February 06 2014 02:53PM
Buses full of groups organized by their respective leaders enter the scene. Together, they fill the stands. They're loud. They cheer their team when they're up, and they boo the opposition as if they killed their loved ones. Many have signs. Even as these pockets of fans don't know each other, they all come together in unison to sign relevant pop anthems during breaks in play. It's more than just a game to them, and the atmosphere leaving Exhibition Place that afternoon, with the sun very much awake, was electric.
Sounds like the Toronto FC rebuild got off on the right foot, right? The reality is a bit less glamourous. The scene was Ricoh Coliseum, not BMO Field. The supporters section leaders you imagined are actually teachers. Katy Perry had no relevance to the game, they crowd just like singing. It's more than just a game to the masses in the stands, because they're children and they didn't have to be in class. Yes, yesterday was a school day game. Which usually means a brawl, opposition 50 save shutout, or a blowout. For once, it was neither, and the Marlies won 5-4 in a shootout.
Toronto was first to strike. Spencer Abbott tapped the puck over to Jerry D'Amigo to initiate a breakout, and he went from his own blue line to Jacob Markstrom's blue paint to score his eighth of the season. That lead lasted a whopping fifty seconds, thanks to a heavy one timer from Drew Shore. All the while, both teams were finishing their checks as hard as possible, looking as if a multi-goal lead was the only thing needed to create a brawl not unlike a school day game in 2010. But, the rest of the first period went off without anybody beating each other with fists, or taking a lead, really.
The second period, not so much. But first, D'Amigo was back for more, tipping a T.J. Brennan point shot to give his team another lead a minute into the period. Not long after, the fisticuffs cherry was popped as Mike Duco came to the defence of Kenny Ryan and dropped the mitts with Alex Petrovic, winning quickly but giving up a powerplay. That powerplay lasted seven seconds, as Matt Gilroy beat Drew MacIntyre with a high point wrist shot to tie the game up once more.
The pace slowed for a bit, but heated up late in the period. First up, San Antonio took their first lead of the game, with John MacFarland quickly streaking in to take a behind the net pass to beat MacIntyre. It was a play that happened so fast that I thought it went off of Holzer's skate, and I imagine MacIntyre felt similar, but he was nonetheless swapped for Garret Sparks. With five minutes left , another fight went down, once again featuring Petrovic. This time, Sam Carrick lined up with him, and also won his bout. Two minutes after that, Korbinian Holzer fired a heavy slapshot through traffic to tie the game yet again. It was the last action of an eventful period, as both teams stayed tied at three.
In the third, both teams continued to trade shots, but not much happened until the Marlies went on the powerplay with seven and a half minutes to go. Immediatley off the faceoff, San Antonio raced up on a 2-on-1 Rush. Spencer Abbott wasn't able to stop the pass to Ryan Martindale, who fired a wrister past Sparks to tie the game. But wefore the powerplay could finish (by a second), Brad Ross was there to equalize things once again with a wrist shot that hit the post, went off Markstrom, and into the net. That was it for scoring in regulation, and overtime provided nothing either, so to a shootout the game wint.
Three goals were scored over the course of the shootout. Spencer Abbott opened things up with his slide-deke (very simliar to Joe Colborne's go-to move at all levels), John MacFarland scored in the fourth round with a heavy wrist shot, and Jerry D'Amigo scored the winner in similar fashion. Ryan Martindale was stopped by Sparks, and the Marlies celebrated in front of... about a quarter of the kids as there were in regulation, as they had to be back in school.
Just one, actually. I've got a bad case of Strep Throat with all of the bonus symptoms and was in no shape to take or even mentally keep notes yesterday, but I want to touch on the goaltending really briefly.
Drew MacIntyre stopped 12 of 15 and was pulled after 34 minutes. To be honest, it's not as bad as it sounds. I'm all for pulling a shaky looking goaltender, but all three goals seemed relatively excusable. Steve Spott mentioned that the pull was more of a "shake up" than anything, and it definitely worked.
As for Garret Sparks, his 18 saves on 19 shots and 4-for-5 performance in the shootout was stellar. I mentioned during his early season struggles that consistent playing time is important for him, and he's been getting a bit more of it and doing well under the circumstances. He was sent down to the ECHL carrying an 0.848 SV% and a 4.10 GAA, and upon return, has brought it up to a 0.907 and 2.73. Spott mentioned last week that he'll be swapping Sparks and Christopher Gibson once more down the line, but for now, he's showing he moved onto so many people's radars in his last two OHL seasons.
That said, our fight about Bruno Mars hasn't materialized yet. Probably for the best right now. I'm not going to be responsible for a call up if I cough on him.
(Photo courtesty of @TorontoMarlies on Twitter)