By Rob Del Mundo
The Marlies are in the middle of an 11-game home stand in which they have taken three of the first 5 games. Coming off their two-week journey to the U.S. Midwest – during which the Exhibition grounds were booked for the Toronto Boat Show – the team halted a five-game losing streak on January 24 defeating the Chicago Wolves. The game marked the Marlies debut for Ryan Hamilton, who had been obtained from the NHL’s Minnesota Wild in exchange for Robbie Earl. “I knew I was going to be full of adrenaline, “ said the 23-year-old Oshawa native following Toronto’s 3-1 victory “It’s definitely exciting to be playing at home, it’s kind of like my hometown where I have friends and family. It was a lot of fun.”
Two days later, defenceman Jamie Sifers represented Toronto at the AHL All-Star Classic in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sifers suited up for the Planet USA All-Stars, who outlasted the Canadian All-Stars by a score of 14-11 in an offensive barrage.
The following week, Toronto set a club record by winning its seventh consecutive game on home ice, handling the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-2. Forward Tim Stapleton scored twice, and had an opportunity for a hat trick late in the game when Bates Battaglia set him up in the opposing zone with Hamilton’s goalie on the bench for an extra attacker. To Stapleton’s chagrin, and the good-natured ribbing of his teammates, he missed the open net. The Marlies’ winning streak at Ricoh was halted by the Rockford IceHogs the next day, in a 6-3 defeat. Stapleton, who finished the weekend with three goals in two games, was named the AHL Player of the Week for the period ending February 2.
Goaltender Justin Pogge played the first three games of the home stretch, while Adam Munro got the nod in the Marlies’ 43-shot effort on Sat. Feb. 7 as the visiting Syracuse Crunch skated away with a 4-1 victory.
Sunday’s game marked a milestone for the Marlies, as they set a club record for most goals in a game in a 10-5 shellacking of the Grand Rapids Griffins. Five of the team’s goals were scored in a 6-minute, 17-second stretch in the first period, with Stapleton notching a hat trick in just 4:40. Stapleton added a late third period marker to give him 4 goals in the game, setting a Marlies’ individual mark.
Over the next six games, the Marlies biggest challenge is finding stability on defence. Staffan Kronwall, one of the anchors of the team’s blueline for parts of the past four seasons, was claimed off re-entry waivers by the Washington Capitals. Meanwhile, Sifers was recalled to the Leafs on Monday following an injury to Mike Van Ryn in the Toronto-Montreal game on Feb. 7.
“It’s the nature of the beast in the American Hockey League, there’s guys going up and down all the time,” observed head coach Greg Gilbert, following a period that saw Jiri Tlusty, Nikolai Kulemin and Anton Stralman split their time between Ricoh Coliseum and Air Canada Centre. “That’s our job. If we can get these guys ice time, get them playing and get their confidence back, it gives them the opportunity to get back up there and help the big club. It’s something you deal with all year long. Every team goes through this. It’s something you get used to, and you have to find a good way to get them headed in the right direction.”
- The Marlies are fourth in the North Division with a record of 24-19-2-5 (55 points), two points ahead of Syracuse for the final playoff spot in the division.
- The top scorers are Tim Stapleton (13 goals, 33 assists, 46 points), Jiri Tlusty (10-20-30) and Kris Newbury (6-23-29).
- Following Sunday’s game, Stapleton now has seven goals in his past 4 games.
- Sifers, on the Marlies attempts to take advantage of their long home stand: “Those home games are the most important ones, and ones you shouldn’t lose. Obviously the fans make a huge difference. We love playing here, we love the rink and we love our fans. Those road losses were due to some poor decisions on our part; just small mistakes, and ones we have to limit in order to make that playoff spot.”
- “I thought they were part of a line change,” laughed Stapleton when asked about the Griffins changing their goalie three times in the Marlies 10-5 win.
- Andre Deveaux, following the same game, on registering his second career hat-trick: “It’s great, but I have to mention my linemates played a hell of a game today. Ryan Hamilton and (Alex Foster) played unbelievable and helped me out a ton. The team’s playing well and everybody’s doing what they need to do, and that’s why certain individuals are having success.”
- Stralman, on the departure of his former defence partner Kronwall: “He’s a great guy. I’m really glad he got the opportunity to go to the Capitals, and really get a chance there, hopefully.”
- Gilbert on the play of Stapleton. “He sees the ice well, he’s got great skill and vision and he works hard, both ways. He works as hard without the puck as he does with it. He’s one of those guys that, when he does shoot, he doesn’t miss much. He’s not picking two inches inside the post, he’s just trying to get it on net, and it’s finding its way in.”
Next three games:
- Wed. Feb. 11 vs. Syracuse 11:30am – Marlies School Day game
- Sat. Feb. 14 vs. Grand Rapids, 4:00pm
- Sun. Feb. 15 vs. Springfield, 4:00pm