by John Bartlett || AHL On The Beat Archive
When the Maple Leafs opened training camp this season, they did so with a very deep talent pool on the blue line. Little did they know that by the time the regular season was only four games old, the blue line would be very black and blue.
During the preseason and into the start of the regular season, the Toronto organization had lost Carlo Colaiacovo, Pavel Kubina, Brendan Bell, Staffan Kronwall, Andy Wozniewski, Tyson Marsh and Tomas Kaberle for at least one game in that period. Significant numbers indeed for an organization that was full of depth. There was a lot of talk about creating opportunities for the younger players, but even they were dropping like flies.
Last year with the Marlies, Bell, White, Wozniewski, Colaiacovo, Kronwall, Ian White and Jay Harrison all had spent time with the Maple Leafs. Their movement created opportunities for many different players with the Marlies. And it appears that will happen again this season in Toronto.
The Marlies blue line is lead by its leader and team captain Marc Moro. After spending the summer rehabbing from off-season surgery and healing the bangs and bruises of a long season, Moro returned to camp in good form. And after not scoring a goal last year, Friday the 13th would prove to be a lucky day, as Moro netted his first of the season against Grand Rapids. Although scoring is a great bonus, it’s the leadership skills he brings both on and off the ice that means so much to the team.
Another veteran who brings a lot to the table is Brad Brown. After facing a rough injury ride last year that saw him play in just 38 games last year, he still managed to drum up 93 penalty minutes. He is a big, tough defenseman who won’t let the other teams push the Marlies around in their own zone. After a solid training camp with the Leafs, expect Brown to do some big things this season and maybe see time back with the big club if injuries continue.
Injuries continue to be a story on the blue line for the Marlies as players are bouncing back from long stretches last season. Tyson Marsh finally made it in the line-up for 12 games late last season and then into the playoffs after rehabbing for the majority of the season. The B.C. native put up 21 points in 67 games with the Vancouver Giants (WHL) in the 2002-03 season and can be relied on as a steady defenseman when healthy. Marsh will simply look to boost his games played total for this year.
Dominic D’Amour is another player bouncing back from a long off-season. After injuring his knee in Portland last year, D’Amour missed the rest of the season and playoffs, spending the summer recovering the getting in shape for the season. D’Amour saw action in 30 games last season. The 6-foot-3 native of LaSalle, Que., had 53 points in 61 games with Gatineau (QMJHL) in 2003-04.
Rounding out the defense corps are some new faces. Jamie Sifers was brought in from the University of Vermont late last year and only saw two games before returning to school to finish his course work. He performed well in the Leafs’ rookie tournament and continues to improve every game with his puck moving skills. Chris Harrington has stepped in with a good start. He recorded a three point game and scored his first goal in the AHL against the Bears in the fourth game of the year. David Cloutier returns the AHL after a two-year stint in Europe. He played in all 80 games for the Cleveland Barons in 2002-03 and posted 27 points as his best year.
A pair of former OHL’ers will also battle for a spot. Justin Sawyer, who also saw time late last year, brings his big size to the mix, while David Pszenyczny is a quick puck moving defenseman who is not afraid to join the rush and is familiar with head coach Greg Gilbert, as he spent significant time with him in Mississauga.
Once the injury situation sorts itself with the Leafs, there will no doubt be movement with the club and the Marlies blue line will change once again. But just like last season, movement and change means opportunity, and that’s what started the 11 call-ups last season in the first place. The only question now, is who will take advantage of their opportunity.