This weekend, the Grizzlies continued to pick up very much needed points, as they completed the three game sweep of the Steelheads in Boise. The games on Friday and Saturday were both very close contests, each decided by one goal, Saturday’s in overtime.
Friday night’s game was a high-scoring, penalty-filled affair that saw both sides dissatisfied with the calls – or in some cases, the lack of calls – throughout. Troy Redmann got the start, backed by Ryan Faragher, and had a very strong outing overall, while C.J. Eick had the night off in favour of a full complement of defencemen.
Erik Bradford opened the scoring 6:17 into the first, as the Grizzlies crashed the net and the assists went to Tim Daly and Cam Reid, the later of whom picked up his first of what would eventually be three assists.
The rest of the period was more or less a wash, thanks to the ten penalties that were assessed in total, an uncharacteristic three of them on Daly., The teams went to their dressing-rooms with Idaho out-shooting Utah by the slim margin of 9-8.
Bradford scored his second of the game less than five minutes into the second to put the Grizzlies up 2-0, and mere moments later, Phil Pietroniro dropped the gloves with Anthony Luciani. The bout was a spirited one, and both combatants got in several really excellent punches before they were separated and sent to the box. The fight was Pietroniro’s fifth of the season, and third in the last six games.
At 7:13, Daly erased any memory of the three penalty first period with an absolutely gorgeous rocket from the high slot, giving Utah the 3-0 lead. The Grizzlies ran into some penalty trouble in the second half of the period, allowing two power play goals, despite a couple of unbelievable saves from Redmann. However, they responded well both times, and closed out the period still leading 3-2.
The third period did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, despite an Idaho penalty, as Kyle Jean got behind the Grizzlies defence, and tied it up on a short-handed breakaway just under 4:30 into the frame.
However, the game did not stay tied for long, as Colin Martin tipped in Pietroniro’s shot from the blue line. It was not a lead Utah was destined to hold for long, with Corbin Baldwin beating Redmann a few minutes later.
The two teams traded chances and penalties through the later part of the period, with Martin Nemcik and Jefferson Dahl going off for roughing at 16:08.
With just over five minutes to go, the Grizzlies got the upper hand once more, as Kenton Helgesen scored his third of the season with assists from Taylor Richart and Jon Puskar. The Steelheads were irate, feeling that the officials missed a tripping call in the play immediately proceeding the goal, but they argued their case to no avail.
Austen Brassard and Brandon Anselmini took matching roughing calls with two minutes to go, and Utah held on to win 5-4.
Bradford’s two goals earned him third star of the game, extending his point streak to eight games, while Redmann stopped 31 out of 35 shots.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Daly was hit hard along the boards part way through the third period, and played little, if at all after that point, while Idaho ran into troubles of their own when coach Neil Graham, and defenceman Travis Walsh were both given game misconducts at the end of the game. As a result, Walsh was fined, and Graham was suspended for a game, while Daly did not start on Saturday.
On Saturday, Kevin Boyle returned to the Grizzlies’ lineup after a lengthy – and largely successful – stint in San Diego, getting the start for Utah. C.J. Eick also suited up for the Grizzlies, as Daly’s absence freed up a spot. Consequently, Utah played eleven forwards and five defencemen, while Faragher backed up Boyle.
The first period was fairly uneventful, though by no means boring, both teams playing well, and fairly evenly. Boyle looked strong early, and Utah had the slight edge in special teams. Travis Howe and Jefferson Dahl went off with matching minors at 7:39, and about thirty seconds later, Brandon Anselmini went off after tripping up Cam Reid. After 20, shots were 12-11 for Idaho, and there was no change in score.
The second period saw a great deal more action, much of it not at all in the Grizzlies’ favour. Michael Pelech took a penalty 3:40 into the frame, and no sooner had Utah killed off that minor, then Erik Bradford also found himself in the box. Boyle made some terrific saves, but it was Idaho that scored first just past the half-way mark.
Utah came back strong, drawing a power play of their own a minute later, but nothing came of it. Shortly thereafter, Howe and Baldwin were sent off, and Travis Ewanyk made it 2-0 with under five minutes to go.
Things continued to go badly for the Grizzlies as Phil Pietroniro was shoved into the boards by Connor Chatham. He was sent to the locker room for repairs, while the ice crew cleaned up the blood, and the officials assessed Chatham five minutes for boarding and a game misconduct. Utah closed off the period on the man advantage, but after 40, they remained down 2-0, outshot 24-23, and missing a defenceman.
Unlike so many early period power plays, the remainder of the Grizzlies’ five minute power play proved lethal. Bradford extended his point streak to nine games, when Cuddemi took his feed from behind the Steelheads’ net and made it 1-o a mere 45 seconds in.
Pietroniro returned to the bench a few minutes later, and took the best kind of revenge, scoring the second goal on the Chatham penalty at 2:01 to tie the game.
Austen Brassard took the only other penalty of the third period at 5:26. Nothing came of it, nor of the nastiness that had been developing all game between Martin Nemcik and various Idaho players. Nor, unfortunately, did anything come of Eick’s glorious up-ice rush that saw him make two Steelheads appear as though they were standing still.
60 minutes was not enough to decide the contest, so the game went to over time. Utah dominated the extra frame, putting up five shots to Idaho’s zero, and Cuddemi gave the Grizzlies the win 1:13 into the extra frame.
In the absence of Daly, both Pietroniro and Richart stepped up in a big way, and were the two defencemen Branham relied upon in OT. Each picked up their third point in as many games, ensuring that Utah did not suffer from the loss of Daly’s production or defencive prowess.
Boyle, who had some struggles earlier in the year, looked very sharp, making 31 of 33 saves, as all three Grizzlies goalies picked up a win in Boise.
Cuddemi continues to display the prolific scoring touch that saw him named rookie of the month, picking up goals 21 and 22 to remain the leader in rookie goal-scoring. His two goal performance earned him third star of the contest. Bradford remains the Grizzlies’ leading scorer with 41 points in 33 games for Utah and 43 points in 38 games overall.
In taking all six points against Idaho, Utah is now only four points back of Alaska (though the Aces still have two games in hand), and five behind Idaho as the quest for a playoff spot continues. Moreover, their seven game win streak is currently the longest active winning streak in the league.
The Grizzlies very much need to keep the goals and wins coming as they travel to Alaska to play three straight against the team directly in front of them in the standings.