Marlies swept from Calder final

Norfolk Admirals' Tyler Johnson celebrates a goal in behind Toronto Marlies goalie Ben Scrivens at...

Norfolk Admirals' Tyler Johnson celebrates a goal in behind Toronto Marlies goalie Ben Scrivens at Ricoh Coliseum on Saturday. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)

Lance Hornby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

TORONTO - For all Maple Leafs home games this year, an over-the-top Marlies commercial played on the videoboard.

“Show them,” coach Dallas Eakins shouts at his players, while Brian Burke has a Godfather cameo. “Show them you’re willing to trade a bus ride to Peoria for a cab ride to the Air Canada Centre.”

A few did show their masters over the past six weeks that they might be part of the solution at the ACC in September. Unlike the Leafs, the Marlies lived up to their playoffs billing and fulfilled predictions of making the Calder Cup final.

But they became victims of the Norfolk Admirals, who rarely slowed after a North American pro record 28-game regular-season win streak and capped a four-game sweep with Saturday’s 6-1 win.

If those prominent Marlies, led by goaltender Ben Scrivens, can make a push at camp, it will be up to Burke to clear roster and cap space, both easier said than done. The farm team did provide a badly needed buzz to Leafs Nation after seven dark springs of playoff action.

Coach Dallas Eakins, armed with a new three-year deal and a strong voice in team development, can now strongly advocate for his players.

“You don’t want our guys to tip-toe into (Leafs) camp,” Eakins said. “If the guy next to him isn’t pulling his weight, you have to push him. They’re not going to bark at a Dion Phaneuf or one of the other top players, but there are other ways to push.

“You can’t show up, have a crap camp and say, ‘Yeah, but I was great in the playoffs.’ You may get the benefit of the doubt a bit, but now the turnaround is quick. They have a little rest and right to summer training.”

Performing in an alternate universe to the Leafs, the Marlies played strong defence, led the AHL in penalty killing and, until the final, had the right balance of scoring.

Their custom wood carving of the Calder, with space for 16 game pucks, was four shy, but Scrivens, Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri, Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser made strong cases. Others such as Carter Ashton and Joe Colborne benefitted from the extra games, but will require more work at Ricoh Coliseum, which was sold out again on Saturday with 8,084.

As far as the Norfolk series, the Marlies were underdogs before Frattin, Kadri and Mike Zigomanis were hurt. Norfolk, affiliated with the Tampa Bay Lightning, never trailed in the final and cemented itself one of the AHL’s greatest teams, the seventh in 40 years to sweep the final.

Cory Conacher won MVP and rookie of the year, Mark Barberio was defenceman of the year, and Jon Cooper was the top coach. Alex Picard was named playoff MVP.

“Every time we picked up our play, they turned it on,” Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton said. “You can clearly see the youth of our team developing. They’re ready for the next step.”

Hamilton was just one of the Toronto scorers firing blanks in the series. The Marlies never led in the series and scored just four goals in 13 periods.

The crease incursions against Scrivens continued Saturday, drawing a complaint from Burke during a first intermisson TV interview. The boss agreed Scrivens is very much in the picture to contend for the starting job with the parent team, especially with no veteran yet appearing.

The Marlies needed a near perfect game to extend the series, but were in penalty trouble all three periods. Mike Kostka, author of Game 3’s daffy overtime finish, had two Norfolk goals, as did Tyler Johnson.

Mike Zigomanis finally gave the city its first pro playoff home goal in June, beating Dustin Tokarski from a hard angle during a 5-on-3. That made it 1-1, but the Marlies couldn’t use the 2:45 still remaining in a Richard Panik major. When a sluggish Colton Orr iced the puck, the tired Marlies’ fourth line was trapped on the ice for Kostka’s screen goal winner and the afternoon unravelled.

“It’s heart wrenching,” Eakins said. “If we hadn’t made the playoffs, we wouldn’t hurt as much as we do now.”

HAPPY DAYS

There are no AHL mountains remaining to conquer for the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals.

The team that set a North American pro hockey record with 28 straight wins, with the league’s MVP, rookie of the year, defenceman of the year, coach of the year, playoff MVP and was top seed, needed just three games more than the minimum 15 to win the Calder Cup. Yet not one player stood out amid the machine that ran the Toronto Marlies over in four straight.

“We’re a hard team to match,” coach Jon Cooper said as he celebrated at centre ice of Ricoh Coliseum. “We have a kid line, the big horses and a team that shuts the door.

“It’s one of the happiest days of my life and also the saddest, because these guys will never be together again.”


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