Well friends, against all odds, there’s ECHL hockey this year. It certainly is going to take some getting used to, both the fewer teams, and social distancing, and other things that make this season weird. But there’s HOCKEY, and that’s the best news we’ve heard in a while.
Payton Jones got his first start for Utah, joined by forwards Diego Cuglietta, Cedric Paré, and Charlie Gerard and defensemen Tanner Jago and Matt Abt. Yuri Terao and Denis Smirnov were both scratches, as they have not yet arrived in Utah, while Jack Jenkins, Matt Hoover, and Edwin Hookenson are all on reserve, and Teigan Zahn drew into the lineup as a forward, as teams are allowed to dress more skaters this season.
Rapid City got off to the stronger start, but Payton Jones was alert early, and 3:27 Paré scored his first of what will undoubtedly be many on assists from Wegwerth and Cuglietta.
Neither team looked terribly coordinated in the early going, as might be expected with no preseason games, but the Grizzlies sorted themselves out, and just a few minutes later drew a high-sticking double minor.
Wegwerth picked up his first goal and second point of the period half-way through the man-advantage to make it 2-0 for the Grizzlies. Paré made his second appearance on the scoresheet, this time going to the box on goalie interference just past the ten minute mark. Jones displayed his cool under pressure, and Utah returned to full strength unscathed.
The Rush maintained the shot advantage, through the second half of the period, but Utah got the best of play overall. Standouts in the first period, which ended 2-0 for Utah, shots 14-12 for the Rush, were certainly Wegwerth and Paré, with Jones getting an honorable mention.
Utah started the second by evening shots out at 15, but the Rush cut the lead in half at 2:27. Unsurprisingly in a meeting between these two teams, things got heated at 3:10 as the Grizzlies crashed the Rush’s net, and Eric Israel and Mitch Maxwell found themselves cooling their heels for two minutes.
Utah drew another power play, giving them 49 seconds of five-on-three. They didn’t capitalize on the two-an advantage, but Miles Gendron blasted one past Adam Carlson for his first goal and second point of the season once Rapid City were 5-on-4.
Utah drew another power play at 7:15, but Cedric Montminy made it 3-1 short-handed. The Grizzlies continued to draw power plays, but the skid continued with the Rush scoring short-handed yet again at 9:30.
Christian Horn took a penalty for Utah just past the half-way mark of the second period, and the Grizzlies were able to steady themselves before scoring a short-handed goal of their own. Charlie Gerard picked up his first of the year unassisted at the twelve minute mark.
The Grizzlies got into some penalty trouble of their own, Jared Pike and then Matt Abt heading to the box for 47 second 5-on-3 power play for the Rush.
Gerard’s goal stood for the go-ahead to end the second, shots 25-24 for the home team.
Unfortunately, Rapid City took control of the game in the third, tying the score 4:16 on a Wegwerth interference call.
Another fleury of penalties on both teams eventually led to a stint 4-on-4 and Brennan Saunier gave the Rush their first lead of the game shortly before the ten-minute mark.
Utah got a few looks in the final four minutes, but Rapid City held onto possession better, and made it 6-4 with about 1:30 to go. The Grizzlies pressured to end the game, but were unable to close the gap with an empty net. The Rush outshot Utah 9-5 in the third, and 33-29 overall.
There were definite positives to that game, especially early on, though the two short-handed goals definitely cost them. The first looks at Gerard, Pare, and Gendron were especially impressive, while Wegwerth was particularly poised looking in his return. Paré and Wegwerth led the team with five shots each, and Payton Jones went 28/34 in his first start for Utah. Wegwerth, Paré, and Gendron all had a goal and an assist, while Cuglietta picked up two assists.
There will certainly be growing pains, as always, but there are some good pieces on this team, and it’ll be great to see them come together over the course of the season.
Utah plays one more game in Rapid City tomorrow (Saturday), before returning to Utah.
First: Paré (Wegwerth, Cuglietta), Wegwerth (Gendron, Cuglietta)
Second: Gendron (Paré), Gerard