The Utah Grizzlies did not get off to an auspicious start in their first away game of the season, battled back to a tie at the end of the second, and then had the wheels came well and truly off in the third.
After being badly beaten in the two opening games, the Steelheads came out strong in their home opener. Just 2:19 into the first, the Grizzlies’ defence left Caleb Herbert all alone in front of Kevin Boyle, and he made no mistake, scoring the first goal of the game on the first shot. Very shortly thereafter, they scored again as Phil Pietroniro lost his footing and Travis Ewanyk scored on the second shot.
Tim Daly put the Grizzlies within one, first drawing a penalty in the Grizzlies’ end, and then on the delayed penalty, carrying the puck up the ice himself to score his first goal of the season in style.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were a little lackadaisical coming back to their own zone, and Idaho scored. The Grizzlies responded well to the setback, and upped their play a notch. With 4:01 left in the first, Shane Walsh, Colin Martin and Brandon McNally crashed the Steelheads’ net, and McNally banged the puck home, making it 3-2 Idaho. The Grizzlies seemed to get their feet under them after that, and looked much better in the last few minutes of the period.
The Grizzlies came out in the second and continued to improve on their play, though nothing came of it until Jordan Samuels-Thomas scored on an absolute cannon of a shot, tying up the game at 11:49. The Steelheads looked a bit shaky for a stretch, and the Grizzlies upped the intensity. Larraza and Samuels-Thomas swarmed the net, and the Steelheads’ goalie looked a little harried, but smothered the puck.
At 19:34, Jon Puskar took a holding penalty behind his own net, but the penalty kill was very short lived. Idaho’s Rob Linsmayer took a high-sticking penalty with 12 seconds left in the period. After forty, the game was tied at three, and the shots were also tied at 20.
In the opening minutes of the third, it looked like the Grizzlies had a chance to make a game of it – deserved or not. However, that was not to be. Following a post face-off scramble, Kellan Lain put the puck right through Boyle for the Steelheads’ fourth goal at 5:14.
Unfortunately, that goal turned out to be the death knell of the comeback, as Utah ran into some penalty trouble, and the Steelheads scored their fifth goal on the power play. Boyle was clearly not happy with himself, slamming his stick on the crossbar in the aftermath.
The Grizzlies had another chance to close the gap when the Steelheads took two penalties, and Utah pulled Boyle for an extra attacker. Colin Martin scored his first pro goal, putting Utah drew within one again, and it looked like the rookie had waited for just the opportune moment to make an impact. The goal was eventually given to Samuels-Thomas, and less than a minute later, Linsmayer scored on a turn over. At that point, it was all well and truly over. Kyle Jean scored on the empty net with less than thirty seconds left, and David Glen put the final nail in the coffin with just four seconds to go. The final count was 8-4 for Idaho, and the shots 33-24, also in Idaho’s favour.
After battling so hard to tie the game up at the end of the second, it was disheartening to lose by such a wide margin, but the Grizzlies clearly weren’t on their game all night. They had issues in transition, and their defensive coverage – such a strength in the first two games of the year – was weak, most especially in the first period, but also throughout the game in general. As a result, their rookie net-minder was often left to fend for himself, and he struggled mightily.
Fortunately, Utah can go back to the drawing board and try again tomorrow, as the same two teams face off again in Idaho at 7:10 MST.