TORONTO– Dallas Eakins, head coach of the Toronto Marlies, speculated that heading into Game 1 against the Rochester Americans there could be abrupt changes in his opening night line up.
Well, there were. And no one was more surprised than Leafs’ 2011 first-round selection Stuart Percy, who dressed for his first professional playoff game.
“I was definitely surprised,” said the 18-year-old. “It’s the playoffs. It’s a whole new monster but I just tried to get in and do my thing.”
“We came to the conclusion that we were at home, we could choose who he played against and it was worth the chance,” said Eakins as to why he dressed Percy.
Percy, who missed much of his junior season with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors because of a concussion, finished this year with five goals and 25 points in 34 games before bowing out in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League post season three weeks ago.
With junior hockey done for the year, Percy signed an Amateur-Try-Out contract with the Marlies on April 4th. The plan was for him to practice and travel with the club so he could get a feel for pro hockey, but when the last game of the season arrived against the Abbotsford Heat Eakins decided to see what the kid could do.
“We had held him out because we were still challenging for first place and I didn’t want to put a young player in the fire,” said Eakins. “(But) we put him in for the last game on the power play because we were looking for help and he played really well. He played a very good five-on-five game, breaking out pucks and we thought that was going to be important against Rochester.”
Percy went plus-1 in a Marlies 4-3 win and, despite it not being a perfect debut, looked comfortable skating alongside Jake Gardiner.
“Other than one play when he tried to throw it up the middle on his back hand, I thought he was good,” said Eakins. “Passes were flat, on the stick and that’s what we need.”
“I think getting the nerves out and learning the pace of the game was good,” Percy said. “I think I did a good job. I took the opportunity to play my best and I was thankful for the opportunity.”
Eakins didn’t say if he would be changing his line up for Game 2 so it’s unclear if Josh Engel will dress in place of Percy, but more notably absent from Game 1 was Marcel Mueller.
The 23-year-old German, who is a restricted free agent in the summer, had seven points in his final five games of the regular season, but with the additions of Matt Frattin, Carter Ashton and Jay Rosehill up front, someone had to sit.
“He was a scratch and believe me that was a tough one,” said Eakins. “It was a hard decision and we’ll make sure we pick him up emotionally. He was upset that he couldn’t play but he was also happy that we won.”
Mueller will likely get back in before the series is through as Eakins made it clear that the Marlies have the luxury of depth at forward and that some of his players are interchangeable.
Game 2 is set for Saturday at the Ricoh Coliseum.