It’s somewhat fitting that the Toronto Marlies lost the final game of their 2023-24 season by a single goal. Their struggles in one-goal games (12-9-12) became a theme throughout the regular-season campaign.

The Marlies‘ resiliency in fighting back from a two-goal deficit was admirable, but they did not bring their A-game to this series and ultimately paid the price in this heartbreaking Game 3 loss.

First Period

The theme of this series was early-period goals. Game 3 was more of the same.

The Marlies were intent on hitting everything that moved and aggressively pressuring the puck to start this game, but it wasn’t always allied with sound defensive-zone structure. After Josiah Slavin dropped his stick pursuing the puck carrier on the wall, Boko Imama peeled away from Marshall Rifai in the slot and rifled home a one-time shot on a feed from Jacob Larsson.

A goal against timed at 2:21 was the worst possible start for Toronto, and they never recovered in the opening frame. Beaten on the first shot he faced, Dennis Hildeby shut the door for the rest of the period. Just a minute later, he turned away Garrett Pilon on a similar opportunity as the Marlies caved under pressure.

Toronto recorded just three shots through the opening 20 minutes. Belleville easily kept them to the perimeter on the two shifts where they mustered some sustained offensive-zone pressure.

Toronto killed off the only penalty of the period, and the fact they were down by just one heading into the intermission was the only silver lining.

Second Period

The early-period goal theme continued, but it was the Marlies‘ turn to strike. A positive start from Toronto resulted in Rifai scoring with a one-time bomb from the blue line through traffic with one minute on the clock.

Toronto almost stunned the home crowd 60 seconds later, but Roni Hirvonen didn’t get all of his shot from the slot, and Sogaard smothered the puck.

The Marlies finally established themselves in the game, generating another excellent chance at the eight-minute mark.  Nick Abruzzese led a 3v1 break, but he didn’t select the correct option in picking out Max Lajoie as the trailer. Lajoie’s shot was easily stopped but spilled by Sogaard, who tripped the Marlies defenseman on the same play.

What should have been a power play for the Marlies wasn’t called, and Belleville struck shortly afterward. A third whack at a wraparound attempt saw Josh Currie slam the puck off Hildeby’s right pad and sneak inside the post, with Rifai sliding across and ending up on the wrong side of Currie in front.

It went from bad to worse when Toronto gave up a second goal 60 seconds later. A lost puck battle in the corner and more loose defensive coverage left Rourke Chartier wide-open in the slot. Angus Crookshank found the former Marlie with little trouble, and Chartier gave Hildeby no chance from close range.

Toronto attempted to rally but ultimately fell short. Kyle Clifford failed to convert on a partial breakaway, while Topi Niemelä’s deflected shot landed on top of the net.

A cross-checking penalty handed to Rifai appeared to quell Toronto’s push, but this game would have a twist.  Clifford won a blue-line battle he had no right to win, springing Logan Shaw on a solo rush. Outnumbered with one defender directly ahead of him and one trailing him, Shaw drove across the zone to create a shooting angle and fired a pinpoint low shot in the far bottom corner of the net against the grain past a stunned Sogaard.

In the dying seconds, Toronto came within a whisker of tying the game at 3-3. Shaw shot directly from an offensive-zone faceoff, forcing a good pad save by Sohaard and a rebound for Max Lajoie. The defenseman controlled the puck with his skate but fired wide in the panic to get a shot off before the horn blew.

Third Period

The final frame was a low-event affair, just as Belleville had drawn up. The Senators were running the clock down with extended spells of possession and cycling without threatening to score an insurance marker. Stephen Halliday rang a shot off the iron at the six-minute mark, but otherwise, Hildeby was untroubled.

Meanwhile, Toronto struggled to generate many shots on net, and high-quality scoring chances were non-existent. With seven minutes remaining, an extra effort made the difference.

Shaw and Alex Steeves combined to deny Belleville a zone exit, allowing Toronto to control possession and apply some pressure. The puck was worked back to Matteo Pietroniro at the point, where the defenseman wound up a slapshot. Despite no traffic in front of Sogaard, Pietronirio’s booming shot beat the Sens goaltender cleanly. The unlikeliest of Marlies goal scorers tied the game at 3-3.

Hildeby pulled off a huge glove save to rob Currie on the last chance in regulation for either team, ensuring Toronto had the opportunity to battle for the series win in overtime.


The Marlies came close to snatching victory just 20 seconds in when Mikko Kokkoken’s long-range effort produced a huge rebound that agonizingly eluded Joseph Blandisi, who would have had a tap-in.

Belleville won the game on a set breakout play. Disappointingly for Toronto, it came after another breakdown in defensive-zone coverage. Both Lajoie and Kokkonen were sucked into covering Halliday, whose shot resulted in a rebound. Streaking in behind the Marlies’ defense all alone was Garrett Pilon, who swept the puck behind Hildeby.

Post Game Notes

–  One Marlies who can hold his head up high is Dennis Hildeby. I’m sure he’ll feel the series-winning goal was on him, but Hildeby did more than any other Toronto player in terms of his overall contribution. He outplayed Mads Sogaard but didn’t receive enough help at either end of the ice.

–  Nick Abruzzese, Alex Steeves, Kieffer Bellows, and Logan Shaw registered a single point at five-on-five between them. You could perhaps excuse Bellows, who was coming off a long-term injury, but the fact remains that Toronto’s big guns failed to produce while Belleville received contributions from their top forwards. Marshall Rifai (3G/1A) and Kyle Clifford (1G/3A) were Toronto’s joint leading scorers in the series.

–  John Gruden switched up the lines during the game as he searched for a spark, which felt like an admission that he’d gotten the combinations wrong. I stand by my opinion that Jacob Quillan was not put in a position to succeed in this series, and he struggled in this series-deciding Game 3.

–  Before I wrap up, here are some final notes and thoughts. 

This wasn’t the most fun season in terms of covering prospects. The cupboard is a little bare, and injuries to Ty Voit and Ryan Tverberg, in particular, took the gloss off of it for me. I wish them full and swift recoveries in time for a big season in 2024-25.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Alec and Declan for allowing me to continue to be a part of the family at MLHS. It is so cool to work with an incredible team and fantastic writers.

To the MLHS community, thank you for following along this season. I hope I’ve been able to inform, educate, and even entertain with recaps and articles throughout 2023-24. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our interactions. I have some ideas percolating for articles about the season that was, but please feel free to spitball in the comments if you have ideas. Until then, thanks again for reading.

– Game 3 lineup:

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

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Pietroniro – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden

Game Highlights: Senators 4 vs. Marlies 3 (OT)