From start to finish, it was a bizarre affair.
To begin with, Utah came out sluggishly on Friday night, but still managed to score a trio of goals against Rapid City, the first an excellent jam-in from Jon Puskar, the second from Ryan Olsen, and the third also from Puskar. It wasn’t so much that they played well, as that they were opportunistic, and Adam Vey struggled.
Former Grizz Peter Sivak also scored, but the luck seemed to be tipped entirely in the Grizzlies’ favor.
Then, just when it seemed that the second period was about to get underway, they discovered issues with the ice in front of the Grizzlies’ bench and also behind the net. After a lengthy delay in which they attempted to repair the ice, it was decided that the best course of action was to postpone the end of the game.
So the game was re-scheduled for Sunday, Utah leading 3-1, and outshooting the Rush 13-8.
The second pass at the second period saw Brendan Harms, Ryan Olsen and Rob Mann out for Austin Ortega, James Melindy and Zach Saar.
The team looked decent at the start, Ortega looking more comfortable and making a few nice moves, while Puskar made an early bid for the hat trick.
Unfortunately, Charley Graaskamp went hard into the boards shortly thereafter, had to be helped off the ice, and did not return (he was later placed on injured reserve). That’s more or less when the issues started.
The Grizzlies gave up a number of breakaways on defensive breakdowns, most of which Kevin Carr turned aside until just after the seven-minute mark. Utah gave up an unassisted goal to Tyler Deresky on a bad turn over.
Utah had a few decent shifts afterwards, sparked by a strong one from Puskar, together with Erik Higby and Travis Howe. Their work eventually led to a power play at the half-way mark of the period. However, Michael Pelech took a roughing call a minute or so later, and despite some strong shifts from Utah, and Ryan Misiak especially, the various penalties came to an end.
Despite a strong effort from Garrett Haar, and Mitch Jones, the next goal went to the Rush with five minutes left, followed less than a minute later by the go-ahead goal.
When the second period came to a merciful end, Utah had been utterly out-played their top line an abysmal -3, and a two-goal lead squandered.
The third period did not begin any more auspiciously, Jones taking a penalty less than two minutes in. That was killed off, but then first Saar and then Pelech went to the box, and Rapid City scored on both the five-on-three and five-on-four to give them the 6-3 lead. That was the end of Carr’s night.
His departure seemed to serve as a wake-up call the Grizzlies needed, and their play improved.
It seemed like it was destined to be derailed, however, after Melindy went down to a spear. At first it seemed that Melindy alone was going to go off for unsportsmanlike conduct, but in the end he got two and ten, while Pavel Jenys got five for spearing, and a game misconduct.
Pelech made it 6-4 at 16:10 on the power play, giving Ortega his first point in a Utah jersey, and Ortega followed that up with a power play goal of his own at 18:37 with the net empty, and the Grizzlies playing with the extra skater.
Unfortunately, that’s as close as they got, and Sivak capped off his hat trick into the empty net with ten seconds to spare.
“I think it’s a classic example of not coming ready to play.” Tim Branham said after the game, “Built a 3-1 lead there on Friday, maybe thought, once again, that it was going to be easy, and didn’t have that killer instinct. Too little too late at the end, and gave up too many scoring chances.”
Of the struggles the Grizzlies had in the second, he said, “Your best players have to be your best players. You can’t have that top line be -3, they’re the ones that dug us into that hole, whether it was their fault or not, they were on the ice for it. I think a lot of different guys were at fault for those goals in the second period, but we just, not enough time to get ourselves out of that one. Learn from it, get out on the road here, and have a good road trip.”
So what do they need to work on besides being more prepared? “Our power play needs to improve, we’ve been saying that all season, it’s tough to defend there that five on three. I thought our penalty kill was doing pretty good, the two power play goals that they got, one’s a five-on-three, one’s just a bad, broken play. Our five on five play, it was disappointing that we couldn’t take more advantage of Rapid City five-on-five. I think that was the story of the weekend, and we’ve got a little bit of a tough hill to climb.”
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming & staff