With the Missouri Mavericks breathing down their necks in the standings, and the next three games on the road against Colorado, Utah very much wanted to pick up a win in the last of the three-game home stand against Idaho.
Just prior to the game, it was announced that Kevin Boyle had been re-assigned to Utah, and that SPHL defenceman Brandon Lubin had been signed to help shore up the defence. Both were in the lineup, and the only other difference in the roster from previous games was the absence of Brad Navin.
The Grizzlies came out flying to start the period getting the first three shots of the game. They then proceeded to carry the play for the majority of the first, skating hard, defending well, and getting quite a number of nice shots.
The level of play from Utah continued to be at a higher level than we’d seen this weekend, and by the half-way mark in the period, shots were 9-4 for Utah, who had by and large dominated play. Offense and defence worked strongly together, supporting each other on both ends, and the speed and work ethic was definitely superior to what we’d seen previously. They hustled to be first on the puck, and when anything got through the defence, Boyle was there with some terrific saves.
Anthony Luciani got two breakaways and came flying in, but both times Boyle shrugged off the shot like it was nothing. Phil Pietroniro took a slashing penalty on the second breakaway, and the Grizzlies went to the penalty kill with 4:44 left in the period.
The Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked good though, and Idaho took an interference penalty against Ralph Cuddemi. Utah got a few chances on the man advantage, including a few big point shots from Pietroniro once they went to the power play.
Idaho took another penalty with 40 seconds to go as Joe Basaraba took an interference call against Kenton Helgesen, but 20 seconds after that, Cam Reid also went to the box, and the period ended on a 4-on-4.
Both teams killed of their penalties early in the period, but sadly, it was Idaho who drew first blood as a rebound beat Boyle in a scramble around the net.
The Grizzlies kept pressing though, and got two three-on-twos in a row thanks to the speed of Pelech, Cuddemi, and Erik Bradford, and then Pelech, C.J. Eick and, Carlos Amestoy, but though they got off a number of shots, they couldn’t beat Landon Bow.
Idaho looked much more awake as the second period progressed, and the Grizzlies had a little bit of trouble handling them. Utah iced the puck, but won the ensuing faceoff, and proceeded to get quite a number of really good scoring chances, including a number of shots from Pietroniro, and a point blank chance from Reid, but Bow remained a brick wall.
The Grizzlies continued to skate well and by the 14 minute mark, Pietroniro and Pelech had five shots a piece while Bradford was right behind them with four.
Both teams exchanged a few minor penalties in the final minutes of the second, and Idaho got in on yet another breakaway, only to be stonewalled yet again by Boyle.
The Grizzlies got an incredible chance of their own at the other end, but were unable to put the puck past Bow as it pin-balled wildly around the blue paint, and Pelech took a penalty.
At the end of 40, shots were 34-21 for Utah, but they had been unable to erase the 1-0 deficit.
Utah killed off the remaining 30 seconds or so of Pelech’s penalty to start the third, but Idaho pushed hard through the third.
With just over fifteen minutes left to go, Helgesen was stapled to the boards, and left the ice favouring his left leg – and leaving the Grizzlies short-handed on defence once again.
6:17 or so into the third, Erik Higby beat Bow, but the puck hit the post and went out of play in heartbreaking fashion. The good news, however, was that Helgesen returned to the bench not long after.
Utah continued to play well, and to generate chances, but none of the bounces went their way, and Bow remained unbeaten by any of the Grizzlies 39 shots.
With 5:09 left to go in the third, Boyle made another nice save look effortless, as he largely had all game, keeping the team within one.
Despite putting up 43 shots on Landon Bow, and pulling Boyle with one minute left for the extra skater, the Grizzlies were unable to tie the game up and fell in regulation.
It was a disappointing outcome, especially considering how well the entire team played from start to finish. Pietroniro, Bradford, and Pelech all picked up six shots a piece, and Boyle turned in a phenomenal 32 save performance, which earned him first star honours.
“Their goaltender definitely won them three games, there’s no doubt about that.” Branham said of the Steelheads’ second star of the game, and his 43 save performance. “He’s good. When you have a .930 save percentage, that’s a pretty good goaltender.”
Of Boyle’s first star performance, and the Grizzlies’ short-handed defence, he said: “Our goalie stopped five breakaways in the first period, and that’s what happens when you have three regular defencemen in the lineup, you’re going to give up chances like that. You’ve just got to weather the storm, and keep pushing on until we either bring guys in or get guys healthy. I really think our guys are doing a good job of doing that.”
However, the game also emphasized some scoring woes, some of which are simply circumstantial, and some which need to be addressed. “We didn’t score a goal today, scored two yesterday, you don’t win scoring that many goals, you’ve got to put the puck in the net more. But that’s probably due to a depleted blue line, so it’s not just your forwards needing to score goals. I thought we generated a lot of shots today, I thought we could have been a little more tenacious on the rebounds that were there, and drive the net a little bit better, you know, kind of get in his face and bump him a little bit when he’s having that much success. The bounces just didn’t go in our way in that regard.”
Brad Navin’s absence from the game was later explained by the announcement of a trade that sent Navin to Alaska, in return for defenceman Marc-André Lévesque.
“He’s a good defenceman. We’ve seen him last year, and seen him this year a lot. He’s a really good D-man. Unfortunately, I really like Brad Navin. He did a great job here, but in order to get something, you have to give up something. It’s the way this game is, and there was no end in sight. We had to get a D-man, we’ve got guys out injured, and I don’t see any time table for them to be back, so you gotta do something. You can’t continue to play with three or four and forward on the back end at this part of the season, so unfortunately, that’s part of the business, and I wish Brad nothing but the best, and I thank him for all his hard work and success, he did a really good job here, it’s sad that we had to do it.”
In 30 games, Lévesque has two goals and 13 assists, 32 penalty minutes, and a +10 rating, and will help bring further stability to the Grizzlies’ depleted blue line.
Utah plays three games in Colorado Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and it is to be hoped that they can both pick up wins, and avoid any further injuries while they’re there.