Toronto Marlies 2015/16 – A comprehensive review
It was difficult to weigh up the expectations of the Toronto Marlies back in September.
The Toronto Marlies camp held out east in Newfoundland, featured players that would predominately suit up for the Orlando Solar Bears. Only Justin Holl from that group would play regularly for the Marlies.
The team expected to take to the ice at Ricoh Coliseum were with the Leafs, as the organisation’s turn towards youth gave every player a chance to make the NHL opening day roster.
With a brand new head coach and a much younger roster than had been seen before, development was the key word being banded about.
Just how would that manifest itself on the ice and in results?
OCTOBER (6-3 Record)
William Nylander scored the first goal of the season in a 5-3 opening day victory against the visiting Manitoba Moose.
It was Byron Froese who was making all the early waves however.
He scored in each of the three opening games and produced a shootout winner, before receiving the call from Mike Babcock and company.
Froese would spend the rest of the season with the Leafs, making his NHL debut on October 24, registering his first point November 2 and scoring December 19 versus L.A Kings at the ACC.
Marlies received an early taste of Albany Devils hockey, a team they would battle with in the post-season. Toronto downed them once in OT thanks to a winner from T.J Brennan but then fell to a 3-2 defeat the following day.
Kasperi Kapanen opened his scoring account in the latter, after coming over as part of the Phil Kessel trade.
The Rochester Americans were the first to feel the real brunt of Marlies firepower when suffering an 8-2 reverse.
Eight different players tallied for Toronto, with each goal coming at even strength.
Making his debut was Frank Corrado. The young defenseman had been picked up on waivers by the Leafs but had not figured in the NHL at this point.
On a conditioning stint with the Marlies, he impressed in seven outings, helping himself to three helpers in the process.
After flogging Rochester, it was a reality check in the next game as Toronto’s youngsters received a lesson from the Binghamton Senators. Despite having Rich Clune and Justin Johnson in the line-up, the young Marlies were bullied by a physically strong team.
In the last game of the month, Toronto were able to exact some revenge on the team that ended their playoff run last season. The Marlies mauled Grand Rapids Griffins 6-1 at Ricoh Coliseum but it was a victory that came at a price.
Typically of his all action style of play, Connor Brown bravely blocked a shot but paid the penalty as he fractured his ankle in the process. An injury that would see him out of action until January
Josh Leivo would have been disappointed not to make the Leafs out of camp but was stating a case for his return with a pair of three point games.
Andrew Campbell had been appointed as Marlies captain and made a name for himself with three goals in the opening five games.
Antoine Bibeau was looking to build on a promising rookie season and won his first four starts despite the team’s fluctuating performances in the opening month.
The merry-go-round of changes firmly began with 17 transactions directly involving the Marlies.
Antoine Bibeau was called up but would not see action and by the end of the month, defensive depth had been added in Scott Harrington and James Martin.
Carrying on from the Grand Rapids victory, Toronto proceeded on a ten game point streak 9-0-1-0, only ended by a pair of defeats to St. John’s. The IceCaps would prove to be a nemesis for the majority of the season and provide much entertainment.
William Nylander was certainly turning heads and only failed to register a point in one appearance during November. T.J Brennan was heating up after a slow start for him, five goals and as many assists as he hits his straps.
Mark Arcobello was sent down at the end of October but made quite the impact on his Marlies debut.
A game tying goal and then an OT winner very much set the tone, as Arcobello registered in seven consecutive games.
The second game of November saw Garret Sparks record his first of two shutouts during this month.
It’d be a good four weeks for the third year goaltender, notching a .952 percentage, a 6-0-1-0 record and a call upto the Leafs on November 28. Two days later he became the first goaltender in Toronto Maple Leafs history to record a shutout on debut.
In Binghamton, the Marlies put to right an early season wrong by drubbing the Senators 6-1.
Opening his account was Zach Hyman, scoring his first of four short-handed goals through the season.
It was off to St. John’s, and a night after suffering a 3-2 OT reverse, we were to witness one of the craziest games in franchise history.
The Icecaps opened the scoring not even five minutes in but Toronto led 3-1 after twenty minutes, thanks to Brennan, Arcobello and Soshnikov.
By the time 11:16 had passed in the middle frame, St. John’s had forged themselves a 4-3 advantage but would be pegged back forty seconds later by Hyman.
Toronto had given up playing defense by this point and Bibeau looked shaken as the home team would tally twice more to lead 6-4 heading into the final twenty minutes.
If that wasn’t enough, the IceCaps struck in the 41st and 47th second of the third period to lead 8-4 and the game was surely dead.
Bibeau was pulled for Sparks and cue the comeback of all comebacks.
Arcobello (2:39) and Leivo twice (4:23 + 8:04) drew Toronto within a goal and the home team were back on their heels.
Sam Carrick drew the Marlies level with five minutes to play but no winner would come during regulation. Nylander and Leivo had three points a piece and combined with Percy to win the game in overtime. Who else but the Swedish sensation ending as the hero.
The Maple Leafs goaltending situation was impacting the Marlies for what would prove to be the first of many occasions and Ryan Massa was signed to a PTO as a stopgap.
At this point, the rookie goaltender with Orlando had made just six appearances for the Solar Bears and was pulled on his last ECHL outing. Expectations weren’t high for Massa for his debut on the road in Syracuse but the Marlies played wonderfully in front of him. Allowing just one shot on net during the opening frame, Toronto ensured the rookie’s workload gave him a chance to record a victory and he did that by stopping all bar one of 17 shots face as the Marlies won 3-1.
Toronto would have to cope with 34 separate player movements in December but still managed to string a ten game point streak together.
Jonathan Bernier was the month’s early headline story, having been sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint. He responded with three consecutive shutouts before losing his fourth appearance in an overtime loss to Utica.
In between times Rob Madore had been called up from Orlando and began with a 23 save victory against Manitoba. Madore would go onto win all four starts for the Marlies during this month.
The goaltending story wasn’t done with however.
Zamboni driver David Ayres was signed to a one day ATO to provide cover, with Antoine Bibeau whisked off to join the Leafs.
A bolt from the blue on December 18, was the signing of veteran Ray Emery.
Emery won on debut to become the sixth Marlies goaltender to secure a victory this season.
Toronto recorded their largest winning margin in franchise history with a 9-0 pounding of the Manitoba Moose. Nine different players hit the twine as the Marlies offensive juggernaut continued to roll on, the goal total now at 96 in 24 games after this victory.
Another memorable comeback for the Marlies was achieved against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Pittsburgh’s affiliate were almost as dominant as Toronto at this point during the season and this was a much awaited match-up. It was WBS who were by far the better team and extremely good value for a 3-0 lead early in the third period. The unlikeliest stretch of play then ensued as the Marlies scored three short-handed goals in the space of 2:34 to tie the game. Antoine Bibeau shut the door the rest of the way, making 39 saves in total and was rewarded in the shootout as Soshnikov sealed the extra point.
Mark Arcobello’s five goals and nine assists earned him a recall to the NHL while other slightly less noticeable names produced big in December.
A six game point streak for Sam Carrick, Nikita Soshnikov scored five times and Rich Clune was showing he wasn’t just an enforcer. Nine points in eleven games for Clune heading into the New Year.
Kasperi Kapanen headed to Finland for the World Juniors in the middle of the month.
William Nylander remained a little longer with Toronto, racking up ten points in eight games before departing for Europe.
Unfortunately Nylander played little part in the championships, the victim of a blindside hit to his head in the opening game, that would see him take no further part.
The turn of the year saw the first of many changes begin but also some notable returns.
The first winds of the former began with a trade on January 3.
A day after scoring an overtime winner against Syracuse, Richard Panik was traded to Chicago with Jeremy Morin heading back the other direction.
Kasperi Kapanen returned from the World Juniors with a gold medal hung around his neck and the widest smile after netting the winning goal in overtime.
Kapanen kept the good vibes going by registering at least a point in eight of his first ten games back in Toronto colours.
Connor Brown had almost been forgotten about in this whirlwind of a season.
The former leading rookie scorer had worked his socks off in his battle to return to fitness.
Management held up Brown’s return until he was absolutely ready (January 24) and it proved the correct decision.
In a fairytale return, the right winger netted twice in his reappearance versus Utica Comets and remained in red hot form through his first four games back from injury.
William Nylander would finally make his return on January 29 after being out for over a month, netting an assist in the process.
Centreman Rylan Schwartz and Defenseman Eric Baier were signed to PTO’s from Orlando.
Neither stayed long with Solar Bears Captain Baier making just one appearance and Swartz just five, netting once.
David Kolomatis would remain until the end of the season having been signed to an AHL deal and scored his first and only goal on debut.
Winning streaks of six and fives games respectively were attained as Toronto enjoyed their most profitable month of the season.
T.J Brennan was imperious with six goals and thirteen assists.
He was ably supported by Mark Arcobello, who rode an eight game point of which seven were multi-point efforts.
Josh Leivo was also hot, riding a seven game point streak (Four goals/eight assists) that extended into early February.
Nikita Soshnikov followed up last month’s scoring exploits with another five goal haul while Brendan Leipsic scored the first hat-trick of the season
Antoine Bibeau enjoyed January with six straight victories and a .931 save percentage in the process.
Garret Sparks put on a show in Grand Rapids, turning aside 39 shots for a shutout. That was the second of the month after Rob Madore recorded a duck egg in his last appearance for the Marlies.
February began with Sheldon Keefe, T.J Brennan, Josh Leivo and William Nylander representing the Toronto Marlies and North Division at the All-Star events.
Mark Arcobello had been a strong candidate to make the all-star team and he potted his 20th of the season on the road in Manitoba.
Brett Findlay was nothing but reliable during his time with the Marlies and a double strike from him was enough to see Toronto prevail 2-1 over St. John’s.
T.J Brenan was the second man to reach the twenty goal milestone and in doing so sparked another comeback victory. Toronto trailed 2-0 to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before Brennan’s strike 34 seconds into the third period stimulated his team- the Marlies went on to prevail 4-2.
In the last outing before the trade deadline, Toronto would equal franchise history in a win over Rochester. The 10-5 score line matching the most amount of goals tallied in a single game.
Acquired in the Shawn Matthias trade to Colorado, Colin Smith opened his Toronto account with a pair of goals and assists and T.J Brennan helped himself to five points. David Ayres would yet again sign an ATO and be pressed into action as an emergency back-up in what was a memorable game for more than one reason.
The Dion Phaneuf trade to Ottawa saw Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and Matt Frattin depart, though the latter would be returned to the Marlies on loan. Tobias Lindberg was the solitary addition to the Marlies in the deal.
Jeremy Morin never really found his feet in Toronto and headed for San Jose as part of the James Reimer trade, with goaltender Alex Stalock coming back the other way.
Garret Sparks was sent down to Orlando for game time early in February but promptly returned and would be up with the Leafs by trade deadline.
Brendan Leipsic and Viktor Loov would make their Leafs debuts but returned prior to the deadline. Those sent to the NHL for their first stint were William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov and Kasperi Kapanen
The post trade-deadline Marlies had a very different look but they would win their first game of March, shutting down Albany 4-0. Tobias Lindberg scored twice and would tally five times in as many games.
The longest losing streak of the season followed as the Marlies fell to defeats against Utica (twice) and Rochester.
The transition was never going to be an easy one and March proved to be the least successive month result wise.
Toronto would make a resurgence by thumping Portland by a 9-2 score line.
Connor Brown helped himself to four points and his dynamic comeback during the season was rewarded by a call up to the Leafs. The winger would record six points in seven NHL outings, including three assists against the Florida Panthers.
Eric Faille was one of many Orlando call-up’s to impress, the Solar Bears forward scoring three times in four games.
Colin Smith had taken like a duck to water to the Marlies brand of hockey, registering at point per game pace throughout this month.
Brendan Leipsic and Sam Carrick both recorded eleven points during March, through ten and nine games respectively.
After recording a shutout in the first game of the month and Antoine Bibeau repeated the feat in the last, as the IceCaps were firmly brushed aside for once.
Alex Stalock had been reassigned by the Leafs and made his Marlies debut shortly after.
Just three starts for the experienced net minder, who failed to receive much help from those in front of him in his first two losses. A win in his third outing would be the last time Stalock took to the ice before a mutual agreement with the Toronto brass to end his season prematurely.
Finnish goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo signed a two-year entry level contract with Toronto on March 28 and immediately joined the Marlies
Making Leafs debuts during the spring were T.J Brennan, Rinat Valiev, Frederik Gauthier, Andrew Campbell and Tobias Lindberg.
Added to the roster were Ben Smith and Connor Carrick (both reassigned) while the raft of PTO/ATO signings started apace.
Shane Conacher, Jordan Hickmott, Tony Cameranesi, Willie Corrin, Taylor Doherty and Tylor Spink all making their way to Toronto.
Spink’s stay may only have been for two days but it was memorable as the Colgate University graduate played four games in as many days, split equally between the Toledo Walleye (ECHL) and Toronto Marlies.
Despite a raft of further changes and fielding half a team of youngsters, Toronto would only lose one of their final eight games in regulation.
A third straight victory to begin the month would see Toronto claim the AHL regular season title for the first time in franchise history.
Ben Smith was a huge factor in those wins, scoring four times and assisting on six occasions.
He was supported by Brendan Leipsic (also six assists) and Eric Faille, who continued his goal scoring form with three in two games.
Tony Cameranesi, Shane Conacher and Jordan Hickmott would all score their first professional goals.
Andrew Nielson’s junior season had finished, allowing him to join the Marlies. The 2015, third round selection secured his first point as a professional – an assist after his shot led to Rich Clune scoring on the road in Albany.
Chase Witala, Tyler Wong and Mason Marchment were the latest to make appearances after signing from junior while Patrick Watling and Brenden Miller made their first trips during the season from Orlando to Toronto.
Kasimir Kaskisuo would receive his first two starts in the AHL, both on the road in Syracuse.
A win and a shootout reverse for the rookie goaltender who showed some promise.
Toronto finished the regular season as they had begun – with a pair of victories on home ice.
T.J Brennan scored his 25th of the season, tying a career best.
Josh Leivo ended the year with a six game point streak, while the understated Zach Hyman recorded his third three-point haul of the season.
In total, 59 players were iced by the Toronto Marlies, of which eight were goaltenders.
Each goaltender recording a victory, tied the AHL single season record for such a feat.
Antoine Bibeau’s 28 wins fell one short of Drew MacIntyre’s mark, but his three shutouts helped contribute to the ten combined overall, which is a new franchise single season record.
T.J Brennan joined Mike Zigomanis as the third highest points produce in Marlies regular season play.
Brennan’s total is achieved at a considerable greater rate than any of those above him and now sits just twelve shy of Kris Newbury’s 168 points.
Toronto set many new team records in attaining their first regular season championship.
Most points in one season: 114
Most wins in one season: 54
Most goals scored in one season: 294
Longest winning streak overall: 7 (December 31-January 16)
Least amount of shootout loses in one season: 1
The only disappointment of what was a tremendous season, came during the playoffs.
In truth the Marlies failed to ever reach the heights achieved during the regular season.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers were pretty much a cakewalk and Toronto only required third gear to speed into the next round.
Pushed all the way by a well coached and talented Albany Devils, the Marlies required a third period comeback to prevail in game seven of what should have been the conference final in all truth.
Toronto were too often relying on moments of brilliance to win them games and the likes of Connor Carrick, who was a points producing machine through the post season.
The Hershey Bears potent offensive abilities meant they were able to capitalise on Toronto’s shortcomings in net but more so, an overall a lack of intensity and solid sixty minute play.
Perfectly encapsulated in the final loss of the season, the Marlies dug themselves a huge hole that they almost climbed out of with the level of performance produced with regularity during the regular season.
What can’t be measured is the amount of learning and development through 2015/16.
The playoffs provided some hard lessons, as did the rigours of a long regular season, in which from an early stage, this young team had a target on their backs.
It may not have resulted in a first Calder Cup success, but in every other way, this was the most successful season in Toronto Marlies history.