Marlies crush Texas Stars in Game 7 to win Calder Cup:
Stanley, the Maple Leafs plan to get to you one day.
The consolation prize, for now, couldn’t be better.
Leafs Nation has been starved for a champion for decades, and on Thursday night at the Ricoh Coliseum, the Toronto Marlies gave the organization’s rabid fan base a fine reason to celebrate.
For the first time, the Marlies are Calder Cup champions, their 6-1 victory in Game 7 of the American Hockey League final against the Texas Stars driven by an exceptional performance from Andreas Johnsson and some terrific goaltending by Garret Sparks.
“It’s the first hockey championship (in Toronto) in 50 years,” Sparks said in the post-game bedlam on the ice. “Over 50 years. And this core group is going to do it again, at another level. It’s obviously the start of something really special.”
The 2017-18 Marlies were a complete team through and through, a group of hungry veterans and eager youngsters coached to a T by Sheldon Keefe.
On Thursday night it was no different, the Marlies deserving winners in a series that went the distance but was dominated for the majority by the players wearing blue and white sweaters.
With Mike Babcock among the Leafs front-office types watching from a suite, Johnsson, playing as though he was possessed, scored the opening goal, set up linemate Carl Grundstrom for a goal in the third that ensured a victory and then scored again late, not that a Toronto triumph was in doubt at any point.
Soon after, raucous chants of “We want the Cup!” went up in the arena packed with 8,818 fans.
Johnsson led the AHL in playoff scoring with 24 points in 16 games and was named playoffs MVP. After showing well in a late-season audition
with the Leafs, Johnsson then dominated in the AHL, and will be under serious consideration in camp next fall for a role among the Leafs’ top three lines.
Keep in mind his linemates, Grundstrom and Miro Aaltonen, also will have a strong chance of making the Leafs.
“I was happy I got the opportunity in the NHL and to come back here and win is awesome,” Johnsson said.
“It’s nervous, Game 7, everything win or lose, we know getting the first goal is important, we got the first goal, got the second goal too.”
During the post-game celebration, players hugged each other and family members, and there were tears of joy. Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and Larry Tanenbaum embraced, and when Dubas raised the Cup, there was a huge roar, among the loudest.
Sparks said on Tuesday after he was pulled during Game 6 that his confidence level was “extremely high” that he would rebound in the biggest game of his hockey career, and he backed up those words with some excellent goaltending.
Despite facing just 17 shots through the first two periods, Sparks had to make a couple of highlight-reel saves. His best came during the second when he stretched across the crease to take a goal away from Stars defenceman Dillon Heatherington, who saw the open net disappear as he released a one-timer.
The Stars scored with under nine minutes to play, as Austin Fyten was awarded a goal following a review to make it 3-1.
After Johnsson’s second goal, captain Ben Smith scored into an empty net with two minutes left. And Mason Marchment scored his second of the game in the final minute.
“This team has accomplished so much, and you get into a Game 7, you don’t know how it’s going to go, but I was really feeling really great about this team because in my mind this team was a champion all year,” Keefe said. “Just the effort our team puts forth, how they interact, our leadership group, the way our young players grew.
“To get the final reward here is the icing on the cake. I have never been part of a group that has been more deserving.”
Marlies celebrate agoal, scored by Mason Marchment (centre) against the Texas Stars in Game 7 of the Calder Cup final at the Ricoh Coliseum last night.