“We played extremely well. Those mistakes we make at crucial times allowed them [Cleveland] access to get the result. We shot ourselves in the foot.”

– John Gruden

The Toronto Marlies head coach hit the nail on the head after a 4-3 overtime loss in Cleveland. The Marlies produced one of their best performances on the road this season and it should have resulted in two points. Instead, they found a way to drop a point against a Monsters team that has been their Kryptonite this season. 

First Period

Toronto got off to a poor start to the game, taking a penalty inside the opening minute. A strong kill, featuring three solid saves from Dennis Hildeby who gave up no rebounds, avoided an early disaster.

The Marlies went on to completely dominate the period in every facet except the one that mattered (the scoreboard).

Joseph Blandisi, Alex Steeves, and Kieffer Bellows were all wasteful with grade-A opportunities as Toronto continued to let Cleveland off the hook.

The Marlies were also guilty of not generating enough traffic in front of Jet Greaves in general. When they finally did, the opened the scoring. As well as Greaves played in this game, he’s a goaltender who gives up more than his fair share of uncontrolled rebounds.

Logan Shaw rifled a shot off the crossbar, but in the process, he drew a penalty, and the Marlies continued to apply pressure during the delayed infraction. Marshall Rifai’s point shot was stopped — as was Ryan Tverberg on the initial rebound — but Dylan Gambrell scored on the third opportunity. 

Toronto killed a second penalty shortly afterward and looked to be heading into the break with a well-deserved lead until a complete brainfart by Cameron Gaunce gifted the Monsters a tying goal. The defenseman’s ill-advised cross-ice pass was picked off by his brother, Brendan Gaunce, who slotted low past Hildeby with 14 seconds left in the period.

After hugely out-chancing Cleveland and out-shooting them 21-7, it was a body blow for Toronto after producing one of their best first periods on the road this season.

Second Period

The middle frame began with a bang (literally). From the opening faceoff, Roman Ahcan decided to start slashing at the legs of Zach Solow, so the pair dropped the gloves and the Toronto forward laid a beating on his counterpart.

The balance of play and chances created was more even in the second period, but the Marlies left some goals out there. Tverberg and Bellows each had two good looks, but their finishing evaded them.

Hildeby was forced into only three saves of note, but the Marlies surrendered the only goal of the frame starting with an unforced error. Under no pressure in the defensive zone, William Villeneuve attempted a stretch pass that was easily cut out. Cleveland swarmed forward in transition, outnumbering Toronto, but the worst of the danger appeared over after a shot by Owen Sillinger whistled wide from the slot.

However, Cameron Butler picked up the puck at the side of the net, and as he attempted to shoot, Hildeby pushed off to his left against the left post, dislodging the net in the process. The puck snuck through the goaltender as the net settled back down, and the goal was awarded much to the disdain of Hildeby. 

Frustrating Toronto even more, the officials stopped play at various times in the third period on account of the the same net coming dislodged.

Third Period

The third period more closely resembled the first as the Marlies reasserted their dominance over the game.

Kyle Clifford earned a partial breakaway inside the opening minute, but his weak shot was easily turned aside.

The Marlies continued to push and were rewarded with a tying goal at the midway mark. On a fantastic feed from Solow, Blandisi rifled home from the right circle following a shift in which the Marlies’ cycle had Cleveland running around in the defensive zone.

Toronto thought they took the lead four minutes later when a shot from Mikko Kokkonen resulted in a melee in the blue paint. Amid the whacking and hacking, two Cleveland players launched themselves into their net to prevent a goal. The officials lost sight of the puck, which must have been extremely close to crossing the goal line.

In tight games, it’s the small details that matter, and Toronto was made to pay again for a minor mistake with four minutes left to play. After Roni Hirvonen was under no duress in the neutral zone but dumped the puck for an icing, Toronto conceded 30 seconds later. The Marlies couldn’t clear the zone, and Gaunce pounced to score his second of the game after Hildeby made a double save on Marcus Bjork and Carson Meyer.

A regulation loss would have been a bitter pill to swallow, but to Toronto’s credit, there wasn’t a sign of them giving up after another setback. After Hildeby was pulled with 1:34 remaining, it took 16 seconds for the Marlies to make the extra skater count.

Kieffer Bellows finished off a rebound after Steeves and Gambrell were denied from close range. It was nothing more than Toronto deserved, but the drama did not end there. 

Seconds after the goal celebration, Steeves flattened Meyer from behind (the incident occurred off-camera). Blandisi was seen motioning in the strongest possible terms to the officials that Steeves was slashed before the apparent retribution, but in any case, the Marlies were now down a skater for the remainder of regulation.

Hildeby was called on to make a single save to secure a point as Toronto once more showed some resilience in a self-induced tough spot.


The trio of Marshall Rifai, Mikko Kokkonen, and Gambrell allowed just one shot on Hildeby as Toronto killed the remainder of the penalty. 

The Marlies proceeded to create the better looks in the extra frame. Bellows and Steeves will feel they should have done more with their opportunities as the game appeared to be heading for a shootout. Until another brain fart from Toronto.

A stretch pass by Gaunce caught Kokkonen napping. In alone on goal, Trey Fix-Wolansky is money in such situations and sniped home the winner.

Toronto is now 2-8 in overtime this season, while Cleveland is 8-3. 

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies’ record against the league-leading Monsters is nothing short of brutal with six consecutive defeats in which Toronto has earned three loser points (2 OT/1SO). Excluding empty-net goals, every defeat has been a single-goal margin. It’s not hyperbole to suggest Toronto should have won three of those games in regulation, and it’s nothing short of wacky how they continue to find so many different ways to lose against the same rival.

– I’ve not been big on his play this season, but Dylan Gambrell produced one of his better performances in this game. He was rewarded with his 10th goal and an assist, taking his season point tally to 27 in 48 games. It was his first multi-point haul since the middle of December.

Ryan Tverberg registered his 20th assist of the campaign on the opening goal. With just one point in his previous nine games, Tverberg was battling through the type of slump almost all rookies endure in the second half of the season. He certainly seemed to have his mojo back in this game, though, and hopefully, it kickstarts him offensively heading into the weekend.

Joseph Blandisi extended his goal streak to three games (five goals) with his 19th of the campaign. His shooting percentage is a ridiculous 19%, but I would not view him as overly lucky this season. He’s been picking his spots and driving to the net a little more.

–  Marshall Rifai and Zach Solow both registered their 10th assists in 36th and 45th games, respectively, while Johnny Tychonik picked up his first AHL point with a helper on Blandisi’s goal.

–  Wednesday’s lineup vs. Cleveland:

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

Rifai – Kokkonen
Gaunce – Niemelä
Tychonik – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: Blandisi & Gruden