TORONTO – The Toronto Marlies will be logging plenty of air miles in the next round of the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs.
After making easy work of the close-to-home Rochester Americans in the first round, sweeping them in the best-of-five series, the Marlies will face B.C.’s Abbotsford Heat in the Western Conference semifinals.
If the best-of-seven series goes the distance, the Marlies could end up travelling some 6,000 kilometres across the country. That’s a big change from the short drive between Toronto and Rochester.
But Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins says he won’t make too many changes to the team’s gameplan.
“We’re going about our business the same way with Rochester,” said Eakins. “The only thing I spoke to them about was the fuel they’re putting in their body. I think it’s going to be a way more physical series and there will be a hell of a lot of travel.”
While success against the sixth-seeded Americans came easier than originally anticipated, the fourth-seeded Heat will present a bigger challenge.
Abbotsford (42-26-8) also swept the Milwaukee Admirals in the first round and, dating back to the regular season, have gone 11-1-1 in their last 13 games, including two wins over Toronto two weeks ago.
“They’re probably the best team we saw in the last 20 games of the year,” said Eakins. “They have big physical forwards and one thing different than Rochester is they have more offence to give.
“(Clay) Wilson and (Brian) Connelly can put up a ton of points and they are big D-men who can play a shut-down game. I expect a six or seven game series and a few games to go extra long.”
Toronto (44-24-8) is the second seed and will host Game 1 on Tuesday night at Ricoh Coliseum.
The Marlies split the season series with Abbotsford at two wins apiece with both clubs earning their victories on home ice.
Matt Frattin led Toronto offensively with four goals in just three games played but he isn’t certain that his regular-season success will have any effect on the upcoming series.
“Playoff hockey is so tough to get offensive chances so I just try to put the puck on the net,” said the 24-year-old. “You want to play hard, create space and be physical. Make them know that every time they touch the puck you’re going to hit them. That will create scoring chances.”
Krys Kolanos, who was Abbotsford’s regular-season scoring leader, was expected to produce in his club’s opening round and he did so with four goals and eight points.
Toronto, on the other hand, received their offence from a less familiar player in Jerry D’Amigo. The 21-year-old sophomore scored 15 times in 76 regular-season games but currently leads all playoff scorers with five goals, including two-game winners.
“Just getting that first one out of the way got my confidence back and that was key,” said D’Amigo, who registered a goal in all three games against the Americans. “When you’re the guy that scores the game winners it feels good and you want to keep doing it. I just got to do the same things I did last series, taking the body out and things like that. Stuff I should have been doing all year.”
Toronto’s lineup will be identical to the one that eliminated Rochester except for two major changes.
“Jesse Blacker’s cleared to play and Carter Ashton we still have shut down with a concussion,” said Eakins.
Blacker missed the final seven games of the regular season as well as all of the first round with an upper-body injury and will likely take the place of Stuart Percy on the blue-line. Ashton left Game 2 against Rochester after being hit into the boards and hasn’t been on the ice since. Marcel Mueller will take his place on the left side of the third line.
*This article was writter for the Canadian Press