The puck was in the net for two seconds before the crowd realized it-- then came the boos.
It was a fluke end to a long defensive battle, an overtime goal scored off a simple dump-in, with Norfolk Admirals defenseman Mike Kostka slinging the puck in from center ice and heading to the bench for a change. With Toronto Marlies goaltender Ben Scrivens heading to the corner, the puck took a bounce and headed directly into the net. The game was over, and the Admirals flooded onto the ice to mob winning goalie Dustin Tokarski, while the Marlies and the fans in the Ricoh Coliseum wondered what the hell just happened.
The Admirals set up for the power play, but there was not much power; most of the time was spent knocking the puck clumsily around, banging it around in the corners and back to the point, without actually threatening Scrivens.
So it went through the first period: the teams traded power plays but could not set up significant scoring chances. Fourteen minutes in, with Toronto having had three power plays and Norfolk two, the shots were only 5-3 for the Marlies.
The action was good, with both teams chasing hard and banging along the boards, but serious scoring threats are few. Most plays are broken up, and few shots are attempted through clogged shooting lanes. Most of the the shots that are taken are high and off the glass.
It's a clattering, hitting game. It's actually my first AHL game, and I'm impressed by the pace and the skating. The noticeable difference for me between this and an NHL game is in the hands-- often passes don't work or pucks leave the zone because the players lack the soft touch to make things work.
When the Admirals are able to set up in the Marlies zone, they work the corners and get the puck back to the point, but no effective shots follow. The few actual shots come from in closer, but Scrivens is rarely seriously tested. The standout offensive moment in the first period comes when Cory Conacher is able to break away from a check and set up behind the Marlies' net, waiting Gretzky-like to make a play. Nothing presents itself, however, and he is forced to carry the puck out into traffic where it is lost to the banging bodies.
Conacher is one of the most noticeable players on the ice. He is small and susceptible to being rubbed out on the boards, but given room he is a quick and nimble skater. He offensive skills are apparent, even when nothing comes of the play. Is he ready for more? The NHL next year perhaps?
It's interesting to be in the rink, after spending so many years only watching games on TV or online. The building is great, with the crowd perched over the ice. Sightlines are good. There is an intimacy that is absent in the bigger buildings, and the crowd is engaged.
The game is scoreless after the first. The best chance for the Marlies was a ping off the post at the 15:15 mark. The penalty killers were the heroes for each side.
With Norfolk forward Brandon Segal in the box to start the second, it is Scrivens who makes the save of the game, stopping an incredible chance on a breakaway by one of the Admirals penalty killers (I couldn't see his number). The Ad broke in alone and went to his back hand, with Scrivens dropping and flashing his glove hand to prevent the short-handed goal.
The pace of the second period is much more furious than the first, although quality chances are still few and far between. The teams rush back and forth, with Marlie Colton Orr getting a look at Tokarski, but seeing only a solid pad save in close.
Conacher, with a huge number of supporters in the crowd, breaks in on Scrivens at the 9:35 mark, but without a chance to score he instead decides to go Lucic-Miller and crashes straight into the Marlie goalie, popping his mask and taking a two-minute minor for goaltender interference. It makes no difference either way though, and the period plays out without a goal being scored.
There is, however, a furious rush in the dying moments of the period, with the Admirals ringing the puck off the post to Scrivens' left. The goal light went on, and a no-goal review was made before the players returned to their dressing rooms.
The third opens without many chances, although the shot clock has gradually tilted the Admirals way. They are now getting more quality looks, and appear to be dominating the offensive zone time as well.
The line of Trevor Smith, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, and Richard Panik is very noticeable for the Ads, especially with their determined forecheck. Labrie is a big body who can move, and he uses his size to defend the puck. Panik is noticeable for his speed and hands, although no goals come of his dancing.
At the midpoint of the third, the Admirals have taken the lead in shots.
The Marlies take a late penalty, with Mark Fraser called for holding in the scoreless tie with about five minutes left. Scrivens keeps the door shut, however, and the game heads to overtime.
In the intermission I connect with a gang of the fans wearing Cory Conacher t-shirts. They are from Burlington, Ontario, which explains why there would be a few hundred people wearing Norfolk Admirals t-shirts with "Conacher 89" on the back. They welcome me into their fold because of my Lightning jersey, although I have to explain to them that yes, I live in Toronto, but no, I'm not originally from Toronto, so it's okay that I don't cheer for the Leafs.
I also start getting chirped by one goofy Marlies/Leafs fan, who calls me "ginger." People, if I'm ginger, so are many, many of you, including those of you who are obviously not ginger. People are weird.
Norfolk opens the overtime period by taking a too-many-men bench minor, and then killing it, because power plays don't work in this game. The puck goes back and forth between the points, in and out of the corners, but real chances are nil. Tokarski is good, but he is not called upon to be great.
Then, at the 10:51 mark, Mike Kostka dumps it into the Marlies' end and surprises himself and everyone else in the building by scoring off the funny bouce. Game over, Norfolk 1, Marlies 0.
Admittedly, I was watching the players change, and I didn't see the puck go in the net. I knew it was over because of the Marlies player chopping his stick over the crossbar, while the Admirals all swamped Tokarski.
And that was my first ever AHL game. A hell of a game, but I didn't see a single goal.
To hell with it. Game Four goes Saturday. Good night.