Banners On The Road – Toronto Marlies vs Texas Stars 10/2/13

 

Toronto Marlies 2-3 Texas Stars

Hamilton                Chiasson

McKegg                 Dowling

                             Hedden

The Toronto Marlies and Texas Stars line up for the anthems.

The Toronto Marlies and Texas Stars line up for the anthems.

Pre-game: For those of you not familiar with the American Hockey League (AHL), it is the one step below the NHL. This is where prospects play before they’re good enough to play NHL (for the Leafs see James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, Nazim Kadri) or where you send players not good enough to play NHL any more (for the Leafs make your own jokes). That’s a rather simplified explanation I appreciate but you see the point.

The Toronto Marlies are the only AHL side to play in the same city as the NHL team they’re affiliated to. Both Leafs and Marlies are owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, a company with a license to print money in Canada but rather than both teams playing at the same arena (more on the Air Canada Centre next time) the Marlies play at the Ricoh Coliseum about a 15 minute bus ride from Union Station in Toronto or 1 stop on the GO train. The Marlies have been at the Ricoh since 2005

The arena itself is a nice place. It feels like Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena in many ways in terms of size. There’s on main way in to the arena which caused something of a bundle on the way in. We arrived about 5 minutes before doors opened and it was rammed as people tried to get in. Our seats were in Section 118 on the blueline so we had a pretty decent view of the ice. It felt big but not overcrowded, mainly due to the fact that it was a Sunday 3pm faceoff and the Marlies had played at 3pm the previous day against Chicago with attendance at 4556.

The game: It was a battle of the Swedes in net this Sunday as Mark Owuya was the man in net for the Marlies. Texas entered the game as the number 1 team in the AHL with Cristopher Nilstorp between the pipes.

Despite coming into the game as the favourites, the Stars got off to a terrible start. Both sides started tentatively but a terrible turnover in their own zone by the Stars saw Spencer Abbott put the puck on the end of Marlies’ captain Ryan Hamilton’s stick and Hamilton fired his 20th goal of the season over Nilstrop’s glove to give the home side an early lead at 1:18.

Hamilton nearly doubled his tally shortly afterwards as he neatly dangled through the Stars defence but Nilstorp was equal to the backhand shot.

After that point, Texas started coming more and more into the game, the best chance coming from a Patrik Nemeth blueline shot but Owuya was equal to it. The Marlies kept the pressure on and Simon Gysbers fired a shot at Nilstorp from the top of the hashmarks but with no change to the score.

As the Stars slowly took charge of the period Justin Dowling broke away from the Marlies defence but Owuya handled the backhand shot and managed to freeze the puck by the side of the net.

The Marlies were given a golden chance to wrestle control back as first Gord Baldwin was called for boarding then Alex Chiasson was called for elbows which gave Toronto a 1:47 5 on 3 but some big saves from Nilstorp and some excellent penalty killing from the Stars saw them come out of the penalty kill unscathed and before long they got their reward for their efforts as after a big save from Owuya from a Colton Sceviour shot, the very next attack for the Stars proved the big one.

The Stars once again took the zone and Mike Hedden shot goalwards. Owuya made the initial save but Alex Chiasson was on the doorstep to clean up and give the Stars a deserved equaliser at 15:51.

Just over 30 seconds later the Stars thought they’d taken the lead at 16:24 after a big hit from Luke Gazdic caused a turnover and the puck ended up in the net but Gazdic was called for charging. The Marlies powerplay sadly totally misfired as they telegraphed everything that they tried to do and the first period ended 1-1.

Toronto started the second period determined to be more into the game as Will Acton and Tim Connolly both had early chances but Nilstorp was clearly awake from his period break nap.

The chances were coming thick and fast both ways in the second but Toronto got careless and allowed Texas a 2 on 1 opportunity. Before they could capitalise however, a diving Jesse Blacker put pay to the chance.

The teams traded powerplays in the second quarter of the period, the best chance coming shorthanded for Texas as Francis Wathier intecepted the pass across the point and raced in on Owuya but the Marlies’ backstop made the save.

Stars’ defender Tyler Sloan was given a 2 minute boarding penalty and his mouthing off at the officials got him a misconduct penalty into the bargain but again the Stars had the best chances whilst on the penalty kill, this time Chiasson forcing Owuya into the save.

The Marlies were looking short on ideas up front and sadly they had a lapse at the back. Chiasson fed Dowling in the slot who took a step and his awesome backhand shot went over Owuya’s blocker and into the net at 37:42. The Marlies couldn’t answer before the 2nd buzzer and the Stars went in after 40 minutes with the lead.

Texas quickly pressed their advantage home at the start of the third period. With a powerplay expiring, Jordie Benn shot the puck towards the net and Hedden added a goal to his two assists on the night as he tipped the puck past Owuya under the crossbar at 41:08.

The Stars had full control of the game at this point and the Marlies were huffing and puffing but couldn’t seem to find a way through. A powerplay fell by the wayside, the Marlies were having a lot of the puck but the Stars were dictating the tempo of the tie and were letting Nilstorp see the easy stuff.

Toronto however managed to get themselves something of a break. After a bit of sustained pressure the point shot came in from Simon Gysbers, the puck couldn’t drop right for Nilstorp to cover and Greg McKegg banged the puck home at 49:02.

The game however mostly continued in the way the Stars wanted it to and it felt like they were stringing the Marlies along. Marlies had a powerplay chance at 54:43 when Antoine Roussel (who fought Jerome Iginla a few days later) tripped his man but the Marlies powerplay was woeful and nothing came of it.

Owuya was pulled with 2 minutes to go and the Marlies took their time out with 89 seconds to go but they couldn’t muster enough and Texas came away with the points.

The Marlies: If you look at the 60 minute performance by Toronto, it certainly wasn’t a classic. In fact it was a game that they let slip away. After taking an early lead and putting some pressure on a Stars team they had on the ropes, they let their visitors back into the tie and couldn’t keep up with them at the end.

Ryan Hamilton’s goal was very well taken and he was awarded with the second star of the game but I was somewhat surprised as to why. Hamilton had an OK game but the Marlies were outshone in many respects by Stars players on the day. That was likely the problem, there were many good performances; Hamilton, Owuya, Gysbers to name a couple but nobody stood out and some performances were poor. Nicolas Deschamps looked out of the game, physically getting knocked about and making poor pass selections and Will Acton was on the ice for all the Stars goals. Whilst plus/minus as a stat isn’t the be all and end all, when you’re on the ice for all 3 of the opposition’s goals in a 3-2 loss, you’re doing something wrong.

As I said it wasn’t a terrible performance and against a lesser team they might have come away with something but against the number one team in the league, it wasn’t enough.

The Stars: Having been rocked early, the Stars were worthy winners of the contest. Where the Marlies didn’t have any stand out performances and, whilst it might seem clichéd, the 3 goal scorers were arguably the three standouts of the game but there were a few good performances by individuals as well as a good all round team performance to win this game.

Alex Chiasson had a superb evening. The former Boston University man, in his first full season with the Stars was a terror for the Marlies all evening. He seems to be a very well rounded player with good hands, good wheels and a good head on his shoulders. Messers Heading and Dowling followed suit with full 60 minute efforts, Hedden and Chiasson having a hand in all 3 goals and Dowling ending with a goal and a +3 rating on the night.

Stars captain Gord Baldwin was a steady presence on the blueline and Nilstorp in net looked very solid as well. I’m not surprised that it was Nilstorp who was called up to Dallas when Kari Lehtonen went down with an injury as he appears to be capable enough at AHL level to warrant a chance at NHL level whilst Jack Campbell develops in the AHL.

The Stars are still the top team in the AHL and on that showing it wasn’t really a surprise to discover that. They had moments on the back foot but rode them out and won as a result of sticking to their system. Good teams do that.

Overall: The better team won, I’ll be brutally honest about that though it certainly wasn’t an easy win for Texas by any stretch. The Marlies need to work on the consistency their play across the 60 minutes, as do Texas do some degree but Texas had much more attacking bite and all they need to take from the tie is that they all need to play 60 minutes where some Marlies needed to step up their game as a result of their play.

For a first look at live American League hockey, I was pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong, this is obviously of a higher standard than any game I’ve watched in Britain but compared to NHL I thought this would be that much markedly lower in standard than it was. When you consider how much less you pay for AHL than NHL games, the AHL is a good and affordable way to watch very good hockey. If you’re visiting Toronto for any reason and Leafs tickets aren’t an option then do try and take in a game. You won’t be disappointed. This however isn’t our last visit to the Marlies as we have their game with Hershey to look at as well. First we have a look at the big show and a return to what Banners On The Wall does week in, week out. From Toronto to Basingstoke and back again on the blog this week.

Photos from the game that I took can be found here.

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