Sometime in the third period, Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” boomed out over the Maverik Center ice. It was appropriate. This game had it all: fights (there were five), power play goals, short handed goals, even strength goals, saves, and general bad blood. Something about familiarity breeding contempt, and all that.
“I think we loved how we played both games,”Kevin Davis said when asked about the team’s play. “It was great how everyone stuck up for each other too, shows what kind of character we have in that room.”
After a successful home opener, the goal was to keep the momentum going, and boy did they ever.
The game didn’t get off to the most successful start, as Austin Carroll took a tripping call a mere 13 seconds in. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, Rapid City took a high-sticking penalty of their own just 40 seconds later, and that was just the beginning of what seemed like an endless parade of players to the box.
Utah got a lengthy 6-on-5 on a delayed penalty after Carroll took yet another high-stick. The fans were treated to a beautiful moment of déjà vu when Davis and Caleb Herbert set up Josh Winquist for his second opening goal in two nights.
Ryan Misiak drew another penalty at 7:28, and the game got a bit chippy after that. Teigan Zahn and Andrew Radjenovic got into it at center ice, followed on the next shift by a scuffle around Joe Cannata that rapidly turned into a full fledged fight between Ryan Walters and Josh Elmes.
Both Zahn and Radjenovic returned to the ice with no change in score, and the Grizzlies caused some mayhem in the offensive zone with about five to go in the period.
The mayhem continued as, with six seconds left in the first, Zahn and Shaquille Merasty dropped the gloves. Zahn got the best of the fight, and the period ended with another crowd.
Winquist got a couple of looks on the first shift of the second, and though he missed, Davis did not, scoring his first of the season just 42 seconds into the frame.
Unfortunately, after that the Grizzlies ran into penalty trouble as first Gage Ausmus and then Herbert got sent to the box one right after the other. However, the Utah kept them cycling the puck, and Ausmus returned to the ice. Rapid City capitalized on the tail end of Herbert’s penalty, but the Grizzlies immediately went back to the advantage.
Cole Ully boarded Chris Leibinger at 12:22, sending the Utah to the kill. Leibinger looked a little shaken up, but returned to the ice part way through the advantage, which the Grizzlies killed off with style.
In the final minutes of the period, Taylor Richart, Willem Nong-Lambert, Turner Ottinger, and a whole crowd of Rush players tangled, and both Richart and Nong-Lambert went to the box. With just about 40 seconds left, Davis put a shot on net, and Matt Berry tipped it home to make it 4-1.
The rough stuff continued in the third with Merasty once again dropping the gloves, this time with Ausmus at center ice. Both got five, and Merasty got the extra two for instigation.
Scarcely had the game settled down after that than things got crazy all over again. Brendan Harms was plastered to the boards, Davis took exception, and he and Cedric Montminy both got sent off for the fourth fight of the game, Davis completing the Gordie Howe hat trick. Mason McCarty also went off for high-sticking.
Unfortunately, the Rush scored short-handed to cut the lead in half at 8:02. In the immortal words of Bob Cole, everything was happening.
And the Grizzlies were by no means done. When Rapid City took two consecutive penalties, the Grizzlies capitalized both five-on-three, and five-on-four, with goals from Herbert and Berry at 10:06 and 10:51 respectively. Richart and Ully picked up the assists on Herbert’s tally, while Misiak and Austin Carroll got the helpers on Berry’s.
In case anyone was in danger of getting bored in the few minutes of slightly less frantic action that followed, Carroll, who had once again been noticeable all game, dropped the gloves with Blake Heinrich at 14:02 in the fifth and final fight of the night.
Ully rang iron at shortly thereafter, and no sooner had the Rush returned to full strength than they went right back to the sin bin for slashing. Utah took one final penalty in the last two minutes of the game, and then it was all over.
The teams combined for a whopping 90 minutes of penalties, five of which went to Davis who, according to hockeyfights.com, has only ever fought twice before in his career. “Man, I’ve never had one.” Davis said of the Gordie Howe hat trick that earned him first star honors, “I don’t know, it kind of just happened. It was funny!”
Josh Winquist came in for his share of the accolades, after opening scoring once again, and picking up another assist for his fourth point in two games, while Matt Berry was awarded third star with two goals and five shots.
“It’s the start that we wanted to get off to,” Tim Branham said of the team’s winning effort this weekend, “We know we’ve got a good team, still missing a few pieces, but we’ve got a great team. We wanted to be firing on all cylinders here, and I thought offensively we were really good. I thought today we cleaned up a few things defensively, they had a couple of breaks there, they scored a power play and they scored a short-handed goal, it is what it is. I thought our power play is clicking again, and it’s pretty clear we’ve got a lot of fire power, so we just have to make sure we bring that work ethic each and every day, and this weekend we did.”
He was also quick to praise the exceptional work Joe Cannata, who didn’t get a star in the game, but who was a rock for the team, once again making 26 of 28 saves, including some big ones at crucial moments.
“Can’t tell [you] how good of a job Cannata has done. He made some big stops, stopped that breakaway early, he’s just so calm back there, and no one’s panicking on the bench when he’s in net. We’ve known for a long time what kind of goaltender he is. Every press conference I’ve had after every game I’ve said he doesn’t belong in this league, but it’s nice to have him on our team now. He did an amazing job for us, allowed us to get going there.”
With a highly successful opening weekend under their belts, the Grizzlies look ahead to next weekend where they will play the Idaho Steelheads on Friday and Saturday in Boise.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff