Utah Grizzlies: Snakebitten

Finally back from a gruelling road trip, the Grizzlies hoped to defend their perfect home record against the reigning Kelly Cup Champions. Alas, it was not to be.

The opening minutes of the game were a back and forth affair, with the Grizzlies pressuring first, and then the Americans, and both Boyle and Allen goalie Riley Gill were called to make a couple of saves.

With a few exceptions, the Grizzlies carried play in the first half of the period, and were rewarded as Carlos Amestoy picked the puck up in a crowd in front of the net at 4:20 for his first of the year. Alexandre Carrier and Kenton Helgesen were awarded assists.

With 10:39 to go in the first, Eric Roy scored on a lightning quick shot that went right through Boyle, tying the score up at one apiece. Just about a minute later, Chad Costello got in behind the Grizzlies’ defence, and scored on the breakaway, putting the Grizzlies down by one. Troubles continued for Utah as Tim Daly was called for interference shortly thereafter. However, the Grizzlies penalty kill went to work, and looked excellent.

Though they were thwarted on the power play, Allen continued to roll throughout the rest of the period, with only brief Grizzlies’ forays into the Americans’ end.

With 2:24 left in the period, Jon Puskar was called for boarding, and the Grizzlies again went to the kill. A sea of Utah sticks kept the Americans to the perimeter, and a fangless power play came to an end just seconds before the period. At the end of 20, Allen led 2-1, and out shot Utah to the tune of 12-9 – their only shot lead of the night.

The second period had scarcely begun when Allen took a penalty against Ralph Cuddemi, and the Grizzlies went to the power play. Utah had several chances, maintaining possession of the puck through the majority of the man advantage, but though they racked up a number of shots and nice chances, they were unable to solve Gill.

The intensity of the Grizzlies’ game picked up a few notches thereafter, and there were a flurry of chances around the Allen net. Unfortunately with 9:36 left in the second, Evan Stoflet took a hooking penalty, and Allen scored on the ensuing power play, giving them the 3-1 lead as Costello again beat out Boyle.

With 8:09 left in the period, Chris Crane highsticked Puskar in Allen’s blue paint, sending the Grizzlies to the power play. Allen killed off the penalty, but though the Americans swarmed the Grizzlies’ end for several shifts in a row, they were unable to get a shot through Utah’s defence.

Despite out-shooting Allen 18-2 in the second, and largely dominating play, Utah remained down a pair of goals after forty.

Just five minutes into the third, Spenser Asuchak scored, giving Allen a three goal cushion. Though the Grizzlies continued to pressure Allen, putting up fourteen shots to Allen’s six in the final frame, they remained unable to solve Gill, or to get a lucky bounce. The bad luck continued when Gregor Hanson put the final nail in the coffin just two minutes before the game ended, his shot just trickling past Boyle, who thought he’d stopped it.

It was a frustrating night, all around, that unfortunately came down largely to goaltending. Riley Gill is an excellent goaltender who had a very good outing, stopping 40 of 41, while Kevin Boyle struggled on his end, letting in five goals on 20 shots.

“The difference tonight was goaltending tonight for sure,” Grizzlies’ coach Tim Branham said after the game,  “We outshot them 2-1, I guarantee we outchanced them 2-1. We gave up a couple breakaways, but we had two or three breakaways as well…We’ve got to play well defensively and not give up that kind of opportunity, but at the end of the day we had enough chances to win, and we just couldn’t put the puck in the net.”

While the Grizzlies did just about everything they could to get the win, creating traffic in front of the net and reaching their goal of 40 shots, sometimes there are elements outside a team’s control that simply have to be taken in stride.

“The hockey gods weren’t looking down on us very much there,” Branham added with a chuckle, “You just continue to press on…Like we said, there was a lot of good things, I think we had seven shots on the one power play, just couldn’t convert.”

Utah falls to 6-5 on the season, but has a second chance to beat the Americans, as these two teams square off tonight at 7:oo MT.

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