ETOBICOKE, ON – Last season, the defending 2018 Calder Cup champions Toronto Marlies, fell short of the Calder Cup finals to the Charlotte Checkers in six games. The Maple Leafs affiliate held an open training camp at the Ford Performance Center, where it showcased the extraordinary talent and depth across all levels.
This season’s camp consisted of a total of 39 players, where 21 of those players on a professional try-out contract, 14 under AHL contract and three in an NHL contract.
The day began with news from the crease. The Toronto Maple Leafs released goalie Michal Neuvirth from his PTO. Neuvirth elected not to join the team in traveling to Montreal for Monday’s game, which didn’t sit well with Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock. With the sudden news, this meant that the Maple Leafs had to recall a goaltender from the AHL. Kasmir Kaskisou, who recently cleared waivers to play in the AHL, was scheduled to attend camp with the Marlies, but a few hours before camp, he got called up to the NHL. Marlies Head Coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed to The Sin Bin that he is expected to return before the season begins. With that in mind, the goaltending outlook displayed this:
|Mitch Gillam||Bridgeport (AHL), Worcester (ECHL)|
|Brandon Halverson||Hartford (AHL), Maine (ECHL)|
|Ian Scott||Prince Albert (WHL)|
|Maksim Zhukov||Barrie (OHL), Green Bay (USHL)|
Before the 1:30 start, coaches were working out Halverson and Gillam. Both of these goalies would join the practice just a short time after it started.
What took notice of me when I first saw Halverson in the net was his size. The six-foot-four goalie gave me a Ben Bishop impression. The way that Brandon uses his body in goal is eye-catching. When he comes out of the net to challenge the shooter, it’s somewhat intimidating, and it forces the shooter to think twice about the shot. Halverson absorbed most of the pucks that came his way and treated the audience to a flying-poke check, giving the crowd a Dominik Hasek throwback.
For Gillam, he practiced with his Bridgeport gear. Though his size wasn’t anything spectacular at six feet tall, his speed in the net grabbed my attention. When cross-crease drills began, Gillam looked like a machine. He was able to glide rapidly across the crease and challenge the shooter promptly.
Zhukov and Scott would practice after the scrimmage, and Scott saw no action in the game.
Zhukov played a solid 25 minutes in goal, but let in a couple of softies which he can remedy with some minor technical adjustments before the season.
For Scott, it was easy to tell that he was a butterfly goalie. Still, this didn’t stop him from making saves. However, he only played close to par with the others and didn’t give any “wow” factor. Scott can be expected to play in the ECHL for the upcoming season, but the Calgary native is under an NHL contract so anything can happen.
In the scrimmage, it was easy to tell the defencemen were the stars of the show. In the defensive zone, D-men were not afraid to use the body to block shots. In the offensive end of the ice, it was sniper territory, where lasers from the point where nothing but ordinary.
Although in practice, I immediately took note of Steve Johnson, who is on a PTO. Johnston was able to kill the play before it started, and it carried over to the scrimmage. Johnson played with Reading, South Carolina, and Hershey last year, gaining a collective -21. Nevertheless, with the way he played in camp, he may have secured his spot for this year.
Tommy Panico, on the other hand, looked excellent at the beginning of camp. Panico was brought my attention with his speed and ability to move the puck. However, at times he looked a little shaky on the point during practice, but he regained the conference in the scrimmage.
Finally on offense was a show dominated by familiar faces from the Newfoundland Growlers. Todd Skirving, Giorgio Estephan, Brady Furguson, Matt Bradley, Scott Pooley, and Marcus Power all played a role in the forward position. The Growlers in camp brought much-needed championship energy after their Kelly Cup win in June. Though defense and goaltending made a big statement, the faces from the Growlers gave the offense a shining light.
After the game, Head Coach Sheldon Keefe said,
“Today was a chance to get introduced to them (players), and tomorrow we’ll get to know them better and make some cuts”. He also told us that most of the players that attended camp are not the ones you’ll see for the upcoming season, which makes the camp unique”
With the meet-and-greet portion completed, the camp will resume tomorrow from the Ford Performance Center in Etobicoke. After that, the Marlies are expected to cut more faces for the upcoming season.