“The message moving forward is that if you stick with it and do things right, you’ll end up getting rewarded on the other side of it with your execution.”

– John Gruden

The 8-0 scoreline flattered the Toronto Marlies, but it was their reward for being far more clinical offensively. Before Ryan Tverberg stole the headlines in the third period, Toronto’s returning goaltender, Dennis Hildeby, played an important role in this victory.

First Period

Belleville almost opened the scoring on their first attack of the game with 2:30 on the clock. Maxence Gauentte was robbed on a rebound opportunity by Hildeby — a sharp save from a netminder who hadn’t seen competitive action in almost two weeks.

The Marlies‘ inability to capitalize on quality scoring chances reared its head on their first power play. Joseph Blandisi couldn’t bury after a great feed by Nick Abruzzese.

Hildey continued to step up to the plate, denying Ryan MacKinnon on a breakaway before making an excellent double-save to rob Guenette and Jiri Smejkal on a Belleville man advantage.

Tyler Klevin struck the iron late in the frame as the Marlies somewhat rode their luck.

Toronto orchestrated some good looks in the first half of the period, but poor decision-making allied with weak finishing meant the game was scoreless through 20 minutes.

Second Period

Looking to break out of a slump, scoring the first goal was important for a fragile Toronto team attempting to turn the tide.

That important turning point arrived within three minutes as one of the team’s rookies led the way. Tverberg drove hard to the net on his backhand, but nobody could connect on his cross-slot pass. That move scrambled the Senators’ defense, and possession was worked back to the point, where Marshall Rifai scored cleanly with a low shot. Who else but Tverberg was causing havoc in front of Kevin Mandolese.

The remainder of the period turned into a special teams battle which Toronto won comfortably. Max Lajoie struck the post with a rasping drive at the nine-minute mark, although the Marlies wouldn’t have to wait much longer to find a second.

Kieffer Bellows has enjoyed offensive success not by making highlight-reel plays but consistently making the high-percentage ones. With Kyle Clifford causing havoc in the crease, Bellows fired a low shot from a bad angle, creating a rebound off the pads of Mandolese. Dylan Gambrell was on hand to collect the power-play tally. 

The switch had now been flipped, and Toronto should have led by a handful after 40 minutes.

Blandisi chipped a solo effort off the crossbar from close range before Logan Shaw looked skyward after his one-time attempt from the slot was deflected high over the net. There was more frustration to come for Shaw, who ripped a pair of bombs on the power play, both of which produced huge rebounds that weren’t capitalized on.

The Marlies struck for a third time late in the frame as their fourth line and the defense pairing of Villeneuve and Rifai connected with a little over two minutes remaining. Villenueve’s point shot was redirected in the slot by Josiah Slavin, and while he didn’t collect a point on the play, Zach Solow played an integral role by screening Mandolese, who was cleanly beaten.

That wasn’t the end of the action in the middle frame as a feisty game turned particularly nasty. Abruzzese was nailed from behind by Brennan Saulnier while off-balance and already falling to the ice. Lajoie jumped in to defend his teammate, dropping the gloves with Saulnier.

Hildeby produced a key save in the final second to deny Matthew Highmore despite being crashed into at the end of the play. By this point, tensions were boiling over.

With the teams heading for their respective dressing rooms, Boko Imama speared Hildeby as the pair skated past one another — an unnecessary and premeditated action by Belleville’s enforcer, and one that is not out of character. Clifford interjected and came out of a tussle with the Sens forward with a slight edge in the bout.

Imama was assessed five minutes and a game misconduct for spearing, five minutes for fighting, and a game misconduct for leaving the bench. Belleville racked up 50 minutes worth of penalties in the final frame, including an abuse-of-officials call. Surely, supplemental discipline will be forthcoming from the league, starting with Imama.

Third Period

For the most part, Toronto stayed levelheaded and out of trouble, making Belleville pay for their lack of discipline by running up the score.

Tverberg opened his account with a bar-down finish from the left circle as Toronto struck on the power play for a second time. 

Reinhardt and Highmore rang efforts of the iron that Hildeby may have had covered, but it mattered little in the context of the game.

Tverberg doubled his tally on the power play thanks to Max Ellis. The diminutive winger outworked Egor Sokolov in the Marlies zone, creating a 2v1. The pass by Ellis to Tverberg was perfect as the rookie scored again from the left circle to make it 5-0.

A cheap shot on Rifai resulted in a fight between Solow and MacKinnon, with the latter earning himself a game misconduct as the Senators’ antics continued. 

Tverberg completed his hat trick with a third goal in under 13 minutes. With a 5-on-3 man advantage, Toronto’s power-play unit was looking to give the rookie a chance to score a third at every opportunity. It was appropriate that Tverberg’s regular linemate Bellows provided the primary assist to make it 6-0.

Ellis scored the seventh goal short-side on Mandolese after his speed created another odd-man rush.

Fittingly, Bellows and Tverberg connected again to net the eighth and final goal of the game. The Marlies perfectly played a 2v1 situation, and Tverberg netted his fourth from almost the exact same spot he scored the previous three goals.

The Marlies will feel much better about themselves after snapping a losing streak in such an emphatic fashion. Whether they have turned a corner remains to be seen, but this was a much-needed victory. The Marlies will face the same opponent on Sunday at the start of a nine-game road trip ending in February.

Post Game Notes

Ryan Tverberg tied an AHL record, becoming the ninth player in league history to score four goals in one period. The last Marlies player to score four goals in a single game was Tim Stapleton in 2009.  Even throughout the losing streak, Tverberg was a constant shining light with his performances, even when he didn’t show up on the scoresheet. A five-point haul (4G/1A) in this encounter — taking him up to 18 points in 17 games this season — is a just reward for his play this season.

“I am not shocked at this performance,” said Gruden. “You can’t say he is going to go (and score four goals), but that is part of the messaging if you do things right and you play the way he has. He is around the puck, he wins his battles, and he does the things he needs to do to be successful. When it is on his stick, he is feeling it. Confidence is a huge thing.”

William Villeneuve registered four five-on-five assists (three primary) alongside Marshall Rifai. It’s a pairing that showed good chemistry and communication, giving Gruden plenty of reasons to keep them together.

– With three assists, Kieffer Bellows has six points (3G/3A) in his last three games and moved over a point-per-game at 26 points in 25 games. With his 25-game PTO now complete, the organization can either sign him to a second PTO or an AHL deal.

“[Bellows] keeps getting better and better,” said Gruden. “He keeps working on the things that are important for him to have success for the team. I think he enjoys it and likes being here. He is going about it the right way.”

– It’s not often a shutout is outshone. Dennis Hildeby turned aside 20 shots to record his third clean sheet of the campaign. His performance shouldn’t be overlooked despite the scoreline and save count; he came up with a handful of big saves when the game was in the balance. Hildeby also recorded a first point in North America with a secondary assist on the seventh goal.

– With a goal and two assists in this outing, Max Ellis ended a 10-game pointless slump. With his overall impact on the game and use of his speed through the neutral zone, he showed signs of bouncing back to the kind of early-season form that saw him register six points through the first eight games of the campaign.

– Friday’s lines:

Abruzzese – Gambrell- Steeves
Clifford – Shaw  – Ellis
Bellows – Tverberg – Blandisi
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow

Lajoie – Miller
Kokkonen – Niemelä
Rifai – Villeneuve


Game Highlights: Marlies 8 vs. Senators 0

Post-Game Media Availability: Villeneuve, Tverberg & Gruden