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Two Maple Leafs minor league teams clinch: one by losing, one by winning

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And a record held by a familiar name fell tonight as well.

He’s the winningest goalie on the Marlies, but he lost twice over tonight.

The Solar Bears

The Orlando Solar Bears were in fourth place in their division heading into their last home game of the season, and all they needed to do to clinch was win the game. Simple.

Ryan Massa was in net for the Solar Bears, and he would need to be on his game playing against the Florida Everblades, the top team in their division.

The Everblades scored early, but Joe Perry evened it up quickly for the Solar Bears. This is the ECHL, you never sweat an early deficit but you don’t count on your own leads either.

Orlando made it 3-1 on goals by Milos Bubela and Justin Buzzeo. They looked like they wanted to get this done with and that X by their name. Florida looked like a team that had already clinched.

There was huge brawl at the end of the first period, right by the Orlando net, and Massa was right in it. The officials hauled him out first, but Florida got the power play out of it and converted fast. 3-2 was the score after one period.

The Everblades tied it up in the second, but Orlando came right back to make it 4-3 on a goal by the occasional Marlie: Taylor Doherty.

The Solar Bears took a bad penalty late in the second for goalie interference, and the kill was a big moment for them. They exited the period no worse off, and held that 4-3 score for the third period.

Florida tried pulling the goalie, but the Solar Bears capped the game off with an empty net goal, and they have clinched a playoff spot. They have one more regular season game tomorrow, and they can improve to third in the division with some help from the team they’re chasing.

In winning, the Solar Bears helped Ryan Massa set a new franchise record for most regular season wins by a goalie, a record that was set by Garret Sparks. Congratulations to Massa, who is carrying this team now with Kasimir Kaskisuo up with the Marlies.

The Marlies

Sparks was in net in Utica as the Marlies were looking to do that clinching thing as well.

The Marlies were in a nicely luxurious spot with many opportunities to clinch a playoff berth, since they are first in the North division. They’ve been hot lately, have been at least very good before that, and that groundwork got them in a spot where they could just sit and wait for teams to drop off the bottom of the list giving them their spot.

That was in the cards Friday, as the St. John’s IceCaps needed a win to keep in the hunt and to keep the Marlies from clinching. The IceCaps were playing Albany, just a few minutes ahead of the Marlies game.

Period One

Sheldon Keefe was going with the maximum number of his experienced but not too veteran in years players who have helped drive the Marlies resurgence.

The rolling of four lines works well, and the team got out to a fast start, putting up a lot of shots on goal. It was a siege of Comets’ goaltender Thatcher Demko.

The Marlies nearly scored early, but the play had been whistled dead. The whistle was to figure prominently in this game.

The next offensive flurry ended with a penalty to Andrew Campbell.

Utica got their first shot on goal in the power play, but the Marlies PK was solid, and Sparks sent the puck deep up-ice himself once, enough for a shot on goal if his aim had been better.

Kerby Rychel got the next penalty, and Jordan Subban demonstrated his point shot, his offensive cycle, and nearly tipped it in when he drove the net. The Utica power play is not good usually, but they have a weird thing where they do great versus the Marlies.

Utica got on the board with a long shot from the point that was tipped by Joseph LaBate. 1-0 Comets.

If we didn’t know it already, we got confirmation that the whistles worked fine, as the Marlies got a power play chance of their own. It was terrible. There were no shots from the Marlies, and the only excitement was a bad giveaway by Brendan Leipsic.

The Marlies fell into chaos, not passing cleanly, not clearing the zone, but their offence still looked dangerous. Frederik Gauthier nearly tipped it in. To say he’s been a bit quiet back down in the AHL is an understatement, but he was showing some speed and forechecking ability in this game, however.

The Marlies got a second power play late in the first, and they had a lot of trouble getting setup. There is no William Nylander on this team now. Their power play is good, but it isn’t lights out amazing like it used to be.

Keefe had abandoned his four-forward first unit for this game and had Travis Dermott on the point instead. He was very good in that role, and had a good game genrally.

The power play morphed into a four-on-four, and Andrew Nielsen’s rocket of a shot caused a nice scramble for the rebound.

After one period, the shots were 6-6, with Utica not coming on until the second half of the period.

Meanwhile in Albany, the IceCaps were losing. Not by much, but it was still a Devils’ lead.

Period Two

The Marlies came out with much better systems, passing well, getting chances and not allowing too much chaos to erupt behind their forward lines.

Everyone had their hard forecheck going, but the speed of the Marlies drew a penalty as Leipsic was brought down. The officials seemed to think it was a weak call, so they pulled the first Marlie who did anything remotely like an offence, and it was more four-on-four.

Darren Archibald had a hot, hot breakaway, and he tripped himself on Steve Oleksy’s stick and drew a penalty shot. The move to step over Oleksy’s stick was clever, his penalty shot wasn’t and went wide.

Sparks had to hold things together in the rest of the period, however.

Archibald drew another penalty, a more realistic trip by Seth Griffith, that was his highlight of the game to that point. Both he and Kerby Rychel struggled early and could not form up any good offence deep in the Utica zone

Meanwhile Albany was leading the IceCaps 3-1, and the Marlies game seemed a lot less tense.

The Comets second goal came on the power play by Cody Kunyk from Archibald. He was a one-man wrecking crew. 2-0 Utica.

The teams indulged in some up and down one and done, turn it over play which coaches hate, but the fans like.

The Marlies drew a penalty with their speed again, but it was just a chaotic and toothless effort. Griffith was confused, and not helping anyone. Utica got a short-handed try, and Andreas Johnsson went off for hooking. More four-on-four.

It was now 3-2 Albany over the IceCaps and the tension was high again.

Sparks made some excellent saves, and it wasn’t long before Utica was on the power play again. The Marlies got the short-handed attempt this time, but it was Justin Holl and Gauthier on a breakaway, so it ate some time but didn’t produce a shot.

Shots on goal were 20-14 Utica after a poorly played second period by the Marlies.

Third Period

The Marlies started the period down a man, but you couldn’t tell. They controlled the puck well, and Leipsic got a wraparound chance.

The Comets had one real chance, but Sparks had it no problem.

Meanwhile, the IceCaps had tied the game at three all, and the Marlies suddenly looked like they need to at least tie the game to clinch.

Trevor Moore drew the next penalty with his speed, and he was good all game. Leipsic was tripped again—he had his feet yanked out about ten times in the game—and the Marlies had a five-on-three.

Because this is the AHL, the coach doesn’t gamble with his timeouts, he uses them to set up power play strategy. They went with five forwards this time, with Mike Sislo and Cal O’Reilly out for some steady backbone in the group.

It was Sislo who got the goal on a very well executed power play—the first of the game that looked like the real Marlies. 2-1 Comets.

Leipsic was tripped again, and it was back to the man advantage! The Comets spent the entire second period, it seemed, down a man.

The Marlies went right back to giving the puck away on the power play, and it wasn’t until they were back at even strength that they really laid on the pressure. Demko kept his team in it through a great desperation shift by Griffith and Rychel.

But while that roaring push by the Marlies through the last five minutes was going on, Nick Lappin, bane of the Marlies existence in many games against the Devils in the playoffs last year, scored with one minute in the game to take the IceCaps 4-3.

The Marlies had clinched and they didn’t even know it.

Utica capped the game off with an empty net goal and made it 3-1, but playoffs await. They likely await the Comets too as they’ve gained ground on the IceCaps and hold fourth place firmly now.

The Marlies have four games left—two this weekend yet, and two next. Their goal is to maintain the division lead and ensure home ice advantage for at least the first part of the playoffs.

Playoffs await both minor league affiliates in the Leafs system! The Leafs can make it three for three with either the Solar Bears method of winning, or the Marlies method of waiting for the other guy to lose. I like the Orlando method, myself.

In a bit of a surprise, Daniel Maggio, who has been playing defence for Orlando has been called back up to the Marlies. He usually plays forward for that team, and has a mixed bag of tricks that include the hardest forecheck on the team and a lot of fights as well as some unexpected scoring.