With three weeks of road hockey on the horizon, the Grizzlies rolled into Saturday night with a 6-2-1-1 record, hoping to have another good game against the Allen Americans. Garrett Klotz drew in for Dalton Mills, and Mason McDonald once again got the start.
There was absolutely nothing slow about the start from either team, Utah picking up the first four shots, but Allen skating just as hard.
Utah’s jump paid off first, and Connor Yau scored his first pro goal off the post and in at 5:35 from Travis Barron and Ty Lewis.
Meanwhile, though he only saw one official shot through the first seven minutes or so, McDonald proved that he was just as awake as his teammates.
Utah iced the puck a couple of times around the 7:30-8:00 mark, but McDonald made short work of the Americans’ zone starts.
Klotz and Sasha Larocque broke in on and odd-man rush, and Utah got the first power play at 8:46 after Klotz was tripped up. The Grizzlies had a number of really great ideas on the advantage, but were unable to double their lead.
A couple of minutes later, Yuri Terao went off for hooking but though they did a great job for the most part, with just a couple of seconds left, a brief moment of clumsiness from the Utah defensemen gave Allen all they needed to tie it up.
J.C. Brassard drew a holding call with about 1:30 to go, but the power play was immediately negated, as Lewis got called for holding just moments later.
The Grizzlies played some really beautiful four-on-four hockey, and with two seconds left, tempers began to flair. Josh Dickinson tripped up an Allen player, and a crowd gathered.
Thirty seconds into the second with only Dickinson still in the box, the Americans made it 2-1.
However, Lewis drew a power play at 4:25, and Dickinson wired one past Dereck Baribeau ten seconds into the advantage to tie the game.
At 6:04 things got a little out of hand, as Josh Britain and Garrett Klotz began a scuffle. Both got roughing calls, but Klotz was also given a game misconduct for continuing the altercation, apparently.
The Americans scored on the ensuing four-on-four. No sooner had the teams returned to full strength, however, than they both went back to the box Terao for slashing, and Jared VanWormer for unsportsmanlike conduct. With one second left in the four-on-four, Jack Jenkins took a hooking call, but Utah killed that one off.
Lewis had two chances to tie the game up on the same shift, but missed wide both times. Molino got leveled with under six to go, and as one thing led to another, Maxwell dropped the gloves with Doetzel. Both got five for fighting.
Things continued to devolve from there, and with under two to go, Barron was cross-checked. He resented this, and tangled with Brett Pollock. Both got two for roughing, while Pollock got an extra two for cross-checking. Utah went to the power play, but more concerning, Barron went to the room.
At the end of 40, shots were 18-17 for Allen, who also led 3-2 in what had become an official-heavy game.
Barron was not back to start the third, and the Americans returned to full strength.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Allen made it 4-2 with almost exactly four gone.
However, Terao drew a penalty shortly thereafter. Just nine seconds in, Jack Jenkins wired the puck past Paterson for his fourth of the year from Terao and Dickinson.
Brassard and Tischke especially had really strong shifts as the game headed towards the final ten minutes, but Baribeau stood on his head. Even more impressively, the Grizzlies did NOT look like a team playing down two forwards, even as the Americans pressured.
Utah returned the favor, Maxwell was robbed, Jenkins rang iron, and the Grizzlies drew a power play with 6:09 to go.
With 2:12 to go, following and Allen icing, the Grizzlies pulled McDonald for an extra attacker. Allen then iced the puck again.
In the end, the Americans scored twice into the empty net with less than a minute to go.
Obviously, a 6-3 score doesn’t look great on paper, but without the empty netters, it was a very close –if oddly officiated– game.
“I thought our guys played really well.” Coach Branham said after the game, “Not sure why Klotz was kicked out of the game. No clue. I watched it on video and I still don’t know why but you know it is what it is. I thought our boys played really well. The first two periods, like you’re talking about, it was really choppy, like penalty here penalty there, we couldn’t get into flow. And then you see in the third period where you can finally get some five on five shifts and you know, we’re able to take it to them. I’m actually probably the way the boys played with Klotz kicked out. Then we had another injury. We played short handed, and I thought they battled really hard to be honest.
Once again, Brassard, Tischke especially, but also Yau with his first goal, stepped up and continued to improve. “Yeah, I think those three are playing really well,” said Branham, “Tischke’s really stepping up playing big minutes playing important minutes, Yau, same thing. I thought Brass was really good. You’re exactly right, those guys played really well. Our players played really, really well. To be honest. Once again, we gave up 24 shots, they had those two empty netters for 26, but that we gave up 24 shots and our players played really well. They played hard. It was a choppy game back and forth. I thought we had a lot of grade A scoring chances where we tried to get a little fancy, we could have just shut the puck, but you know, is what it is. We’ll regroup here, go on a road trip and get some wins.”
For Yau, obviously he would have preferred his first pro goal come with a win, but it’s still a nice milestone to get out of the way.
“Yeah, it’s nice to get the first one but obviously would like a better outcome. We know they’re good team. Essentially a playoff game right there. High pace, we had some forwards go down. So we needed some of our D-men, to you know, fill that void up front. So it was nice to have guys like Brasser and Tisch, really good skaters to kind of fill in for those close holes we had.”
Despite losing two forwards in the second, the Grizzlies didn’t look like a team playing with a severely shortened bench, and that’s down to their conditioning — something that will become more and more valuable as this very busy stretch continues.
When asked about the team’s ability to turn it on in the third period, even down two guys, Yau said, “We work hard every day in practice. We work out, we condition, we skate to be as prepared as we can be for these third period efforts and that’s why I think it shows. Sometimes we have those sluggish first periods. We know in the second and third, we can rely on our conditioning to propel us through the game.”
Obviously, you don’t ever want to lose 6-3, empty-netters or no, but the Grizzlies played well, and isn’t overly concerned going forward.
“This is just a minor set back” Yau added. “We know it’s one game, we knew we weren’t gonna win every game this season. They’re a good team, we’re a good team, we just know we’ve got to learn from it, we know we can be better, and we can apply those types of principles going forward, especially on this big road trip when we’ll need to rely on those types of things.”
The Grizzlies head out for a three week road trip, where they’ll take on Atlanta, Greenville, Wichita, Idaho, Tulsa, and Kansas City.
- First Period: Yau (Barron, Lewis)
- Second Period: Dickinson (Williams, Brassard)
- Third Period: Jenkins (Dickinson, Terao)
Photo courtesy of Mauree North