“I thought we played a smart game from the get-go. I liked our effort and our decisions which led up to playoff [type] winning hockey.”

– John Gruden

The Toronto Marlies produced a dull but effective performance that would have pleased the coaching staff on Friday night in Rochester. With points at a premium against division rivals, the Marlies were locked in defensively, limiting scoring high-quality chances for Rochester. Dennis Hildeby produced a confident performance between the pipes, and a debuting call-up made a strong first impression up front.

First Period

Rochester generated just one scoring chance at 5v5, which came via a rare Toronto mistake. Matteo Pietroniro’s turnover at the five-minute mark presented Brett Murray with the puck in the slot, but he fired his effort high.

Toronto killed a pair of penalties with relative ease as Hildeby was called on to produce three solid saves. The Marlies also came within a whisker of opening the scoring with a short-handed goal. Alex Steeves escaped on a breakaway, but he ripped his effort square off the crossbar.

Some excellent defensive work allowed Toronto to open the scoring with two minutes remaining when Steeves lifted the puck clear down the right boards, setting a 2v1 in motion. Debutant Tate Singleton drove toward the net before delivering a pass on the tape of Dylan Gambrell’s stick. Gambrell, who has found his scoring touch of late, sent the puck top-shelf past Michael Houser.

Second Period

The middle frame was almost a carbon copy of the first, although Toronto generated a few more scoring chances.

With his peerless work ethic, Zach Solow almost created a goal two minutes in, but Houser produced a shoulder save.

Toronto’s first power play resulted in a grade-A scoring opportunity apiece for both teams. Steeves struck the post with Houser beaten while Hildeby produced a key save to deny Jeremy Davies on a 2v1. Hildeby pulled off two more good saves on the penalty kill, bailing out his teammates following a sloppy too-many-men infraction.

At five-on-five, the Marlies continued to look comfortable, holding the edge in possession. Toronto should have netted an insurance marker with 40 seconds left when Logan Shaw’s lofted forward pass sent Nick Abruzzese away on his lonesome, but the finish failed to match the setup as the winger missed the target with his low shot.

Third Period

For the majority of the third period, Toronto appeared comfortable winning 1-0. 

Gambrell had the chance to double the lead on the power play, but he was crosschecked from behind right as he was shooting from the slot.

It took Rochester until either side of the midway point to generate any scoring chances of note. Hildeby delivered when called on to turn aside Jiri Kulich as well as Davies from the slot.

A fantastic defensive play by Topi Niemelä broke up a 3v1, which seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Amerks could barely cross the Marlies‘ blue line let alone sustain offensive zone time as the clock wound down.

That made it all the more disappointing when Toronto gave up a cheap goal with a little under three minutes remaining. From the Rochester hashmarks, Ryan Johnson sprung Linus Wiessbach with a stretch pass right through the middle of William Villeneuve and Marshall Rifai for a breakaway tying goal. 


Considering Toronto’s 2-9 record in overtime this season — two of those losses came against Rochester — it’s little surprise that the Amerks dominated the extra frame.

Hildeby came to the Marlies’ rescue, turning aside Murray and Kulich on grade-A chances. The latter also missed the target with half an empty net to aim at as Toronto rode their luck. 

The Marlies’ lone chance of note to win the game fell to Niemelä, but the young defenseman was turned aside on a partial breakaway.

Toronto’s netminder wasn’t beaten in the shootout, and Abruzzese stepped up as the third shooter to score the only goal, securing the victory and the extra point for the Marlies.

Post Game Notes

– A third consecutive win for the Marlies propels them to fourth in the North Division. They are two points back of Rochester with two games in hand.

– Toronto’s awful overtime record is somewhat offset by success in the shootout. The Marlies improved to 4-2 in the skills competition.

Dennis Hildeby posted a 31-save performance to record his 17th victory (17-9-6). He’s won four of his last five starts.

“[Hildeby] has been a beast for us all season,” said Gruden. “To come up with a game like that at a meaningful time was huge. The players fed off of that.”

– It was an interesting decision to insert Tate Singleton on Toronto’s second line alongside Dylan Gambrell and Alex Steeves. John Gruden was vindicated as Singleton took to the AHL like a duck to water in his debut. The former Ohio State forward was defensively sound and made several smart offensive plays, including registering the primary assist on the lone goal. At 25 years of age, he’s an older rookie, but he’s put together a solid season in Newfoundland, recording 48 points (25G/23A) in 59 games.

“[Singleton] was outstanding,” said Gruden. “When we need players, the guys that are coming in are doing a really admirable job of playing with some pace and giving us a lot of energy and excitement. Good to see him make a big-time play at a big-time moment.”

–  Kieffer Bellows is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury. It cannot be overstated how much of a body blow this is for Toronto. He is the team’s top producer at 5v5 and has also been a key cog in turning the power play around.

– Friday’s lines vs. Rochester:

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

Lajoie – Gaunce
Rifai – Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Niemelä


Post-Game Media Availability: Abruzzese, Gambrell & Gruden