It was an AHL debut to remember for 22-year-old defenceman Brenden Miller.
In a whirlwind 24 hours, Miller played a matinee game for the Orlando Solar Bears on Sunday before receiving his first recall to the Toronto Marlies for a game versus the Binghamton Senators on Monday afternoon. The Orangeville native promptly packed his gear and headed for the bright lights of the Air Canada Centre.
The only problem was, once he arrived in Toronto, his sticks failed to join him due to an error by the airline carrier. Borrowing one from Nikita Soshnikov, the former Brampton/North Bay Battalion scored one of the luckiest — but perhaps most memorable — debut goals in Marlies history. It also turned out to be the game-winner in front of 14,537 fans at the ACC.
A makeshift Marlies team made light of the fact their leading scorers were all absent by netting a pair of early goals.
After Binghamton iced the puck early, Kerby Rychel chased a loose puck behind the net, winning the battle with Andreas Englund for possession. The puck was shifted with speed between Brett Findlay and Frank Corrado to give Andrew Nielsen a shooting lane from the blue line. The rookie defenseman’s shot attempt was tipped by Rychel before Findlay finished off Andreas Johnsson’s rebound; a real “team goal” only 40 seconds into the game.
It took the Marlies just a minute to double their lead. Brooks Laich and Dmytro Timashov chased down possession before Travis Dermot took control, dishing back to Timashov, who fired a cross-ice pass to Justin Holl in the right circle. Hammond made the initial save, but Colin Smith was on hand to put home the rebound.
Binghamton called possibly the quickest timeout ever seen at the ACC after falling down 0-2. It had the desired effect — Toronto saw their lead cut in half just 34 seconds later, when an outlet pass sent Mike Blunden away with Phil Varone. The last man back, William Wrenn, was helpless as Blunden fired past Garret Sparks, who had no chance.
The fast-paced nature of the game continued unabated even when the goals dried up. Johnsson and Tony Cameranesi both came close while Blunden tested Sparks once more. That was the fourth shot Toronto’s goaltender had faced by the midway point, and the last time he was called into action in the opening period.
The Marlies wasted a powerplay opportunity at the 11:15 mark before scoring one of the strangest goals we’re likely to see this season back at even strength. Brenden Miller — striving to get across the red line on the left boards in an attempt to clear for a line change — directed the puck toward Hammond and the puck took a wicked bounce in front of the confounded Binghamton netminder to put Toronto up 3-1.
The home team had chances to extend their advantage before the buzzer — Trevor Moore should have shot on a 3-on-1 break instead of opting for a pass, and Brooks Laich couldn’t beat Hammond in tight after a giveaway from Ryan Rupert.
The middle frame proved largely forgettable; the Marlies weren’t able to score a fourth and Binghamton looked much less likely to score a second. The Senators were limited to four shots in the second, just as they were in the opening 20.
A spell of pressure at the three-minute mark provided Toronto’s best opportunity but Hammond made a magnificent save on Seth Griffith. Johnsson, Moore and Cameranesi were all guilty of missing the target before the home team wasted their second powerplay of the game 16 minutes into the period.
There was also a chance for Colin Greening inside the last minute of the second period, but he contrived to fire wide during an odd-man rush.
To their credit, Binghamton came out flying in the third period and showed great endeavour, even if they lacked the creativity and composure when it mattered.
Blunden twice tested Sparks, as did Jack Rodewald, and Rupert should have hit the target when he missed far-post.
Sparks wasn’t called into action on a Senators powerplay, while Rich Clune took an awkward fall after a big hit and laid prone briefly before managing to leave the ice under his own volition.
With the penalty killed, the Marlies dealt a killer blow to Senators’ hopes of a comeback with a fourth goal at the 7:23 mark of the third. Findlay picked off a pass at the red line before exchanging passes with Greening, who faked a backhand shot and finished nicely over the pads of Hammond.
While they were outshot 12-5 in the final frame, the Marlies rarely looked in any real danger of blowing a lead. They almost tallied a fifth with nine minutes remaining, but Hammond pulled out a top-drawer save to deny Johnsson after a fine set-up pass from Findlay.
The only bum note of the game came inside the final 30 seconds when Toronto switched off defensively. The impressive Blunden redirected a pass from Francis Perron past Sparks after getting in behind the Marlies defense.
Another victory over a divisional rival keeps Toronto’s playoff push on course.
Post Game Notes
– It was a makeshift Marlies roster on Monday. Byron Froese, Milan Michalek, Brendan Leipsic, Marc-Andre Cliche, Kasperi Kapanen, Tobias Lindberg & Rinat Valiev (all injured), Kalinin (immigration), Frederik Gauthier, and Andrew Campbell (personal) were all absent.
– Toronto is now five games over .500 and it’s not inconceivable that they could challenge for top spot in the North Division. The Marlies are now riding a seven-game points streak on home ice (6-0-1-0).
– This was just the second time Binghamton and Toronto have faced each other this season in what will be a six-game season series. The teams have one victory apiece.
– Colin Smith scored for the first time since January 8, breaking a 15-game scoreless streak.
– Brett Findlay has been a reliable soldier for the Marlies again this year. This was his fourth multi-point haul of the season, giving him ten points in 16 games.
– Two assists on Monday for Dmytro Timashov, who has now recorded at least a point in six of his last seven outings. On a game by game basis, the rookie is really starting to make his mark every time he hits the ice.
– Brenden Miller won’t forget his Toronto Marlies debut anytime soon. He was fairly solid defensively with no significant errors, and his lone shot turned out to be the game-winner.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 4 vs. Binghamton 2