The second year of the Toronto Maple Leafs' affiliation with the Solar Bears began with a 6-3 victory over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, and Kyle Dubas's implementation of a baseball-style minor league farm system has truly debuted.
Early results indicate that sending a well-trained coach and well-prepared team into the ECHL season is pretty effective. But will the system still be reaping benefits in a month, when the other ECHL teams get up to speed with the additional practice given to the Marlies prospects? I'll tell you that next month.
Until then, here's what the prospects had to say about their first game of the season, including coach Anthony Noreen, who also considers himself a prospect and wants to rise in the Leafs coaching system along with the Solar Bears.
Consensus in the interviews with Noreen, Brady Vail, Rob Madore, and Matt Rupert was that the pre-season training camp with the Marlies was a huge benefit to their physical condition and mental preparedness, sticking to the system implemented at all levels of the Leafs organization really worked, and that Noreen is good at what he does.
Questions were asked by all members of the press corps present after the game.
Q: Should we expect six goals every night?
Noreen: The biggest thing was having a plan in place, a structure of how we wanted to play. I thought when we played within our structure, and we stuck to it, the puck was on our stick the entire time. Again it's the first game together as a group, we've got a lot of young guys, growing pains -- they're going to learn. What we kept talking about was when we did it right, they got chances, that's going to be the growing process, and that's going to be the teaching process with this group. We just gotta keep getting better.
Q: How do you feel about your penalty kill tonight?
Noreen: It's good, I mean my penalty kill is always -- we're going to attack. That's what I've done since I've started coaching, and we've wanted to be someone who put the power play on its heels, and to get two shorties tonight -- especially that one at the end was huge and shut them out, it was big time. I thought special teams were key for us.
Q: Did you get off on the right foot with the win?
Noreen: Yeah, I mean you always want to start with a win. Obviously, you know, these guys have been working. I mean, it's been a hard two weeks, the guys that were here, there were some drills we were doing with a lot of red faces and a lot of tongues hanging out of their mouths, a lot of tired guys after practice. And this is why, we want them to be rewarded for their hard work, and it's always nice when guys get what you feel like they deserve.
We want to score, obviously that's the point of the game. We want to put up as many as we can. On top of that, what I really liked was, even when it got to the end of the game, I didn't think we really looked at the scoreboard, we didn't really change our game much. We put our plan in place, we're not going to change much according to what the other team is doing. We're just going to do what we do better than they can defend it. That's going to be our plan all the way through, and our guys really stuck to it all the way. I'll tell you what really helped us was the crowd. We felt it, you could feel it on the bench, during every media time out.
[....] It was the biggest crowd I believe I've ever coached in front of.
Q: Brady Vail -- what did you see from him and his line, they were able to get two assists...
Noreen: Yeah, they were phenomenal, you know the biggest thing was their job tonight was to shut down the other team's top line, and not only did they do a great job of that, but they turn around and point the way they did. Brady is a guy who put the work in this summer, it's nice to see him get rewarded.
Q: You spent some time with Dineen and with Babcock as well this past summer, what did you take away from that experience and implement?
Noreen: A lot -- a lot. The one thing I would say right from the beginning is that all of us as a coaching group, we're on the same page with the way we want to play the game, with the style of game. Our big things are, we want to eliminate space from the other team, and when we got it, we want to hold onto it. So I thought our guys, as it went, did a really good job of possessing the puck. If you look back at what the possession numbers were, they were pretty well in our favor. That's what we're trying to do throughout our organization, and obviously -- great learning experience with those guys.
Matt Rupert's first game with the Bears earns him two goals, first star. pic.twitter.com/hqi3IKk2fj— Achariya Tanya (@tanyarezak) October 18, 2015
Q: Did your brother [Marlies forward Ryan Rupert] prepare you for what you saw and heard today?
Rupert: He didn't tell me much about it, but once I got here, I could tell the arena was nice, and out on the ice I could see all the fans going crazy, so it was an incredible atmosphere. Yeah, second biggest [crowd], it was incredible to play for the Solar Bears tonight, and a good experience for me and a young team.
Q: Talk about the buzz on the bench, a lot of guys making their pro debut, a coach making his pro debut...
Rupert: First off, coach Noreen, he's a very intense guy, always yelling, so he'll make us play harder. You know if you do something wrong he's going to get on you, so you know you need to step up, give 110% all the time. That makes everybody accountable for each other.
Q: Could you tell a difference between you and Greenville in particular because a lot of you have spent so much time together over the last month?
Rupert: I think all the lines had a lot of chemistry tonight, you know, going to play in St. John's for that tournament, pretty much the whole team's down here now, so it's pretty much our fourth game now, so we got used to each other, everything's going well, and we've made a lot of new friends.
Monsieur Brady Vail, always dapper. Said he soaked up a lot at Marlies camp. pic.twitter.com/T884NVy37N— Achariya Tanya (@tanyarezak) October 18, 2015
Q: Talk about the goal that you scored off that unbelievable pass from Rodewald.
Vail: Skate hard and make the easy plays, and that's what we did, we came out fast, and I don't think they could handle our speed tonight. We were using our forwards, we were using our defensemen, everyone played great, so it was a great win. Yeah, it was a great pass, he's quite the player and does his best work down low...I had a whole net and it was easy to put through, no problem there.
It would be nice to score six every night. I thought our offense was great, our D jumped up, they got it to our forwards, they made plays, and Robbie was great in the net. We gave up a couple tough shots for him, mostly our fault.
Q: Tell us about your power play.
Vail: We're comfortable, we've had some time to work on it the last few days, and we were clicking tonight, which was good. There are going to be a lot of changes, there's always new personnel, so the thing for us was to just stay moving and get stuff to the net, so it worked out.
Q: You spent some of the summer up with the Marlies, what did you take away from that experience?
Vail: It was unbelievable. I spent a couple weeks there with the skaters and the skills coaches and worked on a lot of things, and I could tell that in the last couple of games I've played I've changed a lot as a player, and hope to bring a lot to the team this year.
Madore: It was a lot of guys' first pro game so you never know what to expect, but I thought they played with a lot of poise, you know the biggest test really is when you come close to blowing a lead and the guys respond, and I thought we responded great. We went from giving up two pretty quick goals to -- we still played it out, we killed a couple big penalties.
Something that doesn't really go noticed on the scoresheet, but was a huge part of tonight's game, was the forwards coming back on the backcheck. And I thought, you know what, for [the Swamp Rabbits] to have a lot of skill and like to hold onto the puck, and having a good second wave, [the Solar Bears] forwards coming back really hard took away a lot of their good quality scoring chances.
Q: You spent some time with Sparks up north, what did you bring back from that experience?
Madore: Um, well, I left a lot of sleeves there, it's definitely a lot warmer here. From that experience, well, this'll be my fourth year. I've been in camp in the NHL the last three years, and so it's kind of business as usual, you go up there and you train, earn the trust of the organization, you pick up some stuff from new coaches, and try to make your mark on it. Being here, it's a great environment, it's a great group of guys, we're all trying to make it to the next level, to make the Solar Bears be the best we can be. It's a great spot to be.