TORONTO– The Toronto Marlies will lean heavily on their veterans to try to replicate last season’s run to the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup final.
Nine players from last season’s Marlies will suit up against the Rochester Americans on Saturday when Toronto hosts Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, and all of them are expected to carry a bigger load than the last post-season.
“Our biggest asset is the guys in the dressing room who went through a playoff run last year,” said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. “They’re not afraid to play the hard way. I think they like pain and going out to play that game every night.”
On top of last year’s crew being motivated to finish what they started, Toronto has a core group of veterans who will be relied upon when the puck drops.
Tim Connolly, Mike Komisarek, Mike Zigomanis, Mike Mottau and Paul Ranger have 2,096 combined NHL games, a Calder Cup and a Stanley Cup, which bodes well in balancing out the 14 rookies on the roster.
“It’s always an advantage to have as much experience as you can get. Their senses are elevated,” said Eakins. “We have a fairly young lineup, so we need those guys’ abilities to settle down a bench.”
The Marlies run to the Calder Cup last season started with a first-round sweep of Rochester. That dominance continued this season as they handled their division foe right from the first game of the season.
In the season series, Toronto held Rochester to under two goals a game with a plus-17 goal differential, going 9-1-0 along the way. But four of their victories were by only one goal and two went to overtime, which is why the Marlies say they aren’t heading into the series overconfident.
“There’s no way we can underestimate them,” said Korbinian Holzer. “There were a lot of games tight right until the third period. If we’re (too confident) we could be out in the first round.”
“It’s about one game,” added Eakins. “Our record against them, we don’t take much from it, but I’m sure it’s taped up in Rochester’s room.”
Toronto’s biggest strength heading into the series is on the blue-line, with 11 options who can play every day at the AHL level.
Jesse Blacker, Kevin Marshall, Komisarek, Mottau, Holzer and Ranger make up a quality top-six defensive corps and 2012 first-round pick Morgan Rielly could also see action as he’s been practising on the club’s power-play unit.
“Everybody can help out, we have guys who sit that would play every day on other teams,” said Holzer, who is one of the returning players from last season.
Goaltender Drew MacIntyre, who backed up in Rochester last season, went 4-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .957 save percentage this season against the Americans and will start for Toronto. David Leggio, who led the AHL in games played, minutes played, victories and had a respectable .924 save percentage, is expected to start for Rochester.
“Their goalie has an excellent save percentage, which stands out for me, and he sees a lot of rubber,” said Eakins. “Their forwards are large and they have four lines that can score.”
With the parent NHL Toronto Maple Leafs clinching post-season play, Eakins is planning around his captain Ryan Hamilton and Joe Colborne not being available. The Americans, however, could get Mark Pysyk and Brian Flynn back from the Buffalo Sabres.
Jerry D’Amigo, who finished the season as Toronto’s active leader in goals with 17, led all skaters with five goals against Rochester while Luke Adam and Mark Mancari had three apiece for the Americans.
Toronto had a league-best .737 winning percentage on home ice, while Rochester went 21-14-3 on the road.
*This article was written for The Canadian Press