BOISE, ID – Seeming to have a penchant for the dramatic, the Idaho Steelheads had their last eight games of January decided by either one or two goals.
Would the trend continue into February?
The Idaho Steelheads came back to CenturyLink Arena (after nearly three weeks on the road) to face-off against the Utah Grizzlies Friday night. With Idaho falling into a 2-0 hole early, Brady Brassart, Jefferson Dahl, and Cole Ully brought the Steelheads back with three straight goals and, of course, a one-goal lead. Cliff Watson scored an equalizer for Utah with six and a half minutes remaining in the third, only to be answered by Idaho’s Will Merchant at 16:34 of the final frame. The Steelheads’ effort after Merchant’s tally was enough to stave off a 6-on-5, extra skater push from the Grizzlies in the final minute, as Idaho pulled out a well-deserved 4-3 victory in regulation time.
Shots didn’t come easy for either team in the opening five minutes of the game, with both teams managing three shots apiece between offensive zone battles. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, as Idaho left a number of centering attempts unaccounted for in front of Utah goaltender Angus Redmond. The Michigan Tech product was tested more frequently as the period went on, sprawling out for a poke check and scrambling to regain position after Idaho began ramping up their scoring chances.
Close to halfway through the opening period, Idaho’s Alexander Dahl exhibited the Steelheads’ physical brand of hockey with a thunderous open-ice hit. Unfortunately, Steven McParland was called for tripping at 9:30, offsetting any momentum gained from the hit. Not even 20 seconds into the man-advantage, Utah’s Alex Dostie received the puck in front of Idaho netminder Ryan Faragher, tucking it passed Faragher’s right side to net a power play goal and put the Grizzlies up 1-0. After Idaho’s Corbin Baldwin and Utah’s Austin Ortega had penalties called at 15:10 and 15:32 respectively, the resulting 4-on-4 scenario ended in another Grizzlies goal, this time from Mitch Hults. The sequence began with a forced turnover by Dostie from Jefferson Dahl, forging ahead into Idaho territory with a 2-on-1 opportunity with Hults. Eric Sweetman was the only man back for Idaho, and with his attention divided, Hults scored on the one-timer setup from Dostie.
Idaho recovered quickly, though, after both teams returned to even-strength. Justin Parizek received a pass from A.J. White in Utah’s end, then wrapped around the Grizzlies’ net to set up a waiting Brady Brassart on Redmond’s doorstep. Brassart delivered, cutting the Utah lead to one with 1:15 left in the first period.
The second period picked up right where the action-packed first ended. Cole Ully deflected a clearing attempt by Brad Navin behind the Utah goal, bouncing it out to Jefferson Dahl. Dahl then placed a shot past an unsuspecting Redmond, netting a power play goal and tying the game at 2-2 only a minute into the second. Two Steelheads penalties at 1:26 (Ully, Tripping) and 5:12 (Baldwin, High Sticking) were both killed in short order by Idaho, while Utah killed off a Mitch Hults cross-checking penalty at 11:49 of the second.
A Utah turnover in the neutral zone resulted in Jefferson Dahl coming into Grizzlies territory with a 3-on-2 chance. Dahl dropped it back to Ully, who then slid the puck cross-ice to Parizek. Parizek returned the puck back to Ully, who proceeded to chip it high into the net for his seventh goal of the year at 15:17 of the second.
Pointing at Parizek and shaking his fist in approval after scoring, Ully elaborated post-game on the All-Star’s succulent setup: “(Dahl) made a good drop and drove the defense back, giving us space. I gave it over to Parizek because I know he has a good shot and was trying to set him up. He returned the favor and put (the puck) right on my tape. It was a great play by both those guys.”
As Idaho maintained its 3-2 lead at the end of the second period, a standoff involving Brassart and multiple Grizzlies occurred after the horn sounded. Surrounded by opposing players, Faragher went in to extract Brassart from enemy territory and get the second intermission started without involving fisticuffs.
The first five minutes of the third period was very similar to the opening period’s, in that, there were just not many shots on goal from either squad. Utah mustered two shots on net, while Idaho didn’t have any. Business picked up around the seven-minute mark, with an Eric Sweetman rebound chance and Parizek feeding Max French on a wide-open opportunity that was tooled high over the net. After Ryan Faragher snuffed out a Utah power play at 11:33 of the third, White and Ully rushed Redmond to return the pressure to the Grizzlies side. Parizek then went to the box to serve a tripping penalty at 12:17, met with a Utah hooking infraction from Kyle Thomas at 12:55. The resulting 4-on-4 gave Utah’s Cliff Watson a chance to take a wrister from the left wing with a man screening Faragher in front, netting a goal at 13:28 to knot the game in a 3-3 tie.
Idaho needed someone to step up and put this game away; Will Merchant answered the call. After making a great move to deke through two Utah defenders, Merchant plastered the puck into Angus Redmond’s left pad. The puck rebounded, and Merchant tried again, with no success. On the third try, Merchant lifted the puck over a sprawled-out Redmond’s pad and scored what would stand as the game-winning goal at 16:34 of the third period.
News of Note
-On Wednesday night, when the Steelheads and Grizzlies played in West Valley City, Idaho was called for eight penalties while Utah was called for zero. Even with such a discrepancy, Head Coach Neil Graham didn’t hesitate to extol the Steelheads’ resolve in the face of adversity.
“(It’s) the character of the room,” Graham credited. “Utah is a very good team, and they have a lot of skill. When you look at their lineup, they’ve got some guys on their second line – Ortega, Hults, Dostie – they’ve played their whole year in the American League. They have a lot of dangerous players, and that line with Walters and Thomas…that’s five guys right there that are highly skilled and highly dangerous. It’s important not to sit back on our heels, but to play fast and get plays into their O-Zone. Our guys did a good job executing.”