The Toronto Marlies officially began the 2015/16 AHL season by featuring in game one on October 9.
It was somewhat fitting then, that they would begin proceedings on the last day of the season, albeit with a lot less to play for.
They ended as they begun, with a victory, in a game that featured lots of scoring chances but little in the way of solid defensive play, that kept both goalies busy through the sixty minutes.
Once again the Marlies were fast out the blocks and struck with 102 seconds played.
Chase Witala eased the puck to Jordan Hickmott down the right side, where upon the left winger shot on net with not much else on offer.
It proved a productive venture as Linus Ullmark rather made a mess of making the save and gave up a rebound that Eric Faille banged home after several attempts, having driven to the net on the play.
A Marlies power play would prove fruitless but many of the young players given a chance in this game were beginning to shine and showing a level of confidence.
Mason Marchment was one of those and he used his size and strength to force his way out front before attempting a short side, top shelf effort that Ullmark had to be alert to.
Rochester were no sideshow act in a first period that saw them out-shoot Toronto a quite incredible 18-15.
A 2-on-2 break for the Amerks produced a chance for Tim Schaller but Garret Sparks was equal to the attempt.
Both teams were exchanging rushes at this point and it became a battle of the goaltenders.
Tobias Lindberg combined with Tony Cameranesi, who watched his backhand shot whistle just the wrong side of the post.
A giveaway from Toronto allowed Cole Schneider to cut across the crease but Sparks made the double save to rob him of a tying goal.
Seconds later and Alex Guptill was denied by a fine stop but the puck ran loose and fell kindly for Even Rodrigues, who contrived to flip the puck high over the vacant cage.
On Toronto’s next rush it was none other than John Kurtz streaking away on net but Ullmark stood tall to turn the enforcer aside. Kurtz and Cameranesi would tee up David Kolomatis to release a blast after the defenseman had stepped into the play but credit Ullmark for staying with the effort, as the game became a shooting gallery at this point.
Ullmark’s best save of the period came late on as he turned aside Taylor Doherty’s booming shot with his right toe and then stole a first professional goal from Marchment who looked odds on to open his account.
If 33 shots wasn’t enough in the first period then the second would produce one more.
It was all action and exciting hockey to watch, but did nothing for the heart rate of either goaltender.
Sparks put his team in trouble inside the opening two minutes with a poor pass along the boards but responded by making another fine save, this time from Chad Ruhwedel.
Toronto killed their first penalty of the game and responded with a spell of sustained pressure in Rochester’s zone but failed to make it count.
A turnover from Doherty allowed Eric Cornel to feed danger man Schaller but Sparks was still not for passing at this point as the 1-0 lead remained intact.
Kurtz was certainly enjoying himself playing alongside rookies T.J Foster and Cameranesi, who combined to send the former on a breakaway. During twenty questions this season, Kurtz answered he would rather score “five hole” given the chance. He tried to on this occasion but Ullmark denied the attempt.
In a game of several “firsts” Tyler Wong so nearly opened his scoring account. Cory Conacher with some quick thinking teed up Wong from the slot but his one time shot brought yet another wonderful save from Ullmark.
It looked as if there would be no scoring in the middle frame but the pressure finally told with a little over three minutes remaining. Seconds after being denied his first professional goal, Jordan Hickmott made a second chance count after a delightful set-up from Eric Faille.
Toronto could easily have made it three just a minute later as Ullmark stonewalled Kurtz yet again, this time Foster was the provider of the chance.
Rochester’s goaltender was so frustrated by the lack of his support, that upon making the save, came rushing out of his net and firmly batted the puck down the other end of the ice, baseball style.
It should really have been an unsportsmanlike penalty, not a firm talking too, and Toronto would pay the price after being called for a penalty themselves shortly after.
Ruhwedel fired the puck across the cross and Schneider was on hand to tip home his 21st goal of the season to cut the deficit with 20 seconds to play.
The final frame brought a bit of normality to proceedings with the teams firing eleven shots a piece, or perhaps it was because both teams were exhausted by now.
The Marlies had consecutive power plays to begin the period, scoring on neither but almost gave up a short-handed marker on the second.
Joey Mormina would see his effort turned aside by Sparks, but the goaltender then found himself out of position. The rebound fell kindly for Justin Bailey who watched in horror as Stuart Percy made the save with his body having taken a stance on the goal line.
A mere 19 seconds after the second power play had elapsed, the Marlies put themselves up 3-1.
A huge rebound off Sparks’ brand new pads ended up with Witala along the far boards. Wasting no time, Witala chipped the puck up the left wall for the speedy Cameranesi, who immediately headed toward the Rochester net. Driving across the crease, the Minnesota native was able to squeeze the puck by Ullmark and inside the right post.
Conacher fired four shots on net in this game and he came within millimetres of scoring with one attempt that wasn’t registered, as he whistled an effort against the post at the seven minute mark.
Sixty seconds later and Foster narrowly missed finding the net as Toronto came close to extending their lead further.
A late push from a plucky Rochester team almost saw them create a grandstand finish. The visitors thought they had pulled within one with seven and a half minutes remaining but Sparks produced his best save of the game.
Cal O’Reilly with the perfect pass to Schneider who surely had Toronto’s netminder beaten backdoor. Somehow Sparks scrambled and reached back behind himself, showing his never-say-die attitude to goaltending in general.
It was a shame then that an average piece of work from Sparks would allow the Amerks to pull within clock as the clock ticked inside the last three minutes. Jean Dupuy played a give and go with Nick Baptiste before chipping home past Sparks, with the goaltender never fully committing to the play coming out of his net, when he may have been better served by staying pat.
It mattered little to the result as Toronto never looked like giving up a tying goal.
An unselfish play from Wong allowed Eric Faille to fire into Rochester’s vacant cage to seal the 54th and final victory of the 2015/16 regular season.
The real test begins next weekend.
Post Game Notes:
This was the Marlies 27th win at home, equalling their impressive road record.
Toronto finish tied for the 3rd-best record in AHL history with 54-16-5-1, earning the team 114 points and a .750 point percentage for the year.
Toronto finishes the season with a winning record in every month, including a 11-1-1-0 record in the month of January.
The Marlies concludes the season with a league best goal differential of +103.
Toronto ends the season 21-2-1-0 when leading after one period and 39-1-2-0 when leading after two periods.
Toronto dominated Rochester during their season series, with a 7-1-0-0 record.
Eric Faille scored his sixth and seventh goal of the season, adding an assist for a three point game, an AHL high for him. Faille has ten points through fifteen regular season games for Toronto.
Jordan Hickmott recorded his first professional point, with an assist on the opening tally before also scoring his first goal.
Chase Witala collected two assists, including one on the game winning goal, recording his first points as a professional.
Tyler Wong assisted on Eric Faille’s empty net effort to earn his first point as a professional.
Wong has a wicked looking shot, and has been unfortunate not to register a goal in his short time with the team.
Garret Sparks turned aside 45 shots to earn his 14th victory of the season. It was his first game for the Marlies since the end of March.
Kasperi Kapanen blocked a shot late in the second frame and wouldn’t return for the rest of the game.