TORONTO – As I sat in the press box Wednesday night, surrounded by journalists and scouts, you could feel it; it’s almost eerie. Something was fishy, even in the concourse, it was an odd buzz. It’s a new start.

The best way I could describe it was like the first day of school, and you don’t entirely know who your teacher is. That vibe is what the Coca-Cola Coliseum gave heading into last night’s game. With the firing of Maple Leafs bench boss, Mike Babcock, and Sheldon Keefe stepping in as the new top dog for the big club, Rob Davidson and A.J. MacLean will move in as co-head coaches for the time being.

At the time of his promotion, Keefe was just one win away from 200 AHL wins.

MacLean has served as assistant coach for the Marlies for the past five seasons and previously spent time as the assistant coach with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, under the then-head coach, Sheldon Keefe. Meanwhile, Davidson brings his experience as an NHL veteran, serving a magnitude of teams in the NHL, AHL and some seasons in Europe. 

On the ice, the Marlies are 6-0-0 at home so far this year and have outscored their opponent 28-16.  

Wednesday night, early on, the Laval defense was stunning. Every lane and opportunity the Marlies had was instantly shut down, and cleared of the zone. The first 10 minutes saw only three shots on Charlie Lindgren, who saved all with ease.

The Rocket got on the board first, when Justin Schmaltz got left behind on the play, Ben Harpur got lost covering David Sklenicka, and the Matthew Peca made a great play towards the net to undress Michael Hutchinson and get the game’s the first goal.

Alex Belzile got knocked cold by Garrett Wilson and mayhem ensued. The crowd roared, as the game got physical. It felt like a European soccer match, and everyone on the ice had an opponent within reach. In the end, the Rocket had three minutes of power-play time, after a two-minute four-on-four.

“In the first period, they shot a bunch of shots through traffic and got a lot of bodies to the net. So the game kinda changed a bit,” said Marlies netminder MICHAEL HUTCHINSON.

After a slow start to the second period, Scott Pooley, deep in traffic, received a perfect seeing-eye pass from Tanner MacMaster. Pooley with barrels of time found an open hole blocker side and put the game on level terms, 1-1.

The second period finished with a good rush by the Marlies after killing off a minor penalty. Kristians Rubins delivered a quality shot from the slot but it just rang off the post. Laval doubled the Marlies shots through 40, recording 16 shots.

The third period began the same as the second, slow, but steady. Every backdoor play was shut down on both ends. Both netminders and defensive groups maintained composure.

With what felt like everything on the line against a rival, the Marlies fed off the crowd. The fans wanted to keep the home winning streak alive. With pleasantries extended at every whistle, it became clear: this game had a tight, playoff-like feel to it. 

With sixty minutes proving nothing, besides bad blood, the game would need overtime.  

Deep in the overtime session – it was all Laval. Riley Barber took a shot from a decent angle that Hutchinson got a piece of to deflect into the corner. Then Barber, on the wrap-around, couldn’t stuff it past Hutchinson, who came through big with the pillows. Back the other way, Kenny Agostino burst up the ice, and made a beautiful move to find twine over the blocker.

With the win, Toronto improved to 7-0-0 at home and 11-2-2-1 overall, good for first in the North Division. On the other side, Laval fell to 10-6-3-0 on the season and is third in the North Division.

Remembering Coach Keefe:

After the game, members of the Toronto Marlies spoke to the media about their former coach.

Jeremy Bracco:

“He’s an honest guy, he’s a players coach, so I’m sure the guys will take care of him.”

Adam Brooks:

“When I came Into the league, it was probably a little harder than I thought it was gonna be, and he was there the whole way…I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for us”

Michael Hutchinson:

“His attention to detail and the way he sees the game is different than anything I’ve been around before.”

A.J. MacLean:

“For me personally he means everything to my career. He’s been like a mentor to me, through life and through coaching. He genuinely cares about every player that comes through here; he puts in the time and effort to make sure that each and every player has an opportunity to reach their maximum potential.” 

“Its a big opportunity for him; it’s one that he’s ready for we feel.”

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