Back-to-back get back. The Glads earn a series split with a 3-2 win over Utah
It's winter. It's a little cooler, and of course, it's prime-time for ice hockey.
The game (January 29, 2020) game between the Utah Grizzlies and Atlanta Gladiators is the second of a back-to-back between the two teams. The Grizzlies (25-12-5-2, 57 points, 3rd place in the Western Division of the East Coast Hockey League) prevailed 5-2 (on January 28, 2020) as they pulled away in the 3rd period with a pair of goals thanks to their power play. With an offense that is 7th in the league (3.53 goals per game) that includes Tim McGauley (17 goals, 37 assists, and 54 points), Griffen Molino (16 goals, 29 assists, and 45 points), and Ty Lewis (20 goals, 17 assists, and 37 points), they are making a push to inch closer to the division lead.
Tonight, the Glads (17-23-1-1, 36 points, 10th place in the Eastern Division) look to even the series at home at the Infinite Energy Arena) at this critical time in the season. The play of team-leading scorer Eric Neiley (13 goals, 22 assists, and 35 points), Samuel Asselin (18 goals, 16 assists, and 34 points), and Tommy Marchin (16 goals, 17 assists, and 33 points), along with steady play from the defense and goaltending, are central to the team's play this evening.
Pre-game (Utah Grizzlies vs Atlanta Gladiators)
Glads' forward Samuel Asselin takes time to speak with us for our pre-game interview. The team's second leading scorer (in 34 games, he has 18 goals and 16 assists for 34 points) is having a solid rookie season (ECHL) as he's tied for second in the league among rookies in goals and fourth in points.
During our interview, he shares insight on his individual growth and the team's goals, a few keys to success for tonight's game, some thoughts on the late Kobe Bryant (of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers), and some timely encouragement for younger players.
Game Action (Utah Grizzlies vs Atlanta Gladiators)
The 1st period sees the Gladiators get in the scoring column first (at the 12:23 mark) thanks to a short-handed goal by team veteran and captain Derek Nesbitt (his 8th goal of the season), putting the puck past the Grizzlies' goalie, Brad Barone. The unassisted goal is the 300th of his career as a member of the Glads, giving them a 1-0 lead. Solid team defense and play from goalie Chris Nell (7 saves/7 shots), along with an aggressive offense (they have a 12 to 7 shots-on-goal advantage), keeps Utah at bay.
The pressure continues in the 2nd period.
At the 1:07 mark of the period, Nesbitt adds another goal (his second of the game and 9th of the season). Assisted by Scott Conway (his 9th assist of the year) and Thomas Frazee (his 3rd assist of the season), the Glads make it a 2-0 lead. At the 6 minute mark, Barone (the Utah goalie) mysteriously leaves the ice; due to a delayed penalty call, the Grizzlies are on power play at the 6:21 mark (due to a slashing penalty on Logan Nelson), and shortly thereafter (7:14 mark), Utah gets a power play goal, thanks to Taylor Richart's 12th goal of the season (assisted by Griffen Molino [his 30th] and Tim McGauley [his 38th]), cutting the lead to 2-1.
The Glads respond, and quickly.
Thanks to Frazee's 3rd goal of the season at the 9:22 mark (assisted by Nesbitt [his 17th] and Eric Neiley [his 23rd]), the Glads make it a 3-1 lead.
And then, the Grizzlies respond at the 11:31 mark as Peter Tischke knocks Neiley out of the game with a high-stick to the face (a 4-minute penalty). This leads to a power play opportunity, but the Utah defense is able to hold off the Glads' offense. Shortly thereafter (16:17 mark), another penalty by Nelson leads to another power play for Utah, but they aren't able to take advantage. With the shots-on-goal advantage intact (24-13 in favor of the Gladiators), the team's balanced play maintains the team's 2-goal lead.
Early in the 3rd period (3:05), a penalty by Asselin gives Utah an opportunity to climb back into the game (tripping penalty). At the 4:08 mark, Utah gets their second power play goal of the game. Ty Lewis' 21st goal of the game, assisted by Richart (his 16th) and McGauley's second assist of the game (and 39th of the season) make it a 3-2 game. At the 10:15 mark, Molino (Utah) has a breakaway goal chance as he gets behind the defense, but the Glads' Neil responds with an excellent glove save to preserve the team lead.
With the period getting closer to the end, the intensity level for both teams increases, including some after-whistle activity. In the last 1:45 of the game, Utah pulls their goalie for an extra-man advantage, but efforts from the Glads' defense seals a 3-2 win and a much needed split of the 2-game series.
Even with the late flurry by Utah, Atlanta has a 30-24 shots-on-goal advantage, including solid play by Nell (22 saves). Nesbitt (2 goals and 1 assist) and Frazee (1 goal and an assist) pace the Atlanta attack. Richart (1 goal and an assist), Lewis (1 goal), and McGauley's 2 assist set the tone for the Utah offense, and after facing a barrage of shots in the first 2 periods, Barone's efforts (27 saves) fall just show of getting a win.
Both teams have a breather until Saturday, as Utah makes their way to Greenville to take on the Swamp Rabbits The Glads host the Norfolk Admirals, and with it being their annual Teddy Bear Toss Night, it promises to be an energetic crowd (fans are asked to bring a teddy bear or stuffed animal, and when the team scores its first goal, they are asked to toss their animals on the ice as all stuffed animals are donated to local hospitals, police, and fire stations).
Post-game (Utah Grizzlies vs Atlanta Gladiators)
Derrick Nesbitt, one of the players of the game, takes time to speak with us. Including the team's ability to make adjustments to earn the split to his performance (scoring the 300th and 301st goals of his career), he notes things the team can build upon.
Likewise, defenseman JC Grassard (Utah Grizzlies) takes time to discuss lessons learned from the game, along with takeaways that can help them on their current road trip (and next game).
Note: all photos are taken by the author/writer of the article.