“It’s a good benchmark for us to see where we’re at and where we need to go.”

– John Gruden

On one hand, this was an excellent result for the Toronto Marlies. They took a point from the league’s best team this season and showed resiliency after trailing twice. The team would have snapped your hand off if you offered them three points against Lehigh and Hershey over the weekend.

On the flip side, the Marlies once more blew a hard-earned third-period lead, again showing an inability to clamp down and close out tight games. Conceding goals in the final seconds of regulation and overtime denied Toronto the chance of claiming the two points on offer as they hope to hoist themselves back into playoff contention.

First Period

The Marlies weathered a predictable early storm before Ryan Tverberg drew the first penalty at the two-minute mark. Facing the league’s best penalty kill, the Marlies generated one scoring chance for Joseph Blandisi that he could not convert.

Hershey showed how dangerous they can be at five-on-five immediately after killing the penalty. Cameron Gaunce was caught puck-watching as Ethen Frank blew by him after taking a stretch pass in stride. Dennis Hildeby produced a key save to deny one of the league’s top goal-scorers.

Kieffer Bellows was the beneficiary of an odd bounce off the boards, but he couldn’t get the connection he wanted on his shot from the left circle.

The Bears’ power play was held off the board at the first time of asking before Toronto nearly turned the penalty-killing momentum into the opening goal. 

The fourth line continues to impress game after game. Robert Masttrosimone escaped on a breakaway and took two slashes on the play — the second as he attempted to shoot — but no penalty was called.

In what was turning into a battle of two goalies one-upping each other, Shepherd robbed Tverberg after Nick Abruzzese sent a fantastic pass onto the tape of the rookie’s stick.

With 32 seconds remaining in the period, Chase Priskie was afforded the time and space to walk out and measure a shot from the left circle that beat Hildeby between the legs.

From the restart of play, the Bears were somewhat complacent and Toronto countered to tie the game up heading into the intermission. Abruzzese combined with Roni Hirovnen to tee up Logan Shaw’s one-timer through a defender and past Shepherd.

Second Period

Failing to heed the lessons from the first period, Toronto continued to ride their luck defensively. One forward pass cut out four Marlies skaters, and Riley Sutter was only denied a breakaway goal by Hildeby producing a good glove save.

It was no surprise when the Bears retook the lead at the five-minute mark. It was all-around sloppy play by the Marlies, who were out of sorts under pressure in the defensive zone. Hershey toyed with Toronto, zipping the puck around before Jimmy Huntington scored on a one-time shot off a seam pass to register his ninth of the campaign.

The Bears seemed happy to cruise along in second or third gear after the 2-1 goal, content to hold onto their lead. For their part, the Marlies rarely threatened offensively and applied sustained pressure just once.

The top line hemmed Hershey in the defensive zone for 45 seconds with five minutes to play. Shaw and Max Lajoie both tested Shepherd without success, but it revealed a chink in the Bears’ armour that Toronto could exploit in the third period.

Third Period

The Bears created two good looks inside the first five minutes of the third period but were unable to add an insurance marker as Hildeby continued to excel in the Toronto net.

The Marlies worked their way into the frame and blew the game wide open with a pair of goals 79 seconds apart.

Toronto’s power play struggled for most of this game but managed to connect the dots at the midway point. With Kyle Clifford providing an effective screen, Blandisi scored in space from the bumper position after a good one-time pass into the middle by Abruzzese to tie the game at 2-2.

After Blandisi won a battle on the wall and found Kieffer Bellows alone in the bottom of the left circle, Bellows’ one-timer put the Marlies ahead at 3-2, stunning the home crowd.

Toronto managed the lead incredibly well initially, not giving up a shot for seven consecutive minutes. That was until the Bears pulled the goaltender for the extra skater. The final two minutes of regulation were played in Toronto’s zone as the Marlies continually iced the puck.

With 20 seconds remaining, Ivan Miroshnichenko’s slap pass was redirected past Hildeby by Huntington, with Tommy Miller caught on the wrong side of the goal scorer at the back post.


The Marlies owned the lion’s share of possession in overtime but created just two chances to claim the extra point. Both fell to Blandisi, who should have scored the second on a tremendous feed from Bellows.

Joe Snively’s snipe with two seconds remaining to win the game was a cruel fate for Toronto, although Hershey has shown they know how to win this year in a variety of ways.

That’s a trick the Marlies need to figure out in the second half of the season.

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies’ record is 3-2-1 on the Boat Show road trip with three games left on the docket. They remain in sixth place in the North Division but only three points back of Rochester in third.

Nick Abruzzese has been producing disappointing performances in recent games, registering just two assists in his previous seven. This was a much-needed performance with a pair of assists and several other good scoring chances.

– The return of Roni Hirvonen helped to energize his teammates. It’s going to take him some time to get up to game speed, but there were some encouraging signs. Hirvonen kept his game simple and hard-working while registering an assist on Toronto’s first goal.

“I thought [Hirvonen] brought some energy,” said Gruden. “With the way he carries himself, how can you not like him? I think it definitely carried over into the locker room… His teammates really enjoy having him around.”

Joseph Blandisi could have been the hero in this game if had he been able to capitalize on more than one scoring chance. However, he did record his 10th multi-point haul of the season (1G/1A) and third in as many games (2G/4A).

– Sunday’s lineup:

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

Lajoie – Miller
Rifai – Niemelä
Gaunce – Kokkonen


Post-Game Media Availability: Hirvonen & Gruden

Game Highlights: Bears 4 vs. Marlies 3 (OT)