Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oklahoma City Barons 3 at Toronto Marlies 5 (AHL Western Conference Final, Game 3) - May 21, 2012

There's nothing like playoff hockey on the unofficial first day of summer. In Toronto no less. Yes, although the Leafs and the post-season are not words that have been used in the same sentence since 2004 (unless said sentence includes the word "missed"), their minor league team is playing in the AHL's semi-finals. My visit to Toronto had been planned months ago and I didn't expect it to include a hockey game, but the AHL schedule maker was kind to me, slotting Game 3 on Monday afternoon, the Victoria Day holiday in Canada.

I bought a pair of tickets online as soon as they went on sale and invited my friend Sharpy who was in Toronto for the weekend as well. We showed up an hour before the game, only to be forced into a surprisingly large will-call queue. When I saw two games here a couple of years ago, the attendance was around 2,500 but there were nearly triple the number of fans and the Marlies didn't have the infrastructure to handle them. It took about 15 minutes till I had my tickets in hand, but it didn't bother me as I ended up with great seats, right at centre ice in the first row above an entry gate, so there was nobody in front of me.

The visitors were the Oklahoma City Barons who finished first in the west (the Marlies were a close second) and the two teams had split the first two games in Oklahoma. The Barons came out strong and dominated the first 10 minutes but Ben Scrivens (below), likely the future Leaf keeper, maintained his poise and kept the game scoreless.

Oklahoma City took the first penalty of the game against the run of play and Toronto capitalized when Phil Dupuis scored on a sharp-angled shot that Yann Danis should have stopped. The game remained as such until there were just 5 minutes left in the second. The Marlies added to their lead with another power play marker, this one by captain Ryan Hamilton who tipped home a perfect pass from Jake Gardiner (#19 below in the celebration).

As is typical in Toronto hockey games though, the two-goal lead was quickly erased as the Barons scored on a power-play shortly after Hamilton's goal and then tied the game just a minute later when Chris VandeVelde banged home a rebound. Unlike a typical Toronto game, the team didn't fold. Just 48 seconds after being tied, Matt Frattin intercepted a pass in the slot and beat Danis with a sniper's shot to again give the Marlies the lead heading into the third period.

The Marlies managed to maintain that lead through the first half of the frame, but with just eight minutes left, Magnus Paajarvi beat Scrivens with a wrist shot that again knotted things up. It looked like overtime might be needed which caused us some concern as we had to leave by 7 p.m. which meant we could probably only manage one OT period.

Fortunately, Frattin rendered our concerns mute when, with 2:02 left, he broke in alone and used a defenceman to screen Danis, beating him low to the stick side and sending the 7,327 fans into a wild celebration. Shortly thereafter, Mark Fraser was given a totally bogus tripping penalty and the fans held their collective breath, but Jerry D'Amigo (shooting above earlier in the game) added an empty net shorthanded goal to clinch it as the Marlies won 5-3 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

A great afternoon that was completely unexpected just a few days ago. It is always fun having new games scheduled when I'm on a sports road trip, but when it is a playoff game featuring the future stars of my favourite team, it brings a new level of excitement that will be hard to duplicate. If the Marlies advance to the finals, they will take on Norfolk. I'm hoping for a game in Toronto on June 7th, when I am stopping over on my way to Atlanta for the Florida State League trip. It will be unlikely, but if it happens, I'll see you there.


Nazem Kadri started but was hurt in the first period and did not return. He is a key part of the team and the Leafs' future so hoping it is nothing serious.

Oklahoma City is Edmonton's affiliate. Earlier this season I saw the Leafs and Oilers in Edmonton, but since the AHL maintains the "home team wears white" rule, the uniforms in this game were quite similar. The result was similar too, with Toronto winning on a late goal (although the previous one was in overtime). Both Gardiner and Paajarvi played in that game as well.



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