Travis Howe has always been better at hockey than he’s generally been given credit for. He’s rarely a liability defensively, and he routinely makes good plays in addition, of course, to being a hard hitting, hard fighting enforcer. All he’s seemed to lack was some offensive finish. That has very much not been the case lately.
The roster was the same as on Friday, though the lines got a shuffle. Mitch Maxwell slotted in with Michael Pelech and Brendan Harms in the starting lineup, while Sam Babintsev centered Kyle Thomas and Ryan Misiak. Jake Marchment centered Howe and Ryan Walters, while Charley Graaskamp became the tenth forward. Taylor Richart and Mitch Jones opened the game on the back end, and Brandon Wildung got the start.
The first period did not get off to an auspicious start. Off the opening face-off the Steelheads had a couple of looks, and Howe got sent off for interference. 44 seconds later, Max French, fresh from his stint in the AHL, opened the scoring.
But the Grizzlies responded, picking up the shot lead on a couple of successive offensive zone shifts. At 8:40, former unlikely hero turned likely hero of late, Howe took a pass from Marchment, and backhanded it past Tomas Sholl to tie up the game. Howe is always quick to pass on any complements to his line mates, but he’s showed some serious finish lately, picking up some serious goal scorers goals in the past couple of games.
Utah ran into some penalty trouble after that, first Thomas taking a cross-checking call at 9:40. The Grizzlies killed it off, but Marchment took an interference call at 14:29, putting Idaho on their third straight power play. Misiak’s stick got caught in an Idaho players stick, and Utah got away with one, as the reffing continued to be spotty.
Pelech, Walters, Richart, and Rob Mann got a good shift short-handed in the offensive zone. Pelech started a scrum in front of the net, and Idaho responded. Somehow, Pelech was the only one to go to the box, but the Grizzlies killed off the six seconds of five-on-three.
Utah killed it off thanks to a combination of good saves, decent defense, and a couple of misplays by Idaho.
Despite getting eight minutes of power play time, it took Idaho until the last minute to tie the shot clock at nine, and after 20 the game was tied 1-1, shots the same.
Utah got all six shots in the opening four, largely controlling play. Pelech drew a power play and a scrum eight minutes into the period. They weren’t able to make anything of it, but finished the advantage with all seven shots so far.
The Grizzlies kept the cycle going, and at 10:26, Howe got his second goal of the night reaching out to poke the puck past Sholl. Windle and Graaskamp got the assists on Howe’s fifth of the year.
Pelech drew another power play at 12:02 when Corbin Baldwin went after him, and he didn’t oblige. Utah wasn’t able to capitalize yet again, but at the end of the advantage, out-shooting the Steelheads 11-2.
Unfortunately, Melindy took a puck to the face with just over five minutes to go, and Idaho tied it up again. Melindy went to the locker room, and at the end of 40, the game was still tied, the Grizzlies out-shooting the Steelheads 14-5 on the frame, and 23-14 overall.
Two games after he was a fight away from a Gordie Howe hat trick, Travis had his sights set on an entirely different kind of hat trick going into the third.
The Grizzlies had some good shifts to start the final frame, including one from Windle, and one from Howe and company.
Howe blocked a shot and limped off, and a couple of shifts later Graaskamp took and gave a high-stick within a few seconds. However, only the one on Graaskamp was called, and he headed off to the box.
A couple of shifts later, Melindy and French tangled in front of Wildung, and were both sent off for roughing.
Both penalties were killed off, but Windle took a slashing call. At 13:44 Ully scored his second, but there was lots of traffic in front of Wildung, and contact was definitely made, but the goal was allowed to stand.
After a fairly inconsistently called game, the refs totally lost control at that point, Jones and Steven McParland both got double roughs and misconducts, while Thomas and Chris Martinet got five and misconducts after Thomas emphatically won the fight, despite giving up seven inches and more than twenty pounds.
Idaho immediately took another penalty, but the Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize. Jefferson Dahl flew in all alone, but rang the post, and then Wildung made another save.
Utah pulled Wildung for the extra attacker, both teams took their time-outs, and Idaho scored into the empty net, effectively killing the Grizzlies’ post season hopes.
As utterly infuriating as the game was, Utah put up a good fight–as they’ve done all season. And though for the first time in a decade there will be no playoff hockey at the Mav, the Grizzlies, led by their enforcer, turned goal-scoring hero, went down swinging.
Picture courtesy of Tim Broussard