His coach calls him a difference maker and on Thursday night Andreas Johnsson proved why scoring twice and assisting on another as the Toronto Marlies defeated the Texas Stars 6-1 capturing the franchise’s first Calder Cup.
Mason Marchment also scored twice while Carl Grundstrom and Marlies captain Ben Smith had the others. Garret Sparks, named the AHL’s top regular season goaltender, made 29 saves.
The Calder Cup victory is the first men’s pro hockey title in Toronto since the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1967. The last time a Leafs AHL affiliate won the Calder Cup was 10 May 1982 when the New Brunswick Hawks defeated the Binghamton Whalers.
Johnsson finished the Calder Cup playoffs with 10 goals and 14 assists for a league-leading 24 points in 16 games and was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason.
“This season, it clicked for him right around December, offensively it just seemed like the game seemed to slow down for him at this level,” said Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe. “It just came to a point where it was obvious he didn't belong here, and that's why he needed an opportunity at the higher level.
“He got that, he did well for us and can't say enough about his character to come down here after going and proving that he's an NHL player, and he's going to have an NHL career, come down and have the kind of attitude that he did, to be a difference maker, says a lot about him.”
Johnsson opened the scoring with 9:25 to play in the first picking up a feed from Carl Grundstrom and beating Mike McKenna for his ninth goal of the Calder Cup playoffs.
At 3:35 of the third, with the Marlies leading 2-0, Johnsson returned the favour to his countryman as Grundstrom tapped in a goal-mouth feed for his eighth of the playoffs.
After Austin Fyten got Texas on the board at 11:01, Johnsson restored the two-goal lead keeping the puck on a 3-on-2 rush and beating McKenna in close putting the game out of reach for the Stars.
McKenna made 40 saves in the loss.
“I know it's nervous Game 7, everything win or lose,” Johnsson explained post-game. “We think about get the first goal, it's important and we got the first goal, we got the second goal too and we could play on that, if made it a little bit easier of course.”
It’s been a whirlwind three months for Johnsson. The Gavle, Sweden native was recalled by the Maple Leafs on March 13 and made his NHL debut on March 14. Three nights later he scored his first career NHL goal against the Montreal Canadiens and recorded his first multi-point game with a goal and an assist against the Buffalo Sabres on April 2.
The 23-year-old made his Stanley Cup playoff debut on April 14, and scored his first career playoff goal in Game 5 of the series against the Boston Bruins giving Toronto a 2-0 lead.
The Maple Leafs returned Johnsson to the Marlies for the Calder Cup playoff run on April 27.
“It’s been a lot of emotions,” Johnsson said. “I get the call up, you’re really excited. Get to play the (Stanley Cup) playoffs, we’re close to get to the second round, it’s Game 7. Get back here, to the Marlies, we know we have a good team and expect to have a long (run) and we managed to do it.
“There were lot of emotions going up and down, I’m really happy to be standing here now.
Johnsson finished second in team scoring during the regular season behind only Smith with 26 goals and 54 points in 54 games, but his teammates saw him take another step in his game upon returning from the NHL.
“A lot more confident, lot more quickness and just the way he's attacking and he wants to score and find ways to create offence and just be the difference maker that he is,” Smith said. “Without him, we might not be here right now so we're lucky to have him, I'd assume it's his last AHL game and what a player, what a guy.
“When I first came here, I was on the Marlies, (he) didn't say much, but the way his game just kind of... he flipped a switch in January this year and was a totally different player. It's great to see him score a big goal in the playoffs for the Leafs, and to have that impact he has for us these playoffs.”
Johnsson admitted experiences such as Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs and losing in the gold medal game at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship are experiences that make Thursday’s win even more sweet.
“They prepare me a lot. To play these types of games. The more you play, the more you know how you need to do the job,” he said. “I feel like it gave me a great experience to come into this game and play.
“The older you get, the more games you get and it makes you appreciate these moments that much more.”
Only nine players were selected after Johnsson in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft, but the 178 cm (5-foot-10), 82 kg (180 pound) forward is hoping to follow the footsteps of fellow Swedes such as Henrik Zetterberg, picked in the seventh round of the 1999 NHL Draft.
“Without a doubt, he's taken the long road to get here,” said Keefe. “It's another example, it doesn't matter where you're drafted or even if you're drafted, keep working and the cream rises to the top eventually.”