Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On The Marlies Third Jersey....

A few weeks ago, Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton stepped out onto the ice wearing the new Marlies third jersey. For fans like myself who remember the Marlboros era in Toronto, you couldn’t help but get goosebumps. For years, many of us whom have been telling the team to have a throwback third jersey finally got what we asked for.

Why was it so important? For an organization who is trying to instill in its players a sense of its storied history, the Marlboros crest is critical to their understanding of their role in the hockey traditions of Toronto.

In 1903, the secretary of the newly formed Marlboroughs Athletic Club sent a letter to the Duke of Marlborough (whose family name is the infamous Churchill) asking for permission to use the family name and crest. Permission was granted to the club and that allowed the Marlboroughs Athletic Club (that’s the A.C. story) to create the first incarnation of the crest we see and love today. The original crest debuted first in 1904 on a hockey sweater (without the leaf) for the Marlboros Senior team. In the late 1950s, the logo saw the addition of the maple leaf to reflect its tie to the NHL franchise whose farm system it supported and is the crest design we see today.

In 1927, Conn Smythe purchased the Toronto St. Pats and made the Marlboroughs the newly renamed Toronto Maple Leafs the club’s farm team, with both teams playing out of the Mutual Street Arena until the completion of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. The first player to exchange his Marlboros jersey for a Leafs sweater was the legendary Carl Voss (oddly enough not known for his play in the Leafs organization but in his role in professionalizing referees and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder in 1974). Incidentally, Voss is the only player to have worn a St. Pats, Marlboros, and Maple Leaf sweater and was signed by Frank Selke as the first player under contract to the Leafs on the same day Smythe purchased the team.

In 1929, the Marlboro Juniors won their first of 7 Memorial Cups (1929, 1954-55, 1955-56 1963-64, 1966-67, 1972-73, and 1974-75). In 1949-50, the Senior team won the Allan Cup. In total, the Marlboros won 7 Memorial Cups, 1 Allan Cup, 17 Robertson Cups, 5 Hamilton Spectator Trophies, 2 Eastern Canadian Championships, 5 George Richardson Memorial Trophies, and competed once (but lost) for the Lord Stanley Challenge Cup (now the Stanley Cup).

On top of that, the Marlboros have developed 6 Leafs Hockey Hall of Famers (and countless others who went onto careers with other teams), 52 Stanley Cup winners, and a huge number of NHLers that call themselves alumni represented in a Ring of Honour that virtually circles the Ricoh Coliseum today.

In short, the Marlboros are part of the era of winning hockey teams in Toronto and for an organization that it is trying to regain the winning way of the past, the third jersey symbolizes the history that the Marlies share with the Leafs as their farm team.

On Sunday, I proudly wore my 3rd jersey to the Ricoh Coliseum for the first time. Although it was disappointing to see a 4-0 loss, it didn’t take away from the sense of pride I had putting on that jersey.

My family once lived on Marlborough Avenue (which incidentally was home to Marlboros players) and that jersey reminds me of my childhood watching games in the reds at MLG and seeing players like Peter Zezel play before they made in the NHL. Seeing the Marlboros jersey back in use is truly special for me.

As for the name and number that will be crested on it, that’s an easy way. It is going to be George Armstrong. Who else symbolizes the ties between the Marlboros and the Leafs then the Chief?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This Blog is Written in Invisible Ink

In high school, my fellow DDP member Paul needed help one day with his school work so I obliged. He needed help writing a semester’s worth of journals for a Writer’s Craft class just hours before their due date. As a fellow procrastinator (procrastinator’s unite tomorrow!), I obliged.

As the minutes dwindled to the time for him to get them in, I wrote on the top of one page, “This journal is written in invisible ink” and left the rest of the page blank. The teacher loved it and promptly gave it a great mark. However, for Paul and I, it was a journal done out of desperation to hit that magic number of entries and squeeze out an assignment in the minutes before it was due. It was not intended to make some sort of bold statement (which the teacher believed it to be). We had nothing else to write and so we just got creative.

I feel it is important for me to write this blog in invisible ink, but for very different reasons.  Unlike my last “invisible ink” writing it isn’t out of desperation to get an assignment done. There are just too many stories about to unfold that aren’t for me to pen.

Will Dallas Eakins coach the team to a Calder Cup? Will Paul Ranger make his comeback? Who will dazzle the management enough to win a Leafs roster spot? When will the NHL lockout end and what will the impact of the NHL lockout have on the AHL season?

I’m leaving this blog up to the Marlies to write. The truth is, nobody knows how 2012-13 will be played out for the NHL, the AHL, or the Marlies. The 2012-13 season is their story to share with all of us. Nobody knows the ending but the plot is shaping up to be a real doozie.

What we do know is that the players are ready, the fans are more than ready, and all will be revealed in the days and months ahead.

Let’s Go Marlies! Bring the Calder Cup to Toronto!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The 2013-14 TML Training Camp is Now Open

The training camp for the 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club is now open. For those of you who read closely, you read that correctly, the 2013-14 training camp is now open. For those curious as to why I say that, it will be clear as you read on.

When Brian Burke first came to Toronto, he took the reins of an organization that stood little chance of winning a Stanley Cup. As the new GM of the Leafs, he had two things to accomplish. Firstly, he had to piece together a Leafs roster that wasn’t permanent but got him through a few development years while he did the most important part of the plan. He needed to build a farm system.

The truth is that when Burke took over, he had a Marlies organization that was not developing players. Players weren’t making the step up from AHL to NHL play in the way that the Leafs needed and so the real priority of the Burke regime had to be build the farm system capable of feeding NHL calibre players to the Leafs. That is going to come to the forefront in this season of AHL play. How successful has Burke really been at building the farm system? Who will make that step up to move the Leafs forward in their quest back to becoming a winning team again?
The following is a list of players that are coming off contracts at the end of this season:

Tim Connolly - $4.75 m
Joffrey Lupul – $4.25 m
Matthew Lombardi - $3.5 m
Clarke MacArthur – $3.25 m
Tyler Bozak - $1.5 m
David Steckel - $1.1 m

Nazem Kadri - $1.72 m
Carl Gunnarsson - $1.325 m
Korbian Holzer - $575k

In 2012-13, Burke and his staff should be focused on a few key “assets” that will help move the Leafs forward in 2013-14 as some of the Leafs contracts come to an end.

Let’s start with Marlies Head Coach Dallas Eakins, who will be hard-pressed not to make a move to the NHL if he has another solid year of coaching behind him this year with the Marlies.

Although at first I was not a big fan of Eakins, he has earned my respect and is becoming a critical asset for the organization. A players coach, you either love Eakins or you hate him. Those that love him and follow his advice will be Leafs. Those that don’t will be in the ECHL next season (if not sooner). Plain and simple. 

Now, let’s look at some of the players who will be competing for spots on the Leafs roster.
Between the pipes, competition is going to be stiff for the back-up spot currently open.
Reimer definitely has the spot of starter at the resumption of NHL play. However, biting at his heals are going to be Ben Scrivens, who had the lowest GAA in the AHL last season, and not to far behind are Mark Owuya and Jussi Rynnas. This season, much attention needs to focus on evaluating the performance of Scrivens, Owuya, and Rynnas. For an organization that has struggled so much with goaltending, they built a reserve of goalies that most organizations would be jealous of. Don’t be surprised if Scrivens and Owuya are the ones who benefit most from the year of scrutiny.

On the defensemen side, Korbianian Holzer will be likely making the move to the ACC locker room. Touted as a possible player in a Leafs jersey this year, another year in the AHL for Holzer against stiffer competition from teams like the Amerks and the Barons could help that transition be much smoother and more successful.

Mark Fraser is another one of the players who could make the move. He is gritty, skilled, and if the Fraser/Holzer pairing works well in the AHL season at shutting down the NHL players who have been sent down by other teams, both could be poised to make the short drive to the Air Canada Centre to play for the Leafs.

As for the Forwards, Jerry D’Amigo has to be considered as one of the players that has most impressed and with one more year of AHL play under his belt, could be wearing a Leafs jersey soon. To think, 2 years ago he was sent down to the OHL and now he is a critical piece of the Marlies puzzle with 41 points and a +13 rating last season (not to mention his 13 points in 17 playoff games last year), D’Amigo wants to play in the NHL and this is his chance.

Next is Joe Colborne. After a season where he played injured, this is the season that the organization can accurately assess his play. Colborne needs a solid year with strong points (especially goals) to get the call-up and he realizes that this season is his chance to shine. Last year’s points don’t matter because they know he wasn’t healthy (for those interested, he had 39 points in 65 AHL games and 5 points in 10 Leafs games), but this year, they’ll be more closely examined.

Greg Scott also deserves the careful attention of the Leafs management. With 44 points in 75 games last season and a +11 rating, a good year from Scott will definitely put him on the fast track to getting a spot on the Leafs roster.

Finally, Keith Aucoin bears mentioning. Last year, in 43 games with the Hershey Bears, Aucoin notched 70 points, including 59 assists. As a veteran player in the AHL that has been unable to crack an NHL lineup on a permanent basis, Toronto is a logical place for him to try his luck as the big club retools. For Keith Aucoin, a year under Eakins who will help him with his strength and conditioning, one of his biggest weaknesses (speed) could be improved just enough that he’ll land a spot on the Leafs roster.

Now some (including Don Cherry) may argue that Mike Zigomanis should be on my list of next year’s Leafs. He’s not (and I’ll tell you why). Zigomanis is one of my favourite players and I would love to see him at the ACC but the truth is that he has found his role in the organization. He is a mentor to the young kids going through the organization.

The season starts in just a little over a week. All will then be revealed in front of 7000 fans at the Ricoh.

Let’s Go Marlies!

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Pros and Cons of the 2012-13 AHL “Supercharged” Season

As training camps get underway around the league for the “supercharged AHL season”, I have very mixed feelings about the impact that NHL lockout is having on the American Hockey League.

Part of me is really excited about the prospects of seeing so many of the NHL’s youngest stars donning AHL jerseys because it highlights the fact that in many markets in Canada and the US, the American Hockey League represents an opportunity to see quality pro hockey. The AHL brings some of the NHL’s future stars to town in less hockey-oriented markets like Austin and Oklahoma City (who wouldn’t want to watch Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins play for the Barons?) and is an affordable alternative for fans in prohibitively expensive hockey markets like Toronto and Chicago.

Many say that Toronto is a Leafs town and not a hockey town. I tend to disagree and for the new owners of MLSE, now is a golden opportunity to further develop the Marlies brand around the city and prove that Toronto is a hockey, not just a Leafs town. For an organization consisting of an NBA basketball that was locked out last season, an NHL hockey team locked out this season, and an MLS soccer team dead last in the standings with the one common theme deep in the playoff wilderness, the AHL Marlies have to be a silver lining on a dark cloud for Rogers and Bell.

The Marlies are no longer the best-kept hockey secret in Toronto and as the boys head back to camp, there is an excitement about 2012-13 in the dressing room, among their fans, and in the media about the team’s prospects. If we learned anything from last season, it is much more likely to see a Calder hoisted in the city than a Lord Stanley’s mug in the near future. In short, it is a great time to be a Marlies season seat holder and I’m excited about the prospects of who could be playing in this year’s All-Star Game in Providence.

Then there is the down side of the lockout and all these stars lacing up for the farm teams of their regular club; the regular roster of AHL players are going to be sent down to the ECHL, and then, where do the ECHL players go?

As a feeder league, the American Hockey League cannot fulfill its mandate as a development system during the NHL lockout. If the AHL teams aren’t developing the next generation of hockey talent for their NHL affiliates, we risk the next few years of draft picks not having the impact on their big clubs they could simply because of congestion in the farm system, particularly in places like Toronto that have a plethora of young talent being developed.
As you will notice, I’m being careful not to take a side in the lockout debate (although I have my own very strong opinions on the subject). It is my hope now that both the NHL and NHLPA are finally talking, they remember those who are impacted by their squabbles at the bargaining table.
The first group impacted are the fans. We pay the ticket prices. We buy the merchandise and without us, there are no television revenues or money to pay the expenses for the teams we cheer for in the league we love.
The second group includes all the players in the farm systems of these teams. The longer we have NHLers playing in the feeder leagues, the less development that the future stars of the league receive.
Now is the time to get back to the table, negotiating a deal both sides can live with, and get the new CBA signed, sealed and delivered.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We Stand on Guard for Thee

This week, I'm writing the Dawg Blog from the football centre of the USA.....just outside of Dallas!

For those of you who have never been to Texas, football is a way of life. In the stores.....Cowboys rule.......on the interstate as you head from town to town, the water towers are painted to pay tribute to the local high school team and the championships they've earned. Even in Walmart you can buy the local team merchandise. Perhaps the person who put it best was my driver, Jimmy Stewart (yes, that's his real name!), who said, "when we win on Sunday, people are happy on Mondays and when we lose, tempers flare for the rest of the week". Ennis, Texas, is home to the Lions whose roar stretches throughout the town and whose bite is only parallelled by the pride of the parents and alumni!

There is much that hockey fans in Toronto can learn from Ennis, TX fans. The loyalty for the home team runs deep but the love of the game is paramount. People love football in Texas. In fact, there have been 40 000+ fans at a single high school game!

This week, the Yorktown Terriers, the DDP ball hockey team had its first scrimmage and it was awesome. We played for the love of the game and the score didn't matter. It was, more than anything, a return to our hockey roots with a stick, ball, net, and friends: We've all done it a thousand times before but it never gets old!

As the MLSE organzation prepares to bid for a Winter Classic at BMO Field, and an All-Star Game and NHL Entry Draft at the ACC, it's important that we recognize our roots and our pride, as Canadians, in our game. We are guardians of the sport. We play it on the street, in school yards, in rinks we build ourselves, and the many, many arenas we fill. This is OUR game and we love it. We may not decorate our water towers with the Blue and White, but our basements, bedrooms, closets are loaded to the brim with it. Our memories are filled with ball hockey, MLG, and the teams we played for (in my case the Aeros!).

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention our troops, past and present, who have fought for our freedom in the quiet hope that they never have to travel down the Highway of Heroes as their final act as a Canadian soldier. Thank you.

You can email Chris with comments and questions about the blog, Duke’s Dog Pound Supporters Club, or the Marlies anytime to

Sunday, November 1, 2009

No I in TEAM

On Friday night, I had the chance to spend some time with Marlies player Alex Foster who was sitting out nursing an injury. You could tell that he wanted to be on the ice (and should be soon). What struck me most about the conversation was his commitment to the team.

At a time when the Leafs organization is struggling to put together W's, it is amazing to me that the players are less about themselves and more about their play as a team; players are starting to gel, player transactions between the Marlies and Leafs are becoming seamless, and as OT loss after OT loss piles up at the ACC and we continue to put together wins at the Ricoh, you can tell that the rebuilding is underway and that patience will be key.

There is no I in team and it is up to all of us as fans to remember that. It is certainly easy to criticize (especially when the Leafs' W column is so sparse) but as I heard one fan tell a young boy at the ACC one night, a real fan supports the team even when they lose so that victories are even that much sweeter!

The road to Lord Stanley's Mug is a long one and even though it is a virtual impossibility (even playoffs are distant at this point as October was a month where Leafs really did fall from the tree!), at least the prospect of a Cup in the not-so-distant future is certainly welcome. Although we shouldn't start planning the victory parade now, Burke is starting to do something that hasn't been done in a long time with the Leafs franchise.....he's giving it a direction and that is the first step on the road to success!


You can email Chris with comments and questions about the blog, Duke’s Dog Pound Supporters Club, or the Marlies anytime to

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Gardiner Cup

This week, the Marlies pre-season begins. It will be an exciting time for both players and fans as it will be the first time that the boys play across the pond in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the Gardiner Cup. For those who don’t know, the tournament is being labeled as “Hockey’s Homecoming”, the prize at the end of the trip (other than a trip to one of the most beautiful countries in the world), is the chance to hoist a cup named after HHOFer (the only one from Scotland), Chuck Gardiner.

This tournament is an important one for the Marlies and for the entire Leafs organization, since a win in Edinburgh helps to reinforce what Brian Burke and Ron Wilson are trying to instill in players; a winning attitude. For the Leafs to ever consider winning a Stanley Cup, they need both a passion for the game AND the jersey.

A clear indication of this focus on the team has come with what can only be described as an incredible pre-season of our new and improved Leafs, with some Marlies like Tlusty and Mitchell making a big impact.

Now there may be some that say “Toronto is a Leafs town and NOT a hockey town”, and in the past, that has been the case. The same is not true today. The MLSE organization recognizes that to win means a major cultural change in the organization and it is definitely going to be exciting to watch the Leafs become more like they were when there were 6 teams in the league….with a strong team with a deep farm system that is concentrated on the Marlies as the central development hub.

Hang on tight Marlies fans, this is going to be one fantastic season and if the Leafs pre-season is an indicator of what is to come, it is going to be one heck of a great ride!


You can email Chris with comments and questions about the blog, Duke’s Dog Pound Supporters Club, or the Marlies anytime to