A tough end to the Calder Cup dreams of Coach Sheldon Keefe and his Marlies last season, is being replaced by a fresh desire to go even further this year.
The Toronto Marlies opened the 2016-17 season this weekend by hosting the Utica Comets. While the home team had lost some well know faces like William Nylander and Zach Hyman to the Maple Leafs this season, the club has no shortage of talent and depth. In fact, this team may be an even more impressive collection of balanced scoring compared to the 2015-16 Marlies version of the club.
Saturday afternoon (1pm start), the Marlies kicked off their season without missing a beat. A group that hadn’t really played together at all during the preseason, was now taking the ice in an effort to re-establish some of the swagger that previously existed at Ricoh Coliseum.
Early in the game both Utica and Toronto worked on establishing flow. Two teams that were clearly amped up to kick off the season, focused on taking the body and getting a feel for linemates. It wasn’t until a powerplay that AHL rookie, Andrew Nielsen ripped home a wrister from the point to make the score 1-0 for the home team. Nielsen had a very solid season in the WHL last year, and had an impressive Rookie Tourney, but it is always tougher to establish the same level of effectiveness at the next level. I really like what I see from Nielsen, and am excited to follow his progress this season. Nielsen finished the game with a goal and two assists.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) October 15, 2016
Following that opening goal, the Marlies played keep away from Utica for an extended period of time. The level of skill on the team this year is incredible. The pipeline has talent, well done Mr. Hunter.
The rest of the afternoon was the Brendan Leipsic, and Andreas Johnsson show. Leipsic had four points, and Johnsson had two goals (both on the powerplay). It wasn’t until the 18 minute mark in the second period that Utica even managed to solve starting goaltender Garret Sparks.
With four goalies currently on the Marlies Roster, the fact that Sparks got the first game at home speaks of the confidence and high levels of respect that Coach Sheldon Keefe has for him. There are only so many minutes to go around this year, and Sparks should get the majority of them with Bibeau either in Orlando getting the bulk of those minutes or backing up Sparks here in Toronto.
While the attack was balanced, the standout performances of Leipsic, Johnsson, Kapanen (also two points both apples) and Nielsen were the bright points of the day. A huge win, and an solid statement in front of 4,900 fans that the Toronto Marlies are serious about winning this season. In fact, when asked post game what his goals were this season, Sparks simply said “We want to win the Calder Cup….”
Interview over. Final score 5-2 Marlies.
Sunday the puck dropped at 5pm at the Ricoh Coliseum for the same two teams as the previous day. This time, starting goaltender for the Marlies was Antoine Bibeau. When you are fighting for a starting job, and the goalie you are competing with puts up a solid performance, it is in your best interest to answer. Bibeau did exactly that stopping 19 of 21 for the win.
Continuing his solid play is Kasperi Kapanen. Unsure how this young player would react with the removal of his BFF from the Marlies team (William Nylander, Leafs) it is readily apparent that Kappy is ready for the next step. With 5 points in two games this weekend, he was awarded the CCM/AHL player of the week on Monday. Scoring and then assisting on goals by Dmytro Timashov and Travis Dermott, Kapanen is skating very well and seeing the ice even better. As an aside the goals by rookies Timashov and Dermott were the first of their AHL careers. The organizational depth is incredible when you consider the parent club, Maple Leafs are starting SIX rookies this year.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) October 16, 2016
Again on Sunday, the Marlies dominated the play by outshooting the opposition by a total of 33-21 in front of 4,300 rambunctious fans of the blue and white home team.
Rinat Valiev and Richard Clune both had fights during this game, the first of Valiev’s AHL career. Nielsen, Dermott, Valiev all give the Leafs different options on the blueline moving forward in their careers. While Holl, and Campbell might get the first call ups if the need should arise, it is amazing to see how quickly these young men are growing in their careers.
Final score. 5-2 Marlies.
If you get a chance, and want to watch some excellent talent at the AHL prices, get to the Ricoh and watch our Marlies. You will not be disappointed.
Next Game: Marlies travel to Rochester (Friday 7pm. ET)
“It was a good start for us today. In many senses, it was like an exhibition game for us in terms of feeling things out and working with different guys, different units, line combinations, all those types of things. To come out of a game like this with a win and the success we had on the power play was really good.”
Sheldon Keefe, Marlies Head Coach
“I feel we are playing pretty well. Every team at the start of the season has their bumps. We know what we are doing wrong and we will go into this week’s practices and pave those things over.”