Back at home again, but still down Travis Barron, Cole Cassels, Josh Dickinson, Ryan Wagner, Ty Lewis, and now Tim McGauley, the Grizzlies’ roster looked pretty different from the last time the home crowd saw them. In were Garrett Klotz, Jack Jenkins, and Jake Jackson, while Joe Wegwerth, Mason McDonald, and Hunter Miska all returned to the lineup. Teigan Zahn drew in as the tenth forward, and Misika, hot off a highly successful AHL stint, got the start.
Both teams came out flying, Utah looking especially quick and heavy hitting, creating all kinds of mayhem (but also having to defend against it as well). Into the first four minutes, Utah had decidedly the greater zone time, but had only put up two shots to Orlando’s one.
Yuri Terao especially had some fire in his step, while Garrett Klotz made sure everyone was wide awake with a big hit in the opening minutes. The Grizzlies drew the first power play of the night with Cody Donaghey heading to the box for slashing. Taylor Richart got a couple of big shots from both points, and then Eric Williams beat Clint Windsor with a backhand shot to give Utah the 1-0 lead.
On the next shift, Peter Tischke took a cross-checking call, and the Utah PK got to work half-way through the first, and killed it off. The play that followed wasn’t the cleanest Utah’s shown this season, but it got the job done.
At 7:15, Teigan Zahn and Jake Coughler dropped the gloves at the offensive zone blue line, Zahn got the take-down, and both were sent to cool their heels in the box.
Neither goalie saw much work through the first period, but Miska was where he needed to be when he needed to be, especially as Orlando began to pressure in earnest at the end of the first. The Solar Bears’ hard work paid off, as they took over the shot lead, and with 2:22 to go in the first, made it 1-1.
Utah had a little bit of push-back at the end, and at the buzzer, Mike Economos took the butt end of a stick to the gut, causing a crowd to gather.
After 20, Orlando out-shot the Grizzlies 8-5, but the score remained 1-1.
Griffen Molino had two prime looks to start the second, and Utah headed to the power play, thanks to a delay of game penalty from Chris LeBlanc.
The Grizzlies pressed hard on the advantage, and took the shot lead again before the power play came to an end.
Patrick McGrath took a roughing call about five into the second, but Miska and the penalty killers got the job done once again. J.C. Brassard had a stand out moment of his own shortly thereafter, managing to stall at the blue line long enough for his teammates to tag up while retaining possession of the puck.
The Grizzlies got another power play just past the half-way mark of the second. However, they only really got a couple of looks from the center of the ice before Orlando returned to full strength.
Leblanc found himself back in the box for the third time in the period after slashing Zahn’s stick out of his hands, but though Utah set Richart up perfectly several times, and moved the puck well, the best PK in the league held them at bay.
Orlando got a chance on the power play towards the end of the period when McGrath took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Miska once again showed the moves that earned him a shut out in the AHL, and the Grizzlies killed off the penalty.
The second period came to an end in the midst of a lengthy rugby scrum, shots 20-20, and the score still 1-1.
The third period got off to a choppy start, and both teams fought through the neutral zone for possession. Peter Tischke and Tayler Thompson got matching roughing calls, and Miska remained stellar.
As the period progressed, both teams found themselves in their respective offensive zones for prolonged periods of time. Utah took a delay of game penalty at 8:03, but were able to kill it off fairly smoothly.
As the game entered the final ten minutes of regulation, Miska continued to coolly hold down the fort, and another delay of game penalty sent Utah back to the man advantage.
Once again, the Grizzlies created some nice chances, and made some really nice plays, but were unable to finish on the man advantage.
As the final seconds raced by, Molino whistled the puck at the net, and only just missed giving Utah the regulation win. Utah earned the point, and headed into OT.
Terao got two grade A looks in the first 30 seconds, but was thwarted first by the bar, and second by Windsor.
Fortunately for the Grizzlies, their defense keeps stepping up to fill the scoring void, and Brassard ended OT with his second of the year.
Hunter Miska was easily the best player on the ice for most of the game, but Brassard’s OT GWG earned him first star while Miska took second star, and Williams was named third. Terao and Molino were on fire the entire night, and while they didn’t capitalize, their play led to some really terrific scoring chances.
“Stellar goal-tending, same with theirs, their goal-tending was stellar as well, really proud of the way that our group played” said head coach Tim Branham in his post game comments. “A lot of the things that we worked on in practice this week we implemented. We played a full 60 minutes. I couldn’t be more proud of them. And then the way that they played, the way that they battled, they played a full 63 minutes, whatever it was, can’t say much more other than how proud I am of the way they played.”
Things have been challenging lately, but though they’ve struggled, the Grizzlies haven’t backed down. “We’ve got six forwards in the American league right now, on one team or another. Kudos to these guys who have stepped in and filled those rolls. We knew that we’re not gonna score ten goals a game, or seven goals a game. It is what it is. Our challenge is to play well defensively, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight. Special teams was good again, and it’s a work in progress. Right now this group wants it. They want it really bad, and they’re doing a great job.”
“We know that our record isn’t exactly what we want at this moment,” JC Brassard said of the team’s season so far, “But we’ve been working really hard in practice, doing all the right things, working hard in games, we just didn’t get bounces until tonight, and I think everyone is happy it paid off, and all the hard work is coming together.”
It was obvious that Miska’s return from the AHL helped as well. “When you have a goalie in net who you can trust, and you know is gonna clean up your mistakes, it makes playing a whole lot easier” Brassard added. “You play more relaxed, and you’re a lot more focused on the game as opposed to someone else’s job, so it helped a lot to have him here, and we’re really glad he’s back down.”
Despite having so much movement in the roster, the team seems to have gelled really well. “We’re all working together, we were all clicking today” Brassard said. “We got in a practice together with all the new guys. The coaches have been doing a really good job, and they get everyone informed before the game, and get everyone on the same page.”
The Grizzlies hope to bring the same mindset and execution to tonight’s rematch.
- First Period: Williams (Lauzon, Wegwerth) (PP)
- Second Period: None
- Third Period: None
- OT: Brassard (Jenkins)
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff