Coming off wins against Wichita, and a shoot-out victory on Monday against Idaho, the Grizzlies looked to continue their success against the best team in the division — this time on home ice.
Mason McDonald once again go the start, while Dalton Mills drew in for Garrett Klotz.
Allen got the lion’s share of zone time in the first couple of minutes, but McDonald saw the puck well and kept all four shots out of harm’s way.
It quickly became clear why the Americans are at the top of the division, with their speed, skill, and excellent positioning, however, they remained unable to solve McDonald as the period past the half-way mark.
Taylor Richart blocked a shot with his ribs at about the eight minute mark, and Yuri Terao took a hooking penalty shortly thereafter, shots 6-4 for Allen.
However, Utah got the only shot of the special teams situation, and returned to full strength none-the-worse for wear.
As the final three minutes of the first approached, the Grizzlies turned up the intensity several notches, thanks to a great shift from Ty Lewis and Peter Tischke that saw Utah leap to a 10-7 shot lead. However, Mitch Maxwell took a high-sticking double minor with 2:23 to go.
The excellent Utah PK went to work, and for the final minutes of the period, played a great game of keep-away until the buzzer. At the end of the first, shots were still 10-7 for the Grizzlies in the scoreless frame.
Unfortunately, the Americans struck with seven seconds remaining on what was otherwise a very strong Utah penalty kill to put them up 1-0 less than a minute into the second.
Utah returned the favor very shortly thereafter, Brandon Saigeon snapped home his sixth of the year from Travis Barron and Peter Tischke.
Utah drew their first power play of the night at 5:26, and the Grizzlies had some really lovely chances, but weren’t quite able to pull it all together or beat Jake Paterson.
Utah continued to pick up shots, out-shooting the Americans 17-9 by the time the period hit the half-way point. Utah continued to play well, and at 12:34, Jordan Topping boarded Connor Yau. Tischke’s retribution was immediate, and he was sent to the box for roughing.
The Grizzlies looked terrific on the four-on-four, and a spectacular rush from Lewis culminated in his 19th of the season unassisted.
Yuri Terao had a dazzling chance shortly thereafter, and McDonald made a spectacular save before Topping tied the game through a mad scramble of players.
Utah kept their foot on the gas though, and Lewis got another great look in the final couple minutes. The period was, by no means, a dominant affair for the Grizzlies, they held their own in what had definitely become a great game between two very skilled teams.
At the end of the second, shots were 24-13 for Utah.
The Grizzlies came out absolutely flying to start the second, though they didn’t get a shot in the first 30 seconds.
Allen did pick up the first two shots of the period, but the third period Grizzlies had arrived.
At about 4:20, Jack Jenkins positively danced into the offensive zone past the defenders, and instead of jamming the puck on net at a bad angle, backhanded it through the crease straight onto Saigeon’s stick. Saigeon made no mistake, burying his second of the game.
Just over ten seconds later, Utah bore down on the Allen net, and Tischke scored his third of the season.
Ultimately, Allen got one back about a minute later, but the Grizzlies continued to impress as the third period hit the half-way mark.
Just past the ten minute mark, Utah picked up their 30th shot to the Americans’ 16, and had made themselves quite at home in the offensive zone.
With 8:19 to go, Lewis drew a penalty after Kayle Doetzel roughed him over in front of the Allen net, but the Americans scored on the ensuing PK to tie it up. After all, the best team in the division was hardly go away without a fight.
The Grizzlies got a couple of really great chances in the final couple of minutes, as did Allen, but with one minute to go, the game remained tied, despite Mitch Maxwell’s best efforts.
At the end of the third, the teams were still tied 4-4, shots 37-20 for Utah.
Jenkins and Richart got terrific chances on the first shift, Tim McGauley had an incredible takeaway from a charging Allen player, and Josh Dickinson narrowly missed burying the GWG.
Allen got some zone time after that, but Utah hit 41 shots to the Americans’ 21 by the half-way point of OT.
In the final seconds of OT, the Americans set up in the offensive zone, and as the buzzer sounded, they scored. Allen piled off the bench to celebrate, but the Grizzlies remained on the ice, and the officials reviewed the video. The replay quickly showed that the goal only occurred after time expired, and the game went to the shoot out.
McDonald went a perfect three for three, and once again Maxwell scored the winner.
Saigeon’s two goals earned him first star of the game, while Maxwell took third with his shoot-out performance.
“I’m just getting the opportunity out there” Maxwell said of his multiple big goal performances lately. “Worked on a few moves on Bonesy [Brad Barone] and Smitty [Jeff Smith] in practice,” he added, “have kind of been helping out and talking to them picking the goalies’ brains. That’s actually a huge thing in the shootout is kind of asking them for certain things and what’s working and so, yeah, it’s just been it’s been a lot of fun.”
The Grizzlies are now 3-0-2 against the Americans, with two wins being absolute blow-outs. So what is it that has given them such tremendous success against such a good team?
“Well, you always get up for the team in first place, that’s for sure. I’m sure they deal with that on a nightly basis” said Maxwell. “And, you know, we play them a lot of times got a bit of a rivalry. They’re a good team. So we know we got to come ready to play and you know, we’ve had some big performances from some guys when we played against these guys. And so we just got to stay with it and not get complacent tomorrow.”
Maxwell has been with the Grizzlies for parts of two seasons prior to this one, but this is his first full year with the team, and it’s been a bit of a wild ride.
“Yeah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster going from the classroom back to the ice rink” he said of his season last year, “And then yeah, not playing a ton at the start of the year’s never easy, but you’ve just got to keep a good attitude. We got great guys, it’s fun to come to the rink, and so I’ve enjoyed coming, you know, every day and just trying to get a little bit better and just try to stay confident out there the best you can and when you get putting opportunities, you got to perform that’s kind of pro hockey sometimes you don’t get put in them, sometimes you do. And it’s just a matter of what you do with it when you get them.” Needless to say at this point, but he’s definitely been making the most of his opportunities.
Head coach Tim Branham clearly agrees. “It’s great,” he said. “You know, he’s a guy who we’ve seen in parts of three seasons and he’s found a little niche here and he leads on and off the ice and he’s a good leader in that dressing room and yeah, we need other people to step up. You know for for a month there that Molino, McGauley, Lewis line was carrying us you know, now we’re finding depth and other guys are finding ways to to contribute and get the win. That’s what it takes. So, overall, it’s a good team. Good team effort and guys like Mitch, leading the way by example, holding people accountable in the locker room, our leadership group is the reason we’re doing that.”
“These games can go either way with us and Allen,” added Branham, “They’re a great team, so are we so you know, it’d be interesting to see these two teams in the playoffs. But I can’t say enough about the resiliency of our team just finding ways to win, whichever way it is, you know, I mean, we could have ended in overtime six times, or if we shut her down in third period. At the end of the day, we found two points. Learn our lessons through winning. I thought we played a pretty solid game. We came out maybe a little slow, it was kind of back and forth, they took it to us, we took it to them, you know, and then I thought we shut her down pretty good in the second and third and did pretty good. You try to contain a team like that they have high offensive power. You’re not gonna be able to shut them down completely, and I thought we did a pretty good job containing them, I think they had what 25, 24-25 shots through overtime, so at the end of the day I think we did a pretty good job. And we’ll take the two points and regroup for tomorrow.”
The Grizzlies may be closing ground with games in hand, but they’re not focused on catching Allen, they’re thinking about the bigger picture.
“Yeah, I mean, they’re pretty far ahead,” Branham said, “And we just, we just want to, you know, hopefully get two points every time we step on the ice and if at the end of the day, it’s good enough it is and make sure we’re playing good hockey, come come playoff time and make the playoffs. And that’s what we’re worried about right now. Obviously, it’d be it’d be great to catch them. And I think schedule wise, it’s gonna be pretty tough. But at the end of the day, every time we step on the ice, we’re trying to get two points. So we’ll see where it takes us.”
The Grizzlies take on the Americans on Saturday before hitting the road for a lengthy February road trip.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Berry