Saturday, November 28, 2009

Toronto Marlies Search for Stability

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week, the Toronto Marlies...

Toronto Marlies Search for Stability

As the only American Hockey League team sharing a city with their NHL affiliate, it can be both a blessing and a curse in Toronto. While players do not have far to travel when called-up to the NHL club and guidance from the organization's General Manager is readily available, the constant shifting of players from the AHL to NHL can leave the roster in a constant state of flux. In the case of the Marlies, the early season struggles by the Leafs, have led to a slow start for themselves as well.

While the Maple Leafs dealt with injuries and poor performances by their goaltenders, using four so far this season, the call-up of Joey MacDonald and James Reimer to the Leafs on several occasions has meant that the Marlies have also had to use four goalies. Adam Munro and Andrew Engelage have seen some action at the AHL level while MacDonald and Reimer have been with the big club.

Reimer, a former Red Deer Rebel (WHL) from Winnipeg Manitoba, has carried the load in nets for the Marlies, posting a 6-1-1 record in nine games, with a 2.29 GAA and a .925 save percentage in his first full season in the league. He recently missed the opportunity for his first AHL shutout in Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Lake Erie Monsters. MacDonald, a member of the New York Islanders last season, has split his time between the Leafs and Marlies. In six games, he has a 2-4-0 record with a 2.83 GAA and a shaky .892 save percentage. Munro, a former Chicago Blackhawk, in his second season with the Marlies, has played six games this season with a 2-2-1 record, 2.49 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Engelage has played only 40 minutes for the Marlies, so his 7.50 GAA and .643 save percentage are not reflective of his abilities - he will spend most of the season in the ECHL with the Reading Royals.

The team has won three games in a row headed into Saturday’s action but they are 10 points behind the Rochester Americans for first place in the Western Conference’s North Division. Twenty games into the season, Toronto has a 10-7-1-2 (win/loss/overtime loss/shootout loss) and 23 points. While there is some distance to first in the division, they are only 5 points out of second place. Toronto ranks 16th on the power play and have been very consistent on the penalty kill, ranking 10th in the AHL. Things need to tighten up defensively for the Marlies, while they have scored 58 goals this season; they have allowed 59 goals against, categories that will need improvement if the team is to make a move in the standings.

With leading scorer Christian Hanson (8 goals, 18 points) currently suiting up for the Maple Leafs, the offence will need to find a rhythm behind Jiri Tlusty (8 goals, 15 points) and Andre Deveaux (3 goals, 13 points). First year AHL player, Tyler Bozak has only two goals this season and the former NCAA star from Regina Saskatchewan will have to increase his productivity for the Marlies. Of course, with the way the Leaf’s season has gone, if Bozak’s play improves, he may find himself in the NHL, leaving the Marlies to search for another legitimate goal scorer.

As the spotlight in Toronto shines squarely on the Maple Leafs, the Marlies continue to establish themselves in a Toronto market that includes the Leafs, the NBA’s Raptors, the MLS Toronto FC, MLB’s Blue Jays and the CFL’s Argonauts. The battle for media coverage and ticket buyers is fierce and even though the Marlies are affiliated with the Leafs, through 11 home games, the Marlies are 28th in the 29-team league in attendance; averaging 3,074 fans per game

In their fifth season in Toronto, questions remain as to the viability of an AHL team in the city but as the Leafs continue to rebuild, the Marlies will eventually be home for the Leaf’s emerging stars. With a good mix of veterans and prospects in the next few seasons, which is the recipe for success in the league, the attendance numbers will continue to increase for the Marlies.

A tough week is awaiting the Marlies, after today’s game against the Houston Aeros (11-10-1-1), Toronto faces two division rivals. The Abbotsford Heat (12-9-2-2) are at the Ricoh Coliseum on Tuesday before back-to-back games against the Hamilton Bulldogs (12-6-1-3) on Friday and Saturday. The Heat and the Bulldogs are five points ahead of the Marlies in the North Division.

Next Saturday at The Voice of Sport, we’ll head South in the AHL, looking at the red-hot Texas Stars. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by suki_n on Flickr

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