“I’m happy with the point. When you battle back like that, it shows some character within our locker room against a really good hockey team in the Calder Cup champions and a team that is in first place by far.”

– John Gruden

Taking a broad view, a point against Hershey and three points from the weekend is a good haul for the Toronto Marlies.

On the balance of this game, the Marlies will look back on missed opportunities and too much time spent killing penalties, both of which cost them the chance to pick up a regulation victory against the AHL’s premier team.

First Period

Toronto’s fourth line produced another stellar performance in this game, setting the tone at the three-minute mark. The trio created a scoring chance for Topi Niemelä and drew a penalty on a dominant shift.

The Marlies‘ power play struggled mightily in this game and failed to record a shot on its first opportunity.

Back at five-on-five, Toronto’s fourth line created an even better scoring opportunity amid a line change. Robert Mastrosimone caused a turnover, crossed the blue line, and held up to pick out Nick Arbuzzese storming down the middle of the slot. The finish from Abruzzese didn’t match the quality of the setup as the best chance of the period for Toronto went begging.

Luke Cavallin made three saves of note, including a spectacular stop after a shot spun behind him. The Marlies ended the period on the penalty kill, a theme that bled into the middle frame.

Second Period

Before the parade to the penalty box began, Toronto generated another quality scoring chance. Mastrosimone was again in the middle of it after he intercepted a pass; the rookie should have taken a shot from the right circle, but he attempted a low-percentage cross-slot pass that was cut out.

Soon after, Mastrosimone ended up in the box for a delay-of-game penalty, but Toronto killed the penalty with ease as Hershey failed to test Cavallin in a period lacking in quality scoring chances.

The Bears broke the deadlock with the first shot of the frame at 9:30 when Tommy Miller was stripped of possession, resulting in Matt Strome scoring with a backhand shot in alone on Cavallin.

The Marlies kept themselves in the game by killing off three more penalties, including 45 seconds of a 5-on-3 and a double-minor infraction.

Third Period

Hershey doubled their lead 77 seconds into the third period. Their power play finally clicked as Alex Limoges swept home a rebound after Cavallin initially denied Mike Vecchione.

Mastrosimone attempted to deliver an immediate response. On a partial breakaway, his backhand shot forced a good save out of Hunter Shepard.

Toronto needed a spark to get them back into the game, but it didn’t come on the power play as the Bears’ penalty kill simply outworked the Marlies’ man-advantage units.

After William Villeneuve was unable to score on a rebound after excellent work by Alex Steeves, it appeared as if the game was slipping away from Toronto.

That was until Joseph Blandisi scored a goal out of nowhere. Ryan Tverberg and Kieffer Bellows combined in the defensive zone to send Blandisi away down the right side through the neutral zone. Outnumbered, Blandisi skated into the right circle and beat Shepard with a perfectly measured shot off the far post and in.

The Marlies carried the momentum forward and tied the game up less than two minutes later. Hershey was left to rue a needless icing as Toronto scored from an offensive-zone draw. Villeneuve let fly from the point and Dylan Gambrell applied a redirect in front to tie the game at 2-2.

Cavallin ensured another error by Miller didn’t end up in the Marlies’ net by turning aside Hendrix Lapierre. The rookie netminder made a couple of solid saves inside the final five minutes to ensure Toronto earned at least a point.


Toronto rued more missed chances in the extra frame. Blandisi and Abruzzese both had the game on their respective sticks, but neither could deliver the clinical finish.

Cavallin pulled off a stunning save to rob Joe Snively, but he was let down by his teammates in a wild overtime frame. Garrett Roe scored a tap-in off of a pass by Alex Limoges as Hershey completed the season-series sweep against Toronto.

Post Game Notes

– A three-point weekend for the Marlies keeps them in a playoff spot, albeit the last spot in fifth place. The upcoming schedule will go a long way in determining Toronto’s fate this season. They will play eight straight games against divisional rivals, five of which are on the road.

–  It was telling that John Gruden chose to give Luke Cavallin consecutive starts despite the travel. There’s a lack of trust right now in Keith Petruzzelli’s game, and it will be interesting to watch what happens when Dennis Hildeby is reassigned. On Cavallin’s part, he once again gave Toronto a chance to win and hasn’t been fazed by the task at hand this weekend. He’s not short on confidence and loves to play the puck, although his decision-making could use some refinement at times.

“I think [Cavallin] is a battler,” said Gruden. “He obviously likes to play the puck, but he makes some good plays. He is not afraid of the moment. He battles his butt off. Guys like playing for him. It is a good opportunity for him; it was only a couple of games, but they were tough games, and he responded.”

–  In opening the scoring for Toronto, Joseph Blandisi recorded his 100th AHL goal. He has 14 goals this year, one shy of his single-season best set last season. “He has a lot of energy and plays with passion,” said Gruden. “He plays hard and he plays on instinct. He is valuable to have on and off the ice… Every team needs a Joe Blandisi.”

–  With every passing game, Robert Mastrosimone seems to find another increment of improvement in his game. I’ve likened him to the aforementioned Blandisi because their playing style and work ethic are very similar. His play on the fourth line is engendering a level of trust that leads the coaching staff to throw them on the ice in key situations. More often than not, Mastrosimone is the key element to every positive the line creates offensively. There must be a thought in Gruden’s mind to give Mastrosimone a chance higher in the lineup at some point as a spark plug in the top six in a Blandisi-type role.

“[Mastrosimone] is around the puck all the time,” said Gruden. “He does things right. He is hard to play against. He is gaining confidence and is making people better.”

–  A special mention for Roni Hirvonen. It’s been a tough road back from injury for the Finnish forward and we likely won’t see the best of him until late in the season when he has more games under his belt. He does a lot of little things well, most of which go under the radar. He played a key role in the tying goal, denying a clearance by Hershey and then finding William Villeneuve at the blue line. It was a secondary assist on paper, but without his contribution, Toronto wouldn’t have tied the game.

“It has been seven or eight games now for him, and usually by game #10, you will start to see a better version of him,” said Gruden. “He made a big play at a big time for us when we were down 2-1. He will build on that. He is a good player.”

– Saturday’s lineup vs. Hershey:

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

Kokkonen – Miller
Gaunce – Niemelä
Rifai – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden

Game Highlights: Bears 3 vs. Marlies 2 (OT)