While their parent teams battled Thursday, the Toronto Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs open their respective AHL seasons Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. ET) at Ricoh Coliseum.
Both teams will look to improve on last year’s earlier post-season exits.
Hamilton finished second in the Western Conference’s North Division with 102 points, while Toronto squeaked into the playoffs following a 90-point campaign.
The clubs have had plenty of time to think about the upcoming season as each squad was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 2009.
The game will mark Dallas Eakins’s head coaching debut in Toronto after spending time as assistant with both the NHL’s Leafs and Marlies.
For the former NHL defenceman, the purpose for this season is clear.
“We are trying to develop players for our NHL team and that’s our goal, first and foremost,” said Eakins. “The great thing is I see the game very much the same way [Leafs GM] Brian Burke sees it.
“Between [Leafs coach Ron Wilson] and I, we have a great, great relationship where, everything that the Leafs do, that’s what we’re going to be doing. We’re just going to integrate things; as Ron does things and as Ron changes things, then we will change it right away as well.”
The changes are abundant as Eakins’s squad will feature a number of new faces, including NCAA signings Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, along with 2007 third-round pick Dale Mitchell.
Joining them are veterans Jiri Tlusty, Ben Ondrus and Jonas Frogren, who have enjoyed extended stints with the big club in the past.
Joey MacDonald will start in net for the Marlies after appearing in 49 games last year for the New York Islanders. James Reimer, who made three starts for the Marlies in 2008-09, will be the backup.
On the Bulldogs’ side, Yanick Lehoux and David Desharnais, who had 60 and 58 points, respectively, return to lead the club.
The team’s biggest issue centres around disgruntled forward Sergei Kostitsyn. The Russian recently demanded a trade from the Canadiens rather than report to the Bulldogs after being sent down.
Kostitsyn has been suspended and will not appear in Hamilton’s lineup this weekend.
The Bulldogs defeated the Marlies 3-1 on Sept. 27 in Edinburgh, Scotland to capture the inaugural Gardiner Cup – a four-team exhibition tournament which also included the Belfast Giants and Edinburgh Capitals of the UK Elite League.