Two hours before puck drop, the Toronto Marlies were left without a goaltender.
Keith Petruzelli wasn’t able to play due to illness, while an injury to Petr Mrazek in Boston meant Michael Hutchinson was on a potential recall to the NHL.
As a result, Taylor Joseph, who has occupied the role of an emergency backup goaltender for Abbotsford this season, was thrust into his first professional game as a starter for the Marlies. Currently living in Langley, BC, Joseph plays for Trinity Western University.
Backing him up was Tavin Grant, who just happened to be in the local area. Now retired from hockey, Grant last tended net in the WHL for the Prince George Cougars during the 2017-18 season.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge regardless of who has in net because [Abbotsford] is a good team,” said Alex Steeves. “I’ll be honest: When we heard the news, we were like, ‘Okay let’s just put together a good effort.’ But then, honestly, after warm-ups, we were looking at each other and saying, ‘these kids [Joseph and Grant] can actually play, so let’s just stick to our game.'”
As expected, Abbotsford was in command from the opening puck drop, putting Toronto under immense pressure for the first five minutes. The Marlies held tough, and their new goaltender gave them early confidence with four saves during the opening push from the Canucks.
It was noticeable that Toronto was playing a little cautiously and taking extra efforts to ensure they were alert to rebounds from their newest teammate.
The Marlies proceeded to build themselves a first-period lead on the back of opportunistic scoring. A turnover along the boards presented Curtis Douglas with a chance in the slot, where the big man delivered a great backhand shot that beat Spencer Martin cleanly.
The Marlies‘ power play then connected at the first time of asking after Josh Ho-Sang delivered the zone entry under pressure and dished the puck to Nick Robertson on his right, where Robertson snapped a low shot by Martin to double the lead.
The best goal of the period — and perhaps the game — was Toronto’s third. A swift one-touch passing movement involving Alex Steeves, Joseph Duszak, and Robertson was finished off by the latter for his second of the game.
The Marlies killed two penalties and Joseph turned aside 13 shots in the opening 20 minutes to take a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Marlies did not rest on their laurels in the middle frame. They were in the ascendancy for the first 15 minutes and were responsible for nine of the first 10 shots of the period, but they were unable to solve Martin a fourth time.
Incredibly, Joseph continued to keep Abbotsford at bay past the midway point of the game and was growing in confidence with every passing movement and shot saved.
The BC native was only finally undone by a rotten piece of puck luck. With a little under five minutes remaining, John Stevens’ cross-ice feed flicked off the sick of the goaltender and the puck bounced up off Teemu Kivihalme and into the net.
Toronto got the goal back with their second power-play tally of the game. A pitch-and-catch play between Seney and Duszak pulled Martin one way and the other before Seney placed the puck into the wheelhouse of Steeves, who leaned hard into a one-time shot to beat Martin at his near post.
It could have been an even larger lead heading into the break if Ho-Sang was able to score on a breakaway with 50 seconds left on the clock.
In addition to the usual paranoia around a Toronto hockey team and a 4-1 lead, with an inexperienced goaltender between the pipes against an Abbotsford team that has scored 200 goals this season, the result felt very much still in the balance entering the final frame.
However, Taylor continued to frustrate the Canucks, including a fantastic triple save at the four-minute mark. He denied Jack Rathbone (x2) and Carson Focht with a bunch of traffic around his crease.
Abbotsford clawed to within two courtesy of a power-play goal with 13 minutes left to play when Chad Krys whiffed on an attempted clearance, leading to a hectic sequence in which Sheldon Dries swatted the puck out of mid-air past Joseph, who had little chance on the play.
The fourth line really should have clinched the game for the Marlies on a four-on-one break with a little under 10 minutes remaining, but Rich Clune was unable to connect on Douglas’ backdoor feed.
Joseph’s fairytale debut kept getting more unbelievable as he made arguably his best save of the game soon after. After a flip pass from Jett Woo sent in Tristen Nielsen alone on goal — there was a huge whiff of offside to the play — Joseph maintained his depth in the net well as he kicked out his right pad to deny Abbotsford their third goal.
To the Marlies’ credit, for the most part, they did an excellent job of stifling the Canucks offense at 5v5 play, and it seemed as if they might coast to a comfortable win. That was until Krys took a penalty with 4:03 remaining.
The dangerous Dries finished on a backdoor feed from Sheldon Rempal, giving the home crowd some belief in the possibility of a dramatic late comeback.
Down by one, the Canucks were limited to three shots through the final three minutes, and Joseph’s stop on Jarid Lukosevicius in tight was his final action of the game. Possession fell to Steeves, who sent the puck almost the entire length of the ice into the empty net to secure a 5-3 victory.
The goaltender even ended up with an assist on the insurance marker — a perfect way to cap a memorable night for the 27-year-old.
Post Game Notes
– Talor Joseph turned aside 34 shots for the victory in his professional debut. The Marlies struck gold with a goaltender who was unfazed by the situation, and the team also deserves credit for responding really well to the unique predicament.
“There are always nerves and butterflies in a situation like this, but you just have to stay in the moment and appreciate the opportunity,” said Joseph. “This doesn’t come around every day. It is really a blessing it happened to me. I am very fortunate and thankful… The [team] made my life easy tonight, so I was very happy.”
– With a pair of goals, Alex Steeves became the third rookie in Marlies’ history to score 20 in a season. He added an assist (20th) to record his second three-point haul of the campaign.
“I’d like to keep going and that will be the goal going forward, but I think I am a shoot-first guy,” said Steeves. “It makes it easy when I have guys like Joe Duszak and Brett Seney feeding me the puck. I just try to do my job. It is nice to find some puck luck.”
– Nick Robertson also netted twice, taking his tally to eight in 15 games. The winger is now over a point per game pace with 16 points in 2021-22.
– Tuesday’s lines:
McMann – Seney – Anderson
Robertson – Suomela – Steeves
Ovechinnikov- Blandisi – Ho-Sang
Clune – Douglas – Kopacka
Kivihalme – Myers
Krys – Duszak
Král – Rubins