Seventh heaven: T.O. is title town again

TORONTO ( … The Marlies have brought a professional hockey championship to Toronto.

Andreas Johnsson and Mason Marchment each scored twice and Garret Sparks made 29 saves as the Marlies defeated the Texas Stars, 6-1, to win their first Calder Cup and capture the first men’s pro hockey title in the city since 1967.

In the first Game 7 in a Calder Cup Finals since 2003, Toronto weathered some early pressure from the Stars, with Sheldon Dries hitting the post on a chance three minutes in and Miro Aaltonen making a diving block at the crease to prevent Gavin Bayreuther from hitting a yawning cage.

The Marlies then took a 1-0 lead at the 10:41 mark of the first period when Johnsson crashed the net and banged home a feed from Carl Grundstrom for his ninth goal and league-leading 22nd point of the playoffs.

Marchment scored a huge goal with 17.2 seconds left in the first, getting open between the circles and burying a pass from Trevor Moore for his fifth goal of the postseason. Toronto took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission while outshooting the Stars 19-7.

The Stars nearly cut the deficit in half midway through the second, but Sparks and his defenders managed to keep the puck out of the net off a goal-front scramble.

The Marlies carried their two-goal lead into the third, and added a big insurance tally at 3:35 when Johnsson set up Grundstrom for his eighth playoff goal, making it 3-0.

Austin Fyten was credited with the only Stars goal of the night, chipping the puck past Sparks during a swarm in front.

Johnsson’s second goal and third point of the evening made it 4-1 with 3:46 to play, and captain Ben Smith‘s empty-net goal set off the celebration in earnest. Marchment added his second goal of the night in the final minute to cap the scoring.

Johnsson won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the Calder Cup Playoffs. A 2013 draft choice by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 23-year-old native of Gavle, Sweden, totaled 10 goals and 14 assists for a league-leading 24 points in 16 playoff appearances.

Led by general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe, the Marlies – top development team of the NHL’s Maple Leafs – finished with the best record in the league during the regular season and then defeated the Utica Comets (3-2), Syracuse Crunch (4-0) and Lehigh Valley Phantoms (4-0) before eliminating Texas in seven games in the Finals.

At 37, Keefe is the youngest head coach to win the Calder Cup since Todd McLellan with the Houston Aeros in 2003.

Attendance at Ricoh Coliseum on Thursday night was 8,818, the seventh consecutive sellout of the Finals and the largest crowd ever for a Marlies game there. A total of 6,961,349 fans attended AHL games in 2017-18, the third-highest total in league history.

Toronto’s victory brings an end to the AHL’s 82nd season. In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 31 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL in their careers.

NOTES: The teams alternated wins over the entire series, with Toronto winning all of the odd-numbered games… The Marlies never trailed in a series all postseason, and were 8-0 in games when a series was tied… Toronto captain Ben Smith becomes the 126th player ever to win both the Calder Cup and the Stanley Cup (Chicago Blackhawks, 2013) in his career… Colin Greening (Binghamton, 2011), Chris Mueller (Texas, 2014) and Vincent LoVerde (Manchester, 2015) all won the second Calder Cup of their careers… Home teams are now 8-3 all-time in Calder Cup Finals Game 7’s… This was Texas’s first-ever loss in a Game 7 (3-1)… The 2018-19 regular season begins on Oct. 5.

2018 Calder Cup Finals (best-of-7)
N1-Toronto Marlies vs. P2-Texas Stars
Game 1 – Sat., June 2 – TORONTO 6, Texas 5 | Recap/Highlights
Game 2 – Sun., June 3 – Texas 2, TORONTO 1 | Recap/Highlights
Game 3 – Tue., June 5 – Toronto 2, TEXAS 1 | Recap/Highlights
Game 4 – Thu., June 7 – TEXAS 3, Toronto 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 5 – Sat., June 9 – Toronto 6, TEXAS 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 6 – Tue., June 12 – Texas 5, TORONTO 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 7 – Thu., June 14 – TORONTO 6, Texas 1