Utah Grizzlies: Closing the Gap

If Idaho came to Utah motivated, Utah came into game two of the homestand even more so after Friday night’s showing. Colin Martin did not dress, serving the first of his two game suspension, but Carlos Amestoy returned to the lineup, and started in his stead. The Grizzlies remained short-handed on defence.

The Grizzlies looked far more alive than they had the night before in the opening shifts of the first, but it would be Idaho again who struck first. On the next shift out, Mathieu Aubin was tripped up in the offensive zone, and Utah went to the power play.

They were unable to establish any kind of prolonged offensive zone pressure, but the C.J. Eick-Jon Puskar-Brad Navin line caused all sorts of havoc in the offensive zone, and at 7:55 tempers flared. Puskar got tangled with David Glen and Charlie Dodero, and all three were sent to to the box, giving Utah the power play.

The Grizzlies were unable to capitalize, but they looked much better after the stint on the power play, and looked much better through the remainder of the first period, both on the power play and the penalty kill.

As the period went on, it also became clear that the Steelheads were actively targeting Phil Pietroniro as the Grizzlies’ best remaining defenceman, even taking out Faragher at one point as collateral damage.

Both Jefferson Dahl Pietroniro took penalties later in the period, but at the end of 20, Idaho led 1-0, and shots were 13-10 for Utah.

Utah opened the second period with 1:42 on the Pietroniro penalty kill, but killed it off, and proceeded to look much more like their usual selves through the minutes that followed. Idaho continued to gun for Pietroniro, but he responded by getting a number of big shots, and allowing the Grizzlies to maintain offensive zone pressure.

The the second period belonged solely to Utah, as they looked far more like the team that won nine out of ten games, than the one that limped through the the last two contests. As the game progressed, Higby became the only forward to consistently line up as a defenceman, and he started looking far more comfortable in that spot, giving Utah another mobile defender they very much needed – though Pietroniro still seemed hardly ever to leave the ice.

As the period went along, Puskar and Eick were robed of gorgeous chances, as was Ralph Cuddemi while Faragher, when tested at all, made some big saves.

At the buzzer the Grizzlies still trailed 1-0, but they were well and truly in this game.

Unfortunately, after all the good work, the Steelheads scored on a gorgeous shot scarcely twenty seconds into the period. Higby took a slashing penalty in the immediate aftermath, but Cuddemi and Bradford got one of their usual short-handed offensive zone jaunts, followed by one from Cam Reid and Austen Brassard, and the Grizzlies returned to full strength.

Travis Howe took a roughing penalty at 6:06, but Utah played exceptionally well, and a beautiful up-ice rush from Bradford followed by a perfect read of Bow’s pass gave the Grizzlies a lengthy offensive zone that killed off the majority of the short-handed situation.

At the half-way mark, the Grizzlies finally solved Bow, as Michael Pelech scored his 13th of the year with assists from Howe and Higby.

Utah continued to skate hard, and at 15:56, Puskar off a gorgeous up-ice rush with an equally gorgeous goal to tie the game.

In the final minutes of the period, Nemcik, Pelech, and Jefferson Dahl all went to the box, but the Grizzlies killed the short-handed situation, and the game went to overtime. Utah played quite well in the extra frame, Erik Bradford especially controlling the puck in the offensive zone for an extended period of time, and eventually forcing Idaho to take a penalty. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were unable to capitalize, and the game went to the shoot out.

Faragher allowed only one goal in the shoot out, but none of the Utah skaters was able to beat Bow, and the Grizzlies fell 2-1.

While the loss was disheartening, to say the least, the Grizzlies did pick up a point, and move within two of the Alaska Aces. They also played far more like the Utah team that had won nine of ten coming into this weekend – despite being short-handed. Erik Higby was the lone forward who remained on defence as the game progressed, which seemed to help, as Utah no longer looked lost in their own end.

“He’s done a great job back there,” Tim Branham said of Higby’s performance. “It’s a lot to ask for for a forward. He’s done an amazing job. Definitely lucky that he’s been able to transition to the back end there.”

“Monday’s going to be a big test.” He added. “Everyone’s gotta be ready. It’s a big game for us, a big game in the standings, so we’ve gotta take advantage of it.”

The Pink in the Rink jersey auction was, as it always is, a rousing success. Ryan Faragher’s jersey went for a record breaking $3,500, and the team raised 30,000 dollars in total.

Utah plays their third game against Idaho this afternoon, where they hope to pick up two points and catch Alaska, as well as to hold off the Missouri Mavericks who are currently tied with them in the standings.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s