On yet another snowy evening, the Grizzlies faced off against Jon Puskar, Ralph Cuddemi, and the Wichita Thunder, and absolutely buried them on the first half of the Grizzlies Fight Cancer weekend.
Wichita’s Johnny Daniels came flying in, and in fighting him off, Rob Mann took a tripping call 50 seconds in. Utah was very aggressive on the penalty kill, and Wichita only took two shots. A nice defensive play from Sam Windle kept the shots at 2-1 with about four minutes gone.
The Thunder took a too-many-men minor at 4:06, and the puck found it’s way onto Navin’s stick, but the power play was ineffectual. However, barely had the penalty expired, than Utah went back to the advantage as Daniels stepped out of the box, and was a little too enthusiastic in his play against Taylor Richart.
Utah wasn’t able to capitalize on the power play, but barely a second after they returned to full strength, Michael Pelech scored with assists from Richart and Mitch Maxwell, who got his first point with Utah.
The Grizzlies went right back to the power play again at 8:36 as Cuddemi went to the box for slashing. Utah wasn’t able to capitalize, Gage Ausmus took an interference call on Puskar, Sam Windle took a tripping call, and before Shane Starrett could get off the ice for the extra attacker, Cuddemi made it 1-1 at 11:51. Utah killed off Windle’s penalty, but the parade to the penalty box was by no means over.
A couple of minutes later, Travis Howe, and Samuel Thibault dropped the gloves, and Howe pummeled Thibault pretty thoroughly before the refs intervened. Howe got an extra two for removing his helmet, but in the end it didn’t matter, as Ryan Misiak took a perfect pass from Ryan Walters behind the net, and fired it home to restore Utah’s lead. Ausmus picked up his first point on the secondary assist.
Walters almost got a shorty of his own on the next shift, flying in, and getting a back-hander off on Starrett. Rumpel and Brendan Harms were big in killing off the rest of the power play, and they drew another power play in the offensive zone.
The Grizzlies initially had a little bit of trouble with the puck, but in the end it didn’t matter, as Brendan Harms beat Starrett top shelf from in the top of the blue paint to give Utah the 3-1 lead. It was fortunate that he did, as less than a minute later a shot from Puskar went off Rumpel’s glove and in.
It was a pretty sloppy period, but it had some of everything: a fight, a power play goal, a short handed goal, an even strength goal, good goals, bad goals, and lots, and lots of special teams. But Utah led 3-2 going into the first intermission, shots 8-6 for Wichita, and that’s as close as the game ever got.
The Thunder put on some pressure through the early moments of the second, but the Grizzlies re-established their game, and got some pressure of their own back around the four minute mark.
The Captain struck at 5:55, banking the puck off the post and in, on a really nice shot, making it yet another game where they put four past the generally very stingy Starrett. Sam Babintsev got his first point with the Grizzlies with an assist.
Utah went back to the power play at 6:39, but the Thunder killed it off, allowing no shots, and Howe went back to the box on a high-stick at 9:32. Harms didn’t miss by much on a chance for his second of the game with less than 30 seconds left on the Howe minor, and Utah returned to full strength.
The Grizzlies really got buzzing with over six to go, getting a couple of strong shifts swarming around Starrett, and the puck continued to follow Misiak around. Given the game Misiak was having, it perhaps came as no surprise when he pounced on a turnover, and scored his second of the game unassisted. Clearly, Misiak likes playing the Thunder, as all four of his last goals have come against them.
It was Starrett’s last shot of the game, and Nick Riopel took over the net in relief.
Mann took a cross-checking call at 16:58, the Grizzlies blocked all kinds of shots, Pelech beat out Travis Brown on the short-handed breakaway, and then beat Riopel cleanly for the 6-2 goal. Again, the short-handed goal was fortunate, as Cuddemi scored his second of the game about twenty seconds later on another that Rumpel probably wanted back.
After 40, the Grizzlies led 6-3, and had barely edged out the Thunder 14-13 on the shot clock.
Despite leading by three goals, Utah didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the final frame.
Ortega went off for high-sticking eight seconds into the period, but despite getting four shots, Rumpel and the defensive effort shut them down.
Misiak made a bid for the hat trick about three and a half minutes in, but Walters’ pass rolled off his stick.
Harms got stapled to the boards hard with about six minutes gone with no call, and when Howe went out on the next shift, it looked like it might have been for another fight. Instead, however, on a night of first points, Howe scored his first of the year from Babintsev and Jake Marchment. Fortunately for the injury-bitten Grizzlies, Harms was out again, seemingly none the worse for wear pretty soon thereafter.
Misiak made yet another bid for the hat trick half way through the third, but Riopel turned that aside as well. James Melindy was taken down around the seven minute mark, and there was again no penalty. He took matters into his own hands against Nick Latta and got two for cross-checking, two for unsportsmanlike conduct, and was tossed from the game. The 5,751 fans in attendance were vehement in their disapproval, but the penalty kill was more than up to the task. Rumpel, Richart, and Walters were especially noticeable, but the entire squad stepped up.
Utah continued to play hard in the last couple of minutes after the penalty kill and with 1:46 to go, they had once last go at the power play. Navin and Pelech both got shots in the last minute, Howe made a couple of moves, and at the final buzzer, they were the 7-3 victors.
It wasn’t, perhaps, Rumpel’s best game, but he made some big saves when Utah needed them, and considering how much Monday’s victory was due to his performance, it was excellent that the team was able to respond with an outpouring of goals to return the favor. Misiak’s assist and two goals earned him first star honors, while Pelech (two goals) and Walters (one goal and one assist) picked up the second and third stars. Richart and Babintsev also had multiple points, both getting two assists, while all but four players picked up points.
“The changes we made, honestly, made a world of difference.” Tim Branham said after the game. “Getting a goalie like Rumpel, he’s played some great games for us. I’m sure he wanted a couple back out there tonight, but it was our turn to get him a win from the win that he got us against Idaho. The Colorado boys that we got, Ausmus and Marchment, those guys are just spectacular. We’re really rolling all cylinders right now, we’re a real confidant group, but we’re playing the right way. We’re seeing a lot of the little things that we’ve been preaching all year. We’re doing, whether a lot of shot blocking, winning your battles, chipping pucks up the wall, third guy high, or something, we’re doing a lot of things that successful teams do.”
Of the game’s first star, he added: “Ryan was great. When he’s moving his feet and being opportunistic, good things happen. He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. He loves here, and tonight he was definitely spectacular.”
The guys picking up their first points came in for a share of praise, and so did the rest of the team. “Those guys are a big part of our team. Babs [Babintsev] came in, has done real well, Maxwell, coming in from Canadian university, he’s really poised with the puck. He’s an older guy coming out of collage, so you can tell he’s real poised out there, real confident guy. Obviously Howie, we know what he’s all about. Everybody from top to bottom was really playing with a lot of confidence. They’re playing a team game. The most important thing is that we understand that yes, we’ve accomplished a little bit, but we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve just got to keep going, we’ve got quite a few games left in the season, and we just have to make sure that we’re playing well.”
“I think we’re just desperate.” Misiak said when asked about why everything has been coming together for the team. “We know the situation we’re in, we’re climbing in the standings, but we haven’t done anything yet, so we just have to continue to move forward.”
They will look to do that tonight (Saturday) and close out the series against the Thunder on another high note on the final Grizzlies Fight Cancer night.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and Staff