Utah Grizzlies: A Scrappy Affair

 

After two long weeks, the Grizzlies are finally back home. It’s been too long.

With Kevin Boyle and Zac Larazza called up to the AHL, Ryan Faragher was backed up by Ryan McKay, Kenton Helgesen drew back into the lineup, and new acquisition Ralph Cuddemi also made his Grizzlies debut.

The last time the Grizzlies and Eagles met, Utah swept Colorado in the first round of the playoffs  in a matchup that was as tightly contested and hate-filled as a series sweep could be. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that these teams do not like each other.

Cuddemi, who joined the team in exchange for Jordan Samuels-Thomas, wasted no time in making his mark. Just over three minutes into the first, a Colorado defenseman lost control of the puck at the Grizzlies’ blue line, and Austen Brassard pounced. Just about shaking off the Colorado player, he rang the puck off the bar. However, the rebound came straight to Cuddemi, who wired it into the back of the net for his first goal.

Unfortunately, Colorado tied it up at 6:45 as league-leading scorer Casey Pierro-Zabotel got one past Faragher.

About a minute later, Derek Rodwell boarded Eric Springer behind the Grizzlies’ net. Though Springer got up and skated off under his own power, he went straight to the dressing room, and didn’t return for the rest of the period. Fortunately, he returned to the Grizzlies bench half way through the second.

With a little over two minutes left in the period, Phil Pietroniro laid a hit on Cole Sanford,  and the two squared off by the Grizzlies’ blue line, but were broken up before a full-fledged fight could break out. Both players were sent to the box for roughing, and the period would end 4-on-4. After twenty, the score was tied 1-1, and the shots were 14-8 for the Grizzlies.

At 5:54 of the second, Mathieu Aubin took a slashing penalty, and the Grizzlies’ penalty kill went to work. Helgesen, who got some time as a defenseman after Springer went down, drew a tripping call half way through the PK.

As the game progressed, it got steadily chippier. With 5:51 left in the second, Pietroniro and Jesse Mychan dropped the gloves for real, and went down swinging behind the Grizzlies’ net. They were both sent to their respective dressing rooms, and just over a minute later, Brassard got sent to the box for tripping. However, the Grizzlies killed the penalty off without trouble.

With a minute left in the first, the Erik Higby beat Nathan Lieuwen, giving the Grizzlies the 2-1 lead going into intermission. Helgesen’s strong play throughout was rewarded with the assist.

The third period did not open in an auspicious manner for the home team, as Faragher got out of position trying to make a save, and Luke Salazar banged the rebound into the empty net.

After that, Colorado’s already tenuous hold on discipline slipped. Michael Sdao was sent off for tripping at 3:24, followed by Matt Register for roughing against Jon Puskar at 4:53. The Grizzlies called a timeout, and got themselves sorted out for the ensuing 31 seconds of 5-on-3.  Puskar got taken down yet again in front of the Eagles’ net, and another scrum ensued. Brassard and Sdao both got sent to the box as a result, getting double minors for roughing, Sdao was joined 18 seconds later by Pierro-Zabotel for cross-checking Tim Daly at the Grizzlies bench, and Jake Marto for roughing against Brandon McNally. McNally joined Brassard also for roughing against Marto.

Puskar took the best revenge possible for the abuse he suffered by scoring just seconds into the power play, tipping in Mike Banwell’s shot from the point. He almost got a second shortly thereafter, but the puck rolled away from him, and the rest of the Grizzlies’ power play expired without incident.

At 13:01, Sdao and Amestoy dropped the gloves, and wound up in the Eagles’ net, each getting five for fighting. With 5:22 left in the game, the Grizzlies coughed up the puck in their own end, and Cole Sanford tied the game up after being left all alone in the slot. Though Brassard got a pair of quality chances in the dying minutes, the game went to overtime.

Three-on-three hockey is amazing to watch. It’s wild, it’s five minutes of non-stop nail biting and end-to-end rushes, and this OT was no exception. The Grizzlies opened with Brassard, McNally and Pietroniro, and after three minutes and 39 seconds of anxiety, Brassard picked off the puck in the neutral zone, motored back into the offensive zone, and was allowed to get off a beautiful backhander all alone in front of the Eagles’ net.

Amestoy, Cuddemi, and Brassard were named the three stars of the game, and Faragher got the win, saving 28 of 31 shots, and improving to a perfect 4-0.

Bumps and Bruises

Games against Colorado often turn into wars of attrition, and a lot of guys were banged up in this game. Taylor Richart got run quite a few times, and Pietroniro hobbled off after blocking a shot in the second. Springer missed parts of both the first and second period after getting hit, and has since been put on the injured reserve. Puskar was the victim of quite a few hacks and slashes as the game progressed, and Daly was plastered to the boards in front of the Grizzlies bench. Tonight is likely to be no different.

Putting up Points

After tonight, two Grizzlies are at (or over) a point-per-game rate. Puskar leads the team with four goals and three assists in five games and rookie Shane Walsh has three goals and two assists. C.J. Eick has three goals and an assist, while Brassard, Aubin, and McNally all have a goal and three assists apiece.

Helgesen Shines

After having been scratched for two games, Helgesen was excellent. He was prominent on the first wave of several penalty kills, and was even on the ice in the final minute of a tied game. Thanks to Springer’s absence for a large part of the game, and Pietroniro’s five-minute penalty during that time, the Grizzlies were short two defensemen. Fortunately for them, Helgesen was drafted as a defenseman, and he stepped up in a big way, filling in on the back end several times during that stretch. He was rewarded for his efforts with an assist on Higby’s goal, and now has two points in three games.

These same teams play tonight at 7 PM MT. As Kevin Boyle is still in San Diego, there is a good chance that we will see Ryan McKay make his debut. Regardless of who plays, it’s bound to be a wild game.

 

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