I remember going through the prospective roster ahead of the season.
I counted in my head how many of the players could be top-notch point producers at the AHL level. I think we all did that. Ryan Hamilton, Greg Scott and Carter Ashton all scored upwards of 20 goals last season; Mike Zigomanis and Nazem Kadri were both close to doing the same. Matt Frattin produced at a point-per-game pace during the playoffs, and both Nicolas Deschamps and Jerry D’Amigo put up double-digit figures in the post-season.
Add to that list the acquisition of Keith Aucoin and Mike Kostka, as well as the assignment of Jake Gardiner to begin the 76 game campaign. It seemed to me like Brian Burke and his management associates had aligned things perfectly for an offensive powerhouse.
As the season started, it was hard to get a feel for the team.
Only four home dates in the opening five weeks meant most of us were restricted to the AHL Live feed to catch game play. Head coach Dallas Eakins had also made mention to some changes in the system the team was running, one passed down by Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle in order to help with a smooth transition for players who will enter the NHL realm.
Something clicked on the road. And when it happened – whatever ‘it’ is – the goal scoring began.
Over the past seven games, the Marlies have five times scored five or more goals. Through the same stretch the powerplay, which admittedly has struggled for three straight seasons, has been able to convert in each game. And the increased goal scoring both five-on-five and on the powerplay has propelled the Toronto team to six wins, moving them up the standings to fourth.
Toronto’s 53 goals scored is good for third in the league, one behind Syracuse (formerly the Calder Cup winning Norfolk team) and four back of Charlotte.
Sunday’s five goals from five different scorers highlights perfectly the success the team has found as of late.
Goal #1: Ryan Hamilton
With a star powered roster filled with names like Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin, it is not often that columns are written about the steady point producing captain. It may be a tricky stat to uncover, but at season’s end Hamilton has lead all those on the active roster in goals scored for three straight seasons. Over his past six games, the team’s captain has contributed 3 goals and 6 points the high powered offence – including the first goal on Sunday.
Goal #2: Nazem Kadri
Coach Eakins said recently that by game’s end, Kadri often stands out as one of the team’s top competitors. If one wanted to judge on stats alone, the past few games has been an outstanding example of such. The Maple Leafs first round pick in 2009 has compiled a hearty 11 points over the last five games, including a remarkable 7 points in three straight games this weekend. On Sunday his goal shows just how offensively gifted this Marlies forward can be.
Goal #3: Nicolas Deschamps
Every coach will tell their players about making the most of their opportunity. I know Coach Eakins will often remind the team that that opportunity may only come once a game. Deschamps has notched three goals in as many games, but perhaps this one is the best example of really taking advantage of the opportunity. From the looks of it, the pass wasn’t meant for him.. doesn’t seem to matter much to Deschamps.
Goal #4: Matt Frattin
As mentioned above Frattin took charge of the AHL playoffs scoring at a point-per-game pace, 10 of those 13 points being goals. It was a big loss to the Toronto club when he was forced out of the playoffs with a lower body injury in the final game of the Western Conference Finals (where he was banged up driving in an empty net goal to ensure the team victory). If there were any questions as to how Frattin would respond to missing training camp and the first part of the season, they’ve certainly been answered now. Frattin’s goal on Sunday marks his third in two games.
Goal #5: Will Acton
When opportunity knocks. If I were to describe Acton, I wouldn’t even have to finish the well known idiom. Ahead of his first full pro season in 2011/12, the coaches thought he may be one of the players sent to the East Coast Hockey League. An impressive training camp however landed the then rookie a spot on the roster. Although missing the first few games when Acton received his chance to enter the lineup, he gave the coaching staff numerous reasons not to remove him. Eakins kindly related the forward’s ability to linger in their minds as ‘a bad stench that just won’t leave your nose.’ Will Acton: when opportunity knocks.
The weekend set unfortunately will be the only two games the team plays on home ice in the month of November. On Wednesday they will leave for Binghamton, New York, where they start a small US jaunt that takes them through four US cities before returning home on December 1st. Be there, or be square.