On the day before a snowy Thanksgiving, with yet another Florida team in town, the Grizzlies got reinforcements from Colorado in the form of Tim McGauley. With Hunter Miska back with the Eagles, Mason McDonald got the start, backed up by Brad Barone.
From their very first shift, Griffen Molino and Tim McGauley made things happen. Taking that into consideration, it was perhaps not surprising that a strong defensive zone shift about four minutes into the game led to an up-ice charge, and Molino’s fifth of the year.
That line continued to be dangerous, creating another chance on a rebound from Sasha Larocque several minutes later.
With 11:59 to go in the first, Utah drew a power play, and Eric Williams continued his scoring ways with a snipe just ten seconds into the advantage.
Unfortunately, less than ten seconds after that, Michael Huntebrinker shot the puck straight through a crowd to put the Everblades within one on their second shot of the game.
The cantankerousness between Utah and teams from Florida continued, and about 12 minutes in, Garrett Klotz dropped the gloves with Kyle Neuber behind Florida’s net. It was a lengthy bout, and shortly thereafter, Utah drew yet another power play.
The Grizzlies didn’t capitalize on the advantage, and at 15:39, they were unable to break up the perfect tick-tack-toe goal. While McDonald probably would have wanted that one back, he turned right around and made a huge, if somewhat unorthodox save one-on-one against an Everblades player on the next shift. Unfortunately, Patrick McGrath took a cross-checking call immediately thereafter. Though Florida briefly took the shot lead, they were unable to capitalize on the advantage, and the period ended 2-2, shots 9-9.
Utah got an early power play when at 1:35, John McCarron got Taylor Richart with an elbow to the face. Though the Grizzlies were able to pick up a couple of shots, they were unable to beat Ken Appleby.
Utah had a couple of good shifts, following the man advantage, but Florida got two skaters behind the Utah defense, and a clean shot beat McDonald to make it 3-2.
Molino continued to get great chances that, for one reason or another, just managed to stay out of the net, both on the breakaway, and in close quarters at the goal mouth, and the home crowd showed their appreciation for both McGauley and Yuri Terao, roaring in anticipation any time either of them led the up-ice rush in possession of the puck.
With 1:12 to go in the second, Feliz Lauzon went bar down from the edge of the blue paint, tying up the game once more. Richart got the assist, and after 40, Utah out-shot Florida 22-18.
Utah jumped into the defensive zone early, and with Mike Economos battling behind the net with an Everblades player, Garrett Klotz snuck around the net, and slipped the puck between Appleby and the post to make it 4-3 just 22 seconds in. Lauzon got his third point of the game, and Economos got the second assist.
Florida counterattacked, and drew a power play at 3:36, but the Utah penalty killers were well up to the task.
However, while they were up for the PK, they were unable to fend off a nearly identical Florida goal scored on yet another cross-crease pass.
The Everblades continued to control the play, getting the lion’s share of offensive zone time through the third period, and tying the shots up.
With under 1:30 to go, Florida rang iron, then Kyle Neuber high-sticked Yuri Terao, which drew a crowd. Teigan Zahn dropped the gloves with Neuber, and then Jack Nevins fought him immediately after. Zahn and Neuber both got two and five, for unsportsmanlike conduct and high-sticking respectively, and Nevins got five and a game for continuing the altercation. The kerfuffle led to a five minute Utah power play, 3:37 of which carried over to OT.
The Grizzlies didn’t need that long. Just 22 seconds into the extra frame, Joe Wegwerth put the puck past Appleby for the game winner.
Wegwerth’s game winner earned him first star honors. “I thought we had a really good start,” he said. “That’s been one of our objectives lately to come out of the gates quick every period. Obviously we had some lulls there in the first and second period, but I thought we battled through it. We’re gonna have some adversity. Not every game is going to be perfect, but we found a way, and when you start to put a streak together, that’s what you have to do, you have to find a way, and that’s what I thought we did.”
Having found success even without their top scorers, the answer to how they’ve got there is simplicity.
“I think we had a lot of success when we kept it simple, chipped pucks by people, I think when we try to skate pucks out of our own end or do too much, that’s when we get in trouble, so I think just simplifying our game, having everyone commit to chipping the pucks out, being hard on the forecheck, finishing checks, I think that’s what really gave us success tonight.”
“Obviously with the way things have been going down here, with guys getting called up, we needed different guys to step up.” Wegwerth continued. “Obviously [Williams] has been doing that right now, and ever since [Klotz] has been here he’s been performing, and being a leader and a big presence for us. It’s great to have guys like that, and obviously [Zahn], he’s a great captain, just a great guy. We’re lucky he’s on our team, he makes guys feel safe out there, that’s for sure.”
While there were moments that left something to be desired, overall Tim Branham was pleased with his team’s effort. “I thought we did a good job to get that good start, and then we kind of got complacent” said Branham. “We didn’t have the same hate on as we did for Orlando. I thought we really let our guard down and didn’t dictate the pace, didn’t dictate play. That first period they didn’t get a shot until eight minutes into the period. Second period, same thing though, and then the flood gates kind of opened. We’ve got to make sure that we’re able to control the game a little bit better. Our game plan was obviously play hard, play physical, but play that puck possession game because they have so many dangerous weapons over there that can score. So we want to make sure that we play that puck possession game. And I thought we did to start the first two periods. You know what, at the end of the day, our power play was great, our penalty kill was great, we were able to get the two points. It was a character win, we learned a lesson — you can’t let your guard down, you’ve got to make sure you play hard. Especially the team we have now. We have a blue collar, hard working team, and we saw that when we play that way against a good team like Orlando with great goaltending, we’re able to have success. We didn’t quite play that full 60 minutes tonight, but we still found a way to get the two points, and good teams do that.”
With two unfamiliar, and talented teams in town recently, every player on the team has stepped up. “Depth scoring, whether it’s from the back end or the forwards, we’re doing a really good job with that. I thought our D carried the play last weekend, tonight our forwards chipped in and scored some goals for us. It’s a fun group to coach. They want to do well, they have each other’s backs, and we’re finding ways to have success. That’s what it’s all about.”
It hasn’t just been the goaltending either. After Terao got taken down and Zahn stood up for him, the team made sure to get the win done on the power play he earned. “We wanted to make sure we had [Zahn’s] back there with the power play, and getting the game winner. When he does stuff like that it gets everyone going, and we want to make sure we repay him for doing that. It’s a tough job, [Klotz], it’s a tough job, but they’re used to doing it, they wouldn’t want it any other way, they’d do it all over again to get another win. This one feels good. That’s a good team over there, that’s a really good team, and we found a way to get two points. We’ve got to enjoy it, enjoy tomorrow with our families and our friends, and regroup again for Friday.”
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard