After the Grizzlies’ original home opener was pushed back, Utah finally got to skate in front of a small, socially distanced home crowd for the first and last time in 2020. There were several new additions and several subtractions since the two games that started the season.
Brayden Gelsinger, Diego Cuglietta, and Yuri Terao opened the game at forward, together with Alex Lepkowski and Ian Scheid, while Payton Jones made his third start for Utah.
Utah controlled play through most of the first five minutes of the game, but the Rush had evened things up by the five minute mark or so. By and large, the first half of the period was uneventful, though Jones calmly turned aside a shot from Brennan Saulnier one-on-one, and guys like Garrett Johnston and Cedric Paré stood out.
Approaching the ten minute mark, Joe Wegwerth had an outstanding shift, getting a couple of terrific shots before finding the back of the net at 9:25 for his second of the season from Jack Jenkins and Trey Bradley. Unfortunately, the Rush tied it up almost immediately afterwards, as they seem to do quite frequently.
Utah took back the lead with about five to go, however, Jenkins neatly putting the puck into the top right corner of the net on a spectacular backhand pass from Bradley. Christian Horn then proceeded to draw the first penalty of the game with 4:13 to go.
Utah made good at the end of the power play with one second left, Scheid freezing a screened Adam Carlson for his first of the year
Mitch Maxwell and Tyson Empey dropped the gloves at center ice with two minutes to go, both getting in some punches before being sent to the dressing room to cool down.
By the end of the period, in addition to the 3-1 score, Utah had opened a 22-7 shot lead. Entertainingly, Wegwerth (3) and Charlie Gerard (4) led the Grizz in shots, with as many combined shots as the entire Rush team.
The Rush got the first goal of the second period, lifting it over Jones from the blue paint at 3:08, but Wegwerth refused to let the one goal game stand, picking up his second of the game less than a minute later, Jenkins picking up yet another point on the assist.
Jones got to see some more rubber as the period hit the half-way point, shots reaching 27-17 for Utah with about nine to go, and at 11:56. He remained the less busy goalie however, and Scheid got his second of the game at the half-wall, chasing Carlson from the Rush net on the 5-2 goal.
Gerard took a hooking call with just over five to go in the second, but Utah killed it off pretty comfortably.
Rapid City outshot Utah in the second 15-12, as might be expected considering the score, but the Grizzlies continued to hold the lead both in shots and where it mattered most.
Utah controlled the first couple of shifts of the third, and the Grizzlies eventually drew a power play with 17:02 to go. It almost went poorly as the Rush got the puck at the blue line, but Terao hustled back to keep the them from getting to Jones uncontested.
Although they didn’t capitalize on the advantage, Rapid City’s Peter Quennville beat Horn and Jones, making it 5-3 at 5:25. Gelsinger drew a power play a little over a minute later though, but despite Pat Cannone’s best efforts to get Wegwerth the hat trick, the Rush returned to full strength with no change in score. Abt took an interference penalty of his own shortly thereafter, but that too changed nothing.
Terao and Gelsinger led a dazzling rush with about eight to go, showing off their quick feet and quick passing, and Jones continued to hold off Rapid City. Wegwerth continued to get chances to cap off the hat trick, but Tendek stood firm.
The Rush pulled Tendek for the empty net with 2:14, and Diego Cuglietta took a penalty, leading to a six-on-four for two minutes. In the end, it didn’t matter, as Abt sailed the puck into the empty net with 49 seconds to go.
When the buzzer sounded Utah had outshot Rapid City 40-30, and took the 6-3 victory into the new year.
Bradley was spectacular in the first period, as were his other line-mates, Wegwerth and Jenkins. Wegwerth’s two goals (including the game winner), and Jenkins’ one goal and two assists earned them first and third stars respectively, while Scheid’s two goals also saw him named second star of the game. Abt also picked up a goal and an assist.
The Grizzlies have clearly put their off time since December 12th to good use, as they looked far more like a cohesive team with quite a bit of chemistry, and not at all like one that hadn’t played a game in several weeks.
They start off 2021 with a New Years Day game tomorrow, also against the Rush.
- First: Wegwerth (Bradley, Jenkins), Jenkins (Bradley, Myllari), Scheid (Cuglietta, Bradley) (PP)
- Second: Wegwerth (Jenkins, Abt) (GWG), Scheid (Maxwell)
- Third: Abt (Cannone) (EN, SH)
Image courtesy of Tim Broussard.