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Marlies Enjoy Big City Exposure

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

December 14, 2005

TORONTO (CP) -- It only takes a quick look into the stands to remind Toronto Marlies captain Marc Moro just how much things have changed since the team relocated from St. John's, N.L., before the season.

After going virtually unnoticed in Newfoundland, every game the Toronto Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate plays now is taken in by scouts from several NHL teams and the big club's management.

"In St. John's, you had that feeling you were kind of forgotten about until you went on a road trip and got to Hamilton or something,'' Moro said after practice at Ricoh Coliseum on Tuesday. "We're all property of the Maple Leafs and now we're under their intense watchful eye.

"It's absolutely the best-case scenario. The ultimate goal for all of us is to play in the National Hockey League.''

It's the biggest on-ice benefit that has come of the team's pre-season move east.

Call-ups were once a rarity within the organization, but three players _ defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo, Staffan Kronwall and Andy Wozniewski _ have already played games for both the Marlies and Maple Leafs this season.

In the past, the distance alone would have prevented many of those moves. Only a five-minute drive along the lakeshore stands between the Ricoh Coliseum (AHL) and Air Canada Centre (NHL) now.

"On the Rock, you could play outstanding, consistent hockey for seven straight games and not be noticed because no one's made the trip out,'' said Marlies defenceman Jay Harrison, who played three seasons in St. John's. "Sometimes that was frustrating.''

With plenty of scouting eyes on them, it's no longer something to worry about.

Off the ice, the transition hasn't been as widely welcomed. Some guys have embraced the move to a larger city, while others miss the cozy comfort of St. John's.

"There's been a bit of a mixed reaction,'' said Moro, a Toronto native who is happy to be closer to family. "There were a lot of guys who loved St. John's, especially the small-town boys.''

Rookie coach Paul Maurice noted that players spent more time together away from the rink in Newfoundland.

Still, he thinks the team has found itself in a "great situation'' in Toronto.

The Marlies' 12-14-0-0 record is something Maurice expects to see improve starting with Wednesday's home game against Grand Rapids. The club then plays games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday _ the sort of busy schedule found only in the AHL.

"It's a little easier to get it going but it's also a little harder to stop if it's going the other way,'' Maurice said of playing games so closely together. "You hope to heck you get on a good roll because it can really get away from you fast.''

After spending eight seasons coaching the NHL's Hartford Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes, Maurice is in his first year in the minor leagues.

The biggest thing he's had to adapt to is finding enough time to do his job.

"There's not enough time in the day here with the amount of teaching that needs to go on,'' Maurice said. "You can spend a day with each player every day.

"That's my only frustration.''

He also joked that he spends less time "managing egos'' in the AHL.

The dynamic of a minor-league dressing room is unlike anything found in the NHL. There isn't a player on the Marlies who wouldn't love to leave the team if given a promotion.

Moro says he has been part of past AHL clubs that would get "deflated'' by having someone get called up.

It's not a problem the Marlies have.

"You're always glad to see guys get called up,'' he said. "There's always competition, but that's where you see the difference between strong teams and weak teams.

"Teams with guys that can overcome that and be happy for their fellow mate and not let it tear the team apart succeed.''

Ultimately, success for an AHL player is measured by earning a spot in the NHL.

Moro and his teammates believe they moved closer to achieving that goal when the club moved to Toronto.

"The light is still at the end of the tunnel for me,'' he said. "That's what my goal is _ it's still what drives me, it's why I come to the rink every day.

"It's a fresh opportunity this year to try and take advantage of having the right people see us on a regular basis.

"You never know who is watching.''

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