“It was a little sloppy, to be honest… I give our guys credit for hanging in there and sticking to it… For [Dennis Hildeby] to make those [late third period] saves at this time of the year is huge. We’ve only got 10 games left and need all the points we can get.”

– John Gruden

The Toronto Marlies stole two points from a game in which they were second-best to Manitoba. The Moose ran the Marlies ragged, exiting their zone easily while consistently dumping pucks in and wearing Toronto down at the other end. The Marlies struggled with their breakouts and had few answers for Manitoba’s relentless forecheck.

Sometimes, a team needs a goalie to steal a game while being opportunistic with its scoring chances offensively. Dennis Hildeby earned Toronto a big two points in this 2-1 overtime victory. 

First Period

Manitoba set the tone by carrying the play in the first two minutes. Toronto’s offensive forays were fleeting and sparse.

Their first was an individual effort on the first shift for debutant Matthew Barbolini, who evaded one defender on a drive to the net and forced Thomas Milic into a decent save.

Very much against the run of play, the Marlies opened the scoring at the seven-minute mark. In a rare moment of offensive clarity, Toronto transitioned quickly before Mikko Kokkoken’s shot from the right circle resulted in a rebound. Logan Shaw couldn’t finish it off, but Nick Abruzzese kept the play alive and sent the puck back toward the net. In the ensuing melee, Tate Singleton applied the finishing touch to register his first AHL goal.

Toronto killed off the first penalty of the game with ease, but they relied on Hildeby to keep them in the game back at five-on-five. His best save was a robbery of Brad Lambert from point-blank range after a shaky defensive shift.

The Marlies ended the period with a power play that amounted to nothing except a fight in the dying seconds. Singleton took exception to a hit on Topi Niemelä and dropped the gloves with Tyrel Bauer. Toronto’s rookie forward did not fare well in the tilt but give him credit for stepping up in defense of his new teammates.

Second Period

Considering Toronto spent the majority of the period in their half of the ice and needed to kill two penalties, heading into the intermission with the game tied was a decent result.

The Marlies were on their heels in the early stages and almost gave up a goal inside two minutes. Kristian Reichel glided through Toronto’s defense, but Hildeby handled his backhand shot.  

Manitoba finally solved the Marlies netminder at the five-minute mark. After a turnover and a lost battle for possession by the Marlies, Parker Ford’s cross-crease pass was cut out by Max Lajoie, who inadvertently sent the puck into the wheelhouse of Jeffrey Viel joining the play for a tap-in. It was rough justice for Hildeby, who already committed to the initial pass.

Nick Abruzzese found himself in the box for tripping and did not endear himself to the coaching staff after exiting the box. Within four seconds, he was tabbed for interference and returned to the sin bin for another two minutes.

Toronto’s penalty-killing units, along with Hildeby, were superb in this game. Even when shots made it through and rebounds were generated, the puck was quickly cleared from danger.

Toronto lost Ryan Tverberg to an upper-body injury late in the frame after he was the victim of a dubious hit that went uncalled. The rookie forward did not return and will be evaluated before Friday’s game.

The Marlies put together their best shift of the period shortly afterward, generating a scoring chance for William Villeneuve and drawing a penalty. A lone effort by Roni Hirvonen was all Toronto could muster with the extra skater as the power play continued to struggle.

Third Period

Hildeby stood on his head in the third period as Manitoba threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Marlies.

Axel Jonsson-Fjällby struck the post following a turnover by Dylan Gambrell (the only time Hildeby needed a piece of good fortune in the frame).

Hildeby pulled off some high-quality saves throughout the 20 minutes, but two sequences stood out. An athletic double save to rob Nicholas Jones from the slot was followed by a quick recovery to deny Daniel Torgersson a few seconds later. With three minutes remaining, a mistake by Joseph Blandisi resulted in a breakaway for Reichel. Not only did Hildeby make an excellent first save, but he showed the wherewithal to kick the puck clear of his crease as he was crashed into by the Moose forward.

The Swedish netminder then made four more saves to secure Toronto at least one point.


As I’ve mentioned many times this season, Toronto’s record in overtime is abysmal (2-9). Facing a Manitoba team that had won four of five in the extra frame, though, the Marlies produced one of their best overtime performances this season.

Toronto won possession from the faceoff and did not relinquish the puck for the 51 seconds of overtime. On the first change, Logan Shaw drove toward the net, but his backhand effort was turned aside. Further chances for Niemelä and Shaw (again from point-blank range) were both stopped as Milic was dialed in for Manitoba. 

Alex Steeves then recovered the puck and found Shaw once more in the high slot. In the captain’s words, “I tried to put it through the net, to be honest. I was pretty upset when I didn’t score on my first two or three whacks at it, so on the last one, I leaned into it.” 

Shaw’s powerful release gave Milic no chance, earning Toronto a crucial extra point in their push for the playoffs.

Post Game Notes

–  With 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is in fourth place. Due to recent results, second place in the North Division could be up for grabs if the Marlies could string some victories together. Their magic number to qualify for the playoffs is 15 points. 

–  Logan Shaw’s 25th goal of the season was his fifth game-winner. He’s two goals shy of equalling his single-season career best set with Manitoba in 2018-19.

–  Dennis Hildeby turned aside 27 saves to record his 18th victory this season. It’s the most wins in a single season by a Marlies goaltender since Garret Sparks (31) in 2017-18. Hildeby has won three of his last four starts (giving up a single goal in each victory), posting a combined .936 save percentage.

–  These were difficult circumstances in which to make a professional debut for Matthew Barbolini. He found himself in the penalty box shortly after generating Toronto’s first scoring chance of the game. Considering the nature of the game and the Marlies’ overall showing, Barbolini performed admirably and will have learned a lot from the experience.

“[Barbolini] handled himself well,” said Gruden. “He made a couple of nice plays in the defensive zone. Again, it is hard being in a new environment, but he handled himself pretty well and gave us some good minutes.”

–  Isaac Johnson made his Toronto Marlies debut against his former team. He’s having an excellent season in Newfoundland (28G/36A in 49 games) and showed glimpses of what he could provide offensively for the Marlies down the stretch.

– Wednesday’s lines vs. Manitoba:

Singleton – Shaw – Abruzzese
Steeves – Gambrell – Solow
Hirvonen – Blandisi – Tverberg
Barbolini – Slavin – Johnson

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Rifai – Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Niemelä


Post-Game Media Availability: Singleton, Shaw & Gruden