TORONTO - Jerry D’Amigo’s playoff beard would suit a man about five years older than his birth certificate.
Playing for three teams in less than two seasons certainly ages a 21-year-old hockey player, but the winger looked the part of a veteran on Thursday for the Toronto Marlies.
D’Amigo would like to make the Maple Leafs his fourth club when 2012-13 rolls around, catching some attention Thursday night at Ricoh Coliseum with two goals in the Marlies’ nail-biting 4-3 playoff-opening win over the Rochester Americans. It was their first playoff game in three years and the first of any kind for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s franchises in that span.
D’Amigo is considered among the most improved farm team players for Toronto, after a controversial decision to leave school early at RPI near his Binghamton, N.Y., home a couple of years ago. He didn’t make the pro jump as hoped and returned to play junior for the Kitchener Rangers. The late-round draft pick from 2009 fell off the radar until putting together a solid year with the Marlies.
“That was tough (moving around), but definitely builds my character up, makes me a better person,” D’Amigo said. “It’s how you deal with the ups and downs that make you a better player.”
D’Amigo’s hustle paid off on the Marlies’ first goal when he beat Amerks’ defenceman T.J. Brennan to a centring pass from linemate Nicolas Deschamps. After Rochester fought back from 3-1 to tie it, D’Amigo wrapped up a penalty killing shift with just enough gas to get to the net and bury Mark Fraser’s pass for the winner with 4:17 to play.
Fraser, a stay-at-home defenceman, jumped out of the box after one of the Marlies’ many undisciplined penalties and D’Amigo jammed it from tight in on David Leggio.
“I was at the end of my shift and wondered if I should go,” D’Amigo said with a laugh. “I was wondering if he would pass to me or not (2-on-1’s not being Fraser’s specialty). But I was lucky enough to be there for the goal.
“They have some good guys over there on Rochester and we have to match their intensity (in Saturday’s second game of the best-of-five series). Tonight we came out a little slow, but got our legs and bounced back when we had to.”
The game followed the script of one-goal decisions that were the outcome in all 10 regular season meetings.
Joe Colborne, who scattered just a few assists in the final six weeks for the Marlies, supplied his first multi-point game since February with two helpers on goals by Mike Zigomanis and Matt Frattin.
The 6-foot-5, 213-pound Colborne used his reach to back-hand a slot pass to an on-rushing Frattin in the third period. Zigomanis’s power-play snap shot, which came in handy when Rochester later tied the game on goals by Marcus Foligno (with Jay Rosehill in the box) and Brennan.
The Marlies out-shot Rochester 37-23, but lack of finish, particularly on the doorstep during a power play early in the game, helped put them behind 1-0. Phil Varone, a local Vaughan product and the Amerks’ leading scorer, got away from Simon Gysbers to tip a Nick Crawford shot.
Toronto scratched Marcel Mueller, but took advantage of defenceman Stuart Percy’s presence on emergency recall for a Jesse Blacker injury to put the 2011 first rounder in the lineup.
Leggio, who led the AHL in saves as its busiest goaltender, turned aside almost 30 shots through 35 minutes. His big middle-period stops were on Will Acton back to back and a glove on Frattin’s partial break, before getting burned on one of those routine plays that befuddle AHLers. Leggio backed away from a dump-in that was coming too close to the trapezoid line, but the only people around were Marlies. Deschamps was there first, centring to D’Amigo. Philippe Dupuis, third member of the line and the checker who was demoted early in the Leafs’ season, had the other assist.
Ben Scrivens had some close calls from close range, but blocks and active sticks kept Rochester to one goal through two periods.
There was an announced crowd of 6,244 but that figure seemed on the high side. The weekend crowd will likely be better as MLSE toys with the idea of hosting games at the Air Canada Centre if the team advances a couple of rounds. The Marlies ranked 14th of 30 AHL teams in attendance with an average of 5,480.