Zigomanis makes timely return

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:36 AM ET

TORONTO - Badly in need of some zig before they zag any further out of the Calder Cup, the Toronto Marlies anticipate a change of direction this week.

Mike Zigomanis is skating on a regular line again, wearing blue to indicate active status for Thursday. Down 2-0 to the Norfolk Admirals and on the cusp of what they hope will be the full three-game home set, there’s no better time to have the 31-year-old veteran faceoff man and playmaker back aboard.

Though he’s not quite the game breaker Don Cherry claims every other week on Coach’s Corner and won’t likely be 100% despite his assurances on Tuesday, he does wear No. 93, which was once magic in Toronto at playoff time.

“I’m feeling good and the body feels good,” said Zigomanis, believed to be suffering from an arm or elbow injury the past two and a half weeks.

“We try to do things through the year with coaches and trainers to make sure you’re ready for this time of year.”

Head coach Dallas Eakins lowered the cone of silence on Marlie injuries weeks ago, but Zigomanis was free to speak a little Tuesday.

He enlivened practice with life lessons on hanging with the 2009 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and how the deficit the Marlies face is just another bump in their learning curve.

“We’ve had tough stretches during the year when it wasn’t all rosey,” said Zigomanis. “We’ve overcome some adversity before. It’s kind of been the story of our year, guys coming in for injured guys. We need an A-plus game from every player now, whether it’s two minutes or 20. And you need a hot goaltender and Ben Scrivens has been that for us all year.”

Defenceman Matt Lashoff welcomed the return of Zigomanis.

“He brings a lot of poise with the puck,” Lashoff said. “He’s good defensively and especially being down 2-0 you have to have composure. When it seems there’s a hurricane going on outside, you have to have the guys who can pull you in.”

Eakins would have liked Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin to also be on the ice at Ricoh Colseum, but top scorer Frattin is done and Kadri hasn’t been seen in days. It looks like Zigomanis will work on a line with captain Ryan Hamilton and rookie Spencer Abbott, with Hamilton in particular needing a lift.

“The last run I was on was with Pittsburgh. I didn’t play, but you travel with them and see up how hard it is up close to win a championship. It takes four or five miracles,” Zigomanis said. “We might be down two games here, but it’s never over until you lose four and that goes if we were up two now.”

The Marlies have yet to lead in the series.

“I’d love to see how (Norfolk) plays from behind,” said Eakins. “It’s never easy for any team. Norfolk has plenty of gunfire (leading the AHL in goals) and I’m sure they’ve been behind before. But in the playoffs I don’t think too many times.”

The Marlies are spending the next few days fine tuning their system to get turnovers and improve their offensive chances.

“You want the lead, but also do the right things to get there,” Lashoff said. “You don’t want to sell the farm to break out a couple of goals, because (Norfolk) has the ability to jam it down your throat.”

ORDER IN THE COURT

You have to like Jon Cooper’s chances when arguing a call with the referees in the Calder Cup final.

The coach of the Norfolk Admirals spent five years as a defence attorney in Lansing, Mich., after earning a law degree from nearby Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

“I always compare a trial to talking to the guys in the locker room,” Cooper said. “You convince a jury, like you have to convince your team that what you’re preaching is right. It’s worked out for me so far.”

Cooper was initially enthused about his first career choice and one verdict in particular.

“I’m proud of how the case turned out for me personally, but not (the end result),” he said without elaboration. “I loved what I was doing, but it was a grind. It’s a tough industry to be in, always looking at the less fortunate. It was gratifying to help them out, but other times you knew what you were defending and you did it because everyone has their right to be defended in court. It was trying.”

A player at the famous Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask., Cooper played lacrosse and hockey at Hofstra on Long Island, where he met future wife Jessie, who also was studying law.

“There aren’t too many arguments won by either of us around the house,” Cooper joked. “(Law) was the reason I got into coaching. The judge I worked for, his kid was a goalie and wanted me to coach his hockey team and I’ve gone on from there.”

A Calder Cup would be his fourth championship after being the first coach in U.S. history to win junior titles at three different levels, the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, the St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League, and the Metro Jets of the Central States Hockey League.

FAMILY MATTERS

Steve Thomas was in an uncomfortable position in the Norfolk Admirals’ second-round series against the Connecticut Whale and his son Christian.

The 40th player selected in the 2010 draft by the Rangers, young Thomas is a 5-foot-9 forward, just the kind of player teams of Norfolk’s ilk would target in a mean playoff series. Steve Thomas, Tampa Bay’s development coach and a bench assistant in these playoffs, had his wish when the Admirals won in six and Christian emerged unscathed, though without a point.

“When the game gets going and the physicality happens, you wonder, ‘My God, is he going to get hurt?,’ ” Thomas said. “But that’s what he signed up for and he enjoyed his stint. It’s only going to better his experience.”

Christian was born in Toronto, where his father grew up and played for the junior Marlies and Leafs.

“He’s a smaller guy and a finesse guy and with those types of players, you try and be hard on them,” Thomas said. “And our guys were. They didn’t care if it was my boy or (coach) Jon Cooper’s kid. They play him hard every shift.”


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