Toronto Marlies training camp evolves as team transitions towards season opener

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The Toronto Marlies wrapped up the competitive end of their training camp on Sunday night, playing the final of three games against the St. John’s IceCaps in Newfoundland. With that and a few days of scrimmages behind them, the team now looks towards the start of the season with the bulk of their core returning to join them this week.

The most notable piece of hockey evidence to people right now will no doubt be the Colemans Cup, which is the aforementioned three-game exhibition series in various towns in Newfoundland. It might be the last time this happens, with the IceCaps’ future hanging in the balance, but it’s a nice retreat for some of the more longshot players that are trying to focus on making a hockey team.

Toronto was extremely successful, sweeping the series. The first one was rather uneventful as far as action goes, with Chase Witala scoring the only goal of the game. The other two showings were a little more eventful, though. In Cornerbrook, Toronto fell behind 1-0, pulled ahead to 3-1, blew that lead, made it 4-3, gave the lead up again, and finally, Sebastian Sylvestre put the game away in overtime.

Finally, in Gander, Toronto found themselves down 2-0 midway through the second period, before once again pushing back. This time, they left the IceCaps in the dust, scoring four unanswered goals and allowing nothing else to create a 4-2 final score and secure the sweep.

Between these three games, and the scrimmages played beforehand, a few of the longshots gave everybody some pause and consideration. This list includes:

  • Chase Witala: Signed straight out of junior last year, the Price George Cougars graduate dominated the cup with five points in three games. Witala has a natural eye for the net and has the foot speed to generate rushes and it certainly played to his benefit this weekend.
  • Adam Brace: Brace is an extreme longshot to make it to the Marlies regular lineup, but he could find himself as a very good fit on the Solar Bears. He picked up the final goal in Sunday’s game and was one of the dominant players in intrasquad scrimmages. Brace, who was coached by Sheldon Keefe in Pembroke back in 2006/07, has had an interesting pro resume, doing most of his damage as a 0.9 point per game player in the ECHL and playing in the German second-tier last year.
  • Eric Faille: Faille loves to shoot the puck, and that much remained evident in camp. Likely a frequent call-up option throughout the year,  it’ll be interesting if he can continue to clear a point-per-game with the Solar Bears this year. He had 60 points in 56 games last season, and in his Marlies stint, had seven goals and three assists in 15 games.
  • Brett Findlay & Patrick Watling: These two have been organization staples since signing a couple years ago; an example of the organization being willing to indirectly commit to players who commit to them, even if NHL contracts aren’t a possibility. 
  • TJ Foster: Foster was one of the most improved-looking players in camp, controlling the ice and creating chances with bursts of speed that were impressive even in an already quick group. Foster, a 24-year-old CIS graduate, is entering his second pro season after scoring 25 goals with Orlando last year.
  • Cason Hohmann: Hohmann is yet another example of an undersized, under-looked player that’s hiding in the depths of the Leafs organization. He seemed to relish in having control of the puck in the moments that he could and, if nothing else, seemed like he could already play AHL minutes. I don’t know if the room is there, so he’ll likely have to attempt to crack his 57-in-59 pace that he had with Elmira last year on the Solar Bears. 
  • Mason Marchment: Known more for being Bryan’s son and carrying some of his edge to the ice, Marchment actually looked surprisingly good in camp and managed to get himself on the board in some of the exhibition games. The 6’4 21-year-old wasn’t throwing the body but engaging in the cycle and creating his own chances. It’s hard to imagine a player that peaked at 51 OHL points in a season becoming a star, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could eventually become a depth forward somewhere.
  • Tony Cameranesi: Along with Colin Smith, Cameranesi comprises part of a new wave of Leafs prospects who… aren’t really Leafs prospects on paper anymore. Technically an unrestricted free agent but handed an AHL contract that makes the decision a little harder, this will be Cameranesi’s first pro season after spending four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He wasn’t overly impressive in camp, and at 23 he’ll have to have a slam-dunk year with Orlando to still be thought of as a legitimate player in the pipeline, but he’s certainly still kicking about.
  • William Wrenn: If any new face stands a chance to make the team, it’s this guy. The Marlies are extremely short on right-handed defencemen, and the 25-year-old appears to be able to be that guy should the situation arise. Wrenn was previously drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft by the San Jose Sharks (ahead of Tyson Barrie and Dmitri Orlov!) but sputtered in the NCAA, and WHL, and… well, anywhere he went. But last year, he went home to his native state of Alaska and played for the ECHL’s aces, put a C on his chest, and grabbed 41 points in 57 games. Wrenn picked up a few points in the exhibition tournament and looked calm and composed with the puck throughout, often making the smartest, safest decision once he had possession. He’d likely stick with Alaska before going to Orlando, but there’s a real chance that he ends up as this year’s Justin Holl or Byron Froese and makes this team.

As we all know, though, the players who played in these squads over the past week and change now have competition. Antoine Bibeau, Nikolas Brouillard, Rich Clune, Travis Dermott, Frederik Gauthier, Justin Holl, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Leipsic, Tobias Lindberg, Viktor Loov, Trevor Moore, Andrew Nielsen, Kerby Rychel, Colin Smith, Garret Sparks, Dmytro Timashov, and Rinat Valiev were all sent down on Saturday, and today could see the assignments of Brooks Laich, Colin Greening, Byron Froese, Andrew Campbell, and maybe one or two others.

Once again, this team looks poised to be one of the most dominant in non-NHL hockey. There are potential NHL callups all over the top four forwards lines and the defence and goaltending isn’t much further off. It’s just a matter of getting everybody to gel on time; opening night is five days away.