The Marlies played a School Day Game on Wednesday morning. It’s one of those games played for attendance by the students at one of Toronto’s School Boards. This time it was the Toronto District School Board, and they brought over 7,000 screaming students who hoped to see an action-packed game.
The Marlies did not disappoint.
It was a bit too much for Brett Findlay. “It was definitely loud out there. At some points you maybe had to cover your ears.”
Unbeknownst to the kids in attendance, there was news breaking before the game even started: the Marlies fired long time staff member and Assistant Coach Gord Dineen.
Dineen was one of the few members of the Maple Leafs organization to keep a job after Brendan Shanahan was appointed President of MLSE’s hockey business unit.
Regardless of who is on the bench, the show must go on, and it did for the TDSB students, with Coach Sheldon Keefe and A.J. MacLean running the game on their own—as Kyle Dubas indicated they will for the rest of the season.
Kasperi Kapanen, Rinat Valiev, and Brendan Leipsic are still out with injuries, the exact ailments unknown, but there is still no specific timeline for their return.
The Marlies made some changes to their lineup in advance of the game. Frederik Gauthier was called up to the Maple Leafs. Eric Faille and Brenden Miller were returned to the Orlando Solar Bears, and Mason Marchment and Shane Conacher were called up from the Solar Bears.
Shane Conacher’s arrival had interesting timing. His brother, Cory, plays for the Crunch, and is among their top point producers for the season. While he played the game on the fourth line, Keefe gave Shane and nod and let him go out with the top line for the starting faceoff, where he got to play right across from his brother.
The Marlies’ lines quickly shifted back to the new normal with Froese out.
Trevor Moore - Colin Greening - Seth Griffith
Dmytro Timashov - Brooks Laich - Ben Smith
Kerby Rychel - Brett Findlay - Andreas Johnsson
Mason Marchment - Tony Cameranesi - Shane Conacher
Andrew Campbell - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Frank Corrado
Andrew Nielsen - William Wrenn
There was an oddity in that lineup: Brooks Laich. While Laich has missed most of the season for injury, he is now well enough to draw into games, specifically with the lineup so depleted. However, he doesn’t really want to be there, as he famously said himself. The Leafs put him on waivers, and it was interesting timing considering that it was possible (albeit very unlikely) he could have formally been claimed in the middle of the game.
A mid-game trade/claim is a fun thing hardcore hockey fans love to imagine, but it almost never happens, and it didn’t happen this time.
The game started quickly in favour of the team with the elder Conacher brother; that’s Cory and the Crunch, in case you forgot. He had the first scoring chance of the game and it was a high danger one. It would be far from his only one in the game. Halfway through the period he turned another into a goal, just as a power play ended.
The power play was caused by Dmytro Timashov cross-checking the Crunch’s Daniel Walcott quite excessively. It was really flagrant and it cost the team a goal. Sheldon Keefe said “he took a really poor penalty” and added “some of his of his habits without the puck need to get better and we’re working at it and seeing signs of progress.”
Cory Conacher would score again later in the period, knocking the Marlies back on their heels. The team seemed adrift for the balance of the period. Mason Marchment finally got off a shot that was a scoring chance, but is was an easy stop for Crunch goalie Adam Wilcox. The period ended with the Marlies down 2-0.
The second period started off with some promise. The first few minutes looked like the team had some energy, and they sustained a good attack on the Crunch, but after that it changed into what looked to me like one of the worst periods from the Marlies I’ve recently seen. The team looked at times disinterested and inattentive. The Marlies managed only a single shot-on-goal in the second frame, despite having 6 minutes of power play time.
One power play in particular saw the Crunch get off several scoring chances on Garret Sparks, who stood on his head to keep his team in the game. Brooks Laich in particular looked slow, distracted, and not a factor.
The final faceoff with seconds left in the frame saw the Crunch’s Lynch win the draw and the Marlies players practically stare at him while he got off a scoring chance, which was turned away by Sparks. It was a low point. Findlay summed it up, saying “The first 40 we had no energy, no urgency out there.”
Keefe thought the period was somewhat better than I saw it from the press box. “A lot of their shots and chances came on our power play, which was really bad. We just didn’t get enough pucks to the net. We still had some time in there; time spent in each team’s [zone] was almost pretty even in that second period.”
Despite the trajectory of the game, Keefe saw an opportunity. “We thought maybe because of the way things went in the second period that we could potentially catch their team off guard a little bit, thinking that we were just going to mail it in.”
Right from the puck drop the team looked ready to play and wanting to win. There were scoring chances early, and Brett Findlay scored just one minute in to the period. There were more chances, including one by Marchment that went off the cross-bar—to howls from the crowd over how close it was.
The Crunch by no means were yielding their attack. Shots came from all over, including a good scoring chance by Ben Thomas. They smothered a lot of attempted offensive zone entries by the Marlies. Rychel made it through for a chance but Wilcox turned it away.
The Marlies had a gift of a power after a very silly slash by the Crunch’s Mike Halmo, and they put it to good use. Just after the half way point in the period, Timashov tied it up.
Three on three OT is always exciting, but much more so in a jam packed arena. The kids were screaming so loud you couldn’t hear anything anyone was saying. Just over one minute into the frame, Findlay buried the puck to get the Marlies the win. It was the seventh goal in 17 games for the Echo Bay Ontario native.
Byron Froese was out again with an undisclosed injury. Keefe had said after the first game missed by Froese he hoped he would be available for the following game. He wasn’t then and wasn’t on Wednesday’s game. It’s not clear what’s the issue, but it is apparently more severe than thought at first.
Marchment and his Solar Bears linemates Camaranesi and Conacher were a big factor in the win. They played well above their “fourth line” status. Keefe noted it was hard to get them out at the start of the game, but once he could he was impressed. “They had a lot of legs, a lot of energy, and they wanted to make a difference.” Keefe gave them credit for helping turn the game around, adding “I thought they were a real significant factor — the entire line — to getting us going and giving us life.”
The Marlies have a quick division road trip, playing the Binghamton Senators Friday, and the Hershey Bears Saturday.