With the playoff race so close, Allen the team directly ahead of Utah in the standings, and the Tulsa Oilers within one and two points respectively, the two teams squared off on Friday night with a lot on the line.
Allen came out with considerably more jump in their step, but the Grizzlies kept them away from Joel Rumpel, and eventually got the first shot of the night from Ryan Misiak. They took the first penalty of the game as well about four minutes in as James Melindy tangled with J.C. Campagna, but the power play was rapidly negated as Zach Pochiro took a hooking call seven seconds later. Taylor Richart made a diving play to prevent a breakaway, and both teams returned to full strength with no change in score.
At 7:13, Austin Ortega extended his point streak to 12 games, scoring the opening goal from Michael Pelech and Mitch Maxwell at the top of the blue paint.
Misiak got taken down without a call near the 8:30 mark, rightly or wrongly, and the crowd objected. Allen pressured briefly thereafter, but the BAM Line countered with a strong shift of their own.
Ryans Walters and Misiak motored in on a two-on-one with about nine to go, followed almost immediately by a two-on-one with Walters and Brendan Harms, but Walters missed high, and Harms missed wide as the Grizzlies got their feet under them and started to look more cohesive.
However, the Americans kept working, and both teams exchanged chances, Misiak, Richart, and the BAM Line all getting good looks.
Utah turned the puck over at around the 18:10 mark, and Vincent Arseneau scored off of a really nice bit of passing. The tie did not last long at all, though, as Richart scored his 16th of the season on a nice shot from the left wing that beat Jake Paterson top corner. Ortega’s assist gave him yet another multi-point game, and Brad Navin’s secondary assist meant that both he and Richart extended their point streaks to ten.
The Grizzlies took their 2-1 lead to the locker room, out-shooting the Americans 13-8.
The second did not begin well, as Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored just 37 seconds into the frame.
Brendan and the Ryans had a good shift in response, but with the exception of Walters getting thrown in front of the net, nothing came of it.
Allen scored again at 3:18 as Pochiro beat Rumpel on a really nice shot.
The Utah cycle game returned about seven minutes in, as Brendan and the Ryans camped out in the offensive zone, Harms wired a shot towards the net, and Misiak put it past Paterson.
Utah drew a power play at 9:03, but negated it 15 seconds later on a gentle hook from Navin.
Richart had a couple of absolute cannons from the point during the four-on-four, including one that rang the crossbar, and Jake Marchment came really close to giving Utah the lead as the Grizzlies returned to full strength.
The BAM Line backed by Gage Ausmus and Melindy had a really strong shift, Navin got a chance, and then Pelech and Ortega played ping-pong with the puck from behind the net, and on the doorstep. Pelech capitalized at 12:54 from Ortega and Ausmus to give Utah back the lead.
Utah continued to buzz following the goal, but Sam Babintsev got caught retaliating, and was sent off for slashing at 14:21. Despite playing one of the only uninterrupted power plays of the game, Allen wasn’t able to capitalize. Ortega was hit hard, but popped up, and Walters and Misiak nearly had a goal later on the same shift. In the dying seconds, Ortega was taken down again, and once again with no call.
At the end of the second, Utah once again led, 4-3 this time, out-shooting the Americans 26-16.
Ausmus bobbled the puck at the offensive zone blue line, and Arseneau pounced, beating out both flying defensemen to score the tying goal at 6:04.
Melindy took a holding call at 11:26. The Grizzlies killed it off, but immediately returned to the box as Windle took down an Allen player in front of the net. With one minute to go on the penalty kill, Misiak elected to carry the puck out rather than chip it, and drew a tripping call flying into the Allen zone.
During the four-on-four, the Americans put the puck over the glass, but what should have been a delay of game penalty was ruled tipped out.
The end of regulation solved nothing, and neither did OT. The shoot out did not go well for Utah, as Navin was the only player to score for Utah, while all three of Allen’s skaters capitalized.
Ortega and Pelech earned the second and third stars of the game, while Richart and Misiak both had strong games
“I thought we were really good with the puck.” Branham said after the game. “Obviously, any time you score four goals, you should win a hockey game, and any time you keep them to 22 shots you should win a hockey game.
We did not have one full power play today, which I thought was unacceptable, especially in that kind of game. We faced a lot of adversity, found a way to get a point, but it’s a crucial point that we didn’t get.”
In what was essentially a decent game, with a couple of egregious errors off lackadaisical play, Branham said: “I don’t think we need to really work on anything, we just need to make sure everybody comes ready. I felt we had a few guys straggling, those are the guys that made the mistakes. We gotta make sure that if a team is gonna beat us, they’re gonna beat us. We don’t need to be beating ourselves.”
With Richart, Ortega and Navin all extending their point streaks, Branham had nothing but good things to say about them. “All three of those guys, in particular, Ortega and Richart, have been phenomenal. Every single time they’re on the ice, they’re dangerous. Pelech’s line is pretty dangerous, and pretty special, they’ve got some good chemistry going. Richart has really had a break out year. We rely on him a lot, both offensively and defensively, and you can’t say enough about the job that he’s done for the team, that’s for sure. Navin has really come on strong … and he really complements Pelech and Ortega pretty well.”
Image courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.