Utah Grizzlies: The Phantom Menace

After winning 8-3 against the Rush on Friday night, the Grizzlies’ line-up remained unchanged, with the exception of Angus Redmond getting the start.

Utah got the first two shots of the game, but the Rush answered quickly, getting the next four, and throwing their weight around. The Grizzlies got some looks in the first five minutes, but by-and-large, Rapid City kept the play moving towards the Utah zone.

With 14:08 to go, the Ryan Line charged the net, Ryan Olsen got the shot, and they drew the first power play of the game. They drew another power play when Peter Sivak got a throwing-the-stick call. The Grizzlies got a couple of shots on the minute long five-on-three, re-establishing their shot lead, but they were unable to put the puck past former Utah goalie Shane Owen.

One thing the power play did, however, was allow the Grizzlies to take back momentum from a Rush team working hard after the 8-3 drubbing. Olsen got a shot off one-on-one against Owen on a tight angle with 9:52 to go, but Owen kept it scoreless.

Chris Leibinger made a couple of huge blocks in the defensive zone, that led to an odd-man rush between Kyle Thomas and Ryan Misiak. Misiak put the puck past Owen, and gave Utah the 1-0 lead from Thomas and Redmond. The goal energized the team, and they started to absolutely fly. Michael Pelech got a gorgeous shot of his own, and Tommy Maxwell got sent to the box with 6:31 to go in the frame.

On the power play, Olsen got slashed, and then stapled to the boards, but Utah kept control of the puck. Kyle Thomas got into it with a Rush player in front of the net, and got sent off to the box with 4:50 to go, and 20 seconds left on the Maxwell penalty. The penalty kill returned to its former state, however, Hanson getting a short-handed chance, and then killing it off.

With 2:26 to go, Kenton Miller boarded Taylor Richart, and Erik Higby made him pay. Richart and Olsen got the assists on Higby’s second in two games.

After 20, Utah led 2-0, shots 20-13 tying their season high. Redmond’sย  play definitely held the Grizzlies in it early on.

The teams traded opportunities and zone time in the first five minutes, but once again, Owen and Redmond were up to the challenge. Utah drew a power play with 15:24 to go, but were unable to capitalize.

The Grizzlies did not exactly make Redmond’s life easy in the second period, and he came up pretty big for them. With almost exactly 10 minutes left in the period, Sam Windle rang the post.

That post could have been haunting, as Richart took a delay of game penalty with 8:40 to go. They were able to kill it off, but an egregious turn over left Maxwell all alone in the slot. He beat Redmond, and cut the lead in half with 6:25 to go in the second.

Shortly thereafter, they had another bad turnover, but fortunately, nothing came of that one. Utah returned to their puck possession game with about four minutes to go from all their lines.

Owen stood on his head on a flurry of shots from a determined first line jumped on some rebounds. At the buzzer, Misiak got bumped at the boards, and Walters and Olsen objected vehemently. Olsen and Maxwell took matching roughing calls, and the refs herded the teams to the locker room. After 40, shots were 28-21 for Utah (but 8-8 in the frame), and the score 2-1.

The third period opened with two solid minutes of four-on-four, but then the Rush pressured. The third line got the engine going again, but Owen made a couple of big saves on Zach Saar and C.J. Eick, and Redmond was called upon to make a save of his own as the puck went the other way. Misiak and Walters got an odd-man rush as well, but again Owen shut the door.

With 13:13 left, Rapid City once again capitalized on Utah sloppiness, erasing the lead.

Greger Hanson restored the lead, 1:14 after the Rush tied it, once again started by a Leibinger play. The assists on Hanson’s eighth went to Leibinger and Pelech.

Rapid City continued to skate hard, Misiak got a break-away that went wide, and at 10:08, Thomas restored the two goal lead on a dazzling display of skill. Hanson and Olsen got the assists 1:51 after the game was tied.

Maxwell went back to the box for roughing immediately after that, but they didn’t extend the lead. Unfortunately, Utah was unable to get the puck out of their own end shortly after that, and Rapid City closed the lead again with seven minutes to go, as they refused to go away.

Navin, Higby, and Saar got a two on one, and helped re-establish puck possession.

With just a bit over four minutes to go, Hanson beat out an icing, and threw the puck across crease to Pelech, who put the puck past Owen for his eighth of the year.

Rapid City got in on a breakaway, Redmond made a terrific save, and Richart whisked the rebound out of harm’s way with less than two minutes to go.

The Rush pulled Owen with a minute to go, Utah held possession, but were unable to get a shot on the empty net. With 23 seconds to go, the Rush drew within one, scoring short-side, and then taking their time out.

Olsen won the face-off following the time out, keeping Owen stuck in his net. Redmond made the save with nine seconds left. Olsen again took the draw in the defensive zone, as Rapid City pulled Owen once more. The Rush got control of the puck, but Redmond pounced on the puck. With four seconds to go, Branham called his time out. Olsen won the final face-off, and when the final buzzer sounded, Utah had held on for their second straight win.

Thomas (1G, 1A, 3 shots), Pelech (1G, 2A, 5 shots), and Olsen (2A, 4 shots) were named the three stars of the game, while Redmond got his second win of the season. Misiak now has goals in consecutive games, and seven points in the last six, while Olsen now has eight points in six games, including five over the weekend. The first line, meanwhile combined for a total of seven points on Saturday, and a total of 15 in the last two. Higby also has goals in two straight.

“I thought our guys did a good job of creating scoring chances,” Coach Branham said after the game. “It was good to see. I mean, we were on a huge scoring drought, and playing good hockey, we just couldn’t put the puck in the net. Now we’ve done eight and five. We just gotta keep that rolling, we’re playing a good team next week in Colorado, we’re gonna need that same effort out of everybody to come out with the win.”

When asked what the team needs to do to carry on their winning ways against Colorado–who they have yet to beat this season–he added:

“Just play the same way, all the games have been one goal, except for one or something, but it’s a different story when you have Thomas down, and you’ve got that fire power, those two lines that are playing with a lot of confidence right now. I like our chances. I thought our D were a little tired out there today, going two nights back-to-back going with five D I thought put a little stress on them, but Colorado is good, we gotta be disciplined. They’re good on the power play, we’ve just gotta make sure we play a solid game, and score on our scoring chances the last two games.”

Utah will play the Eagles twice in Loveland, before finishing off the year at home against Colorado and Idaho.

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff

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