The season has been a rollercoaster for this Toronto Marlies hockey team.
On paper, this group was considered to be just as deep as last years club, but missing a forward (or defenceman) that could lead the charge and put fear into the opposition with each shift.
Coach Keefe has preached about consistency with this club, but to this point in the calendar season mediocrity might be best to describe the play away from the Ricoh Coliseum.
Within the friendly confines of the home building the Marlies are 9-4-0. Away is another story altogether as the team heads into the holiday season with a 13-12-1 record and a .519 winning percentage.
Coach Keefe has been thrown plenty of curveballs with his roster again this year. Injuries, NHL Veterans being shipped to the AHL (akin to being put out to pasture), there are five goalies listed on the current roster, and players who were supposed to lead the offense who simply didnt contribute enough thus far.
All that said, some Coaches love a bit of adversity. It challenges them and motivates them to get creative. I believe that Sheldon Keefe is one of those Coaches, and will move heaven and earth to ensure that the Marlies are competitive each and every night. This is all a work in progress as we head into Egg Nog and Candle Canes.
Antoine Bibeau split the two weekend games with a win and a loss since being returned to the Marlies from the Leafs. Solid in his positioning and making critical stops will (more than likely) have him back with the Leafs if /when a backup goalie is required to spell Frederik Andersen. In my opinion, he is the best option in the organization moving forward for that role.
Byron Froese led the scoring yesterday for the Marlies with two goals and an assist. It was the type of game that needs to be seen more often from Froese if he hopes to get some NHL time here in Toronto. Froese is a kid that needs offensive zone touches and to feel like he is contributing. With Kapanen and Leipsic out of the lineup, he got those opportunities.
Scoring his first goal of the year, Rinat Valiev looked like a guy who was ‘feeling the game’ yesterday. Not only did he score on a clapper from the point but he gained the zone on several occassions and was dangerous (in a good way) whenever he had the puck. Valive, has started slow this season and a strong second half will go a long way.
Leading the team in shots were Kerby Rychel and Andreas Johnsson with five each in the Sunday Matinee. Another couple of players who have not contributed as much as hoped, are starting to heat up as the Marlies head into the post holiday part of the season.
Talking to Coach Keefe, post game, he told me that both leading scorers Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen (small laceration) will be returing to the lineup soon.
Of interest, Leafs President Brendan Shanahan was on hand at the Ricoh Coliseum yesterday for the game. Rare sightings for the man in charge of hockey for MLSE. Good to see the young Irishman keeping an eye on all levels of play in the system.
Marlies get back to action on Boxing Day vs. the St. John’s Ice Caps. 3pm start.
“I thought our effort was excellent, some tough circumstances here today. We’ll call it a short line up with some of the changes we had to make last minute with not having a morning skate or anything with an early game. We found out some guys couldn’t go today so had to change some things up. Stanton and Wrenn ended up having to go in after skating and working out early in the morning so tough circumstances for them. I thought our guys stepped up really well. It was a slow start for us, but once we got comfortable and once we got a goal and started to believe a little bit, you could see things really come for us so it was a really good effort.”
Sheldon Keefe, Marlies Head Coach