Utah Grizzlies: Monday Madness

The Grizzlies began a six game home stand with a Monday afternoon game against the Idaho Steelheads. The lineups saw a little bit of tinkering. Erik Bradford and Ralph Cuddemi, the Grizzlies’ two most potent scorers of late, flanked Cam Reid, while Colin Martin took Bradford’s spot beside Michael Pelech and Mathieu Aubin. Kenton Helgesen remained on defence, where the pairings remained as they had in the previous few games.

The game got off a slow start, with not much happening until about half way through the first period, and then everything happened all at once. Idaho struck first at 8:44, but Jon Puskar responded on the very next shift to tie up the game. Unfortunately, on the next shift after that Idaho scored again to make it a 2-1 game with just about ten minutes to go in the period.

The Grizzlies pressured well following the goal, but unfortunately Idaho got in on a two on one, and Anthony Luciani beat Faragher.

Shortly thereafter, Helgesen took an interference penalty, but the Grizzlies’ aggressive penalty kill neutralized the man advantage effectively, even getting a few forays into the offensive zone.

However, At the end of the first, shots were 9-8 for Idaho who also led 3-1.

The Grizzlies got off to a good start in the second period, drawing a power play as Martin got a scoring chance and was hooked in front of the net. Unfortunately, Utah’s power play struggles continued, as Idaho spent at least as much time in the offensive zone as Utah did, and then scored on a 3-on-1 as their penalized player returned to the ice.

About eight minutes into the second, C.J. Eick nearly tipped in a shot by Cuddemi, before the puck came to Taylor Richart who scored his third of the season to cut the deficit in half.

Half way into the period, Eick was taken into the boards at the Idaho bench by Travis Ewanyk, and Banwell came flying in to his defence. Eick and Ewanyk were sent to the box to cool their heels, Howe and Ewanyk jawing the whole way.

With just under seven minutes to go in the period, Pelech laid a nifty hit in the defensive zone to separate Idaho puck carrier from the puck. The play went the other way, and Puskar scored his second of the night making it a 4-3 game.

In the minutes that followed, Faragher made some big saves, and Puskar drew a high-sticking penalty to send the Grizzlies to the power play with about three minutes to go. Utah’s second go at the power play went much better than their first attempt, but they were still unable to make anything of the man advantage.

Faragher was called upon to make some key saves as the period drew to a close, keeping it a one goal deficit heading into the final frame.

Both teams exchanged a series of power plays through the first ten minutes of the period with Martin and Banwell among others getting chances. However, Faragher was also called on to make a few key saves on short-handed attempts.

At 16:44, the Grizzlies completed the comeback, as Brad Navin scored his fourth of the season with assists from Eick and Puskar, giving the third line their third goal of the game.

However, Utah was not out of the woods just yet as first Banwell, then Pietroniro went down. Banwell remained on the bench, and Pietroniro eventually did return.

Neither team was able to draw ahead in the last few minutes of the game, so the game went to overtime, and right off the opening faceoff, there was a slight delay as one of the refs went down. Once play resumed, Reid, Daly, and Bradford all had chances, and with 20 seconds left, Faragher made a key save to keep the game tied, and the Grizzlies drew a power play. It was not enough to break the tie, so the game went to the shoot out, shots 30-28 for Idaho.

Reid shot first, and was the only goal scorer as Philippe Desrosiers beat Cuddemi, and Faragher stopped all three Idaho shooters to give the Grizzlies the 5-4 victory.

Puskar (2G, 1A), Eick (3A), and Navin (1G, 1A) were named the three stars of the game. After being named first star, Puskar was quick to turn the praise to his teammates: “It was really my line. Both goals I had were my forwards getting in, my linemates getting in there, jumping in on the forecheck, that puck’s coming to me in the middle, I just put the final touch on it. That’s all their effort. I’ve got to tip my cap to the guys on the wings that were down there grinding it out.”

Coach Branham also had good things to say about the play of the third line, Faragher, and the game in general. “Puskar’s line was tremendous tonight, obviously we owe them a lot. Fedzy, big saves when he had to, one second left in regulation, that was a crazy hop, he stuck with that one, then got the job done in the shoot out.

“We’re just trying to keep things simple. We’ve got a simple team, we’ve got a smart team. When we keep things simple,  play solid defence, and out-work the opposition, with and without the puck, good things happen ’cause we have enough skill. So with [Puskar] having two tonight, it definitely helps and takes a lot of pressure of those top two lines when your third line is contributing like that, so definitely proud and [Puskar] deserves it. He’s a good player, heart and soul.”

The Grizzlies have had a number of gutsy come-from-behind performances recently, and both Puskar and Branham weighed in on what allows the team to stick with it and go on these big runs to tie the game.

“They’re calm on the bench, they’re positive with each other, whether we’re down or not, it doesn’t matter” said Branham. “We have a lot of confidence right now. We’ve jut got to keep it going.”

“When we’re down, it doesn’t matter now, we grind back. We’re not going to quit.” Puskar said, and later added, “We’ve got all the confidence in the world, it just comes down to effort and execution at this point.”

The next two games against Alaska are crucial, as Branham pointed out: “We’re nine points back, so words can’t describe how big those games are this next weekend. There are four points on the line, you could be within five points of them. They’ve got a tough road. They play us twice, and then they’ve got Idaho and then they have Colorado. We’ve just gotta worry about what we can do each and every game. Right now we’re trending in the right direction, and that’s what you like to see as a coach.”

Both the Friday and Saturday games against Alaska will be played at the Maverik Center at 7 PM.

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