For the first time since the conclusion of the 1966-67 NHL season, there was a professional hockey championship celebration in the city of Toronto, Ontario late Thursday night.
The American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, the top minor league affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, defeated the Texas Stars, 6-1 in Game Seven before a sellout throng of 8,818 at the Ricoh Center to win the Calder Cup, emblematic of hockey supremacy in the sport’s loftiest development circuit.
The Marlies also became the first Maple Leafs farm team to win the Calder Cup since the 1981-82 New Brunswick Hawks, an affiliate they shared with the Chicago Blackhawks. They are also the first AHL team fully stocked by the Leafs to win it all since the 1967-68 Rochester Americans turned the trick.
The Stars were making their third trip to the Calder Cup Finals in their nine-year history. They lost in six games to Hershey in 2010 and defeated St. John’s in five games to claim their first trophy in 2014.
Despite finishing 22 points behind the Marlies in the regular season, the Dallas Stars’ top farm club answered each Toronto victory with one of their own through the first six matches.
But winger Andreas Johnsson put the Marlies squarely on his shoulders, sparking his club with tremendous speed and energy. Johnsson scored twice and added a helper en route to earning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the team’s playoff MVP. Left wing Mason Marchment also scored twice, while right wing and captain Ben Smith and winger Carl Grundstrom added single tallies for Toronto. The scoring uprising backed a solid 29-save performance from goalie Garret Sparks (14-5) after the netminder had been chased in the third period of Game Six, yielding four goals on 17 shots.
“This is my proudest day as a Marlie in five years,” Sparks said after the game in the bedlam that was the Toronto locker room. “I can’t believe we did it.”
Johnsson crashed the net and connected on a feed from Grunstrom for his ninth goal of the post-season (and AHL-leading 22nd point of the playoffs) that gave the Marlies a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period. Marchment made it 2-0 with a timely marker just 17.2 seconds before intermission when he buried a pass from left wing Trevor Moore for his fifth of the post-season.
Texas thought it had scored a goal in the second period when forward Matt Mangene jabbed at the puck in the crease. But neither referee (Pierre Lambert or Chris Shlenker) claimed they saw the puck cross the line, and video review was unable to rule otherwise.
Early in the third session, the Marlies made it 3-0 when Johnsson fed Grundstrom for his eighth playoff goal. The Stars briefly challenged the Marlies when center Austin Fyten chipped the puck past Sparks during a scrum in front of the Toronto net with nine minutes left in regulation, cutting the home team’s lead to 3-1. Johnsson answered with his second marker of the night with less than four minutes remaining. Smith connected into an empty net and Marchment added his second of the game as appropriate exclamation points to this convincing triumph.
Stars goalie Mike McKenna (14-8) recorded his fourth 40+-save performance of the playoffs in the setback. The 35-year old netminder, who played in two games this past season with Dallas, became the first goalie in almost 25 years to appear in two consecutive Calder Cup Final series after doing so with Syracuse last year.
Sheldon Keefe, 37, became the youngest head coach to win the Calder Cup since Todd McLellan won the trophy behind the Houston Aeros’ bench in 2003. Keefe led the Marlies to the best record in the AHL with 112 regular season points, then defeated Utica (3-2), Syracuse (4-0) and Lehigh Valley (4-0) to reach the Finals.
The last Calder Cup Finals series to go seven games occurred in 2002-03 when McLellan’s Aeros beat the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The Calder Cup is named for Frank Calder, the first president of the NHL (1917-43) and one of the driving forces behind the formation of the American Hockey League.