The Toronto Marlies are becoming a model of success in the American Hockey League. The Marlies claimed first place in the Western Conference, finishing December with a 10-1-2 record. Under the guidance of head coach Dallas Eakins, the Marlies improved on last season when they made it to the AHL finals.

The success story of the Marlies is the result of several players coming together. Free agent acquisitions Keith Aucoin and Mike Kostka are first and second on the team in points.

Kostka is a career AHL defenceman who is eager to prove himself and crack the NHL lineup, if there is a season. Kostka was team captain at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, but went undrafted after four years. Kostka was forced to sign an AHL deal with the Buffalo Sabres. He had a breakout season with the Rochester Americans in 2010-2011, scoring 16 goals and 59 points. He signed with the Florida Panthers after that season. But he still didn’t get his shot in the NHL, being one of the last players to be demoted too Florida’s AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. Kostka was quickly dealt to the Nofolk Admirals where he became a key part of their championship run. He was picked up by Toronto in the summer and signed to a one-year minor league deal. Now Kostka, an Etobicoke natïve, is second in defencemen scoring in the AHL, trailing Edmonton Oilers prospect Justin Schultz. “His Hockey IQ is off the charts,” Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said of Kostka.

Kostka isn’t the only Marlie who is looking to try and make the big club. Matt Frattin has had a strong come back after his off-season knee surgery scoring 16 points in 18 games and playing solid hockey.

Nazem Kadri has been a strong force with the Marlies this season who hopes to finally make the big club if there is a season. “He drives other teams crazy, that’s what I love about Naz,” Burke said.

Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton is an intangible part of their success and became the Marlies all-time scoring leader on December 21st. “Right now I’m remembering all of my teammates who were a part of this, the guys I’ve played with this year and teammates from past years,” Hamilton said after becoming the scoring leader.

In net, goaltender Jussi Rynnas has returned from injury to create a goaltending controversy, posting a 5-1-1 record with a ridiculous 1.81 GAA and .942 SV%. Ben Scrivens is still the starting goaltender for the Marlies but if Rynnas keeps playing the way he has been, he has a shot of dethroning Scrivens.

The Marlies have come together under coach Dallas Eakins. Eakins was named to coach the Western Conference all-star team after sporting the best coaching record in his conference at the end of the calendar year.

The success of the Marlies has been shown in attendance. “I think the city has paid more attention to what our players are doing individually and as a team,” Eakins said. Without the Toronto Maple Leafs playing and with the excitement of the Marlies success, they managed to sell out the Air Canada Centre on Boxing Day and their attendance this season has jumped 38%.