Photo Credit: Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com
When you reach the top, the people will stop at nothing to drag you down. Or, at the very least, have you play hockey with them. The American Hockey League’s rosters are in the process of being set, and from the looks of it, the first overall Toronto Marlies will be represented by William Nylander, TJ Brennan, and Josh Leivo on the ice, and Sheldon Keefe behind the bench.
All three players are having banner years. Nylander is having the most productive season of any teenager in league history, with 14 goals and 20 assists in just 27 games. These numbers put him one point behind Travis Morin for first in AHL scoring, despite having ten games in hand. Technically, there is some uncertainty as to whether Nylander will be fully healthy in time for the game after his upper-body suffered during the World Juniors, but the odds are in favour of him being back well before then.
Joining him is his linemate Josh Leivo, who has nine goals and 19 assists in 33 games played. He cooled off slightly after Nylander left for Helsinki, going on a three-game scoring drought, but appears to be back on track with an equally long point-streak. Leivo is arguably the biggest bounce-back story in the organization this year, rebounding from a disappointing second season with results that put him on pace to easily eclipse his career highs in assists and points.
As for Brennan, his numbers continue to speak for themselves. Like Nylander, he’s right in the thick of the AHL scoring race, currently tied for fourth in points with 13 goals and 18 assists in 35 games. This is despite being a defenceman; his breakout prowess and elite powerplay abilities have allowed him to put up forward-like numbers while still playing a distinctly different game from the point.
Joining them are on team North Division are Yann Danis (G, Albany), Kristers Gudlevskis (G, Syracuse), Mark Barberio (D, St. Johns), Michael Kostka (Former Marlies D, Binghamton), Matt Taormina (D, Syracuse), Mike Angelidis (F, Syracuse), Michael McCarron (F, St. Johns), Cal O’Reilly (F, Rochester), Hunter Shinkaruk (F, Utica), and Mike Sislo (F, Albany). The Marlies are joined by the Wilkes/Barre-Scranton Penguins and Texas Stars as the only teams to have three players named to their division’s team.
Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe will be behind the bench for Team North Division. Keefe has impressed in his first year of coaching professional hockey, leading the Marlies to a 27-7-2 record (1st) with a +50 goal differential (1st) over 36 games.
The AHL has adopted, like the NHL, a division format for this year’s game. Unlike the NHL’s three-game, all-knockout, 3-on-3 format, the AHL’s format involves more games with shorter times.
All four divisions will face each other in a round-robin tournament; games are nine minutes long and start at 4-on-4 before moving to 3-on-3. The two teams with the best records at the end of the round-robin will play a six-minute 3-on-3 game to figure out who skates away as All-Star Champions.
The game will be played in Syracuse, New York, on February 1st. Like the NHL, the Skills Competition will retain the East/West format and be played the night before.