With Nolan De Jong joining Kevin Davis, Josh Anderson, Austin Carroll, Matt Berry, Travis Barron, and Josh Dickinson in the AHL after Saturday’s game, and with Tim McGauley and Turner Ottenbreit both sidelined, the Grizzlies were seriously short-handed on Star Wars night. Kevin Carr got the start and Ryan Misiak played defense as the team dressed only 14 skaters. Considering how the other two games had gone, it looked a trifle worrisome.
Utah came out on a mission, flying around the ice, and jumping to a rapid lead when Julian Nantel scored his first at 1:19 from J.T. Henke. The Grizzlies got a 5-1 advantage in shots, then Kevin Carr had to be sharp as the Rush got three straight back. Rapid City got the game’s first power plays, both against Henke but got his own back, making it 2-0 with only 24 seconds to go in the first. The Rush got an unsportsmanlike conduct right after the goal, and Misiak got a tripping call with eight seconds left. After 20, shots were 12-8 for Utah.
The second began with almost two minutes of four-on-four, and the Grizzlies got a power play after that. The Rush poured it on through the middle stages of the second, but between Carr and the active sticks of the players in front of him, they held them off. Utah got into some penalty trouble in the back half of the period, losing Taylor Richart, Gage Ausmus, and Henke to the penalty box in rapid succession.
The penalty killers came up huge, however, and no sooner had Henke and Ausmus left the box then the former scored his fourth of the year. There was quite a scuffle after the goal, and Utah got another power play as Cole Ully, Josh Elmes, and Shaquille Merasty all got roughing calls. Tempers continued to flair as the game progressed, and Jake Marchment faced off against Dylan Quaile in the first of three fights. In the dying seconds of the period, Alec Baer got in all by himself, but Carr stopped him cold to end the period.
The third began with a new goalie for Rapid City, and a power play for the Grizzlies. They didn’t capitalize, but they were absolutely flying. They also racked up a 13-0 shot count through the first half. Henke made a bid for the hat trick on a mid-period power play, and the Grizzlies hit the 40 shot mark with just under eight to go. Then at 14:02 Mike Economos dropped the gloves with Matt Harrington in a furious bout to the great approval of all 7,926 fans in attendance. Not to be out done, R.T. Rice dropped the gloves with Merasty just 38 seconds later. Ausmus joined the combatants in the box for slashing almost immediately afterwards, and no sooner had he left the box, then he and Cedric Montminy were sent to cool their heels after matching roughing calls. Nantel ended the game in the box, but the Grizzlies got the 3-0 victory, out-shooting Rapid City 41-23 overall, and 20-5 in the final period.
Misiak turned out to be a surprisingly good substitution on the blue line, his speed standing him in good stead, and he looked quite comfortable quarterbacking the power play. Economos endeared himself to the home crowd in his first game on Friday, and won them over completely on Saturday. Henke (2G, 1A, 6 shots), Carr (23/23 saves), and Nantel (1G (the game winner), 8 shots) were the three stars of the game, and Carr got a standing ovation at the jersey auction following the game.
“The boys buckled down, and it was a gutsy effort. That’s a good team, that’s a hard working team over there, they’re missing a few players too, but we were able to get to their goaltender finally.” Tim Branham said. “He’s been a rock back there for them, but you can’t say enough about our effort. Carrsy, two short-handed breakaways, a short-handed three-on-one, he was really, really good tonight. Sticking up for teammates, big blocked shot by Zahn at the end, he didn’t even have to do it, there’s six seconds left, just leading by example there. Great effort by everybody, and it was one of our better games of the year.”
With three goals in the last two games, Henke seems to be really hitting his stride after being claimed off waivers from Greenville. “I think it’s just getting comfortable,” he said of his recent performance. “Coming from where I was to here is a little different, getting used to the altitude, and all that kind of stuff, playing with guys, and burying chances when I should.”
“It’s always tough to get guys called up and lose them, especially big scorers, but it’s a part of the game, I think we all had a gut check, I think we played hard today, everyone did a job, the fighters fought, the PK guys did great, Carrsy stood on his head, and good for him getting his first shut out, it all gelled well today.”
It looked like the team finally had regained their equilibrium after losing and replacing so many players in such a short period of time, but the challenge isn’t over yet. Nevertheless, Branham is confident in his group. “We’ve got a week off, we’ve got to put it together next week. I don’t know what our roster’s gonna look like next week, but whatever it is, we know that we can get the job done, and we’ve gotta bring that effort and that passion, and that simplicity every single game.”
The Grizzlies will play two games in Idaho next week, before finishing off the year at home against the Allen Americans.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff.