Column: Many wanted a Marlies matchup, but Stars provide the best test for IceCaps

Brendan McCarthy
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Hearing from more than few people disappointed the Toronto Marlies aren’t providing the opposition for the St. John’s IceCaps in the American Hockey League Calder Cup final, which began Sunday night in Cedar Park, Tex, where the IceCaps tangled with the Texas Stars.

It was the Stars who knocked off the Marlies in a best-of-seven Western Conference final.

That’s understandable, giving the heated passions — positive and negative — attached to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Marlies’ parent organization.

It seems feelings come only in black and white when it comes to the blue and white.

Plus, there was also the business of national TV coverage of the entire series by Rogers Sportsnet, which reportedly was a very real possibility if it had been a Marlies-IceCaps series.

As it is, there will be coverage by Leafs TV, but not in all regions and not through all carriers.

I am not sure, however, how much could have been truly made about how an IceCaps-Marlies series would have been affected by the history of the Leafs’ American Hockey League franchise in St. John’s and its relocation to Toronto to become the Marlies nine years ago.

Yes, there are those who would have certainly sought to make something out of it, and undeniably, there are plenty of local hockey fans still PO’ed at what took place — and how it happened — in 2005. However, there was no way that was going to be played out on the ice if the Marlies and IceCaps had squared off for the league title. There is nobody on either of those rosters or coaching staffs who were part of the St. John’s Maple Leafs. The history means nothing to them. And there is nobody left in the Leafs’ organization who had anything to do with the franchise relocation.

Truth is, if the Marlies had made it to the final, it almost certainly would have led to some erosion of support for the IceCaps. There are those whose undying love for the Leafs would have trumped otherwise deep and strongly-held backing for the hometown side.

And there would have been plenty more who would have been at least terribly conflicted by the matchup.

With the Stars, there should be little of that. Other than one-time Telegram colleague John Murphy and former senior hockey star Tony Cuomo, I myself know of nobody in these parts who could be described as dyed-in-green fans of the Dallas Stars organization (those who held temporary allegiances during Michael Ryder’s time in Dallas do not count).

That means with the Stars providing the opposition for the IceCaps, it’s going to be an all-in, us-vs-them atmosphere at Mile One.

And one other thing: Texas finished first overall in the AHL in 2013-14 and did so by being consistently good from beginning to end —  going 23-10-5 in the first half of the schedule and 25-8-5 in the second half.

If the IceCaps want to prove themselves as the ultimate best, this would be the team to beat.

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Always felt that one of the biggest kicks of having an AHL team here was the connection it eventually provides to the National Hockey League through players whom fans in St. John’s have seen first-hand.

It’s no different with this year’s Stanley Cup final between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. Regular attendees at IceCaps’ home games can say they got an early look at the pro careers of Kings Jake Muzzin, Tanner Pearson, Dwight King, Slava Voynov and Tyler Toffolli, who played when the Manchester Monarchs visited here at various time over the last three seasons, as well as Rangers Carl Hagelin and Matt Zuccarello (Connecticut Whale, 2011-12), and John Moore (Springfield Falcons, 2012-13).

You can also add in the names of some of the top reserves from the two teams, players like goalie Martin Jones and forward Jordan Nolan of Los Angeles, who have played at Mile One Centre for Manchester, and centre J.T. Miller and goalie Cameron Talbot of the Rangers, who visited St. John’s with Connecticut/Hartford in the last two-and-a-half years.

But it goes beyond recent time. Rangers’ star Martin St. Louis came to St. John’s to play against the AHL Maple Leafs with the Saint John Flames in the late 1990s; New York forward Dominic Moore was here with the Hartford Wolf Pack just over a decade ago; and Kevin Klein travelled here with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2004-05. A couple of Kings veterans who once skated for AHL teams at old Memorial Stadium against the Leafs were Jarrett Stoll (Hamilton Bulldogs, 2002-03, Edmonton Roadrunners, 2004-05) and Willie Mitchell (Albany River Rats, 1999-2000).

In case you’re wondering, the Rangers’ Chris Kreider played against the IceCaps for Hartford last season, but only when St. John’s was the visiting team.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Organizations: IceCaps, Toronto Maple Leafs, American Hockey League New York Rangers Rogers Sportsnet Dallas Stars organization National Hockey League Los Angeles Kings Milwaukee Admirals

Geographic location: Toronto, Connecticut, Dallas Texas Los Angeles New York Memorial Stadium

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