Tonight’s game saw Ryan McKay make his pro debut against the Wheeling Nailers, and it was a wild ride to say the least.
The Grizzlies drew the first two power plays of the game, and after some chaos around the net, Erik Higby scored his third straight goal dating back from Sunday night, giving the Grizzlies the early lead.
Off the ensuing face-off, Travis Howe and Kyle Flemington dropped the gloves and fought to a draw. Immediately thereafter, Evan Stofflet drove the puck on the net and the rebound went straight to Colin Martin, who scored through a Wheeling defender giving Utah the 2-0 lead 17 seconds after they went up 1-0.
After receiving some nice goal support from his team, McKay returned the favour, making a series of huge saves. Things got a little chippy as the team tangled in front of McKay and Erik Bradford and Nick Sorkin were both sent to the box.
At 16.41, Ralph Cuddemi went to the box for hooking, and McKay and the Grizzlies defenders went to work. Unfortunately, Tim Daly took a hooking call, and the Grizzlies went down 5-3. Despite being hemmed in their own end, they killed off the 5-3, and thanks to a clear from Cuddemi, spent the remainder of period keeping the puck pinned to the boards in the Wheeling end. At the end of 20, the Grizzlies up 2-0, shots 13-12 in Wheeling’s favour.
The second period began with action on both ends, but though there was some excitement, nothing much of note occurred until Mike Banwell and Garrett Meurs dropped the gloves 6:06 into the period.
Kevin Schulze closed the deficit to 2-1 just past the 12 minute mark, and though Utah responded well, Wheeling tied it up with just under two minutes left to play in the period.
Scarcely into over a minute into the third, Flemington was left wide open and uncontested beside McKay, and batted in an easy goal to put Wheeling up 3-2.
The line of Johnny McInnis, Colin Martin and Erik Bradford drew a penalty, and then collected some good scoring chances on the ensuing power play. Utah would tie up the game on the power play, after an absolutely delicious display of determination and passing put the puck squarely on the Rocket’s stick. Mathieu Aubin made no mistake, scoring his fifth of the year with assists from Banwell and Jon Puskar.
Despite a valiant effort from Cuddemi and McKay, Derek Army scored his second of the game just past the half-way mark of the period, forcing the Grizzlies to once again play from behind.
The Grizzlies pressed on, however, Puskar, Howe and Kenton Helgesen getting some good looks, and creating chaos in front of Wheeling goalie Doug Carr with about six minutes left to play.
With 3:46 to go in the period, Banwell was called for roughing, and the Grizzlies found themselves in quite a hole, down 4-3, and on the penalty kill.
Although Utah was able to kill off the penalty, the Nailers kept buzzing, and Cody Wydo put them up 5-3 with 1:17 left in the game almost immediately thereafter.
Down 5-3, and with 50 seconds left, Branham elected to pull McKay, and the Grizzlies played 6-5, which payed off as Tim Daly scored after a wild scramble in front of the net. Bradford and Cuddemi were awarded the assists.
The Grizzlies pulled McKay again, but though they played furiously in the last ten seconds, they were unable to send the game into overtime.
While the loss was a disappointing way to go after the 2-0 start, there were still some positives. The team looked good, over all, much more like their former winning selves, and the goals made a long awaited return. McKay played well in his debut, despite the loss, and the Grizzlies have a chance to settle the score in the rematch tomorrow night.
Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi.