TORONTO – Ben Ondrus’s hard work paid off Sunday.
Ondrus scored two goals to lead the Toronto Marlies over the Philadelphia Phantoms in American Hockey League action on Sunday night.
“It just goes to prove the guys who work their backsides off without the puck are paid off . . . it’s almost like the hockey gods are smiling on them for working so hard,” Marlies coach Greg Gilbert said of Ondrus, the team captain. “I’m happy for Benny, he’s been outstanding for us all year.”
Defenceman Derrick Walser scored the game-winner on a third-period power play while Kris Newbury had a goal and an assist in front of 3,727 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
“I got a couple of breaks, an empty-net goal and a short-handed goal, but everything the team did before that set up their breaks,” Ondrus said. “It was a good team effort and we got the two points.”
Captain Boyd Kane and Jared Ross, on a penalty shot late in the third period, replied for the Phantoms.
The game was a battle between two first-place clubs as the Marlies sit atop the North Division with a 14-4-3 record and the Phantoms lead the East Division with a 16-6-1 mark. The victory halted a two-game losing streak for Toronto and was the second loss in a row for Philadelphia.
The Phantoms were playing their third road game in three days and, due to a snowstorm on Saturday night, didn’t arrive in Toronto until nearly 7 a.m. ET on Sunday morning for a 4 p.m. game.
“The AHL schedule, they travelled a lot this weekend, they played in Lake Erie last night and Hamilton the night before that,” Ondrus said. “They were probably a little tired and we were lucky to get two points out of it.”
Marlies goalie Justin Pogge stopped 15 of 17 shots to improve his record to 6-1-3 on the season.
“He had a lot of help, but he made the saves when he needed to,” Gilbert said. “He made some pretty good saves in the second period when we coughed up the puck and he was pretty sharp, some nice saves, and hopefully he can build on that and get some confidence back.”
At the other end, Phantoms goalie Scott Munroe made 25 saves on 28 shots to fall to 7-2-0.
Toronto was 1-for-7 on the power play, while Philadelphia went 1-for-5.
“We were struggling on the power play, so we decided to change things up and go to a basic power play and just put up shots,” Walser said. “I think we had more chances tonight than we’ve had in the past four or five games.”
The Marlies led 1-0 after the first period after outshooting the Phantoms 9-0 to that point.
“It’s a huge win, that’s the No. 1 team in their division, they play tough and just limiting them to 17 shots and getting the win is a big confidence booster for us,” Pogge said.
Newbury opened the scoring when he snapped a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle past Munroe’s glove at 2:36 of the first period. The goal was the game’s lone marker until Ondrus gave the Marlies a 2-0 edge with a short-handed effort at 16:10 of the second period.
With Newbury in the penalty box for high-sticking, the Phantoms turned the puck over at their own blue-line. Marlies centre Alex Foster corralled the puck and fed Ondrus, who stepped into the offensive zone and beat Munroe with a long slapshot that snuck between the goalie’s left arm and body.
Walser scored the eventual winner at 6:31 of the third period. From the top of the the slot the Marlies defenceman stepped into a slapshot that Munroe partially blocked, but the puck trickled over the goal line.
“All in all, we played a solid game, PK, PP, and it’s good to get out of that little funk we had,” Walser said.
Kane put the Phantoms on the board at 13:28 of the third period when he deflected defenceman Alexandre Picard’s point shot past Pogge with Newbury off for tripping.
The Phantoms were awarded a penalty shot with less than four minutes remaining in the third period after the Marlies were whistled for handling the puck in the crease.
Ross swooped in on Pogge and beat the Marlies goalie with a high wrist shot to the short side to make it 3-2.
It was the first time in Marlies history that the team had allowed a goal on a penalty shot.
“The puck was sitting there outside the blue paint (of the crease), so it shouldn’t have been (a penalty shot), but you know, maybe it was in a tough position for (the referee) to see the puck,” Gilbert said. “It’s something you have to live with and move on.”
Ondrus sealed the victory when he fired home an empty-netter with 46 seconds remaining in the game.
“It would be nice to go the whole season and win 80 games, but that’s just not the way it happens,” said Ondrus, as the Marlies try to turn things around after a cold stretch that saw the team lose five of seven games. “Guys get hurt, there’s a learning curve for young guys who are new to the league . . . we’re just looking to learn from those losses and get back on the winning side.”