In what the Colorado Eagles would call a playoff tune-up game, the Grizzlies from Utah entered the contest viewing it as a must-win. Utah entered the game needing to record a win to clinch a playoff spot in the very strong Western Conference of the East Coast Hockey League. The Eagles playoff schedule and opponent were already set even before the opening face-off. They will be opening on the road at Ontario next week.
The Eagles started strong, as fan-favorite Brock Nixon opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at 10:03 of the opening period, his 29th of the season. Nixon got behind Utah’s blueliners and was fed a perfect outlet pass from Kyle Kraemer. Nixon deked Grizzly goaltender Igor Bobkov and slid it home for the 1-0 lead. Utah answered right back, as forward Mathieu Aubin’s power-play wrist shot beat Clarke Saunders, who couldn’t get his right blocker on it. Aubin’s goal was assisted by Brenden Walker, who made a perfect centering pass.
The Eagles regained the lead halfway through the second period, as Chris Knowlton netted his 14th goal of the season, this one on the power-play. The lead, once again, was short-lived as Utah retaliated. The Grizzlies had men right in front of the net all night, and this time it paid off. Camden Wajtala tipped-in a puck that seemed to play pinball around both team’s sticks before it found the back of the net. As the second period was winding down, Danick Paquette found himself on a breakaway and beat Saunders, but couldn’t beat the buzzer, and the goal was waived off.
The third period was full of chances for the hometown Eagles. They even found themselves on a long power-play, as Grizzlies Brenden Walker was called for a double minor for high-sticking. Utah killed it off and forced the game into overtime, carrying over a very important power-play of their own.
Overtime came and went quickly, as Brenden Walker scored the game winner only 18 seconds into the extra frame. The Grizzlies won the opening and only face-off of overtime, got it deep in the Colorado zone, and got the puck to Walker, who ripped the one-timer past Saunders, and put his Grizzlies into the playoffs.
4 of the 5 goals were scored by special teams. Utah had 2 power-play goals and Colorado had both a power-play and a shorthanded goal. Utah was 2-6 and Colorado was 1-6 on the power-play. There were 46 combined penalty minutes. Eagles coach Chris Stewart was denied his 400th win of his illustrious coaching career, but will have another chance on Saturday night as the two teams wrap up their regular season schedule at the Budweiser Events Center.
by Luke Price