The day before Thanksgiving saw the first meeting of the season between Utah and the formerly mighty Allen Americans. J.T. Henke drew in for his first game in a Grizzlies uniform, while Brendan Harms and Ryan Misiak sat out, and Joe Cannata once again got the start.
The Grizzlies struck first, Matt Berry scoring his seventh of the season at 5:03 from Caleb Herbert.
Alexandre Ranger took a slashing call against Cannata after a whistle, and though the Grizzlies’ power play didn’t strike, Berry got his second of the game at 10:26, this time from Tim McGauley.
Not to be outdone by his line-mate, Herbert scored his 14th of the season at 11:58 from Berry and Cole Ully.
In the dying seconds of the first, Ryan Walters and McGauley got in on a two-on-one, and in a fast becoming familiar move, McGauley was hauled down. Allen got a tripping call, and the period came to an end.
In a period that was all Utah, offensively, the Grizzlies also did an excellent job cutting off passing lanes, getting in the way of shots, and generally keeping pucks away from Cannata, such that at the end of the first, shots were 7-3.
The power play to start the second was unable to muster a shot. Allen beat Cannata, but was unable to beat the crossbar with about three gone in the second. Herbert was hauled down at 8:06, and though the Grizzlies got a shot, the most notable moment of the advantage was Cannata and Jeremy Brodeur playing long distance ping pong with the puck.
Walters continues to be snake-bitten, getting his second point-blank look on Brodeur in the period. Going the other way, a sprawling defenseman was unable to break up the pass on a two-on-one, but Cannata turned the puck aside, and the Grizzlies whisked the rebound out of danger.
Berry picked up the team’s first hat trick of the year, when he buried a play from Ully. Herbert got the secondary assist as the hats rained down.
Following the goal first Teigan Zahn then Turner Ottenbreit took hooking calls, leading to almost a minute of five-on-three time, but Cannata and the Utah killers killed both penalties off.
Herbert went off the ice very gingerly with about five minutes left in the period, and went straight down the tunnel.
Shortly thereafter, there were a couple of big hits, and Jacob Doty tangled with Zahn. The only outcome was that Doty was assessed a two and a ten for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Grizzlies went to the power play. They were unable to capitalize, though on the plus side, Herbert returned to the ice.
With 14 seconds left, Josh Anderson and Josh Atkinson tangled beside Cannata’s net, but only Anderson was sent to the box to end the period. After 40, Utah outshot Allen 16-8, and had a commanding 4-0 lead.
Allen got their first offensive pressure of the game early in the third, and at Ryan Walters took a very soft tripping call. Austin Carroll had a dandy jaunt into the offensive zone all by himself that culminated in a very glorious short-handed chance, and Utah killed it off.
Mike Gunn took a high-sticking call at 13:01, and goaded Carroll into matching roughing calls. Allen killed off their penalty, though the Grizzlies got a couple of looks. Cannata continued to be a rock in net, and Utah continued to be very sound defensively.
The game got a bit nasty after that, Doty taking a roughing call with exactly two minutes to go, followed by Gunn exactly a minute later. In the dying moments of the game, Dalton Thrower socked R.T. Rice in the face, and got thrown out with a ten minute penalty for attempt/deliberate injury, and the game ended in chaos.
Matt Berry was named the first star of the game with the hat trick and an assist, while Herbert got the second star, and Ully the third. Joe Cannata got his second shut out in a row, and Taylor Richart had one of his more obviously stand-out performances.
“It feels pretty special. I’ve never done that before,” said the first star after the game, “So it feels good, and it was just good for our team to get the win out there today,”
“Obviously that top line is pretty dynamic, speed, skill, goal scoring ability, they’re unbelievable when they’re playing.” Tim Branham said of his first line’s nine point performance. “Joe, he’s Joe Cannata. What can you say. He’s just an unbelievable goaltender. He had more shots than 18, that’s for sure, I think they missed a bunch. It was a good effort by the boys. I thought we did a lot of good things, and when we had breakdowns, Joe was there to back us up. All in all, it was a good effort.”
When asked specifically about the first star of the game, he said “Matt was buzzing. When we had him three years ago, he was probably our best player in playoffs. He can skate, he can score, when he plays with pace he’s tough to handle. And then you put him on a line with Herbert and Ully, and it’s just, those guys are special,” he added with a chuckle. “Those guys are special. They have good chemistry together, and we’re lucky to have them on our team.”
It was by no means a perfect game, but overall the team played a strong defensive game. “We got up early in that game, and at that point, you’re trying to stay in it. Allen, Allen’s got potential, so we knew there was gonna be some kind of push, or at least physical play, so we had to be on our toes. There were some breakdowns. You’re not gonna play a perfect game, that’s true. Could we have done a few things differently? Yeah. But overall, I thought it was a good team effort. I mean, any time you get back-to-back shut outs in this league, at this level, it’s a good thing. I know we have Joe in net, which helps, but I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Berry’s thoughts on the defensive effort were similar. “The D zone is a five-man, or a six-man unit, so everyone has to come back and help out, and I think everyone is getting used to the system or getting more acclimated with it, so we’re all playing all the same way and playing together, and I think it’s showing there out on the ice.”
Regardless of the cause, whatever the Grizzlies are doing is certainly working for them, as they are now 10-2-3-0 on the year.
They will face Allen on Friday and Saturday, and all signs point to a very chippy weekend ahead.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Flemming and staff.