The Grizzlies are finally home after a marathon road trip that saw them take five out of six games and climb within three points of a playoff spot.
With Tim Daly, Taylor Richart, Evan Stoflet, and Mike Banwell all injured, Utah only had four defensemen; Phil Pietroniro, Martin Nemcik, Kenton Helgesen, and newcomer Sean Robertson.
Wearing their Pink in the Rink jerseys, the Grizzlies faced off against a hungry Idaho team, looking to avenge a three game sweep in their own barn – a goal they accomplished in a painfully thorough manner.
The game began well enough for the Grizzlies, as they picked up the first two shots through the early going. Due to the shortage in defensemen, a number of forwards took shifts on the back end.
Unfortunately, it was not to last. Idaho scored first as Ryan Faragher got the initial shot, but was unable to collar Joe Basaraba’s rebound.
Basaraba got his second goal at 8:10 of the period as he fired the puck through a screen, and it popped over Faragher’s head.
Idaho scored yet another as Anthony Luciani got behind the Grizzlies, and beat Faragher clean at 15:36.
Idaho scored their fourth goal of the period on an Erik Higby penalty less than a minute later as yet another rebound uncharacteristically beat Faragher. Troy Redmann took over the pipes with just over three minutes left in the frame.
Utah looked slightly less disjointed to start the second period, but Idaho scored their fifth of the game as the puck slipped past Redmann.
About three minutes into the period, Howe and Helgesen got caught up in what rapidly turned into a a full line scramble. Howe got the best of four or five Idaho players, and was assessed five for fighting, two for slashing, and ten for continued altercation. Chatham got two for roughing, and Howe was sent to the room to thunderous applause from the Grizzlies fans in attendance.
Michael Pelech took a roughing call at 5:05, and Idaho scored on the ensuing 5-on-3. The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Howe’s five minutes thanks, in large part, to some nice short-handed work from Cuddemi and Bradford.
Jon Puskar got a nice chance on the rush with just over 10 to go in the second, and though Bow stopped the shot, the Grizzlies drew a power play. They were unable to make anything of it, however, and C.J. Eick took a boarding call.
Things looked up, briefly for the Grizzlies, as Brad Navin got in on a short-handed breakaway, and made it 6-1 , and Utah killed off the rest of the Eick penalty in style.
They closed the gap in shots through the rest of the second, and got a few good chances, but were unable to get another past Bow before the period ended.
In the first 25 seconds of the third, Pietroniro’s point shot was tipped into a sea of players, Idaho iced the puck, and Howe returned to the bench. Puskar’s hard back-checking negated what might have otherwise been a 1-on-0 against Redmann, and Idaho iced the puck again as the Grizzlies out-skated Idaho early in the frame.
But alas, barely three minutes into the frame, Idaho came the other way, and scored yet again to make it 7-1.
Pelech and Chatham tangled at 4:45, with Pelech getting four for roughing, and Chatham getting two for slashing. Bradford and Cuddemi got two beautiful chances short handed, and the teams returned to full strength.
With 12:07 to go, the Grizzlies took possession of the puck off a scrambled offensive zone draw. Colin Martin came around the back of the net, and scored on the wrap-around to make it 6-2 with assists to Eick and Puskar.
However, as was the case all night, the Grizzlies’ better stretches were immediately followed by disaster. Higby took a slashing penalty immediately after the goal, and the Steelheads made it 8-2 on the ensuing man-advantage. Puskar was thrown out immediately thereafter for abuse of an official, and that was pretty much the game.
The final ten minutes of the period saw no change in score, and the Grizzlies ultimately fell to Idaho 8-2, outshot to the tune of 41-33.
With all the turnover on the back end, the Grizzlies frequently looked like a team struggling to be in the right spots defensively. Couple that with half the team suffering from the flu (possibly contributing to the uncharacteristically rough performances from their goaltenders), and a highly motivated Idaho team, and you have a very unpleasant night all around.
However, the Grizzlies rarely turn in back-to-back stinkers, and after the game, it was clear that they were already thinking ahead.
“We had three of our normal defensemen in the lineup, one call-up,” said Coach Branham after the game. “Half our team’s got the flu, and it just wasn’t our night on top of that. Some lost puck battles that ended up in the back of our net, it was just one of those games, that’s for sure. Obviously, tomorrow is going to be a different story. We are short handed, but it wasn’t our best effort, and we just need regroup here and come back tomorrow.”
He also mentioned that there is no timetable for the return of the Grizzlies’ missing defensemen, so Utah is going to have to find a way to make do.
Colin Martin, who scored the Grizzlies’ second goal of the game, expressed similar sentiments.
“Every night you’re going to go through tough times. Obviously, it’s not what we want right now, but we’re a team that can play over top of that, and we just didn’t give our best showing tonight. They outworked us tonight, and that can’t happen.”
“It’s already over for us.” he added. “We’ve been playing really well lately, everybody. Right from the goalies, right up to the forwards, the defence, have been playing phenomenal. Obviously you’re going to have your off game, tonight was our off game, and tomorrow, we’ll be back.”
The Grizzlies are back in action Saturday night for the second Pink in the Rink game, which will feature the names of players’ and fans’ loved ones on the ice, and the jersey auction after the game.
Utah remains three points out of a playoff spot, despite the loss, as Alaska also lost to Colorado.