Marlies gear up for Calder Cup run
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
, Last Updated: 2:38 AM ET
TORONTO - The Toronto Marlies-Norfolk Admirals’ Calder Cup final starts Friday in Virginia. Neither team has ever won a league title, in fact they’ve never played each other. Here’s some common ground and key elements that will determine how the best of seven series will swing: THE HURT LOCKER The Marlies are already leading this aspect of the series by a wide margin Matt Frattin is done with knee surgery, Nazem Kadri has been away from workouts a couple of games, Mike Zigomanis (likely an elbow) is skating again, but on his own. Defenceman Jesse Blacker is questionable and forwards Marcel Mueller and Carter Ashton are just now back at work. Norfolk has no significant injuries. The underdogs are wearing blue and white it would seem. “I don’t know how we can’t be,” Toronto coach Dallas Eakins said. “I don’t like taking on that underdog status because I expect our team to win. (But) you look at the lineups and I have at least a No. 1 line out right now, almost the top two. But I expect to win, I don’t care who is in.” STREAKS OF LIGHTNING Tampa Bay’s farm team re-wrote the pro-hockey record book with a 28-game regular season winning streak that was eventually halted in the playoffs. The Marlies, who make the same horrendous bus trips with 3-in-3 weekend schedules as Norfolk, were duly impressed and know that kind of resolve makes a team tough to rattle. “Every time I talk to a coach that played against them or to one of our pro scouts, I wish I didn’t make the phone call,” Eakins said. “I came away thinking ‘holy man, what are we going to do?’. They have four lines, sometimes they only dress 11 forwards, they can all score and all hurt you. “Everyone who had played against them has told us they didn’t (set the mark) by accident. They’re that good that it’s easy to win 28 in a row.” SPUNK IN ALL SIZES The Admirals have 80-point rookie scoring leader Cory Conacher (5-foot-8, 180 pounds) and runner-up Tyler Johnson (5-foot-9, 175 pounds), both strong on the puck for players of that stature. “A lot of times with smaller players, you can lean on them, growl in their ear a bit and they’ll fade away,” Eakins said. “But their small guys are competitive. They’ll hit you, they’ll stay engaged.” The Admirals also have battleships, with Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Brandon Segal, both 6-2 and more than 200 pounds. Toronto counters with the NHL proven Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill, centred at the moment by Josh Engel. “I like having toughness in my lineup,” Eakins said. “It’s not about fighting, it’s about going out there, hanging on to pucks down low and being physical. That line with Engel did a great job (in the past two games) and turned the momentum in our favour a couple of times. When things weren’t going too well, they went out, got on the body, hung on the puck, got a couple of chances and ignited our bench.” HIGH AND LOWS Norfolk led the AHL with 273 goals, 56 more than the Marlies. Toronto allowed five fewer goals (175) and boasted the best penalty killing, which it has carried into the final. The pressure will be on the Marlie shutdown tandem of Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser, but that responsibility must be spread out. “The whole defence and the offensive guys have to back-check hard and make it tough as possible to get good scoring chances,” Holzer said. “The last two games against Oklahoma City were a good example. Everybody was buying into the system when we had a lot of keys guys out. In the first game they had 30 shots, most of them not high quality. With a goalie like Ben Scrivens, that’s easy bait.” NET RESULTS Dustin Toharski was the more well known of the Calder Cup starters at the start of the year, having been a Memorial Cup MVP with Spokane and a Team Canada star. But even his 1.65 playoff goals-against and current run of 158:09 without a goal has not kept Scrivens in the dark. With a 1.61 average and some outstanding solo efforts, the previously unknown free agent from Cornell is getting more attention. Both men are making a pitch to get NHL jobs in 2012-13. JAKE MAKES HIS MARK Each team has a defenceman that bears watching — workhorse Mark Barberio of the Admirals and flashy Marlies defenceman Jake Gardiner. Barberio is a minute-muncher voted the AHL’s top blueliner. He quarterbacks a lot of the play and has eight points so far. Gardiner can fly end to end when the opening is there and his season-long ride with the Leafs puts him in good stead to beat a lot of slower minor leaguers. HOME AND AWAY Both teams made it to the final in almost the minimum amount of games, underlining their strength in both home and road matches. Toronto has had the benefit of going into sparsely filled rinks and quickly taking out what little crowd atmosphere there has been. The Scope in Norfolk won’t likely sell out either. Ricoh Coliseum is on course to sell out all three home games next week. But Norfolk silenced sellout crowds in St. John’s very quickly in the Eastern final. “Our guys are very comfortable at home,” Eakins said. “I know our road record is great in playoffs (5-1), but we just need to go in there and win the first game.” A TIME TO HEAL Time is still on the Marlies’ side when it comes to injuries. With Game 1 of the Calder Cup final still a couple of days away, Toronto has been able to get Carter Ashton (concussion) and Marcel Mueller (upper body), back working out with the scoring duo of Philippe Dupuis and Nicolas Deschamps. The more healthy of the two will likely start on Friday in Norfolk. “Some guys are making strides,” coy coach Dallas Eakins said Wednesday at the MasterCard Centre. “Every day off is another day to heal.” The possible return of one or both forwards, had newly promoted London Knight Greg McKegg back skating with the spares on Wednesday. “He’s played a lot of hockey (up to Sunday’s Memorial Cup loss to Shawinigan) and his pace certainly isn’t up to what our group is,” Eakins said of McKegg. “But that’s an adjustment that will come in the next few days. “I won’t be afraid to put him in, but a lot of this will come right down to (Friday’s) morning skate.” The Marlies flew to Norfolk after the MCC workout. Games 1 and 2 will be back-to-back followed by a five-day break before shifting to Ricoh Coliseum.