The Toronto Marlies swept the Bridgeport Sound Tigers from the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoff last season. At Thursday morning’s game, it looked as though they still carried grudges against each other. The game was testy, with some fights, roughing, and lots of goals. This is the second and final time these teams meet, at least in the AHL regular season.
It all played out in front of several thousand kids and teachers from the Toronto Catholic District School Board. It was the second of three school-day games this season at Ricoh Coliseum, and it started bright and early at 11:00 AM. Ricoh was packed, the atmosphere electric, and a great hockey game was played to entertain the fans.
There were a lot of changes for today’s game due to Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline and a player returning from a long-term injury.
Kasperi Kapanen was back in the lineup after being out since an awkward slide into the boards in a game on January 13. He looked, fresh, fast, and ready to play. As you’ll see below, he even flashed some of his fantastic moves in the game.
Also joining the team for the first time was defenceman Steven Oleksy. He was picked up by the Maple Leafs yesterday in a deadline trade that sent defenceman Frank Corrado to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Oleksy is 31 and was never drafted. He has bounced around various AHL teams, with a smattering of NHL games mixed in, since 2011. Marlies’ Coach Sheldon Keefe threw him right into the fire, with a lot of ice time, including PK minutes. At even strength he was usually paired with Travis Dermott.
Playing in his first home game with the Marlies was Sergey Kalinin, who was picked up on a trade with the Devils February 18th for Viktor Loov. Kalinin spent much of the game playing with Kapanen, including on the penalty kill units. Keefe appeared to shake things up on occasion later in the game, and tried out Kapanen on Gauthier’s line.
Also joining the team was Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, a noted pugilist whom the Leafs picked up in the trade of Byron Froese for Brian Boyle.
Antoine Bibeau was in net. Garret Sparks was given the game off as he recovers from an injury. The usual first call up for the Marlies is Ryan Massa from the Solar Bears, but he is also injured. Clint Windsor, a goalie for the hockey team at Brock University, was signed to a try-out contract to back up Bibeau. Eamon McAdam was in net for the Sound Tigers while Jaroslav Halak backed him up.
Still out with injuries were Brendan Leipsic and Rinat Valiev, though Keefe indicated they are close to returning.
Notable on the Sound Tigers’ roster is highly touted draft pick Michael Dal Colle. Notably absent was Josh Ho-Sang, who was called up to play with the Islanders, which is too bad since it was our one chance to see him play in Toronto this year.
The game started fast, with the Sound Tigers putting Bibeau on notice, forcing him to make a quick save seconds in to the game. It didn’t take long to start getting really physical, less than 3 minutes in fact.
2 minutes and 48 seconds into the first period, Letourneau-Leblond had his first fight as a Marlies player. It was a long and heated bout with the Sound Tigers’ Ross Johnston. The officials seemed to let them go at it as long as they wanted, and they did for what seemed like an eternity. As I noticed at last year’s TDCSB game, these kids really get into it. They started a loud chant of “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT.” Not sure that’s what the TDCSB wants their pupils to do, but they sure looked like they were having fun! Letourneau-Leblond and Johnston would get in some more shoving matches throughout the period.
The first Marlies goal was on the power play by Trevor Moore. It was a great shot that sailed through traffic in to the net.
Tony Camaranesi had a rare penalty shot after a slash on a breakaway, but McAdam made the save. There were a lot of loose pucks and chances on McAdam late in the period, including one scoring chance by Nielsen that was redirected by McAdam.
It looked like the Marlies would finish the first period up 1-0, but there was a shock goal by the Sound Tigers with only 1.4 seconds left on the clock.
The second period started fast again, with the Sound Tigers getting a quick shot off on Bibeau 13 seconds in, exactly the same time they had done it in the first. Bibeau stopped this one, but would let in the only goal of the second period on a shot by
Keefe has talked a lot this season about his team taking too many unnecessary penalties, and that was visible to everyone in the second period today. Notable to me was how the Sound Tigers easily instigated the Marlies several times, often well away from the play. Ex-Marlies player Carter Verhaeghe collided with Kapanen at the boards, causing him to do the comical “Colaiacovo face slide” down the glass. While it was a legal play, but the Marlies were all over Verhaeghe in the aftermath, coming close to taking a penalty for it.
Nielsen came close to taking one too, nearly starting a fight with Devon Toews away from the play when he could have skated away. Eventually, the Marlies did end up with a man in the box for this behaviour when the Sound Tigers’ pest-of-the-game St. Denis was targeted, again well away from the play. It was one of four Marlies penalties in the second period.
Keefe was not happy about this, saying “The second period was a disaster; from taking too many penalties and just being on our heels.” As if to rub salt in the wound, it was St. Denis who ended up scoring the only goal of the fram, giving the Sound Tigers the lead going in to the third.
The Marlies managed nine SOG in the second period to the Sound Tigers’ eighteen.
The shot total was completely reversed in the third period, with the Marlies making thirteen to the Sound Tigers three, but one of those three went in. It was the kind of stinker goal from the outside at which I’m sure Bibeau would want a second chance, given his look of disbelief that it went past him. I guess he though he sealed the post, but the didn’t.
Tanner Fritz stays hot and rings one off the iron and in for his 16th of the year!! pic.twitter.com/TzWdHQyw9p— The Sound Tigers (@TheSoundTigers) March 2, 2017
The Marlies had a lot of puck possession time from there on out, and Johnsson put them back in the game with a goal just past the half way mark, his 18th of the season. With Froese gone, he now leads the team in the absolute number of goals scored, though Kapanen and Leipsic are still ahead in goals per game.
Speaking of Kapanen get a load of the work he did with only seconds left on the clock to keep this play alive in front of the Sound Tigers net, pass it off to Nielsen, and secure an opportunity for an overtime win with only seconds left on the clock.
Let’s take a closer look at that in GIF form
Turns out missing two months of hockey doesn’t phase Kasperi Kapanen. pic.twitter.com/a26k70vPvw— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) March 3, 2017
Again, this was all with seconds left in the period. It was an incredible burst of momentum and energy for the team. This is your reminder that Kapanen is still only 20 years old. For the record, we shouldn’t diminish Nielsen’s role in scoring this goal here. He was in exactly the right spot to receive that pass and bury it with his usual hard shot.
Unfortunately, three-on-three overtime didn’t work out in the Marlies favour. Tanner Fritz got the puck past Bibeau again. It was quite a letdown after that exciting last minute goal in the third period.
The Marlies ended the game with one more point, which helps further cement their chances to make the playoffs. This weekend they will play back-to-back games against the St John’s Ice Caps who are trailing them in the North Division standings by five points. For the Ice Caps, it’s a three-game weekend — they play in Utica Friday — so the Marlies have the advantage of a quick rest on Friday.