Baby Leafs Go Bear Hunting in Weekend Tilts

By Doug Evinou

Boyes Continues his Strong Play; Rourke has a Night to Remember

The Baby Leafs, struggling to make the play-offs, went into their weekend series against the Providence Bruins looking for 4 points. One look at the standings in the AHL’s Eastern Conference will tell you that St. John’s has gotten them selves into some kind of a bind this season. Not only must they catch the Springfield Falcons, who they trail by 7 points and has games in hand; they must also leapfrog both the Saint John Flames and Albany River Rats, two teams they’ve failed to beat in recent contests. A home and home series against the top-ranked team in the Conference was not exactly what their slim play-off hopes needed.

The weekend got off to a good start with Friday’s game in St. John’s, in front of a large crowd at Mile One Stadium. The Baby Leafs, who have been known to allow flurries of goals on numerous occasions this season, turned the table on the Bruins with 3 quick goals in the third period to capture a 4-3 victory. Unlikely hero Allan Rourke had his best game of the season, scoring 2 goals and adding an assist in being named first star. Rourke, who is in his third season with the Baby Leafs, has been playing real well as of late, and has been arguably the team’s top defenseman in the second half. Rourke is a free agent at the end of the year, so it will be interesting to see if the Baby Leafs bring the former Kitchener Ranger back next season. Rookie Brad Boyes continued his impressive play with a full stats line of two assists, four penalty minutes and a +1 rating. Goalie Jamie Hodson picked up his third win of the season stopping 25 shots.

The weekend series wrapped up in Providence on Saturday. The Bruins showed why they’re one of the top teams in the league with an easy 7-4 win. Jamie Hodson got his second consecutive start, picking up the loss while facing 31 shots. Brad Boyes scored a spectacular short handed goal in the first period to tie the score at ones, but it was all Bruins for the rest of the period and they went to the break with a 3-1 lead. The Leafs got things going a bit in the third period, with two goals by Dwayne Hay making the score close, but the Bruins proved to be too strong, with their top prospect Martin Samuelsson flexing his offensive muscles with a goal and two assists in the period. Hodson probably wishes he could have had two of the goals back, as the mistakes cost the Leafs the momentum they were building in a comeback attempt. It was good to see Aaron Gavey’s name on the score sheet with three assists. Veteran Josh Holden missed the game with a groin injury. He is not expected to miss Friday’s game against Syracuse.

While the Leafs only got two points out of the weekend, it was nice to see guys like Brad Leeb and Aaron Gavey on the scoresheet, since they’ve been pretty quiet in that respect over the last stretch of games. If the Leafs are going to bounce back this season, they’re going to need consistent scoring from the veterans on the team.

News and Notes

While the Leafs organization would like to see Carlo Colaiacovo’s Erie Otters make the OHL play-offs, St. John’s fans have to be excited at the prospect of seeing the young blue-liner suit up for the team down the stretch. The Otters have had a very difficult season, and have struggled offensively without the likes of Brad Boyes and Cory Pecker in the line-up this season. After an 0-3 weekend, including two losses to the Kitchener Rangers, a play-off berth is beginning to look very doubtful. Colaiacovo has continued to emerge as a potential offensive star for the Maple Leafs, with 35 points in only 33 games with the Otters this season. If Erie fails to make the play-offs, Colaiacovo would be eligible to report to the Rock on March 17th.

Two former Maple Leafs draft picks, Kris Vernarsky and Peter Metcalf, suited up for the Bruins this weekend. Vernarsky, a 2nd round pick of the Leafs in 2000, had just returned from a stint with the Boston Bruins where he collected his first NHL goal. Neither of the two players stood out particularly this weekend.

Team captain Craig Mills seems to be finding his skating legs after returning to the team from his injury. The first few games were a bit of a struggle for him, but he’s now playing like the rambunctious Mills of old.

The Leafs had their Wives Charity Carnival over the weekend. Highlights included goalie Mikael Tellqvist representing his native Sweden while playing PlayStation hockey with young Baby Leafs fans. Fans were anxious to get their picture taken with young star Brad Boyes, who has been the subject of a multitude of trade rumours in Toronto.

The two weekend games against Springfield have to be considered must wins for the club. With only 15 games remaining in the season, 4 of which are against the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Leafs have to get their points against the lower-ranked teams of the league.