BOISE, ID – On Friday night, the Idaho Steelheads lost a hard-fought battle with the Utah Grizzlies on a last-minute goal. Come Saturday evening, Idaho triumphed over Utah with an equally scrappy battle against the Grizzlies.
What a difference a day makes.
Idaho captured three of four games against Utah in their two-and-two series with the Grizzlies this past week, as the Steelheads picked up the 2-0 victory on Saturday night in Boise. Goaltender Ryan Faragher stopped 31 of 31 shots for the Steelheads in his 10th career shutout, as Steven McParland tallied his 10th and 11th goals of the year in his second two-goal game of the season.
As it has been all series long, both clubs brought the pain, with heavy forechecking and fights throughout. This was evident in the four power play opportunities for both Idaho and Utah in two straight games. Oddly enough, neither team had success on the man advantage, going 0-for-4 in each game at CenturyLink Arena this weekend.
Faragher was tested early and often in the first period, the highlight of which included a 2-on-1 chance from Utah’s Ryan Olsen to Ryan Walters that Faragher turned aside with a pad save. The Steelheads had plenty of opportunities to back up Faragher on offense, but un-synchronized passing and foiled centering attempts lead to a meager four shots on goal for Idaho in the first. In contrast, Utah peppered Faragher with 13 shots in period one.
As would be the case after four games against a division rival, Idaho started to get under Utah’s skin to the point of lost discipline from the Grizzlies. A pesky Mitch Moroz screened Grizzlies goaltender Kevin Carr during an Idaho power play halfway through the first, getting close enough to warrant some shoves and eventually a trip from Carr. The resulting penalty brought a brief 5-on-3 match-up for Idaho, but to no avail. Moroz continued to play the instigator into the second frame, as he and former Alaska Aces defensemen Mitch Jones dropped their gloves & fought in the middle of the play at 2:49. Moroz pummeled Jones rather quickly, landing a few blows before Jones fell to the ice in defeat. During the fall, Moroz landed awkwardly on a linesman who swooped in to end the altercation. He had to be helped off the ice and was missing for the rest of the game. Steelheads staff indicated Moroz suffered a lower-body injury, but no other details were given to the severity of the injury or a timetable regarding his return.
After Moroz’s fight with Jones, the fire was stoked for the Steelheads. Winnipeg native Corbin Baldwin got into a shoving match with Utah’s Ryan Olsen shortly after the “Fight of the Mitches,” and scoring chances began to stack up for the Steelheads following the forays. Baldwin was then on the receiving end of an unsuccessful Connor Chatham setup in front of Carr a minute later. However, a returning Tommy Thompson (back from his month and a half call-up from AHL’s Texas Stars) created yet more offense for Idaho, stealing the puck and driving down the ice. Accompanied by McParland on the attack, Thompson threaded a perfect assist to McParland as the former four-year man out of Providence College scored his 10th goal of the year at 4:59 in the second to make it 1-0, Idaho.
McParland looked to return the favor at around the 6:15 mark with a nifty 2-on-1 pass to Thompson for a scoring chance, but Thompson lost his edge and fell to the ice before he could get a clean swipe at the puck. The McParland-Thompson show continued through the middle period; left winger Thompson used his lightning-quick speed to rush to the net and 6’1” build to smash poor victims like Grizzles d-man Garrett Haar against the boards, as McParland had multiple attempts on net while coupling with Thompson on the top line. The last portion of the second was dominated by Idaho’s Corey Durocher going coast-to-coast with puck possession, trying to lead the Steelies on the attack around 14:30 and throwing a wrister at Utah’s net with less than two minutes left, resulting in a glove save by Carr. Right before time expired in the second, Henrik Samuelsson deflected Corbin Baldwin’s shot in an insurance goal attempt that did not go through.
Both teams found themselves in familiar territory, as this was the second straight night Idaho had a 1-0 lead going into the third period. A minute and a half in, Durocher flung one of his four shots on goal off Carr’s right shoulder. Rough play and scoring opportunities were yet again embraced by both teams in the third, as Carr’s memorable save occurred halfway through the period when he had to juggle and bat McParland’s backhand attempt out of the air. Faragher had to turn aside two backhand shots himself in the final frame, cutting down on rebounds for Utah by frequently squeezing shot pucks into his chest pad for the save.
After Utah pulled their goalie and took a timeout with 1:25 remaining in regulation, the effort to set a scoring chance up was rebuffed again and again by Idaho. The Steelheads dealt the final blow to Utah’s game-tying hopes with a Cody Corbett zone-clearing flip of the puck. McParland hustled down the ice with a Utah defender giving chase, but an excellent diving poke by the Steelheads’ second-leading scorer yielded his second goal of the night and his 11th of the season at 19:43, putting the game out of reach for the Grizzlies.
News of Note:
Idaho picked up their eighth win of the year at home, improving to 8-5-2 within the confines of CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads must be slightly more comfortable as road dogs, with a record of 6-2-2 after ten games away from Idaho. The two points gained from tonight’s win brings the Steelheads to 32 points, solidifying their third-place standing in the Mountain Division after a Colorado victory and a Wichita loss on Saturday night.
As aforementioned, Tommy Thompson came back from his AHL stint with the Texas Stars this evening after spending a month and a half based out of Cedar Park.
“It’s great,” Thompson said. “Boise is a great place to play hockey; they took me back with open arms. I’m excited to be here…It’s hard being away for a while, but I know the guys really well from training camp when I was here for a little bit. Just trying to get to know them a little more and just play a really hard, fast game. With time, we’ll keep growing and keep building more chemistry.”
The Steelheads continue their homestand with three more games next week. First, Rapid City Rush come into town on Wednesday night, then, the Wichita Thunder makes their first visit to CenturyLink Arena next Friday and Saturday nights.