The Toronto Marlies are going to the Calder Cup Final. After sweeping the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to win the Eastern Conference, they now face the Western Conference champion Texas Stars. The series starts this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. EDT at Ricoh Coliseum.
It’s the Marlies first trip to the Calder Cup Final since 2012. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and reminisce about that Marlies team, and the infamous Game 3 against the Norfolk Admirals.
Those were the days
The 2011-12 Marlies were coached by Dallas Eakins. With Ron Wilson having been fired by the Leafs a few months earlier, and a general disdain for him in the fan-base, Eakins was talked up to legendary status by the hoi polloi on blogs as Wilson’s potential replacement because of his success with the Marlies.
Beyond Nazem Kadri, the 2011-12 Marlies were ultimately a team made up of prospects and veterans whose names you have now probably forgotten, but whose potential future with the Leafs was still hotly debated at the time. Some of them even made our inaugural Top 25 Under 25 list: Jerry D’Amigo, Jesse Blacker, Greg Scott, Matt Frattin, and Joe Colborne.
Those were the days, eh? Before ‘real’ analytics. We argued over the futures of players like Joe Colborne because of his (non) shot quality, and mocked those who cited his first round draft selection, 16th overall, as proof he was a good prospect. Oh, wait. That’s basically still what we do now.
Then there was that time PPP rigged the Hobey Baker Award nominations to get noted lawnmower thrower Matt Frattin nominated as a finalist. But I digress...
The 2011-12 Calder Cup Playoffs
The Marlies played under the passive-aggressive slogan “every game is a tryout,” meaning, cheerfully, every game was a tryout for the big club, and, exhaustively, every game was a tryout for the big club. No wonder so many of those kids burned out so fast. It’s like they had to deal with an overbearing hockey-parent watching their every move each day, even after turning pro.
Eakins himself was notorious for this and caused a mini-scandal—which isn’t hard in the Toronto hockey media world—by declaring Nazem Kadri to be fat at the next Marlies training camp after the off-season.
Despite all that could have held back that team, the 2011-12 Marlies did manage to blow through the competition and make it all the way to the Calder Cup Playoffs. They were the Western Conference Champions. Yes, the Western Conference. This was a few years before the Great Realignment of the AHL which moved a bunch of teams from the east out to California.
Game 3 of the finals happened a month before I created an account for PPP, and many years before I started writing for the site. I was sitting a few rows up from the glass, near the end of the Marlies bench. It started as a rather unremarkable game, with no goals at all through the first three periods.
However, nine minutes into overtime, Mike Kostka ended it with one of the weirdest goals I have ever seen in person.
That’s the same Mike Kostka scoring the game winning goal that was later signed by the Leafs to play for them the next season. I guess the “every game is a tryout” philosophy also extended to the visiting teams.
The immediate reaction of the crowd was bewilderment. “What the fuck just happened?!?” Expecting a dump-in and a line change many people took a moment to look away from the puck and grab their snacks, or glance at their phones. Ben Scrivens did almost the exact same thing, sans snacks. You can actually pinpoint the second in the video where he realises the puck is not at all where he expects it to be, right before it goes in the net.
The problem is that goal scoring shot is clearly made while the Admirals are offside.
Follow the puck. It travels back over the blue-line out of the Marlies zone. At that time there are a few stragglers on the Admirals who have yet to tag up and skate back out as required. Kostka blasts the puck back into the Marlies zone towards the corner, likely so his team can make a line change. On the way to the corner, instead of going along the curves of the boards the puck deflects off a stanchion holding in place the glass and suddenly changes direction 90 degrees. Then it trickles into the net.
But when Kostka took that shot his teammates were still offside. You can’t score on a shot that’s made while your team is offside. At that immediate moment though, no one noticed this was the case.
You really couldn’t see the replay of this in the arena as it was before Ricoh Coliseum inherited the ACC’s old scoreboard. It still used a badly faded projection screen scoreboard which was visible to the crowd only when the lights were off. By the time anyone realised what had happened the game was officially over and all players had left the ice.
It was quite deflating. Everyone knew the series was essentially over with the Admirals up three games to none.
The next day the AHL issued a “sorry, not sorry” apology to the Marlies.
We have spoken with Toronto Marlies management and confirmed that a rules interpretation error by the on-ice officials occurred on the Norfolk Admirals’ overtime goal during Game 3 of the Calder Cup finals. As AHL bylaws do not allow for any change to the final result of a game based on an incorrect rule interpretation, the result of the game stands.
The Marlies ended up losing the series in the fourth game. The Admirals went to celebrate their win at The Madison where they had a raucous party and famously racked up a bar tab just over $10,000.
One could rightfully put the blame for the loss on those Marlies for letting Game 3 get to overtime at all, and then extend that to the whole series by asking why they let themselves be swept.
However, as a fan, Game 3 will always be that one where they were robbed by officials, and in which Mike Kostka became an unlikely Maple Leafs legend.
Let’s hope for better luck in the 2017-18 Calder Cup Final. See you Saturday!