2024 Playoff Preview: Round 1 vs Toronto      

April 24, 2024  B-Sens and Marlies renew rivalry in first round of postseason 
By: Belleville Sens
BELLEVILLE, ON – The Belleville Senators and Toronto Marlies know each other pretty well, and that rivalry will grow as the two teams head into the 2024 Calder Cup Playoffs. Not only have the provincial rivals met 10 times in the 2023-24 American Hockey League regular season alone, but the North Division foes have also met 75 times since Belleville joined the league in 2017-18 and, they’ll continue their rivalry into the first round of the postseason. Belleville (4th) and Toronto (5th) matchup as the bottom two seeds in the North and will begin a best-o-f-three series on Wednesday night at CAA Arena, in Belleville.  The winner will go on to face the division’s best regular season team, the Cleveland Monsters (AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets) in the North Division Semi-Finals. Here’s a breakdown of how the two teams match up, heading into an AHL first series between the affiliates of the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Season Summary Belleville: 38-28-3-3 (82 points – 4th in North Division) David Bell’s first full season as an AHL head coach proved successful, helping the Sens post 38 victories (tied for second in Belleville franchise history with the pandemic-abbreviated 2019-20 season). The Sens got hot down the stretch drive, winning eight of their final 10 games, including three straight games to clinch a Calder Cup Playoff spot and lock down an extra home game in the play-in round. Belleville was steady defensively during the year, allowing 211 goals (second fewest in the North Division behind Syracuse), but only registered 209 goals (fewest in the seven-team circuit), and needed to win several close, nail-biting games, which should bode well going into the postseason. Toronto: 34-26-10-2 (80 points – 5th in North Division) Always a competitive, deep unit, the Marlies employed a powerful offence with 249 goals scored (2nd most in the league, behind Coachella Valley), led by former Senators captain Logan Shaw’s 30 markers. The Marlies also iced three other 20-goal scorers including Alex Steeves (27), Kieffer Bellows (27) and Joseph Blandisi (25), along with shifty playmaker Nick Abruzzese (36 assists) and top-flight defenceman Topi Niemela (39 points), making this team a threat. Toronto dropped its final three in a row to fall to fifth place in an air-tight North Division with 80 points, two behind Belleville.
Key Scorer Belleville#22 Garrett Pilon – 62 GP / 18 G / 29 A / 47 PTS / +10 / 12 PIM The 26-year-old native of Mineola, N.Y. brought championship experience, veteran savvy and NHL bloodlines into the Friendly City this season.Coming off a Calder Cup win with the Hershey Bears in 2023, Pilon’s 47 points represented a career-high in the American Hockey League, while his 18 goals tied a personal best. Named Belleville’s MVP for the 2023-24 season, Pilon took over the team points lead from Angus Crookshank in the final week of the season.

Toronto#10 Joseph Blandisi – 70 GP/25 G/34 A/59 PTS/+17/110 PIM Blandisi blew past his career high of 39 points from the year before in his third season with the Marlies and proved his mettle in the physicality department by being one of three players to clear 100 minutes in penalties. He added five points (three goals, two assists) and 20 penalty minutes to his total over 10 games against Belleville this season. The veteran forward has played more than 400 regular season and playoff games combined with five AHL teams.
Key Defender

Belleville#25 Tyler Kleven – 53 GP/5 G/16 A/21 PTS/+14/51 PIM The former University of North Dakota star defenceman was not only defensively sound and seamlessly transitioned into the American Hockey League, but he also tied for third with Lassi Thomson in team defence points. The rookie rearguard posted a team second-best +14 rating, one notch behind Nikolas Matinpalo in his debut professional season. Drafted by Ottawa in the second round (44th overall) in 2020, Kleven earned the affectionate moniker ‘K-Train’ for some of the thunderous checks he threw on opponents this season.

Toronto#8 Marshall Rifai – 57 GP/2 G/17 A/19 PTS/+14/71 PIM Playing a balanced role on the Marlies blueline, the native of Beaconsfield, Quebec notched 19 points, a slight improvement over his rookie total of 16 in 2022-23. Rifai added some sandpaper to Toronto’s lineup and had 71 penalty minutes this year. The 26-year-old also played two NHL games for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.
Key Rookie Belleville#10 – Zack Ostapchuk – 69 GP/17 G/11 A/28 PTS/+4/47 PIM Ostapchuk parlayed a nifty scoring touch in the WHL into a 17-goal rookie AHL campaign, putting him in the Top 20 of all first-year goal-scorers and his 28 points led all Sens rookies. The 20-year-old Albertan was named the B-Sens Rookie of the Year and also made his NHL debut this season, playing seven games with Ottawa. Toronto#77 – Ryan Tverberg – 46 GP/9 G/23 A/32 P/+6/18 PIM The former OJHL and NCAA standout led all Marlies rookies in points with 32. Tverberg set a career-high for goals scored in a single game with four on Jan. 12 in an 8-0 Marlies whitewashing of the Senators.
Key Goaltender

Belleville#40 Mads Sogaard: 32 GP / 18-9-3 / 2 SO / 2.45 GAA / .916 SV% “The Great Dane” was a major factor in the Belleville Sens success this season.The 23-year-old resident of Aalborg, Denmark returned to his 2021-22 form with 18 wins in 32 games played and a 2.45 goals against average (all second-best in AHL career) and was the man between the pipes for the Sens playoff-clinching victory on April 19 vs Laval. TorontoTOR – #41 Dennis Hildeby: 41 GP / 21-11-7 / 4 SO / 2.41 GAA / .913 SV% Representing Jarfalla, Sweden, Hildeby made it into the top 10 in goals against average with his 2.41 mark, while tying for ninth in most games played in the AHL. An imposing presence in the crease, standing 6’7” and 200 lbs, the 22-year-old represented the North Division at the 2024 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Tech CU, held in San Jose back in February.
Special Teams Matchup BellevillePP%- 18.2%, 49 PPGF / 269 OPP – 10 SHGA (16th in AHL)PK%- 79.3% 199 PK / 251 OPP – 5 SHGF (25th in AHL) TorontoPP%- 19.3%, 53 PPGF / 274, OPP (T-11th in AHL)PK%- 84.2%, 234 PK /278 OPP, (5th in AHL)
How They Match Up:

The Senators claimed the season series with a 5-3-0-1 record, including three overtime wins. All but three games were decided by one goal.Results are as follows:

October 27, 2023- W 2-1 (OT) vs TorontoOctober 28, 2023- L 4-3 (SO) vs TorontoDecember 22, 2023- W 4-3 vs TorontoDecember 26, 2023- W 4-2 @ Toronto (Scotiabank Arena)December 30, 2023- W 3-2 (OT) @ TorontoJanuary 12, 2024- L 8-0 @ TorontoJanuary 14, 2024- W 6-2 vs TorontoFebruary 16, 2024- L 4-3 vs TorontoMarch 6, 2024- L 3-2 @ TorontoApril 10, 2024- W 3-2 (OT) @ Toronto
Ticket Info: Tickets for Belleville Sens 2024 Calder Cup Playoff first-round home games are now on sale, via Ticketmaster or the Belleville Sens Ticket Hub. Fans can also purchase tickets by visiting the Belleville Sens Box Office at the Quinte Sports & Wellness Centre, which is open from Noon until 7:30 p.m. today, or by emailing tickets@bellevillesens.com. Fans with further questions about playoff ticketing, or those looking for information on premium seating or group tickets, can also email tickets@bellevillesens.com. Details on 2024-25 season seat memberships, 2024-25 Group Experiences or 2024-25Business Elite memberships, are available via the Belleville Sens website, or by emailing tickets@bellevillesens.com.
About the Belleville Senators

The Belleville Senators are the American Hockey League affiliate of the National Hockey Leagues’ Ottawa Senators and have been operating in the AHL since the 2017-18 season. The Senators play their home games out of the CAA Arena at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre and have graduated more than 60 players to the NHL since moving from Binghamton, New York.
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For more information, please contact:
David Foot, footd@bellevillesens.com