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Marlies weekend recap: Engvall gets a goal, Sparks gets a shutout, Pickard gets a timeout

It was a roller coaster of a weekend for the Marlies and their goalies.

Christian Bonin -

Marlies vs. Senators - Saturday

The Toronto Marlies lost 4-2 in their billion-billionth game against the Belleville Senators this season on Saturday afternoon. The night previous, the Marlies beat the same Senators — this time in Belleville, how fun — by the same score, 4-2.

On Friday, Adam Brooks led the way with a three-point performance. Garrett Sparks stopped 25 of 27 shots for the victory.

On Saturday, however, Calvin Pickard started the game but did not finish it after having arguably his worst moment as a member of the Marlies, all in a span of eight seconds during the second period. Sparks had to come in mid-way through the game and ended up playing over 147 minutes over a three day period.

Andrew Nielsen and Miro Aaltonen scored for the Marlies during the only two minute span where fans at Ricoh Coliseum were actually able to cheer for something that didn’t include honouring the troops.

Marlies Lines Saturday

Pierre Engvall - Miro Aaltonen - Jeremy Bracco
Adam Brooks - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Colin Greening - Frederik Gauthier - Kyle Baun
Hunter Fejes - Dylan Ferguson - Rich Clune

Martin Marincin - Justin Holl
Andreas Borgman - Timothy Liljegren
Andrew Nielsen - Vincent LoVerde

After the game, head coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed that Mason Marchment is out with a concussion after getting hit hard during a fight.

The game started about as normally as every game against the Belleville Senators. The Marlies were forced to play along the boards and in the corner while the Senators struggled to get the puck to the middle of the ice.

Pierre Engvall played in his first game for the Marlies this season after signing an ATO the previous week. At first I was skeptical whether an extremely lanky player like Engvall could play in a league as physical as the NHL. Clearly, I was wrong.

“[My first game] was okay. I think I got into it the more and more I played. Obviously, not the start I wanted. “It doesn’t matter much now that we’ve lost,” noted Engvall after the game. His English is as good as you can ask for from someone who’s spent his whole life in Sweden. “Of course, coming to a team that’s so good, there’s pressure on me to be good too. To compete against these guys, it’s good for me, I like to be here.”

Engvall finished with this comment: “You don’t have as much time with the puck. It’s a more ‘straight game’. A couple more games, and I’ll be used to it.” Oh, what great foreshadowing.

Pierre Engvall in his Marlies regular season debut
Credit: Thomas Skrlj

Dylan Ferguson and Hunter Fejes also made their AHL debuts. I’m grouping them together because they played on the fourth line together and the two never really got a chance to play very much after the Marlies gave up the lead. Head coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledged the lack of ice for two of his rookies, especially early. “We took three minors in the first period and had a PP of our own. That’s almost half the first period right there. Then like you [Hardev] said we were chasing the game a little bit so youre trying to squeeze what you can out of your offensive people.” Adding, “It was difficult to use our bench today which is obviously not ideal on going in a back-to-back and it’s a three-in-three tomorrow but that’s what the circumstances called for so we went with it.”

Ferguson was able to get on the second power play unit, which was a surprise considering this player had just come out of the NCAA and is on the fourth line to start his AHL career.

“Ferguson I thought made some really great plays on the power play, when we used him there. It was difficult to get him much ice at even strength, but [he] showed a lot of skill on the power play, which I wasn’t expecting.” Finishing with a little insight into the philosophy he has when managing players, Keefe said, “It doesn’t do us much good to bring these people in and not play them to their strengths. If somebody comes in and we believe they have skill on the power play we’re going to use them in those situations. I just think if you bring people in to your organization you have to give them proper opportunity.

Brady Ferguson making his AHL debut on Saturday March 24th in Toronto
Credit: Thomas Skrlj

Okay, on to the Calvin Pickard incident.

Midway through the second period, Max Reinhart would put the Senators up 2-0 on a goal where the guy literally on his first day on the job, Brady Ferguson, was the only player back on an odd-man rush. Ferguson did his best to defend the play but backed up into the defensive zone too far, allowing Reinhart a perfectly screened shot right down the middle of the slot on Pickard. That odd-man rush that lead to the goal might have been the result of the Belleville Senators having too many men on the ice (evidence below) but it still counted.

Pickard was not pleased with the call and was very animated when it came to asking his team and the refs to have a second look at the play because he firmly believed it was illegal (it was). Despite his best efforts, the puck dropped at center ice and the play became a moot point.

Just as the play was getting started, Pickard decided to knock his own net off in protest. In quick succession, the Marlies goalie was given a two-minute game misconduct penalty and told to hit the showers by his coach, Sparks was coming in. As Sparks was putting his equipment on, Pickard gave Keefe and the rest of the Marlies bench a long stare and started smacking his stick on the ice in what can only be described as a clear statement that he wanted to finish the game.

After the game, Keefe put the onus of the decision on himself. “I just felt like it was apparent to me that Picks had lost his focus and composure a little bit. Our team was reeling. I just felt like I needed to have a response from myself to shake things up and get Sparks in with a clear head.” Concluding his statement by showing his confidence in Pickard moving forward: “Picks has been so good for us in so many areas on and off the ice I don’t like having to make that change. I just felt it was appropriate at the time.”

Marlies vs. Thunderbirds - Sunday

The Thunderbirds made their once a season visit to Ricoh Coliseum on Sunday night. When the Marlies travelled to play them in Sprignfield (MA) in October they won 2-1. This time they got the shutout, still with two goals.

Marlies Lines Sunday

Pierre Engvall – Miro Aaltonen – Trevor Moore
Adam Brooks – Chris Mueller – Ben Smith
Hunter Fejes – Colin Greening – Scott Pooley
Dmytro Timashov - Derian Plouffe – Jeremy Bracco

Martin Marincin – Justin Holl
Calle Rosen – Timothy Liljegren
Andrew Nielsen – Vincent LoVerde

Not Playing: Kyle Baun, Brady Ferguson, Frederik Gauthier, Jesper Lindgren, Mason Marchment (concussion)

Garret Sparks started in net for the Marlies. Samuel Montembeault started for the Thunderbirds. He is a Panthers first round draft pick from 2015 and this is his first pro-season.

There are a few familiar sounding names on the Thunderbirds. First is Tim Erixon, who is actually the same Tim Erixon that was briefly a Maple Leaf. There is also Francois Beuchemin, who is not actually the same Francois Beauchemin that was a Maple Leaf many years ago. There’s also Curtis Valk, who is not related to Garry Valk, but is the nephew of Kelly Rhudey.

There’s also a Colton Saucerman on the Thunderbirds whom I’m including here only because it’s such a great hockey player name.

On to the game! Well, what there was to write about it, which isn’t much. The Marlies looked a little slow and a step behind their normal pace. That makes sense, as for many of the players it was their third game in three days; however, the Thunderbirds could not even keep up with them there. They certainly don’t have anyone on the team with speed comparable to players like Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson. The new NCAA guys on the PTOs like Derian (pronounced like Darren) Plouffe have commented that the game in the AHL is noticably faster and more organized, and they even looked faster than the Thunderbirds. I guess that’s a part of the reason they sit last place in their division with only 28 wins in 67 games so far this season.

So let’s just look at some of the highlights and the players.

First up is Pierre Engvall, who joined the team last week, scoring his first ever AHL goal. It’s actually his third ever game after participating in one playoff game last season, though I had no recollection of that for some reason until I looked it up.

It was interesting to see him put out on the power play so quickly after joining the team. Keefe has mentioned with respect to some of the college players that he will easse them into special teams after a few practices and drills. Perhaps he feels Engvall has more practical experience from playing in the SHL. In any case, it worked. He was out on the power play again later in the game, usually with a mix of Aaltonen, Bracco, and Moore as forwards, and he looked perfectly capable of keeping up. Sheldon Keefe was pleased with him already on Saturday, saying “It’s tough circumstances for him. He’s had one practice with us as a team and he’s coming in, he goes from the big ice to over here. I thought he was good. He’s a big guy and he skates really well.”

Dmytro Timashov had some impressive moves in the game, as he often does. His speed and maneuverability in tight situations to move the puck is obvious, but there’s one little execution issue you spot from time to time. In this game, he was in a board battle for the puck, stripped it from the Thunderbirds player and then spun around and passed right through to about 15 feet in front of the Thunderbirds goal. Great move, right? But there was no one there to get the puck. Not even close. It looked like his linemates had no idea he was going to do that, and expected him to pass it back to the blueline. But, those are things that come with consistent linemates over time. His line still had several great scoring chances in this game.

It was another shutout for Garret Sparks. That’s six this season with an all-situations sv% of 0.937. He played in three games over three straight days. It’s no wonder he was awarded the honour of AHL Player of the Week.

You can’t end this recap without noting who scored the second goal of the game, Scott Pooley. Scoring a goal in your first ever professional game is a dream come true, though it was easier to get it past the goalie than he imagined.

After the game he laughed it off and said “I don’t think that’s how many guys dream of [their first goal], but it’s pretty exciting none the less, and a really cool feeling. It’s one I’ll remember forever.” Though apparently it’s only adding to his collection of unusual first goals.

Here is the game highlight pack.

Next Game

The Marlies play the Laval Rocket on Wednesday night at Ricoh Coliseum. The North Division playoff slots all now all clinched and the Rocket have found themselves on the outside looking in after a disastrous run of only two wins in their pat ten games. It will be interesting to see what energy they have to play through.