It’s been a rollercoaster. Each week, it felt like the Belleville Senators were playing do-or-die hockey and, for a brief moment in an otherwise dark season, Senators fans had something to watch and hope for. The final week featured two games against the Toronto Marlies and one against the Rochester Americans. The BSens had faired well against both teams this year and were the only team in each game truly playing for something. Unfortunately, they fell short.
Wednesday, April 10 - Toronto 3, Belleville 2
In another crucial game, Coach Troy Mann once again turned to Marcus Hogberg to defend his crease. Appearing in what feels like Hogberg’s millionth game of the season, he was up for the task, stopping 28 of 31 shots that went his way.
The scoring started halfway through the first when Christian Wolanin had the puck down low, fired a pass up to Joseph LaBate who stepped into a snap shot for his eighth goal of the year. The happiness didn’t last too long, however, as the Marlies were able to tie things up before the first intermission. Hogberg jumped behind the net to play the puck, ringing it around to the Toronto defender at the blueline. A shot was thrown on net and Adam Brooks got his stick on it to even things up.
The second period started off strong with Belleville receiving a shot at the man advantage nice and early. With a slightly different look to their powerplay on this shift, they managed to find the back of the net anyways. Erik Burgdoerfer started the play by trolling the blueline to find Wolanin on the half board. Wolanin quickly moved the pack to the opposite point to Drake Batherson who fired a slap pass off Jack Rodewalds stick and into the net. It took roughly ten minutes for the Marlies to respond and then take the lead with goals just over a minute apart.
That would be it for the game as neither team managed to get on the board in the third period - despite Belleville facing a 5-on-3 at what point.
Marcus Hogberg - He’s been the star all year and he’s the reason it was a one goal game in this one.
Christian Wolanin - Wolanin tallied two assists and was instrumental in the transition game for Belleville all night.
The Penalty Kill - The PK unit was perfect through three powerplays, including a 5-on-3. That’s what you need in games like this.
Here are the highlights.
Saturday, April 13 - Belleville 3, Toronto 2 (OT)
Between the games Wednesday and Saturday, the Cleveland Monsters had given Belleville somewhat of a gift - the ability to control their own destiny. With two games left in the season, Belleville just had to gain the same or more points than Cleveland and they’d be in.
Since it’s been proven to work more often than not, Mann gave Hogberg the nod once again on Saturday. After a bit of a slow start, Rudolfs Balcers got his name on the scoresheet in the second half of the first. Belleville had sustained pressure for one of the first times this game and Justin Falk found Balcers alone in front. Balcers received the puck, spun and shot - all in one motion - to get the good guys on the board first. Once again, Belleville was unable to sustain a lead for too long. The Marlies responded on the powerplay just before the end of the first to knot things at one.
The two teams exchanged a few chances in the second period but both netminders stood tall to keep this game at 1-1. In the third, Belleville was sent to the powerplay and the usual suspects went to work. Displaying excellent patience with the puck, Wolanin slid himself into open space and eventually found Balcers wide open in the slow for the one timer and his second of the game. Another Marlies equalizer would send this one to overtime.
I do my best to describe the goals for you here, but sometimes it’s more fun to show you. Here’s Chase Balisy’s game winner to keep Belleville’s dreams alive.
: Chase Balisy delivered last Saturday night with an overtime winner, snapping a 41-game goalless drought. The Fullerton, Californa native played in his 70th game of the season, a Belleville Senators' franchise record for single-season appearances. pic.twitter.com/YjmHLytBbv— Joel Vanderlaan (@Joelvanderlaan) April 2, 2019
Chase Balisy - OT game winner, enough said.
Rudolfs Balcers - Two goals and a ton of creativity from Balcers in this one.
Christian Wolanin - Wolanin continued to show why he spent more time in the NHL than the AHL this year.
Here are the highlights.
Sunday, April 14 - Rochester 4, Belleville 2
With Belleville and Cleveland now tied at 82 points, and Belleville holding the tie breaker, all they needed to do was be the same or better than Cleveland, who also had their final game to play on Sunday.
Welcoming an already playoff bound Rochester squad to CAA Arena, the BSens had to literally leave it all out on the ice. The game started exactly how we wanted it to with Logan Brown getting his team on the board first. Nick Paul carried the puck into the zone with Batherson trailing him. He chipped the puck to Batherson who carried it down low and found Brown in the slot for an easy shot. A few minutes later, Rochester responded with two powerplay goals of their own to finish the first period with Belleville down 2-1.
The second period started just like the first, with Belleville opening the scoring. Using his speed, Balcers carried the puck over the blueline, pushing the Rochester defender back. He then thread the needle to Rodewald who promptly placed the puck upstairs to even the score. Unfortunately, there was another powerplay marker in store for Rochester. With Balisy taking a two minute rest for hooking, the Americans converted to once again take the lead.
Down by one in the third, it appeared that Belleville couldn’t get much of anything going. It’s possible that my stress levels were reading too much into it but it really felt like they had finally, after many months of playoff-style, must-win games, run out of gas. Rochester was able to add another goal to solidify a 4-2 win and in another rink, the Cleveland Monsters booked their ticket to the AHL playoffs with a win against the Marlies.
The Penalty Kill - This is one of those “bad” standouts. Just a few games ago, the BSens were perfect on the PK. This game, they allowed three powerplay goals to sink their playoff hopes.
Rudolfs Balcers - Another game filled with speed and creativity, including the game tying assist that was delivered on a silver platter for Rodewald.
Jack Rodewald - Rodewald had a few solid looks, a goal and four shots on net.
Here are your final highlights.
Say what you will about these Belleville Senators. They couldn’t get it done when it mattered most - or at least, that was a trend of opinions on Sunday evening from some fans and a few media personalities. The way I like to look at it is that Belleville has basically been playing playoff hockey for the better part of six weeks. At the beginning of February, they won a few games. Then they won a few more. Then, all of the sudden, playoffs seemed possible by the end of the month.
From February 5th until this past Sunday, Belleville had a sterling 17-8-3 record. They had an outstanding goalie, multiple solid performances by rookies, and were playing meaningful hockey until the final minutes of the season. Last year’s BSens, as you may recall, didn’t play a meaningful hockey game for the final two months of their season. Yes, you want your development team to go deep. After all, an AHL squad that’s capable of winning at that level will develop strong prospects for the NHL level. But, it’s really important to put it into perspective. Had Belleville won just one more game in November or just one more game in December, we wouldn’t be talking about this now. This is a step in the right direction for an AHL club that has ranged from mediocre to garbage fire pretty much since they won the Calder Cup many moons ago. The team and its fans should be very proud of the way they finished this season.
We’ll get deeper into individual performances in my next two posts which will review the year from the player and coaching perspectives. But the important thing to remember is there were multiple bright spots with this Belleville Senators team that should be shining through to Ottawa in the not-so-distant future.
To close off, Belleville announced their individual team awards yesterday. Unsurprisingly, Batherson took home the award for Belleville’s Rookie of the Year and even more unsurprisingly, Hogberg was awarded with the Most Valuable Players honour for his outstanding season between the pipes. Last week, the AHL also announced their All-Rookie team and, you guessed it, Batherson was awarded one of the three available spots for forwards.
As I mentioned, this isn’t it from me this year as I have at least two more pieces in the works but this is the final recap. I wanted to thank all of you for following along, providing feedback in the comments and joining me in one of the few brights spots in this years season for Senators fans. I think we’ll be seeing a few of these Belleville Senators in Ottawa as soon as next year - but I’ll leave those predictions for the next post.
Thanks for your eyes, friends.