With three disappointing losses under their belts, Utah came into Wichita looking to bounce back, especially on the defensive end of things. With Travis Howe out with a two game suspension, and James Melindy scratched with a day-to-day injury, Utah went back to ten forwards but played only and five defensemen, Mitch Jones drawing back in on the blue line. Kevin Carr once more got the start.
The first line of Ryan Walters, Jon Puskar, and Kyle Thomas started for the Grizzlies, and were followed by a strong shift from Brendan Harms, and the other two Ryans, who got the first shot of the game.
Misiak, Olsen, Zach Saar, and Sam Windle had a great shift, crashing the Thunder net, and Saar dropped the gloves with Cory Melkert at 3:21. Five minutes into an 0-0 game, shots were 8-2 for the Grizzlies.
Wichita had a brief stretch of possession shortly thereafter, but Utah responded well, and the Thunder took a delay of game penalty with 13:09 to go. They didn’t capitalize, but they held possession for nearly the entire advantage.
The Grizzlies’ strong, structured play continued through the first half of the period, out-shooting Wichita 11-4.
The defensive woes of the Pelech and Ortega line continued, and after a strong shift from the Thunder in the offensive zone, Evan Polei roofed it on Carr to give them the 1-0 lead, despite the 12-6 shot advantage for Utah.
It looked like Wichita had scored again moments later, but the linesmen went racing in, and after a brief conference, the goal was waived off with 5:13 to go.
Olsen made a couple of good plays, which ultimately culminated in a pass to Misiak through some bodies. Misiak pulled it around Shane Starrett, and into the net to tie the game up at 17:42. Ortega got the secondary assist.
After 20, Utah out-shout Wichita 20-8, goals one apiece.
The Grizzlies came out buzzing to start the second, getting the first three shots of the frame. Windle got a nice shot 16 seconds in, and then Brendan and the Ryans had a strong shift.
It eventually payed off. Olsen dished to Higby, and Higby batted it past Starrett, giving Utah the 2-1 lead.
Wichita then took two penalties in quick succession, and Puskar made it 3-1 from Ortega and Walters on the two-man advantage. Carr kept it a two goal lead, shutting down a one-on-none with roughly eight minutes gone, and Utah drew yet another power play.
They were unable to capitalize, and Chris Leibinger just missed scoring a gorgeous goal, as he flew in, and sniped on Starrett. Unfortunately for Utah, though he beat Starrett, the puck hit the post, and rolled to the wrong side.
Misiak took an offensive zone penalty with 3:15 to go, and after lengthy offensive zone possession, Wichita drew within one.
Brendan, the Ryans, and Cliff Watson buzzed around Starrett after he goal, but after 40, Utah headed out with a 3-2 lead, and a 38-18 shot lead.
Wichita took a face-off violation just 17 seconds into the period, but Utah was unable to beat the determined kill, and the Thunder returned to full strength.
Momentum swayed back and forth, first Colin Martin and the Thunder varying play, then Higby and Pelech, then the Thunder again through the first ten, as Wichita pressured, and Utah’s structured play briefly fell apart under it.
Jones took an elbowing call at 8:19, but Utah gave up relatively few looks, Walters got in on a short-handed breakaway, and Carr made a save right as the kill expired.
Another unforced error from the Thunder (too many men this time) led to another Utah power play, but the Grizzlies struggled again, Olsen and Harms having to hustle back to break up a good Wichita short-handed look.
With 5:49 to go, Jones took another penalty, but fortunately, the penalty kill looked far more dangerous than their power play had in its last two outings, and Carr held down the fort.
With less than two minutes to go, Starrett went to the bench, but the Grizzlies controlled play in the offensive zone, holding the puck for almost fifteen seconds. The Thunder got a little too excited and got caught with seven men on the ice with 46 seconds to go.
Wichita once more pulled their goalie to skate five on five, and held possession of the puck, but for the second time that night, Walters pounced on the puck at the Utah blue line, and despite the best efforts of Jeremy Beaudry, pulled away, and scored into the empty net with ten seconds to go. Olsen got his third assist of the night
It was a fitting end to a pretty strong game, in which Utah out-shot Wichita 42-27 to halt the skid at three.
Olsen appeared to be more engaged than he had been for several games past, shooting more in the first period than he had in the four previous games combined. It certainly payed off, as he got three primary assists, and made some big moves on both ends of the ice, as well as playing a role on the power play and penalty kill.
The play of Misiak and Olsen earned them both stars, Misiak picking up the first star, while Olsen received the third.
The same two teams square off tonight before Utah returns home for their Monday afternoon match against Rapid City.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.