(Kenny Ryan – pictured – scored twice in his season debut)
Oct. 20: Marlies 5 vs. Hamilton 0
Forward lines:: McKegg-Kadri-Scott, Colborne-Zigomanis-Komarov, Deschamps-Aucoin-Hamilton, Ashton-Acton-Ryan
Defence pairings: Holzer-Fraser, Gardiner-Kostka, Yeo-Blacker
Goaltenders: Rynnas (Win, 59:55 minutes played, 31 SV, 0 GA), Owuya (0:00)
It was a statement game for the Toronto Marlies on Saturday evening. Frustrated by a lack of offense in the previous two outings, coach Dallas Eakins shuffled his lines in search of generating some scoring punch.
The hometown squad responded in kind, blanking the Hamilton Bulldogs 5-0 – the team that trumped them by three goals a day earlier – much to the delight of the near sellout crowd at Ricoh Coliseum.
While many of the NHL-starved fans in attendance were eager to see players such as Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne, it was a pair of youngsters that jump-started the Marlies in the first period. 20-year-old Greg McKegg – playing in just his sixth career AHL game – found the net in the first minute of the game, scoring the first goal by a Toronto forward since opening night seven days earlier (a drought of 133 minutes, 51 seconds).
The rest of the opening frame was the Kenny Ryan show. The 2010 Memorial Cup champion with Windsor had been inserted in place of a struggling Jerry D’Amigo for his first appearance of the season. Ryan scored twice before the midway mark of the period, and for good measure also engaged in fisticuffs with Hamilton’s Blake Geoffrion.
“I was fortunate to get into the lineup,” said Ryan. “It’s been a long summer and a long season, and I just want to make the most of my opportunity. I think it’s been six or seven months since I last played a game with the Marlies.”
The Marlies not only dominated on the scoresheet, but stood their ground as the flustered Bulldogs ramped up their physical play, as hockey custom usually dictates with the game slipping out of reach. Defenceman Mark Fraser engaged Hamilton’s Kyle Hagel in a second period bout, while minutes later, Bulldogs forward Louis Leblanc left the ice gingerly after tangling with Jesse Blacker.
Toronto maintained their physical presence throughout the entire 60 minutes, with Leo Komarov stepping over the edge in taking an extra boarding minor as he and Michael Blunden were sent off for coincidental fighting majors.
“It’s always a good rivalry between (Toronto and) Hamilton,” said Ryan. “I think we play them 12 times. There’s always stuff going on, on the ice, after the whistles. But I think we answered the bell tonight, and played really well.”
Eakins’ decision on his fourth-line right-winger for Sunday afternoon’s matchup against Grand Rapids was a no-brainer, given Ryan’s performance that earned him first star honours. “When you’ve got a lot of players around, and a lot of depth, it’s not only about playing well. It’s about playing up to expectations,” Eakins said. “Kenny Ryan made a statement for himself. It’s now impossible for me to walk up to him and say ‘you’re not playing (Sunday)’”
Jussi Rynnas, making his first start of the season, made 31 saves in the shutout. “I know he was excited to play and really focused before the game,” said Eakins. “I tried to talk to him a couple of times, but it was almost like I wasn’t standing there! He was in the zone right from the start.”
Eakins also said that Rynnas would start on Sunday, provided Rynnas – who had last played on April 15 in a playoff loss to Abbotsford – felt good to go. “I think if a guy gets a shutout, then you’ve got to go right back with him.”