Thursday buzz: Marlies picking up wins in bunches

Photo: Christian Bonin

📝 by Patrick Williams

It’s nice to walk out of the rink with two points when the lunch hour has barely even ended.

The Toronto Marlies did just that on Wednesday, scratching out a 2-1 decision over the Utica Comets in a school-day game at Coca-Cola Coliseum. Playing to a crowd of 7,376 mostly youthful — and loud — fans, the Marlies got 45 saves from Erik Källgren, Bobby McMann’s ninth goal in his past 12 games, and a third-period game-winner from recent addition Dryden Hunt.

In fact, the Marlies already have a pair of wins this week, and the weekend has not even arrived yet. On Monday they completed a 4-2 victory at home against Manitoba, completing a contest that had originally been suspended after 20 minutes on Jan. 13.

Hockey players are routine-oriented, of course, and a two-period game or an 11 a.m. puck drop means some adjustments to those well-honed rituals.

“I think it was super-fun with the crowd and all of the kids around here,” Marlies rookie blueliner William Villeneuve told the team’s website.

The work continues Friday when the Marlies visit Rochester. Then they host the Amerks on Saturday afternoon, and Utica is back in town for a Family Day matinee at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.

With AHL All-Star Joseph Woll back up with the parent Toronto Maple Leafs, the Marlies can turn to two more strong options in Källgren and Keith Petruzzelli as they continue their busy week.

“It’s nice to show what I can do,” Källgren said. “I know that I can play at a high level, so it feels good to get to show it.”

Declan Chisholm on the left side.

Leon Gawanke on the right.

The Manitoba Moose have a strong pairing there. They have been a go-to option on the Manitoba Moose blue line for almost three seasons.

Gawanke came to the Winnipeg Jets organization as a 2017 fifth-round pick. Now in his fourth AHL season with the Moose, the 23-year-old is tied with Syracuse’s Darren Raddysh for second in the AHL in goals among defensemen with 12. Chisholm, another Jets fifth-rounder in 2018, is now fourth among AHL defensemen with 34 points and is coming off a trip to the AHL All-Star Classic.

“I know where [Chisholm] is on the ice,” Gawanke said. “He knows where I am. We’re finding each other a lot. We’re using each other a lot, and it helps both of us on the breakout. I know mostly when I have the puck, he’s always there, and if I don’t have any forwards ahead of me, I know I can give it to him and I think it’s kind of the other way around.

“I feel like we’re feeding off each other really well. We’re having a good time playing together.”

Moose head coach Mark Morrison is happy, too. Chisholm already got his first two NHL games last season with the Jets. And Gawanke may not be far behind. The second-year Moose head coach praises Gawanke’s “super-competitive” approach.

“I think his development is right there,” Morrison said.

Gerry Mayhew can put the puck in the net, and he showed it again Wednesday night.

Playing the right side of a line with Logan Hutsko and Connor Bunnaman, Mayhew netted his third career AHL hat trick to lead the Charlotte Checkers to a 4-1 home win against Lehigh Valley. With eight wins in their past nine games, the Checkers have climbed to within seven points of the Atlantic Division lead. They can gain further ground when the second-place Hershey Bears visit for two games this weekend.

In 2019-20 with the Iowa Wild, Mayhew’s 39 goals in 49 games led the AHL and earned him league MVP honors. After dividing last season between the Philadelphia and Anaheim organizations, Mayhew came to the Florida Panthers as an offseason signing.

But he only managed one goal in his first 10 games with the Checkers and later endured a 14-game spell without a tally.

Wednesday looked a lot more like the Mayhew of old.

“My legs were in it,” Mayhew told the Checkers website afterward. “I’ve been moving my feet more, trying to beat defenders wide.

“[Mayhew] had lots of jump,” head coach Geordie Kinnear said. “That’s what he can do. Confidence is a wonderful thing. When you work hard, and you start getting rewarded for that work, you become confident.”