By Stan Smith

The Toronto Marlies had trouble holding onto leads in their two games this week. However, they did manage to squeak out three out of a possible four points on their extended road trip. This trip took them into Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, to take on the Phantoms on Saturday. They then travelled to Hershey, Pennsylvania, to play the AHL’s best team and defending Calder Champion Bears on Sunday.

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Marlies 4 – Lehigh Valley Phantoms 3 (Shootout)

After trading goals in the first period, the Marlies took control of this game in the second period with goals by Robert Mastrosimone and Kyle Clifford. Toronto went into the third period up 3-1 and were controlling play. However, two hooking calls turned the game completely around. The first call was on Logan Shaw at 4:14 of the third period. Then, with the Phantoms already on the power play, Tommy Miller was also called for hooking at 5:46.   

This was one of those “one-camera” games where the camera was a distance off the ice so it was difficult to see exactly what is going on on the ice. But, hooking calls are usually made when a player reaches around an opposing player with his stick and either hooks the hands or a part of the body. After watching replays of both “hooks,” in neither case did the penalized Marlies player reach around with their stick. 

In both plays, it appeared that Shaw and Miller pushed the Phantoms player to the ice from behind. On the Shaw play, Shaw dropped his stick. However, it was not one of those cases where a player realizes he got his stick in a place he shouldn’t have and drops it. In this case, Shaw just dropped his stick as he was pushing the Lehigh Valley player. That might have contributed to the call against him. Regardless, both players were called for hooking putting the Marlies down five on three. 

The Phantoms would capitalize on both the five-on-three. They also capitalized again on the four-on-three to tie the game at 3-3. 

Regulation time ended with the score tied and the overtime solved nothing. That sent this game into a shootout. In the shootout, Alex Steeves was the first Marlie up and would score. Jon-Avon Randall would get one past Marlies’ goalie Kieth Petruzzelli for the Phantoms. But, Logan Shaw would get the winner for the Marlies on his attempt.  

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Hershey Bears 4 – Marlies 3 (Overtime)

I knew this was going to be a tough game going in. The Hershey Bears are not only the defending AHL Champions, but they are by far the best team in the league in 2023-24. They had a record of 33-7-2 going into this game and were 15 points ahead of the second-best team in the league.  

The Marlies played a great game. They were leading this one 3-2 until the 19:40 mark of the third period. With their goalie pulled, the Bears tied the game up with 20 seconds to go in regulation. To make matters worse, they scored with one second left in the overtime to win the game 4-3. 

Despite the agonizing way this game ended, there were a lot of positives the Marlies could take away from this game. This was a closely played game and the Marlies stayed with what is by far the best team in the league. 

One other interesting stat in the game. Hershey opened the scoring with 33 seconds remaining in the first period. The Marlies tied the game up 17 seconds later when Logan Shaw one-timed a pass from Roni Hirvonen past Bears goalie Hunter Shepard with 16 seconds left in the period. 

Fighting For A Playoff Spot

With the three points, the Marlies climbed back into a tie with the Belleville Senators for fifth place and the last playoff spot in the North Division. Each team has 41 points, but the Marlies hold two games in hand over the Senators. They have three games remaining against Belleville as well. Toronto is also just one point behind the Laval Rocket for fourth place in the division with two games in hand. They face the Rocket six more times this season. 

Individual Performances

Joseph Blandisi was the top performer for the Marlies over the two games. He scored a goal and added three assists for a total of four points. Despite scoring the goal in the shootout, Alex Steeves was held off the official scoresheet in both games. As a result, Blandisi moved into a tie for Steeves atop the Marlies scoring with 34 points.  

Kieffer Bellows scored a goal in each game to move him past Steeves for the lead in goals by a Marlie with 18. Steeves has 16 goals. Nick Abruzzese, Ryan Tverberg, and Max Lajoie all had two assists in the two games.  

Dennis Hildeby allowed four goals on 32 shots against the Phantoms. Three of his last four starts have not gone well for Hildeby. He was pulled after allowing three goals on eleven shots against the Belleville Senators; still, he bounced back well only allowing two goals against the Charlotte Checkers. However, then he let six get by him against the Cleveland Monsters and then four more versus the Hershey Bears. His Save Percentage has slipped to 0.907 but his Goals-Against-Average remains a respectable 2.49.

Keith Petruzzelli is slowly trending the other way. He has won his last two starts. And, while his overall numbers are not great, they are slowly climbing. His record now stands at 6-5-1 with a 0.881 Save Percentage and a 3.14 Goals-Against-Average. 

One Good Note to Add  

Roni Hirvonen returned to the Marlies lineup on Sunday. While I knew the second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft for the Maple Leafs had been out since the second game of the season with an injury, I did not know exactly what the injury was or the extent of it.  

Hirvonen took a stick to the eye in a game against the Utica Comets on October 15th. He not only left the game but was rushed to the hospital. It was felt at the time he could lose the eye. That would likely have ended Hirvonen’s professional career before it got started. After the injury, Hirvonen went through periods of double vision, but the eye slowly healed. It took him over three months to return to the lineup. Hirvonen celebrated his return by picking up the primary assist on the Logan Shaw goal in the dying seconds of the first period in the game against the Hershey Bears. 

What’s Next?

The Marlies play three more games on this long road trip this week before the AHL All-Star Break. They pay a visit to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Wednesday night and then play two games in Utica against the Comets on Friday and Saturday. The games against the Comets are important games for the Marlies. The Comets are in last place in the North Division two points behind the Marlies with one more game played.  

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