Veteran leadership on full display during important stretch, William Villeneuve finding confidence: Marlies Weekly
Photo credit:Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com
By Nick Barden15 days ago
The veterans, the rookies — every single player is contributing to this Marlies team this season.
It was yet another winning week for Toronto and they’re now only six points away from securing their ticket into the Calder Cup playoffs.
This week saw the end of a (longer) road trip in the United States as the Marlies took on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday. No goals were scored until the second period, in which the Penguins first capitalized.
After that, it was all Toronto, scoring each of the next three goals for in the game. Jordie Benn, Joseph Blandisi, and Kyle Clifford — all in that order — got on the board for the Marlies in what was a gutsy win for the hockey club.
Joseph Woll also stopped 31 of 32 saves, giving him 15 wins on the season at that point in time.
“We got a long way to go,” Benn told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the run this Marlies team could go on, “but we definitely can feel that there could be something special there (the team) and we’re going to ride it out and we’ll see what happens.”
Toronto flew home on Thursday, getting in one practice before another game on Saturday, this time against the Hartford Wolfpack at home.
Similar to Wednesday’s game, there was no scoring until after the first period. Hartford found the back of the net first late in the second, though the Marlies came back shortly after with a goal of their own.
Radim Zohorna batted the puck out of mid-air, tallying his first since as a Marlie. He centred a line consisting of Alex Steeves and Marc Johnstone on Saturday — his first game in the middle since arriving in the organization.
Toronto kept pushing in the third period, with Clifford eventually finding a goal, putting them up by one. That’s the second-straight game where the 32-year-old has found the back of the net for the Marlies.
Hartford had an empty net in the dying minutes, and Pontus Holmberg nearly ended it, but he put it off the post. The Wolfpack immediately came the other way and the puck ends up going off Jake Leschyshyn and behind Woll to tie the game at two.
Then overtime rolled around, and Toronto’s captain, Logan Shaw, was all business for the entire period. He first brought the puck in all by himself to try and finish the game off for the Marlies, but Louis Domingue, who was amazing all game, made the stop.
Nearly two minutes later, the 30-year-old was back on the ice, and this time, he made no mistake in ending the game for Toronto.
Pontus Holmberg had an assist on the goal, giving him points in five-straight games with the Marlies. Joseph Woll wins again, stopping 21 of 23 shots, improving to an impressive 16-1-0 on the season with a .933 save percentage.
Veteran leadership on full display
Blandisi, Shaw, Benn, and Clifford combined for five goals in Toronto’s last two games. Benn had the game-tying goal on Wednesday, Blandisi scored the game-winning goal, and Clifford scored the insurance goal.
Then on Saturday, Clifford scored the go-ahead goal (before Hartford tied it) and Shaw scored the very big overtime goal for the Marlies.
“It was a very good feeling,” William Villeneuve said of Shaw’s OT winner. “He’s been our leader since the beginning of the season and he also got into a fight. It’s not in his nature, but he just showed that he’s ready to do everything for us.”
Shaw’s leadership was felt throughout Coca-Cola Coliseum on Saturday evening, though you could say the same about Clifford too.
When he found the back of the net in the second period, you could tell just how loved he is in the Marlies’ locker room by their reaction to the goal.
“He means a lot for the room, he means a lot for me too.” Said Villeneuve said of Clifford on Saturday. “He welcomed me with open arms the first day of the season and he’s always hyping me up even when I have some rough patches and all that.
“He’s been awesome on the ice, but especially off the ice.”
Clifford brings a lot to the table for this young group of Marlies players. There’s everything from important goals, toughness, and even some good stories, according to Steeves.
“(He) always does the hard things,” Steeves said. “He’s a guy that I think a lot of younger guys look up to, just because the respect level is there with such a strong career that he’s had. So, nice to see guys like that get rewarded.
“He’s always really positive with the group and it seems like he’s having a lot of fun playing with us, so it’s good to see him have those smiles coming through the line.”
The confidence of Villeneuve
The 20-year-old AHL rookie tallied three points on Saturday night against Hartford in arguably what was his best offensive output game of the season.
He’s slowly finding his way throughout his first season of professional hockey. And he’s showing signs of a confident player, which will definitely lead to more success in the back-half of the season.
“I think I just got to move my feet a little bit more,” Villeneuve after Saturday’s win against Hartford. “When I’m not confident, I think too much sometimes and I’m hesitating and not moving my feet. So, I just gotta be confident, move my feet, and do what I do.
“I’m here for a reason. I’ve played this game my whole life, so I’ve just got to bring the same thing that brought me here.”
Over the course of this season, the 20-year-old has improved in a number of ways. His decision making has gotten a lot better and so too has his ability to play against tougher matchups.
“Throughout the year, it’s just him getting more comfortable with the league, the pace, being the better defender which he has done throughout the season,” said Marlies head coach Greg Moore.
“And now that he’s getting more comfortable with it all, when he gets the opportunity with the puck on his stick, there’s tons of confidence and ability to make plays, and make other players better and create offence.”
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