With the Eagles moving to the AHL next season, Wednesday night’s game was Utah’s last trip to the Budweiser Event Center, at least for now. And as ever, the game did not disappoint.
Brandon Wildung made his fourth career start in goal, while Travis Howe, Michael Pelech, Kyle Thomas, Gage Ausmus, and James Melindy rounded out the rest of the starting lineup. Brad Navin and Nate Mitton remained the scratches.
The Grizzlies came out hot to start the first, out-shooting Colorado 4-1 though the first four minutes, and getting especially good looks from Brendan and the Ryans.
By the half-way mark, Utah outshot the Eagles 7-3, though Colorado had gotten a little more by way of zone time. At 8:57, Jake Marto put the puck through Wildung to open the scoring.
At 12:55, Howe, Pelech, and Ben Storm tangled by the benches, and all three were sent off, the two Grizzlies with two each for roughing, and Storm with a double minor also for roughing. The Eagles continued to press after that, and after a big hit on Harms, Jake Marchment and Teigan Zahn dropped the gloves with about four to go.
Melindy took a slashing call with 1:43 to go, and at the end of 20, the score remained 1-0 for Colorado, shots 12-8 in Utah’s favor.
About three into the second, the Grizzlies were incredibly sluggish coming back to defend an Eagles rush, and Brady Shaw made it 2-0. Utah continued to look slow, and though they continued to get shots, they didn’t create much by way of traffic or rebounds.
Walters took a hooking call, and Joey Ratelle made it 3-0. Utah got a lengthy power play at 10:29, when Brady Shaw took a double minor for high-sticking. Sam Babintsev drew another power play, and the Grizzlies had about 1:20 on the five-on-three, which then went straight into another power play, as Collin Bowman took a roughing call on Howe with about five to go.
The Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize on either of the power plays, but Jake Marchment made it 3-1 at 17:24 to put Utah on the board.
When the buzzer went at the end of the second, the score remained 3-1, shots 24-15 for the Grizzlies.
Unfortunately, if you leave Ryan Olsen all alone with a rebound, he’s not going to miss from a couple of feet away from the net, and he made it 4-1 at 1:22.
Howe, Sam Windle, Gabriel Verpaelst, and Storm all dropped the gloves at 5:29. When the dust cleared, the four of them had picked up a whopping 54 penalty minutes Howe got a misconduct, while Verpaelst and Windle both got game misconducts.
Harms cut the lead in half at 7:20 from Graaskamp and Pelech, finally capitalizing on one of his multitude of great chances.
Misiak drew a hooking call at 11:58, and Mitch Maxwell did not miss by much on the ensuing power play, and Harms followed that up with a nice look of his own. However, when Colorado returned to full strength, the Grizzlies still trailed by two.
With three minutes to go, Utah pulled Wildung for the extra attacker, and Richart made a big save. In the end, though, Olsen scored into the empty net with about a minute left, and the Eagles took the final meeting in Loveland 5-2.
I once said that when the Grizzlies and the Eagles played, you might fear for the Grizzlies’ lives, but you’d never be bored. While this year Colorado left fewer Utah injuries in their wake, the games were no less exciting, and with one exception, as painfully close as ever. It’s been a fantastic rivalry, and a chapter we’re sorry to see closed.
As the Eagles move up and on, the Grizzlies return home to meet the Kansas City Mavericks, where they will end the season against next year’s division opponents.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.