TORONTO - The Toronto Marlies treated a group of nearly 7,000 schoolchildren to a game fitting of their NHL parent team on Wednesday.
Jimmy Howard stopped 25 shots while Mark Hartigan had a goal and an assist as the Grand Rapids Griffins handed the Marlies a 6-1 loss. Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Jamie Tardif, Evan McGrath and Mattias Ritola also had goals for the Griffins (7-11-0-2).
Chris Harrington had the lone goal in reply for Toronto (13-4-0-2), which entered the game as the American Hockey League's top scoring team.
The game started at 11:30 a.m. and was attended almost exclusively by screaming children. The crowd of 6,966 at Ricoh Coliseum was the biggest the Marlies have drawn all season.
Despite the loss, the Marlies are off to the team's best start since being moved to the city in 2005. With the Maple Leafs struggling down the road they have been a breath of fresh air.
Penalty trouble and turnovers were the Marlies' undoing Wednesday.
Ericsson opened the scoring on a power play at 2:35 of the first period. His shot from the point found its way through a crowd and by Marlies goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Grand Rapids broke it open in the second period with three goals in a span of six minutes 12 seconds. Hartigan scored on a power play at 11:08 before making a nifty move and setting up a tap-in for Helm at 15:24. Tardif made it 4-0 at 17:20 after fighting off defenceman Darren Walser and roofing a shot over Clemmensen.
The Marlies goalie made 22 saves through 40 minutes before being replaced by Justin Pogge to start the third period.
McGrath and Rittola scored goals on Pogge. Harrington broke Howard's shutout with less than two minutes to play.
Notes - The Marlies had averaged a crowd of 3,394 heading into the game ... They averaged over 3,800 fans last season and more than 4,300 in their inaugural year ... Helm played for Canada at last year's world junior tournament.