TORONTO – Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins wasn’t happy with his team’s start Sunday—and he let his players know it.
Down 2-0 early, the Marlies responded in a big way after Eakins’ tongue lashing to secure a 4-2 victory over the Houston Aeros in American Hockey League play.
Simon Gysbers scored the winner with 3:56 to play off a pretty feed from Mike Zigomanis. Jeff Cowan added a pair of goals for the Marlies (22-18-7), while Matt Caruana also scored. Jussi Rynnas stopped 24 shots for his first win since Dec. 26.
“I had a few choice words, and it’s rare I have to do that,” said the usually mild-mannered Eakins. “It’s so rare with this group because they always find a way.
“When I was done yelling, I left them with that. I said, ‘You guys are a resilient group. You’re like a bad smell—you just never go away.’ That just goes to show you the kind of character we’ve got in that dressing room.”
For the players, it was message received.
“It was needed,” Cowan said. “Guys knew we had to step it up. We had a slow start but we finished real strong.”
After falling behind on first-period goals by Houston’s Carson McMillan and Warren Peters, the Marlies wore down a travel-weary Houston club playing its third game in three days.
The Aeros (26-19-4) were at home in Texas on Friday, flew north to Cleveland for Saturday’s game against the Lake Erie Monsters before bussing into Toronto overnight for Sunday’s tilt with the Marlies.
“We got off to a horrible start,” Eakins said. “We were slow out of the gate and weren’t thinking the game well. But as the game went on they seemed to lose a bit of their mojo, especially after we got that first goal, and you could feel the game suddenly shift the other way and our guys didn’t let the foot off the pedal.”
Down 2-0, Toronto got on the board with a power play goal at 17:34 of the second period. Gysbers fired a shot from the point that Cowan tipped past Aeros goalie Matt Hackett.
The Marlies tied the game at 3:38 of the third period when Caruana picked up a loose puck near the Aeros’ goal and slipped it past Hackett for his second of the season.
After Gysbers scored, Cowan added an empty netter to seal the win.
Hackett finished with 23 saves.
Rynnas, making his first start in nine games, shut the door after a shaky first period.
“They looked a little scrambly,” Eakins said of the goals. “But through the second and third periods he made some big saves for us, especially in the third when we’d gotten ourselves back into it. I thought it was a great start for a guy who hasn’t played in over two weeks.”
The win gave the Marlies back-to-back victories over the weekend and moved them into sole possession of third place in the North Division after Lake Erie lost 3-1 to Peoria.
After spending the first half of the season without a contract, Cowan says he’s starting to find his legs, though he admits he’s still a work in progress.
“I still need a little bit of time,” he said. “The first few games I felt real good, and then there was a period where I was trying to feel the hands again and get back into things.”
Lately, he’s been partnered with Zigomanis and newcomer Fabian Brunnstrom, and the three seemed to have clicked together.
“Ziggy and I found a bit of chemistry early,” Cowan said. “And Fabian is such a smart player and makes the right decisions most of the time.”
Toronto returns to the road for games next week in Cleveland and Syracuse before coming home to face division-rival Manitoba on Saturday. Six of their next nine games will be away from Ricoh Coliseum.
Notes: James Reimer was recalled by the Maple Leafs before the game. … The Marlies came into the game with the league’s third-best penalty kill and the third-worst power play. … Announced attendance was 4,714.