Update From the Farm: Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri Making Most of Lockout with Toronto Marlies

By Tony Ambrogio (@SNTonyAmbrogio)

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As the Toronto Marlies wrapped up a difficult 90 minute up-tempo practice, coach Dallas Eakins had his team gather at center ice where they turned up to the crowd, waved, and yelled:

“Hi Randy!”

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was in attendance to watch the Maple Leafs American Hockey League affiliate practice.

And it brought a smile to his face.

“It’s good for our players to see this,” said Eakins. “It’s good for our players to see that not only me and my staff but the whole organization is keeping an eye on all the players.”

Eakins then smiled and added, “It was more of me getting Randy because I know it would really frustrate him having everyone look and wave at him.”

“You want to impress everybody every day,” said defenceman Jake Gardiner. “Dallas has a big say in who plays in the next level and they talk to each other a lot. ”

Gardiner than smiled and said, “As they say, every day is a tryout.”

Every day is a tryout. That also happens to be the line Eakins says in a TV commercial used to promote the Marlies.

Yes, things are loose with the AHL team winners of 3 in a row (in 3 days) and in second place in the North division of the Western conference.

One reason for the team’s success has been the play of Matt Frattin. He has 9 points (7 goals, 2 assists) in 8 games since returning from knee surgery.

Last May, Frattin tore the meniscus in his left-knee while playing for the Marlies in the AHL playoffs.

What followed was surgery and a 6 month rehabilitation. He has not missed a step since returning to the ice.

“It is encouraging and it is impressive,” said Eakins. “For a player to miss training camp and coming off rehab it is usually a slow process, and usually a frustrating one for the player. Matty worked extremely hard in rehab. He was ready for action right away, and meant business. Anytime a guy like comes in and even if he gets one or two goals early it’s a good sign for him especially for his confidence for his mental side of the game.  The great thing about Matt is I can play him with anyone.  I can put him on a checking line, I can put him with a skill guy it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t change his game and that is nice for our team.”

“That was a tough situation,” said Gardiner. “He has bounced back really well.  He has almost a goal a game and that’s expected from him. He has a good shot and knows how to score goals. It’s no surprise but he is definately having a good year.”

Frattin insists his left knee is at full strength and while the NHL lockout continues he hopes to use his time in the minors learning the importance of playing hard all the time.

“For myself, I think the odd time I’ll start off good but maybe I’ll take a couple shifts off where I’m kind of invisible and just going with the flow, going with the motions,” Frattin told Jonas Siegel of TSN radio. “I’ve got to make an impact every shift. That’s what I want to do personally and I think that’s what they want me to do too.”

Meantime Nazem Kadri continues to impress and finds himself second on the team in scoring. His overtime goal in Saturday’s win over Rochester proved to be the game-winner.

He has come a long way since training camp when Eakins was critical of Kadri’s physical conditioning when he said in September Kadri’s fitness level was “unacceptable.”

“I don’t know if they were harsh words, they were honest words,” said Eakins.

“He has bought in. He has been documenting all his meals. He has been every day doing something in that weight room. I fully expect for him to keep moving forward. It is one of those things that never stops. He has bought in.”

“I am trying my best,” said Kadri who has 5 goals and 13 assists in 20 games this season. “I am doing everything that is being asked of me and I am doing it to the best of capabilities.”

With the NHL lockout possibly being over soon, Kadri and Frattin will likely get an opportunity to join the Maple Leafs.

What they have done in the AHL will only help as they hope to take their games to the next level.

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