Marlies crush Texas Stars in Game 7 to win Calder Cup:

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - TERRY KOSHAN @koshtoron­to­sun

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.

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