Utah Grizzlies: Uphill Battle

Wednesday’s game saw the Grizzlies debut of new center Todd Skirving, as well as the second games from Mitch Hults and Nate Mitton. Brad Navin centered Ryan Walters and Kyle Thomas, while James Melindy and Cliff Watson started in front of Sean Maguire. Ryan Faragher got the start for Idaho.

The game got off to a fairly leisurely start, neither team coming out particularly energized. Idaho skated more, but Utah passed much more cleanly.

The Steelheads held Utah in their own zone around the four minute mark, but Utah allowed only two shots to get through to Maguire, and Jones getting Utah’s first shot shortly thereafter against Faragher. That shift seemed to wake the Grizzlies up, as they took the game to the Steelheads with much ore vigor after it.

Utah drew the first power play of the game at 8:56, but Idaho scored shorthanded when the puck trickled just past Maguire’s out-stretched toe. Idaho returned to full strength, and just under a minute later, made it 2-0.

Unfortunately, they gave up another at 15:27, and Maguire’s night was over. Angus Redmond came in, and on the next shift, Navin just missed putting the Grizzlies on the board.

With just a couple of tenths of a minute to go, Redmond drew a goaltender interference call, and Utah limped out of the period, out-shot 11-7, and down 3-0.

They opened the second with nearly a full two minutes on the advantage, and the Grizzlies capitalized. Hults isn’t exactly flashy, but he does little things that just put him on another level, and that was very much in evidence as he quarterbacked the advantage. He held the puck in the zone, and his play eventually led to the power play tally from Walters..

Utah got their third straight power play opportunity as Eric Sweetman put the puck over the glass. They did not capitalize. Birthday boy Kyle Thomas flew into the zone at 7:36, but had his gorgeous opportunity taken away with a slash across the hands. It probably could have been a penalty shot, but Utah drew another power play.

In the end, the result was probably the same. Austin Ortega took a cross-ice pass right on the tape and wired the puck past Faragher to make it 3-2. The lead did not last along. On the next shift, Utah took a penalty, Faragher sprinted off for the extra skater, and Zach Bell made it 4-2.

Utah continued to work, however, Redmond made a snappy glove save, Ortega made a really nice play, and Utah drew another power play. They were unable to capitalize, though Walters rang iron, and at the end of 40, shots were 20-20, 4-2 for the Steelheads.

Idaho got the best of the first couple of minutes of the third, but thanks to a couple of nice defensive plays from Watson, they got through with apparently no shots.

2:23 into the period, the Grizzlies got set up in the offensive zone, and Navin caught the Steelheads completely by surprise, scoring from the slot, completely unobstructed in front of Faragher.

Utah got another power play opportunity, but were unable to get going, and in a scramble around the net, Redmond lost his footing, and the puck went in off his back.

Thomas drew another power play at 11:03 as he was tripped up, and an absolutely insane scramble around Faragher sent the puck right onto Navin’s stick. Once again, uncontested, he put the puck past Faragher to put Utah within one.

With 4:03 to go, Thomas flew into the offensive zone, and the Captain tied the game. Walters’ second goal sent the game to overtime tied 5-5, shots 31-30 for Utah.

It was certainly a high-intensity OT, both teams flying about, and players on both sides making some great plays. Idaho took a too many men penalty with just 57 seconds to go, but at the buzzer, the game was still tied.

An equally nerve-wracking shoot-out followed, in which Richart scored, Thomas was allowed to shoot twice as a result of interference from Faragher, Redmond turned in a strong showing, but Idaho scored two to Utah’s one.

It was a disappointing result, but considering how grim things had looked at the end of the first period, and how entertaining a game it became as the Grizzlies drew ever closer.

All three stars went to Utah, Navin and Walters getting the first two with two goals a piece, and Redmond being named the third for his relief and shoot-out performance.

When asked about the effort displayed in the comeback, Tim Branham said, “That’s what I just told them. Very proud of coming back and getting a point. We actually started out the game really good until that first power play. Then we decided to take it easy when you have to out work them. When we decided to outwork them, we scored three power play goals right? So at the end of the day, we got a point, but we’re going to play the guys who want to be here, and want to put in a full sixty minute effort.”

“He gave us a chance to win there in the shoot out.” Branham said of Redmond’s third star performance. “I thought he did a good job coming in in relief. He kept us in it, and allowed us to come back and get a point. We had four chances to win it in the shoot out, so can’t fault him at all.”

Navin’s thoughts on the game were in the same vein. “Like Coach said after the game, we came out and we thought we were playing well, then all of a sudden, the power play came, and kind of depleted us as a team, then we had to fight back. Like he said after the game we gotta be sick of making it hard on ourselves and come back like that. But it shows what kind of group we’ve got, the willingness of guys to go in and win battles, make a comeback, make an effort, it shows guys are still trying, we’ve guys who want to win.”

Tonight (Friday’s) game in Idaho kicks off a lengthy road trip that will see the Grizzlies play in Idaho, Rapid City, and Allen before returning to the Maverik Center on Monday the 19th.

Wednesday’s highlights/Friday’s game preview

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

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