After dropping their last two games at home to the Colorado Eagles, the Wichita Thunder traveled 15 hours to Utah to take on the Grizzlies Friday night. It was a difficult night in goal for Wichita, as Utah scored seven goals on just 22 shots on their way to the 7-3 victory over the Thunder. That ruined a great night for Ralph Cuddemi who had 2 goals and an assist for Wichita. Ryan Misiak was the star for the Utah Grizzlies, scoring 2 goals of his own and adding an assist.
For the sixth game in a row, the Utah Grizzlies got on the board first. At 8:14 of the first, just as a power-play was ending for Utah, Taylor Richart fired a shot that hit off the post. The puck bounced out to Michael Pelech, who put it passed Thunder goalie Shane Starrett. Starrett had just returned from Bakersfield (AHL), and had no real chance on the play. It was the 13th goal of the season for Pelech.
With Wichita on the power-play and a delayed penalty about to be called, the Thunder tied the score at 11:51 of the first. Lane Bauer passed the puck to Ralph Cuddemi, who fired a wrist shot that beat former Wichita netminder Joel Rumpel. That was the team leading 22nd goal of the season for Cuddemi.
Wichita remained on the power-play, but it would be the Grizzlies special teams that would give them back the lead. The puck was cleared out of the Utah end, and Ryan Walters outraced the Thunder defender to the puck before moving in on net. He passed the puck to Ryan Misiak, who buried the puck in the back of the net for his ninth goal of the season. That made it 2-1.
The Grizzlies had an even strength goal and a short-handed goal, so it was not a surprise to see them add a power-play goal with 61 seconds left in the first. Austin Ortega fired a shot that Starrett saved, but there was a mad scramble for the rebound in front of the net. Brendan Harms knocked it in for his eighth goal of the year, and Utah was looking good.
However, the Wichita Thunder cut that deficit in half with just 17 seconds left in the period. The Grizzlies were able to clear the puck out of their end, but Chad Butcher stole the puck and passed it to Cuddemi. He passed it Jon Puskar who fired a shot that hit off of Rumpel’s glove and trickled into the net for his 14th goal of the season. It was an ironic moment, as Puskar was acquired from the Grizzlies by Wichita in exchange for Rumpel.
Although five goals had been scored in the first period, it was a solid defensive battle, as Wichita outshot Utah 8 to 6 in the first. To start the second, the Grizzlies looked to extend their lead back to two within the first minute of the frame. Robb Mann fired a shot that Starrett saved, but Harms was right there to put the shot back on net. The Wichita goalie moved quickly to his left to make the save and deny Utah a golden opportunity.
At 5:55 of the second, the Grizzlies would restore their two goal lead. Sam Babintsev passed the puck to Walters, who buried a shot just inside the post and in for his 23rd goal of the year.
The Grizzlies extended the lead to three with five minutes left in period. A bad turnover gave Misiak the puck right in front of the Thunder net and he buried it past Starrett for his second goal of the game. That ended Starrett’s night and brought a call for Nick Riopel.
At the 18:25 mark, Pelech extended the lead to four with the second short-handed goal of the game for Utah. Brad Navin cleared the puck out of the Grizzlies end and Pelech outraced the Wichita defender for the puck, beating Riopel for his 14th goal of the year.
Just 24 seconds later, Cuddemi scored his second goal of the game. With the Thunder still on the power-play, Butcher passed to Cuddemi who buried the one-timer to make it 6-3. That was the third assist of the game for Butcher.
The lead went back to four early in the third period. At the 7:01 mark, Babintsev made a great pass to Travis Howe, who was heading toward the net. He moved the puck to his backhand before beating Riopel for his first goal of the year. That made it 7-3 Utah.
The Thunder had a great chance to reduce the deficit back to three. At the 15:43 mark of the third, the pass came to Cuddemi, who had a shot at a wide open net, but Joel Rumpel came from out of nowhere to reach the far post before the puck had a chance to find the back of the net. Just 19 seconds later, Jeremy Beaudry fired a shot that Rumpel made another great save on.
Ryan Misiak had 2 goals and an assist for the Utah Grizzlies. Michael Pelech also had 2 goals, and Taylor Richart and Sam Babintsev each had 2 assists. Ralph Cuddemi had 2 goals and an assist and Chad Butcher had 3 assists for Wichita.
These two teams will square off again tomorrow. The puck drops at 8:05 Wichita Time.
By Robert Pannier