William Nylander is still striving to make the Toronto Maple Leafs this season

Marlies season opener goes Friday at Ricoh Coliseum

Lack of pre-season games not expected to be a factor

The Toronto Marlies regular season will begin this Friday with a two-game set against the Manitoba Moose at Ricoh Coliseum.

The team went 1-1-1 through three pre-season games with the St. John’s Ice Caps in Newfoundland. However, there is a different team taking the ice when the games begin to count.

Although the starting lineup will differ significantly from the team seen throughout most of training camp, new head coach Sheldon Keefe doesn’t believe that should hinder his players from getting off to a positive start.

“You know what, they’ve had little time with me calling the shots and running things, but they’ve been together for a while now,” said Keefe.

“The systems are the same, we’re very much in line with the Maple Leafs and how they’re running things, so we don’t expect it to be much of an issue, in fact, the expectation is the guys will know exactly what’s expected of them and what they need to do.”

The first-year Marlies head coach understands that there may be some struggles early on given the lack of practice time the team has had together.

Many of the squad that travelled to Newfoundland for Toronto’s three pre-season games has been sent down to the Orlando Solar Bears, Toronto’s ECHL affiliate.

New Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe at practice Thursday.
New Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe at practice Thursday. (Steve Gordon / Toronto Observer)

“We’ll clean up some loose ends tomorrow, have a short practice and get ready for the weekend,” said the coach and former National Hockey League player after practice at Ricoh Coliseum Wednesday.

“In some ways I’m expecting there to be some sloppiness in the first weekend and as much as guys have practiced quite a bit together and should know the systems, our guys as a whole haven’t had a lot of game action, haven’t had a lot of exhibition games.”

Given the lack of preparation time for the current roster, the Brampton, Ont., native plans to take a more simple approach to the game plan.

Hard work and accountability will be the focus of this organization.

“That’s how we’re approaching it, we’ve put in a foundation of the system, that’s really how the Maple Leafs have gone about things,” said Keefe. “It really is pretty simple, it’s not overly complex.

“It requires a lot of work, you have to be prepared to work, you have to be physically fit to work, and you need to manage your shift length and stuff like that so you can play fast.”

One of the players joining the Marlies late in camp was well-known Leafs prospect William Nylander.

While still striving to make the big club this season, Nylander is committed to the Marlies and doesn’t believe the team will struggle as a result of not playing in the pre-season together, but knows that this last week of practice has been important.

“Some of the guys played together during Leafs training camp too, so I think some of the guys are used to each other,” said the Calgary, Alta., native. “So of course these practices are really important.”