TORONTO-Dallas Eakins has put his team on notice — anyone’s name could be called to suit up in the AHL’s Calder Cup final.
Three rounds of playoff hockey are catching up to the Toronto Marlies and six players missed Monday’s practice with various injuries while two others took part, but are still waiting to be cleared for game action.
“All of our guys are on a red alert that their time could be coming,” head coach Eakins said of filling his roster spots. “And you can see it at practice, they have a little more jump. I don’t have to yell at them to get them going.”
The team that opened this year’s post-season is much different than the one that took the ice Monday to begin preparation for the Calder Cup final against the Norfolk Admirals.
Forwards Mike Zigomanis, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin and defencemen Jesse Blacker, Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser all skipped practice with various injuries while wingers Marcel Mueller and Carter Ashton skated, but not on the team’s top four lines.
Though Eakins said it was a good sign to have Ashton and Mueller at the rink, he wouldn’t give details of the injuries or a timeline for when anyone would return to the lineup.
“Right now, anybody that wasn’t on the ice is hurt and they’ll play when they’re healed,” he said.
Despite missing some of their top-six forwards, and their top shut-down defensive pair, an optimistic Eakins believes things could be a lot worse for Toronto.
“We’ve probably got four or five guys who are playing extremely hurt and for those guys not to pack it in is huge,” he said. “I don’t know what we would do right now without the guys that are totally hurt, and off the ice, and the guys that are just hanging in there.”
The Marlies have played just 13 games to reach the AHL final but along the way they lost a total of 29 man games to injury.
With so many players sitting out, Eakins has had to call upon others who originally weren’t expected to see any time in the post season.
Prospects Spencer Abbott, Stuart Percy and David Broll have had an opportunity for their first taste of pro playoff hockey while veterans Colton Orr, Kelsey Wilson and Josh Engel have also found a spot somewhere.
“You never really think you’ll get in with how much depth this team has but you have to be ready to go,” said Abbott, who dressed for the first time in Game 3 of the third round. “Everyone knows we have a few guys down and that was a big help for me to get in the lineup. Guys go down and you need guys to step up and I’m trying my best to be that guy.”
Defenceman Matt Lashoff, who missed 67 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs with a knee injury, knows what his teammates are currently going through.
“It’s always tough when you’re not playing but the ability our team has to keep guys involved is huge,” he said. “We have such a family aspect to this team and we look out for each other. We know when to pick guys up and in the playoffs its only escalated by how important it is to be here.”
Some 33 players have practised with the Marlies during the playoffs, and 26 have played at least one post-season game.
“Winning in the playoffs is never just one guy,” Eakins said. “The teams that win have a handful of guys that are doing it.”
It’s uncertain when the current players who are injured will return but it’s unlikely all of them will be ready before Toronto heads to Norfolk to face the Admirals in Game 1 on Friday.
*This article was written for the Canadian Press