The Grizzlies came into this contest looking to take the third game of the series down Erik Bradford, Tim Daly, and Evan Stoflet, while Kevin Boyle got the start for the second straight night. These absences meant that Utah only dressed four defencemen and ten forwards.
Utah got an early power play, as Ben Lake boarded Brad Navin 1:45 into the first. Utah got a few chances, but Alaska killed off the penalty.
Colin Martin, Erik Higby, and Michael Pelech all got big scoring chances, but it would be Navin who gave the Grizzlies the 1-0 lead at 9:35.
Utah killed off a holding penalty to Higby, and they continued to swarm, in no way looking like a short-handed team playing their third game in as many nights.
Cam Reid took a late penalty with less than a minute to go, but the Grizzlies headed to the locker room holding the 1-0 lead, outshooting Alaska 17-5.
The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Reid’s penalty handily, getting the only shot on the Aces’ man advantage, and generally looking like the better rested and hungrier team.
Higby, Cuddemi, and Martin crashed the Aces’ crease, and Martin collared Higby’s rebound, beating Michael Garteig for his twelfth of the year at 3:56.
Half way through the frame, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, and after the longest staredown ever, Howe got the edge in the fight, landing quite a number of punches before they were separated.
With just under five minutes left to play, the Grizzlies capitalized on an Aces’ bobble at their blue line. Cuddemi made a spectacular pass, sending the puck behind Garteig to Martin who scored his second of the night into the wide open net.
Utah closed out the second with some great chances, and the period ended in absolute chaos, Tim Wallace tangling with Nemcik and Pietroniro at the buzzer before both teams came flying in.
As the mayhem continued, Pelech and Marc-Andre Levesque dropped the gloves, and it was all the officials could do to break up the fight and get everyone off the ice. Utah went to the room up 3-0, and outshooting the Aces 24-19, but that’s when the tables turned.
As the dust settled, it became clear that despite the 3-0 lead, getting through the third period was going to take a Herculean effort from the Grizzlies. Pelech and Levesque both got five for fighting and a game misconduct, while Nemcik and Laplante were assessed a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct each. Wallace, who started the whole mess, also got two for roughing.
Alaska, who got three fresh players back for the game, could shrug off the loss of two players. Utah, already down their leading goalscorer and two defenders, would now have to play with only three defencemen for all but six minutes of the third without yet another top six forward.
It didn’t get any better from there.
In the early stages of the third, Cuddemi scared Grizzlies fans everywhere, when he left the ice looking uncomfortable. Fortunately, he appeared to be alright, but that was only the beginning.
A few minutes later, Richart was sent head over heels by a pair of Aces players, and went to the bench before taking a few tentative spins during the break. It appeared that Utah had dodged yet another bullet when he returned to play, only for Pietroniro to take a tripping penalty at 5:46. Unfortunately, Tyler Shattock scored just ten seconds later to make it 3-1.
Although the Aces manhandled Helgesen in the middle of the frame, it was Puskar who went to the box with 11:08. A mere six seconds later, Wallace took a healthy swing at Pietroniro off the faceoff. Pietroniro went down to the ice, and Wallace joined Puskar in the box.
With both Pietroniro and Richart banged up, Nemcik still in the box, and Helgesen the sole healthy defenceman on the bench, the Grizzlies struggled, and at 9:07, Nolan Descoteaux put the Aces within one.
At 10:33 Shattock took a charging penalty on Helgesen, Martin took exception to the hit, and both got two for roughing. Navin also tangled with an Alaska player, but neither were given penalties. Thanks to these infractions, Utah had a brief 5-on-3 situation, before a returning to a 5-on-4 power play.
Each team returned to full strength with no change in score, but Utah got a few really excellent chances on the man advantage. Alaska got a power play of their own as Navin took a slashing call with 5:37 to go in the period. Austen Brassard had a great chance short-handed, and the Grizzlies got Nemcik and Navin back. However, the Aces tied up the game with less than four minutes left to go.
Utah and Alaska both pressed in the remaining minutes, but Boyle and Garteig made some big saves to send the game to overtime.
Just fifteen seconds into OT, Cuddemi was sent to the sin bin for hooking, but the Grizzlies killed the penalty off, even getting a 2-on-1 chance from Helgesen and Nemcik.
In the dying seconds of OT, Martin made a bid for a hat trick and the win with an incredible shift, but it was not to be, and the game went to the shoot out.
Boyle — who has received far too little praise in the recap for being instrumental in helping get Utah this far — allowed a lone goal in the shoot out. Reid and Aubin scored for the Grizzlies, and Utah took the extra point.
Martin and Cuddemi earned the first two stars, but there were no passengers in this game. The performances of Pietroniro, Richart, Helgesen, and Boyle especially were also essential in earning the win.
This was a huge game for the Grizzlies, not only because they won despite being down three to five players for significant stretches of the game, but also because the two points they earned put them three points behind both Alaska and Idaho.
At the end of the day, they’re well within striking distance of a playoff spot, and they have a whole week to recover from what was unquestionably their gutsiest performance of the season.
The Grizzlies are next in action in a three-game home-stand against the Steelheads, where they will hope to take possession of a playoff spot.