playoff run, scoring 4 times and adding 2 helpers in just 6 games.

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It is by no means the end of his career, strictly the next step.

On Monday, Nazem Kadri, 7th overall selection in the 2009 draft, was assigned to the Toronto Marlies. The player in whom a whole city had welcomed, became enamoured with and inked into their own starting lineup will not appear at ACC at all… at least not yet. It will prove to be a powerful lesson for the 19 year old, if not the whole city of Toronto; the Toronto Maple Leafs are about winning hockey games, not necessarily selling tickets.

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Image c/o J.P. Nikota / PensionPlanPuppets.com

“Being a kid growing up just outside Toronto, you always want to play for your team you watched growing up, and Toronto’s my team.”

It was one of the last things Andrew Engelage said after a lengthy discussion at the Ricoh Coliseum, but it definitely resonated the loudest.

There’s nothing quite like the story of the home-grown athlete. Everyone likes asking Oakville’s John Mitchell what it’s like to put on the Leafs sweater every day, or trying to find some way to relate to Jesse Blacker’s being drafted by his local club. But when adversity is thrown into the mix, when a player has to go through some degree of hardship to make it to not only the level he wants to be, but for the team he wants to play for, that’s when a story becomes a best seller.

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And here you thought a magazine couldn't have add-on features.

Midway through the month of July, I had the privilege of chatting with Dave Poulin, Vice President of Hockey Operations with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for an article appearing in Maple Leafs Annual.

Having a professional background in publishing, I was not the least surprised that limitations on available space, plus design and layout constraints, resulted in the necessity to crop certain parts of the interview.

With the Annual due to hit stores next week, I thought I’d share a few of the “lost excerpts” from the cutting room floor in which Poulin offers his thoughts on the progress of the Toronto Marlies, as well as the emergence of the NCAA as a growing prospect pipeline.

Think of it as the equivalent of a “DVD extra” to your copy of MLA.

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It was no less than two months ago that I was pondering this same question, that of captaincy, and examining the same factors. Thinking of all the tangibles – speed, talent and scoring – along with attributes that are harder to judge – the ability to command the respect of the team, lead with strength of character and handle the Toronto media through success and failure. The lone difference is that last time, it was the Leafs.

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Whitby born, Ryan Hamilton has signed a 1-year, 2-way deal worth $500k (at NHL level) with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hamilton, who came to the Leafs organization in a trade with the NHL Wild (AHL Aeros) during the 08/09 season, was scheduled to test the free agent market if unable to resign with Toronto.

Though he finished the season leading the team in goals and among the top-five in assists, Hamilton’s contribution to the Toronto AHL club is far deeper than what can be recorded on score card.

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JESSE BLACKER (#21) – D
Date of Birth: April 19, 1991
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Height: 6'2" | Weight: 190lbs | Shoots: Right
Drafted: Toronto's 3rd Choice, 58th Overall, in 2009
Price Tag: AHL $67,500 | NHL $640,000
Signed Through: 2013

Career Notes:

  • Won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in 2009
  • Lead all Owen Sound defensemen during 09/10 in goals (6), assists (24) and points (30)
  • Made his AHL debut on March 20th 2010 vs. Hamilton
  • Registered one assist and a plus-two rating in first AHL appearance

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In the second installment of the Prospect Season In Review, we will take a look at a couple of Maple Leafs prospects who have proven a positive product of the John Ferguson Jr / Cliff Fletcher draft era.

Profiles in this segment include German DEL winger Jerome Flaake and defender Korbinian Holzer, as well as a prospect closer to home: Windsor Spitfires winger Dale Mitchell.

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After stockpiling up on picks during the past couple drafts as well as cornering the European and college free agent markets, the Maple Leafs’ farm system is beginning to reap the rewards of unprecedented depth and talent. In the first installment of our MLHS “Prospect Season in Review” series, I’ll be taking a look at three of the team’s top prospects: Kenny Ryan, James Reimer, and Joel Champagne.

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The Leafs continued their offseason stockpiling of goaltenders today, announcing that they have signed College free agent Ben Scrivens to a one year contract.

Scrivens compiled an impressive 21-9-4 record with Cornell last year, with a .934 save percentage.  He was also a top ten Hobey Baker finalist.

According to TSN, It is expected that Scrivens will challenge for playing time on the Toronto Marlies.

More after the jump.