By any measure, the Toronto Marlies’ 12 seasons in the American Hockey League have been a success. The team has won five North Division crowns and advanced to the conference final on four occasions in its 11 full seasons playing out of Ricoh Coliseum. The move to Toronto came when the Maple Leafs decided to move their affiliate in St. John’s, Nlfd., closer to the big club, not only to keep their prospects playing close to home but also to give hockey fans in the city another pro attraction.
CALDER CUP FINALISTS
The best Marlies team — judging by playoff record — took to the ice at Ricoh in 2011-12, winning three playoff series to storm toward the Calder Cup Final with just two post-season losses. Veteran forwards Ryan Hamilton and Mike Zigomanis, along with long-time Marlie Matt Frattin, were the offensive catalysts as the team quickly dispatched the Rochester Americans, Abbotsford Heat and Oklahoma City Barons, to set-up a showdown with the powerhouse Norfolk Admirals in the final. An injury to Frattin — who had established himself as perhaps the top AHL forward that season — as he scored an empty-net goal in the series victory over the Barons, was not the only bad luck the club encountered. A bad bounce on a delayed off-side during overtime of Game 3 of the final led to a 1-0 Admirals victory as the Marlies fell behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven and never recovered. Interestingly, that heartbreaking game was the first professional hockey playoff game played in Toronto in June. Beyond that quirky fact, the 2012 Calder Cup finalists are notable for their many future Leafs, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner among them, while the Admirals roster was dotted with names that would soon help make the Tampa Bay Lightning one of the best teams in the NHL.
LAST SEASON’S RUN
Four years later, the Marlies looked for all the world that they were going to equal and perhaps surpass that high-water mark. A 54-win, 114-point campaign last season remains the best since the Marlies came to Toronto and it was also tops in the AHL for the first time in the organization’s history.
The Marlies won game seven over the Albany Devils to make it to the conference final but were dispatched by the Hershey Bears in five games once they got there. The result was disappointing but the unfortunate end was mitigated by 15 players suiting up for at least one game with the Leafs. Defenceman T.J. Brennan had one of the best individual seasons in a Marlies uniform in 2015-16, scoring nearly a point a game (68 points in 69 games) and earning the AHL’s top defenceman award. It surprised no one that William Nylander played his way on to the Leafs roster, but the development of Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov, eventually leading to full-time roles with the big club, illustrated the good work being done by new head coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff, beyond their sterling win-loss record.
That work, of course, is ongoing this season as a largely re-worked Marlies roster gears up for another playoff run that will be the team’s ninth post-season appearance in 12 seasons since AHL hockey arrived in Toronto. For hockey fans in this city, the Marlies have been a winning and welcome addition.
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