October 30, 2015 feels like a lifetime ago in this incredible season for the Toronto Marlies.
It’s probably felt longer for Connor Brown who injured himself blocking a shot on that day against Grand Rapids Griffins.
He would be out of action for 85 days and miss 35 games in the process.
It’s been a long road back, especially the last couple of weeks when the former rookie scoring winner was straining to be let of the leash.
When Toronto’s medical staff finally released the shackles, the now stronger and hungry Connor Brown was able to make an immediate impact on his return to action at Ricoh Coliseum.
Marlies Captain Andrew Campbell found himself down low on the left wing and his intended cross ice feed was intercepted by Joseph LaBate. The Utica left winger failed to clear the danger and there was Brown on hand to jump on the loose puck and score just three minutes and 44 seconds in.
Utica tried to respond through Alex Friesen, who was a danger to Toronto on Saturday. He tested Antoine Bibeau from the high slot after a fortuitous bounce went his way but the goaltender gobbled up the shot.
The Marlies doubled their lead four minutes after opening the scoring. Zach Hyman with the heads up play to find debutant David Kolomatis surging into the right circle and his wrist shot beat Richard Bachman all ends up.
Brown had been placed on an interesting looking line alongside Nikita Soshnikov and Brett Findlay but there was definitely some chemistry early between them and a third goal wasn’t long in coming.
After a rush involving all three that saw Connor stopped on a rush down the left, they would not be denied on the next occasion.
Findlay intercepted a pass in the Marlies zone and Brown picked up the loose puck and surged across the Utica blue line. Dropping the puck back to Findlay, it looked as if the centreman would pass to his left to Soshnikov, but instead delivered it back to Brown who fired home his second.
Bibeau had to be alert to deny Chris Higgins after the winger found himself some space down the left side but immediately Toronto went and scored a fourth to further demoralise the visitors.
Frederick Gauthier winning the battle for possession of the right boards, duly handed off to Matt Frattin, who sent a gorgeous reverse backhand pass to T.J Brennan who had room on the left. Settling down the puck, the defenseman wired in his 16th of the season from the top of the left circle.
Four goals in just over twelve minutes saw the end of Richard Bachman’s tenure between the pipes and Joe Cannata replaced him.
A mere ten seconds later saw the low point of the game from Toronto’s perspective. Utica’s Darren Archibald is noted for his certain style of play and he took a run at Stuart Percy in the left corner of Toronto’s zone. Percy took a while to get up, managing to leave the ice under his own steam but would not return for the rest of the game. Archibald would receive a five minute major, and a game misconduct for boarding.
Despite a five minute powerplay and a two minute man advantage following straight on, the Marlies weren’t able to further increase their lead in the opening period.
Any idea’s the visiting Comets had about getting a foothold in the game were dispelled inside the first eight minutes of the middle frame.
A turnover led to Casey Bailey leading an odd man rush on the left wing. His drop pass was perfect for Brennan to score his second on a one time shot.
A power play for Utica, their first of the game, only served to allow Toronto to make the score 6-0.
Both teams exchanged rushes before Leipsic made his speed count. Splitting the defense, the left winger was not for catching, nor would his shot be stopped as he buried his 13th of the season.
A second Utica power play almost presented Brown with a hat-trick but his snapshot would be well stopped by Cannata.
The Marlies only fired six shots during the second period but each felt like a great scoring chance. Hyman the next to be denied by a fine stop after excellent play from Mark Arcobello to tee him up.
A third consecutive Comets power play would result in some work for Bibeau, who must have felt like a passenger for long passages of this game. His double save on Taylor Fedun and Brendan Gaunce was probably the best in the game.
It was cruel that a possible shutout bid for Toronto’s goaltender was crushed with two minutes remaining in the middle frame. A long outlet pass from Jordan Subban found Carter Bancks and the Utica forward headed in on net with Brennan seeming to give up on the play. Why had he given up? Because Bancks was clearly offside and the call from the linesman would come any second. It didn’t and Bancks finished nicely to put his team on the board. Brennan later held his hand up for the error, citing he should have played to the whistle but it truly was one of the worst missed offside calls anyone at Ricoh Coliseum has witnessed for a long while. Thank goodness it had no bearing on the game.
Two late penalties meant Utica would begin the third period with a two man advantage for 18 seconds and there was still over a minute left on the second infraction. Toronto’s successfully killed both and scored again to extinguish any last hope that the Comets held.
It may have been the nicest tally of the game as Mark Arcobello weaved his way past three Utica players on a goal of all his own making, before firing back across Cannata, beating the goaltender stick side.
There would be no more scoring despite a further 17 minutes to play and six penalties being taken, the majority by Utica. Toronto were looking to tee up Brennan and Brown for their hat-tricks whenever possible but it just wasn’t to be.
Brown came the closest to recording what would have been his first professional hat-trick but his effort smashed against the iron with 30 seconds to play.
A 7-1 final score but more importantly a dominant performance from a Toronto Marlies team playing some of it’s best hockey this season
Post Game Notes:
The victory was Toronto’s 15th on home ice this season and takes them to 70 points.
After all the success of the power plays on Saturday, neither team were able to capitalise with the man advantage, despite eleven opportunities with six of those to Utica.
Easy to forget Antoine Bibeau’s performance with all the goal scoring. He made 28 saves for his 15th win of the season and there were some dandy’s in there. A better showing after some shaky moments against Syracuse last week.
A fourth straight multi-point game for Mark Arcobello. Moves to fifth in AHL overall scoring (37 points) despite having played only thirty games, significantly less than those above him.
It’s getting to the point where I’m running out of superlatives for T.J Brennan.
Third multi-goal game of the season for Brennan, who has 14 points in January and is currently the AHL’s leading scorer.
Stuart Percy did not suffer a concussion or any kind of head injury according to Sheldon Keefe. A lower body injury and Percy was seen to be limping after the game. Not ideal but certainly a better scenario than initially seemed the case at the time of the hit.
Defenseman David Kolomatis made a solid debut paired with T.J Brennan and chipped in with a nice goal.
Connor Brown’s script writer missed out the hat-trick goal but otherwise a tremendous comeback performance. His first goals of the season, which he admitted to as being a relief as he was somewhat snake-bitten before his injury.