“I thought [the team] played extremely hard. We fell a little short, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort.”

– John Gruden

With nothing to play for in the standings, the Toronto Marlies coaching staff selected an unrecognizable lineup for the final game of the regular season. Three players suited up for their professional debuts, and two others made their Toronto/AHL debuts. Neil Shea made his Marlies debut, having previously suited up with Chicago. With a combined 25 AHL games between them, Jacob Quillan, Mathew Barbolini, and Tate Singleton were also in the lineup, as were Dmitry Ovchinnikov and Max Ellis, two players we’ve barely seen in the second half of the season.

First Period

The Marlies acquitted themselves well in the first period against a vastly more talented and experienced Cleveland outfit.

All three defensemen making their professional debut took a penalty, although you could argue that at least one infraction was an egregious call by the officials.

The Marlies‘ makeshift penalty kill performed with huge credit, shutting down the Monsters. Dennis Hildey made two excellent saves to turn aside Trey Fix-Wolanskey and Owen Sillinger to keep the Monsters at bay. 

Tate Singleton was his usual effervescent self and generated the best scoring chance of the period. However, he could not bury his effort from the high slot, and the teams were deadlocked after the opening 20 minutes.

Second Period

The middle frame began with a flurry of penalties, and Cleveland opened the scoring on a delayed call. Fix-Wolansky showed his baseball prowess by batting a midair puck up and over Hildeby’s shoulder.

The Monsters generated a 2v1 from the restart of play, but Nick Blakenburg struck the post with Hildeby scrambling across his crease.

Jacob Quillan had another noticeable game for the right reasons and almost played a key role in tying the game. After he could not get off a shot from in tight on a strong drive to the net, Quillain recovered possession to set up Max Ellis in the slot. Ellis didn’t get much power on his effort, but he followed suit in recycling the puck to Jonny Tychonick, whose shot produced a rebound that eluded his teammates.

That shift sparked the Marlies, who generated two more high-quality scoring chances. Singleton led a 2v1 and shot from the right circle; his attempt was sent wide by the stick of Jet Greaves, with Roni Hirvonen hoping for a pass or a better look at a rebound opportunity.

Making his last-ever appearance for Toronto, Dmitry Ovchinnikov almost left on a high note. After some initial good work from Matthew Barbolini and Grabt Cruikshank, the puck broke to Ovchinnikov, but he roofed a shot over the net with only a sprawling Greaves to beat.

There was almost some sweet justice for Singleton after he was called for a ludicrous roughing penalty. Toronto killed off the infraction, and as the winger exited the box, he was sprung on a breakaway. Singleton never fully controlled a rolling puck, and Greaves eventually smothered his effort.

Third Period

Luke Cavallin replaced Hildeby to give the rookie some ice time before the playoffs begin. Cavallin soon picked the puck out of the net as Cleveland scored on the power play. Fix-Wolansky was gifted possession and made no mistake with a wicked wrist shot.

It would have been easy for a young and inexperienced team to implode at that point, but there was no quit in the Marlies. Max Ellis struck back with a power-play goal for Toronto to halve the deficit with 11 minutes remaining.

More penalties took the sting out of any possible comeback, as Toronto registered just four shots on net before Cleveland ensured victory.

It was one of the worst goalie pulls for an extra attacker this season, as Roman Ahcan was presented with the simple task of scoring his ninth of the season. The 3-1 goal secured Cleveland’s place atop the North Division.

Post Game Notes

–  This game was a learning experience for players and the coaching staff with an eye toward next season. It will hold many of the younger players in good stead as they gauge some idea of the rise in level from junior/college to the pros.

–  Jacob Quillan centered the second line and produced another solid performance. Given his calibre of play since signing in Toronto, I would be shocked if he isn’t selected for the playoff lineup.

–  A couple of notable statistics from this game: The goal by Max Ellis ensured Toronto went the entire season without a shutout against, and the Marlies’ 10 minor penalties were a season-high.

Toronto’s best-of-three series against Belleville begins Wednesday on the road. I’ll have a preview for you before the puck drops. Thanks for reading through the regular season. Your support is never taken for granted or unappreciated.

– Sunday’s lineup vs. Cleveland:

Hirvonen – Gambrell – Singleton
Johnson – Quillan – Berezowski
Barbolini – Stevens – Elli
Shea – Cruikshank – Ovchinnikov

Pietroniro – Sharpe
Chadwick – Villeneuve
Tychonick – Dillingham


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden