Stars welcome Marlies, hope to hand them first loss

By Jared Clinton (@JPDClinton)

If everything really is bigger in Texas, a Marlies win tonight — which would be their eighth straight — would certainly prove huge for the Maple Leafs farm team’s chances of advancing to the Calder Cup Final for the second time in three seasons.

The problem for the Marlies, however, lies in the trouble they’ve had with their opponent, the Texas Stars. In their last game at the Cedar Park Center, the Marlies were shutout by the Stars, 6-0, in one of their worst losses of the season.

Christopher Nilstorp, who got the start and the shutout in that contest, will be backstopping the Stars again, and he has seemingly had the Marlies number all season. Posting a 1.31 GAA and .949SV% against the Marlies in the regular season, Nilstorp only allowed four goals to the Baby Buds, and helped his team take three of a possible six points from Toronto in the three games he started.

The Stars’ netminder is going to have to look to slow down a Marlies powerplay that is on a torrid pace, moving at a 25% clip these playoffs, and hope to put the brakes on the streaking Peter Holland and Jerry D’Amigo.

A mainstay on the Marlies roster over the last three seasons, D’Amigo’s play has been inspired during these Calder Cup playoffs. The 23-year-old Binghamton native has registered a point in each game this post-season, contributing four goals and eight assists, and powering the Marlies to their unbeaten streak.

Holland, who was brought into Toronto from the Anaheim Ducks’ early in 2013-14, was a huge part of the Marlies sweep of the Chicago Wolves in the second round. In the sweep, Holland registered at least a point in each contest, racking up four goals and two assists over that span.

The Stars, who battled their way out of the first round with two consecutive overtime wins over the Oklahoma City Barons, make their way to the Western Conference Final after an impressive 7-1 game six defeat of the defending Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins.

Regular season scoring champion Travis Morin has been impressive for the Stars, and will be called upon to make an impact if the Stars are to move on to their second Calder Cup Final.

It appears that this series could simply come down to a battle of which team can pot three in a night. Over the course of the playoffs, Texas has allowed two goals in seven of their nine games, with Toronto allowing two-or-more in five of seven.

Tonight’s contest kicks off at 8:30 ET (7:30 CT) at the Cedar Park Center.


Leafs, Kings make AHL swap

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings agreed to deal yesterday afternoon that shuffled the deck for their AHL squads.

Forward Brandon Kozun, a sixth-round pick by the Kings in 2009, was sent to the Leafs in exchange for forward Andrew Crescenzi, an unrestricted free agent who signed with Toronto back in September 2010.

Kozun, the more notable of the two names in the deal, is a product of the famed Shattuck St. Mary’s, where he played a single season before moving on to the Alberta Junior Hockey League and then to the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen.

Born in Los Angeles, but with Canadian nationality, Kozun now finds himself back in his home country. In 277 career games with the Monarchs, the 5’8″ forward has tallied 81 goals and 106 assists. This season, in 43 games, Kozun has potted 10 goals to go along with 19 helpers.

Crescenzi, in his first season as a full-time AHLer, had been little more than a role player for the Marlies. In 32 games this season, the Thorhill, Ont. native posted a goal and two assists. He spent parts of last season with the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls, and suited up for 15 games with the Marlies.

Undrafted, Crescenzi made got to the AHL by way of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

Ranger signs deal with Leafs, back in NHL

After a mysterious exit from the game nearly four years ago, Paul Ranger resurfaced with the Toronto Marlies last season. Now, the 28-year-old Whitby, Ont. native has signed an NHL deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though terms of the deal have not been disclosed, it’s believed the contract is a one-year deal worth $1 million a season. Likely, when the details surface, it will be a two-way deal that will allow Ranger to spend a bit of time in the AHL.

Last season, his first back in the professional ranks, Ranger had a stellar year for the Leafs top affiliate. In 60 games (51 regular season, 9 playoff), Ranger potted 10 goals and 19 assists, good for third in scoring by Marlies defencemen.

At only 28, Ranger still has a lot of career in front of him, and it seems the break from the game was what he needed. While the reason for his departure from the NHL — and hockey in general — has never surfaced, it’s nice to see whatever ailed the talented blue liner has subsided and he’s back in the game.

A sixth round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2002, Ranger has played in 281 NHL contests, racking up 20 goals and 79 assists. His AHL career has consisted of 130 games, where he tallied 43 points (14-29).

Christopher Gibson lands with Leafs

After failing to come to terms with the Los Angeles Kings, goaltender Christopher Gibson will suit up with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization next season.

Gibson, who has spent the last four seasons with Chicoutimi of the QMJHL, was originally drafted by the Kings in the second round of the 2011 draft, but was never signed to an NHL deal. As such, Gibson was free to explore his options, and the Maple Leafs have signed the Finnish netminder.

Only 20 years old, Gibson will suit up next season — and make his professional debut — with the Toronto Marlies. In his last season with Chicoutimi, Gibson posted a 3.08 GAA and .902 SV% in 41 regular season games, but got shelled in the playoffs, posting a 3.87 GAA and .898 SV% in six appearances.

Marlies part ways with Zigomanis, Rynnas

Two familiar faces in Toronto are going to be suiting up with new teams next season.

Goaltender Jussi Rynnas and forward Mike Zigomanis have signed contract with the Karpat and Rochester, respectively.

Rynnas, who has spent the last three seasons in the Leafs organization after leaving SM-Liiga for an opportunity in North America, heads back to his native Finland. Since the 2010-11 season, Rynnas has suited up in 73 contests with the Marlies, but spent very little time in the NHL. Struggling to take the starting role in the AHL, Rynnas will likely get the chance to be a regular started in his homeland.

In 2011-12, Rynnas set career highs in the AHL with a GAA of 2.55 and SV% of .910. That same season, however, Rynnas spent 14 games in the ECHL with the Reading Royals and struggled to the tune of a 3.21 GAA and .914 SV%.

A one-time AHL Player of the Week, Rynnas’ signing in Karpat signals the end of his North American tenure for the time being. His SM-Liiga contract will keep him in Finland for the next two seasons.

In Zigomanis, the Marlies are losing a leader on and off the ice. A veteran of over 500 AHL games, the Marlies former alternate captain will suit up with the Rochester Americans next season.

Playing at least 60 games in the AHL with the Marlies each of the last three seaons, Zigomanis is coming off of a down year in which he only managed seven goals and 28 assists, the lowest points per game total of his career. The season prior, Zigomanis set a career high with 19 goals and 42 assists, as well as adding another four goals and two helpers in 13 playoff games.

While he may be getting up there in age, the 32-year-old Zigomanis can still contribute at the AHL level, and will likely slot in deeper in the roster for the Amerks.

Leafs extend Marshall, shore up defence

The Toronto Maple Leafs have extended defenceman Kevin Marshall, a signing that may have gone under the radar in Leaf Land, but one that was necessary.

A second round draft pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007, Marshall hasn’t yet worked his way out of the AHL and will likely continue to get seasoning with the AHL’s Marlies this coming season. In 24 games with the Marlies last season after being acquired from the Washington Capitals organization, Marshall had one goal and seven assists.

What Marshall, 24, brings to the roster is a history of winning. While a member of the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the QMJHL, Marshall hoisted the QMJHL Championship. In addition, Marshall was a member of the 2005-06 Canadian U17 team, winning a gold medal with the squad.

While not the flashiest defenceman, Marshall’s reliable and can log a lot of minutes while being relied upon for some leadership in the room. A former captain of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, Marshall makes an effective addition to the Marlies without the Leafs having to go out looking.

In 283 career regular season AHL games, Marshall has nine goals, 31 assists, and 403 PIM.

Pens lose one, add four on two-way deals

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost a part of their farm club’s top-six, but made up for it by signing four forwards to contracts.

Trevor Smith, a 28-year-old from Ottawa, Ont., had spent the last year as an alternate captain on the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, took advantage of his free agency and signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Smith, who made his pro-debut in 2006-07 as an undrafted free agent out of the NCAA’s University of New Hampshire, has spent parts of the last six seasons in the AHL. While never an elite AHL talent, Smith has parlayed his opportunities with AHL clubs into a full-time spot in 2008-09, when he played 76 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and posted 30 goals and 32 assists. Though he’s moved around quite a bit — Smith has played for Bridgeport, Syracuse, Springfield, Norfolk, and Wilkes-Barre — he’s been effective in every setting, and was given the alternate captaincy in Wilkes-Barre last season.

With the loss of Smith, the Penguins looked to fill some spots in their lineup, and did so by inking Nick Drazenovic, Bobby Farnham, and Chris Conner, all to one-year, two-way deals, and Andrew Ebbett to a two-year, two-way deal.

The biggest name of the four, Ebbett, has spent the last two seasons with the Canucks organization, but has seen his career settle into the role of transition player between the AHL and NHL. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Senators in 2006, Ebbett has since moved organizations on nearly a year-to-years basis. Since signing with Ottawa in ’06, Ebbett has played for Anaheim, Chicago, Minnesota, Phoenix, and Vancouver. In 191 NHL games, Ebbett has put up 64 points (25-39), but he’s been effective at an incredible level in the AHL. Ebbett’s 236 points (76-160) over 247 games puts him in elite AHL territory, and he is a game breaker at the minor level.

Conner, who spent time in the Penguins organization from 2009-2011, but left to sign on with the Detroit Red Wings in the offseason of 2011. In his first stint with the Pens, Conner caught on with the big club, spending 60 games in the NHL in 2010-11, where he put up 16 points in a bottom six role. Conner will likely split time between the farm and the big club.



Longtime Marlie Hamilton heads to OKC

Ryan Hamilton spent five years in Marlies blue-and-white, but much like Will Acton, he’s following Dallas Eakins to the Oil.

Hamilton, who was the Marlies captain for the last two years, has signed a two-year deal with the Oilers.

At 28, Hamilton has been primarily an AHL player. In seven seasons as a pro, Hamilton has only suited up for 14 pro games, and spent over 450 games in the minors. Over 421 regular season games spread across the Marlies and Houston Aeros, Hamilton has helped out offensively to the tune of 233 points (129-104). Though his offensive numbers aren’t staggering, Hamilton brings good size — he stands 6’2″ and weighs nearly 220 lbs. — and leadership to the farm. He won’t challenge for any scoring titles, but Hamilton is the kind of player most minor league clubs would love to have — size, skill, and a steady veteran presence.

Hamilton signed with the Minnesota Wild in 2006 as an undrafted free agent, but was later shipped to Toronto in exchange for Robbie Earl. After a series of one-year deals with the Leafs, it’s nice to see the Oshawa, Ont. product get some job security.

Like Acton, Hamilton had spent a few seasons under the tutelage of Dallas Eakins, and it’d be interesting to know how much Eakins’ signing on in Edmonton influenced the two signings.


Spott speaks about Marlies gig

Steve Spott is already getting his first tastes of the Toronto media.

Yesterday afternoon the newly appointed Marlies head coach joined Brian Hayes and Jeff O’Neill on TSN 1050’s Leafs Lunch to talk about leaving the Kitchener Rangers, joining the Maple Leafs organization, and much more.

On leaving his GM/head coaching duties behind:

It’s not easy when you have to move. The situation here, in Kitchener, is one that it really is a community governed hockey club and everywhere you go in the city it’s a special place to be. It’s very much like an NCAA environment as you guys alluded to where the coach of the team… very rarely does he have to pay for a cup of coffee. So, it’s a neat place. To leave here now is bittersweet, but having the opportunity with Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin, Claude Loiselle, Jim Hughes, you can tell that the organization is in great standing in Toronto, and I’m just excited for the plan that they have for the Marlies.

On his style, and whether he’ll have to adjust

I think you do. Fortunately for me . . . I know some of the kids that are there, so I’ll definitely take time over the next couple of weeks to get in touch with those guys. I’ll talk to Dallas today to try and get information on what makes those guys tick. Ultimately, I think talking to Dave and Dave, they want to get a little bit younger with the Marlies now and make it a pure development team, and you may not see as many of the American Hockey League veterans as you’ve seen in Toronto in the past.

You can listen to the full interview on the TSN 1050 website here.

Spott named Marlies bench boss

Steve Spott is making the jump from the juniors to the AHL.

Spott, 45, has spent the last ten seasons behind the bench of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, but will be leaving to fill the hole left by Dallas Eakins. Eakins, long said to be an NHL coach in waiting, left the Marlies earlier this off-season to fill the  head coaching position for the Edmonton Oilers.

The news was confirmed earlier today by TSN’s Darren Dreger, and Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that Spott had previously met with Maple Leafs brass in New Jersey during the draft weekend.

Spott steps down from his post as both head coach and general manager of the Kitchener Rangers, where he lead the team to a two conference finals appearances, and won one OHL Championship as an assistant coach. Spott also coached Team Canada in the 2013 IIHF World U20 Championship, where his Canadian squad was undefeated in the round robin before losing the bronze medal game to Russia.