Utah Grizzlies: Worth Fighting For

With the exception of Sean Maguire in for Joel Rumpel, the winning lineup remained unchanged on the second and final night of Grizzlies Fight Cancer weekend. On the other end of the ice, after his Utah related struggles, Wichita didn’t go with Shane Starrett, instead starting Nick Riopel. As everyone knows, familiarity breeds contempt, and there was a great deal more chippiness in the last game of the season between the Thunder and the Grizzlies.

The game did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, as Utah lost control of the puck, and the Thunder got the first couple of shots of the night.

However, the Grizzlies drew the first power play of the game at 2:41, and their special teams success continued, as Jake Marchment made it 1-0 at 3:38. Sam Windle took a tripping call almost immediately afterwards, as the previous game’s trend of a tightly called match continued. The kill was strong though, and they returned to full strength.

Brad Navin and Austin Ortega got in on a two-on-one at about the eight minute mark, but Riopel calmly gloved Ortega’s shot.

The chances continued to go both ways, but Utah eventually took over the shots, going from down 5-1 on the shot counter, to up 6-5 by the half-way mark.

Gage Ausmus took a bit of a bump behind the Grizzlies net at 11:06, and dropped the gloves with Travis Ewanyk. He hauled him down emphatically to the great delight of the home crowd. Both got sent off for five minutes to cool their heels.

A mere couple of minutes later, Travis Howe and Etienne Boutet got tangled up between the benches, and dropped the gloves, eventually joining their teammates in the box with 5:28 to go.

Unfortunately, it was the Thunder who struck next, as the puck skipped over Maguire’s glove and in at 15:29. The goal came off a pretty lengthy shift in their own end for the Grizzlies.

However, the game did not stay tied for long. Ralph Cuddemi went to the box for slashing, and Ortega beat Riopel on a perfectly placed laser of a shot from Taylor Richart and Sam Babintsev.

Wichita pressed hard in the final moments of the first, but after 20, shots were 12-9 for Utah, who led 2-1.

Mitton took a high-sticking call at 4:16 in the second, but Jon Puskar negated it moments afterwards on the trip. The Thunder tied it up as Jeremy Beaudry capitalized on a defensive lapse, swept around a swarm of players, and put the puck past Maguire.

Brendan Harms had a lovely look on the four second power play that followed, beating the Wichita defenseman, but Riopel was unphased. Rob Mann and Puskar got into a bit of a jousting match, but separated before anything was called.

Navin got a good shot off, and Michael Pelech tangled with Kevin Patterson at 7:42. Pelech got two for cross-checking, two for roughing, while Patterson got two for high-sticking and two for roughing.

Cuddemi came flying in alone on the next shift, and tried to slip one past Maguire five-hole, but he shut the door. For all that, though the Grizzlies were by no means hemmed in their own zone, the Thunder continued to roll along in a concerning fashion.

Ortega got hauled down on what should have been a clean breakaway, and though it could have been a penalty shot, it did result in a power play. The advantage got a couple of good looks, but ultimately came up empty.

There was a bit of a lull in the pace of the game, as it entered the back half of the frame, and in that lull, Wichita pounced on a breakdown, and took the lead. As the period ran out, the mood was grim, despite only being down a goal. It didn’t improve when Mann went to the box for tripping at 17:50. Utah killed it off, however, but after two periods, they trailed going into intermission for the first time during the winning streak.

Utah looked a little flat to start the third, though Harms and Richart teamed up for an exciting moment, as Harms pounced on a turnover by Riopel behind the net. Riopel tripped him up, but there was no call, and the puck did eventually get out of danger.

Gage Ausmus made a gorgeous stick-lifting play to keep Cuddemi from getting a shot on the breakaway, but unfortunately, Utah got a too-many-men penalty at 4:24. They killed it off, and Utah started showing signs of life in the minutes that followed. Ortega woke the crowd with an up ice rush, and when Richart buried it, the 8,594 fans in attendance erupted. Navin got the secondary assist, getting his eighth point in five games.

Ortega got sent off for interference at 9:40, but once again, Utah killed it off, and built on the momentum. Maguire was especially instrumental short-handed, making an eye-catching save early, and holding down the fort. On the very next shift, the Grizzlies took the lead as Navin set up Mann for his first pro goal, and his first multi-point game. Ortega was again in on the action with Navin, getting the secondary assist as that line once more got the puck to a defenseman for the goal.

Maguire stood tall after that, but with 1:44 to go, Wichita pulled Riopel, and Pelech took a cross-checking call 33 seconds later. The Thunder called their time-out, and the penalty kill gave up their first of the game with a crushing nine seconds left.

Pelech drew a power play at the very end of regulation, and the Grizzlies started overtime on the power play. 3-on-3 OT. Because there was no whistle for quite a while after Wichita returned to full strength, very little of OT was actually played 3-on-3. Regardless, OT solved nothing, and the game went to the shoot out.

Babintsev scored the only goal in the shoot-out, as Maguire calmly stoned all three of the Thunder’s skaters, and the second largest crowd of the season went wild. Utah extended their winning streak to five with their second shoot-out win of the year.

Maguire got the the third star of the game, Ortega’s goal and two assists got the second star, and with his first pro goal, and first multi-point game, Mann was named first star of the night.

“I thought they played with more energy and passion than us for the majority of that first forty minutes, or say fifty minutes,” Tim Branham said after the game, “But at the end of the day we’ve been on a roll here, and good teams find a way to win. Everybody is pulling the rope—today it was Maguire, big in the shoot out, Ortega getting us going on that one, Rob Mann, what a time to get your first goal—at the end of the day, you find ways to win. That’s what good teams do.”

Ortega (three goals, seven assists), Navin (two goals, six assists), and Richart (two goals, five assists) all picked up points in each of the five games, while Pelech (four goals, one assist), Mann (one goal, four assists), Misiak (two goals, five assists), and Marchment (three goals, two assists) have also racked up points over the course of the winning streak.

The auction of the beautiful cancer night jerseys raised over $21,000 for charity, and the Grizzlies look to close out February on a winning note tonight in Quad City.

 

Cover photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.

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