“We weren’t great in the first [period], but I thought we got better. I’m happy with the point that our guys got, and all in all, it was a pretty successful road trip.”

– John Gruden

This was a game that the Toronto Marlies should have lost by a couple of goals. Outplayed and outworked through 40 minutes, the Marlies were fortunate to still be within two goals of the Comets in the third period, but they were resilient in the final frame to snatch a point.

First Period

On their first shift of the game, Toronto’s fourth line opened the scoring on the Marlies‘ first shot of the evening. Josiah Slavin deftly controlled a floated pass from Robert Mastrosimone and rifled home a shot from the hash marks.

From the restart of play, Toronto’s minds seemed to wander toward heading home and sleeping in their own beds following a long road trip.

Utica responded with a tying goal at the five-minute mark. Keith Petruzzelli overplayed a shot from the point, which missed the target on his right side. The puck bounced off the backboards and out to the opposite side of the goal, leaving the goaltender so far out of position that he had no chance of stopping Timur Ibragimov’s tap-in.

Petruzzelli made up for it by making three saves on grade-A scoring chances as the Marlies were out-shot 13-5 in the opening frame.

The Marlies almost snatched a late go-ahead goal via Ryan Tverberg, but Isaac Poulter produced his best save of the period in the Comets’ net. In truth, a Marlies lead would have been rough justice for Utica, who dominated the opening 20 minutes.

Second Period

The Marlies produced a brutal showing in the middle frame. They began the period on the power play, but after giving up a shorthanded rush inside 30 seconds, Tverberg was called for interference.

Roni Hivonen, who continues to impress in his comeback from injury, created a fantastic scoring chance that Joseph Blandisi was unable to capitalize on during 4-on-4 action. Toronto’s shortened power play attempt was dreadful, though, and the Marlies found themselves behind inside five minutes. 

It was another moment to forget for Petruzzelli, who Arnaud Durandeau beat cleanly from the top of the right circle with a wrist shot.

Utica doubled their lead less than three minutes later when the Comets created a turnover in their defensive zone and transitioned with speed. With three Marlies skaters back, Santeri Hatakka’s pass split them all and Erik Middendorf delivered a decisive finish.

Against the run of play, Toronto halved the deficit with nine minutes remaining due to a wonderful pass by Blanidisi. His feed from the right circle picked out Nick Abruzzese to finish the play off at the far post.

After hoisting themselves back into the game, the Marlies handed Utica back their two-goal lead. A giveaway by the Marlies in the defensive zone resulted in a crazy sequence in which Toronto scrambled to throw bodies in front of the puck. Petruzzelli made one outstanding save but could do nothing to prevent Justin Dowling from scoring his ninth goal of the campaign.

The teams proceeded to exchange power-play goals to finish the frame. Logan Shaw scored on a terrific feed from Abruzzese, while Joe Gambardella found the net thanks to a little bit of fortune via the skate of Max Lajoie.

Toronto trailed 5-3 through 40 minutes, which flattered them given how tilted the ice was in Utica’s favour.

Third Period

Resiliency has been a keyword on this road trip, and the Marlies again showed their stickoitiveness in the third period.

They leaned on Petruzzelli to make a couple of big saves inside the opening seven minutes to keep alive their hopes of mounting a comeback, but Toronto began to find some momentum after receiving the second save from their netminder and then capitalizing on a turnover by the Comets.

Kyle Clifford sent a pass toward the slot from the right wing toward Alex Steeves, who deflected the puck in off his skate (how much he knew about it is debatable).

After John Gruden sent out the fourth line to restart the game, Mastrosimone was frustrated after getting stonewalled by Poulter, but the tide had officially turned in Toronto’s favour.

The Marlies continued to strive for a tying fifth goal without success until a call by the officials seemed to put a dent in their comeback hopes. Mastrosimone was sent to the box for high-sticking on a play where his stick was lifted by an opponent.

The Marlies refused to quit, though, and as the penalty expired, Topi Niemelä sprung Mastrosimone on a breakaway. The winger — given the nickname “Duck” by his teammates — scored with a tremendous backhand move while crashing into the net.

Toronto appeared the likelier team to score a winner, but they could not find a way to clinch a remarkable come-from-behind victory in regulation.

Overtime & Shootout

The six shots registered in the extra frame were all by Toronto skaters, partly due to a power play. The Marlies didn’t create enough with the extra man, though, generating just one grade-A opportunity that Mastrosimone didn’t get all of.

The shootout was short-lived as Alex Steeves (pad save) and Kieffer Bellows (post) failed to convert. Graeme Clarke and Justin Dowling both found the net to secure a much-needed extra point for the Comets.

Post Game Notes

– Toronto finished their road trip with a 5-2-2 record. That run of form has lifted them to third place in the North Division at the All-Star break. Speaking of the ASG, Dennis Hildeby and Alex Steeves will head to San Jose to represent Toronto and the North Division at the AHL All-Star Classic.

Josiah Slavin probably doesn’t want a break as he’s riding a three-game point streak (2G/2A). A goal and an assist in this outing brings him to the 15-point mark (6G/9A) through 40 games.

Robert Mastrosimone led all skaters with eight shots on goal. Especially considering he wasn’t a lock to make the team as a rookie out of camp, the 23-year-old winger is putting together a tremendous season. He has the same stat line as Slavin through the last three games and could easily have scored a hat-trick in this outing. He looks the likeliest of the three players on the fourth line to be in line for promotion up the lineup should Gruden see fit.

– A two-point game (1G/1A) for Nick Abruzzese included a second goal in three games. Currently averaging 1.5 shots per game, he does need to shoot a little more as opponents are very much attuned to his pass-first tendency.

– Saturday’s lines vs. Utica:

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

Lajoie – Miller
Rifai – Niemelä
Gaunce – Kokkonen


Post-Game Media Availability: Shaw & Gruden