Marlboros make tournament trek

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First team from Ontario at John Reid Memorial Tournament since 2002

It’s a symbolic year for the first Ontario bantam AAA team since 2002 at the John Reid Memorial Tournament.

“That’s the year we were born so it’s cool that we’re here,” said netminder Connor MacKenzie of the Toronto Marlboros.

The last Ontario reps were the Thunder Bay Kings, winners of a tournament record four championships in a row from 1997 to 2000, and the Marlboros have high hopes of becoming the next team from the province to bring home the banner.

“It’s one game at a time,” MacKenzie said. “We’ll watch some video tape after each game so we know what we have to do better for the next game.”

The Marlboros started off the Reid tournament Thursday by defeating the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers 7-1 and lost a rough and tumble 7-3 decision to the Calgary Bisons.

Friday’s score against the Notre Dame Hounds was unavailable at press time.

The loss to Calgary was only the seventh overall for the first-place 24-3-2 Marlboros in Greater Toronto Hockey League, a 12-team circuit ranging from Markham to Mississauga.

“Every game you play in the league for the most part are tight games. You’ve got to show up and play. You can’t really have any nights off and swings in the standings can happen very quickly. It’s a very competitive league and that’s why the kids love to play in it and why people move to the city to play in it. The quality of the games and the talent is just unbelievable,” said head coach Richard Power.

The win against the Rangers was the 44th or 45th for the Marlboros, according to Power, and the team also has five ties.

“We like to play run and gun hockey. We’re not overly systematic. At times we like to push the pace, let them think for themselves and be very creative,” Power said. “We love speed and we love to have the puck and we’re blessed with some very creative kids and their minds on our team so it’s nice to watch them do their thing.”

This is a Major bantam provincial year for the 2002 Marlboros, the Major peewee champions two years ago, and the Reid tournament adds to the excitement.

“The big thing for us is obviously the WHL draft year is earlier than our guys for the OHL so we wanted to bring the guys out in front of the scouts a bit for them to kind of get ready for next year,” Power said. “We also had this team together for the last six years and we wanted to kind of finish it off with a bang. We’ve heard great things about the competition out here and how it’s run so we thought we would go on one more big trip as we’re going to be stuck in Toronto next year for the OHL draft.”

The Marlboros are also experiencing longer periods with floods compared to the length of games in league play.

“Here we play three 20s which is a huge game changer for us because we’re used to having a very short bench, with only eight forwards and five D because we play short games at home,” Power said. “This is a huge difference that’s going to take us some time to probably adapt to the three 20s and getting used to having a bigger bench with our call-ups as well so the biggest thing for us moving forward is just adapting to the longer games.”

Christian Coffey, a 2003-born forward and son of Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey, is one of two affiliates with the Marlboros at the Reid tournament.

Leading up to the trip to St. Albert, the Marlboros won two out of three tournaments and also competed in a Border Battle series of games.

“We’ve been waiting for it for awhile and looking forward to it. It’s been one of those parts in our season where we really wanted it to happen,” MacKenzie said of the Reid tournament. “Seeing all the people that came to our eight o’clock morning game (against the Rangers) was pretty cool.”

All the pieces are in place for the Marlboros to have a season to remember.

“We have a really good D core and our forwards are really good up front. Everyone just works well together and wants to win,” said MacKenzie, 14, a Grade 9 student.

The core of the 2002 Marlboros since the inception of the team in Minor atom consists of MacKenzie, defencemen Jamie Drysdale and Nick Enro and forward Ryan Alexander.

Over the past four seasons the 2002 Marlboros have compiled a 254-24-21 record while winning multiple league and playoff championships, plus peeweee provincials, while maintaining their No. 1 ranking in Ontario.

“Guys have been in and out because you can change teams after the season is over,” Power said. “We have a very loyal group. In the first three or four years we only made a couple of changes.”

Graduates of the Toronto Marlboros Hockey Club that have gone on to NHL fame include Connor McDavid, Rick Nash, John Tavares, Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin to name a few.

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.