Thursday, February 10, 2011

Willie Marshall : AHL Legend Pt.3

As property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Willie Marshall began his professional career in 1952-53 with the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League. He had no problem elevating his game to the pro level. In 62 games with Pittsburgh, he scored 27 goals and 39 assists for 66 points. More important, he got a taste of the National Hockey League. His first two NHL games were played on February 28 and March 1, 1953. In a 2006 correspondence to this writer Marshall wrote "It was a dream come true when I stood at centre ice and the National anthem was played."

Willie Marshall's career path was typical to other players hoping to find a spot on an NHL roster. At times the best rated player in the AHL, Marshall couldn't fully demonstrate his talents when called upon by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thus, the bulk of his playing time was in the American Hockey League. His break-out year in the AHL came in 1955-56 with Pittsburgh. The momentum and exhilaration from winning the Calder Cup championship in the spring of '55, continued into the fall. In 58 games he netted 45 goals and recorded 97 points. His point total could have been higher, as he missed 6 games due to a stint with the Maple Leafs.

His value to the Hornets was best described by his coach in Pittsburgh, Howie Meeker, who said "Willie Marshall is the Ted Kennedy of Pittsburgh."



On January 10, 1956, Willie Marshall played in the AHL All-Star Game. The contest was held in Pittsburgh with the Hornets taking on the All-Stars. With Pittsburgh trailing 4-3, coach Meeker pulled his goalie, Gil Mayer, at 18:21 of the third peroid. Marshall scored with 1:05 remaining and sent the game into overtime. The final score was 4-4, after neither team was successful scoring in the 10-minute overtime.

The conclusion of the 1955-56 campaign was eventful to say the least. Marshall was named to the AHL First All-Star team. The Duquesne Gardens in Pittsburgh fell to the wreckers ball and the Hornets franchise folded. As a result of the developments in Pittsburgh, Marshall was sold to the Hershey Bears. In his second season with Hershey (1957-58), Marshall established himself as one of the great AHL Legends. He captured the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the top scorer in the AHL - 45 goals/64 assists/104 points.



In 1958, Hershey won the Calder Cup for the second time in their history. The first champioship came in 1947. On April 28, 1958, they defeated the Springfield Indians 2-1, to win the series 4 games-to-2. Willie Marshall scored the game winning goal at 16:55 of the third peroid. In 11 playoff games, he scored 10 goals and recorded 19 points.

His longest venture in the Original Six came in 1954-55 with Toronto. When Tod Sloan suffered an injury, Marshall was summoned by the Blue & White. In 16 games he posted 5 points. Of note, he did score his only NHL goal during that peroid of time. In 1955-56 he performed in 6 games with high expections coming from Leaf legend and coach King Clancy.

"He has been the best centre in that league (AHL) for a couple of seasons and we want to see what he can do on the big ice surface. His performance has merited a promotion. He will stay if he proves he belongs" said Clancy.



Again, Marshall couldn't transplant his skills from the AHL to NHL. His final shot at the big-league came in 1958-59, when the Leafs organization obtained his rights for a second time (from Hershey). In 9 games, he registered one-point.

If he was disillusioned by not sticking with Toronto, it didn't show in his play when he returned to the AHL. Upon his retirement after 20 seasons in the league, his final statistics reveal how much of an impact player Marshall was. In each of the following categories no other player in the history of the league could match his records at the time he hung-up his skates for good - GP 1,205, GOALS 523, ASSISTS 852, POINTS 1,375, HAT TRICKS 25, PLAYOFF ASSISTS 71, PLAYOFF POINTS 119. The league played tribute to Marshall by naming an award in his honour, The Willie Marshall Award, which goes to the player scoring the most goals each season.





In, 2006, he was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame.

Willie Marshall : AHH Legend.

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