What do you do when your top two favorite ECHL teams battle each other? Well, you go to the games, of course, and cover the series. The Utah Grizzlies and Orlando Solar Bears battled in what turned out to be an awesome and very physical series, with each team taking a win.
On Sunday, February 19, it was the first of the two game set on the holiday weekend, where this game had everything from goals to big saves and awesome fighting. The Solar Bears controlled the first part of the game, having an early edge on the shot board nine to one. Early on, the Solar Bears were able to convert on their early chances as Mathieu Foget got a centering pass from Jaydon Dureau to take a shot from the slot for his ninth of the season to put the Bears up 1-0. Shortly after, it was Maxim Cajkovic and Jimmy Mazza of Orlando taking penalties 13 seconds apart, giving the Grizzlies a great chance to tie it up, and that they did as it was Tarun Fizer taking a shot from the top of the slot getting it past Bears netminder Jimmy Poreda who couldn’t see the puck as Keaton Jameson obstructed his view.
The heavy physical battle started with around 5:30 left in the first when Solar Bears Captain Ross Olsson collided with Utah goaltender Lukas Parik. It was Connor McDonald taking exception and getting into a little shuffle with Olsson. The Grizzlies hoping to get some momentum heading into the middle frame, took some chances. Ultimately, it was Vladislav Mikhalchuk wrapping the puck around the net and sneaking it past the pad of Poreda to give Utah a 2-1 lead with 2:49 left in the first.
Orlando was hoping for an early response in the second, and they had a chance when Parik took a shot at Olsson, drawing a roughing penalty and giving Orlando a power-play 55 seconds in. As the power play for Orlando expired, the Solar Bears started gaining momentum. However, Parik kept the puck out of the net to keep Utah in front. Orlando’s best chance came with around nine minutes left when Bears forward Bennett MacArthur stole the puck and took a point-blank shot, ultimately getting stopped by Parik.
With 7:04 left in the middle period, it was Fizer again getting a shot from the left circle just over the shoulder of Poreda to expand the lead for Utah to 3-1. With 90 seconds left in the period, the Grizzlies got an interesting goal as the puck took a hop off the glass, and it was Cameron Wright, who was at the goal line getting his stick on the puck right under the crossbar and whacking it in for a 4-1 Utah lead with 1:26 left in the second.
Oh boy, the third period was fun to watch as there were no goals, but there was a lot of action as Parik made a couple of big saves early on. Utah got the best chance of the period when Fizer took a shot and hit the post with 9:10 left. There were some good chances for both teams until the 15:35 mark of the third as a massive brawl ensued next to the Grizzlies bench. That near-line brawl racked up 90 penalty minutes and sent six guys to the showers early. The fighting wasn’t done, though, as 64 seconds later, it was Mazza and Victor Bartley getting into it, ultimately sending those guys to the showers early. Wait, there is more, as with 3.3 left on the clock, it was Christian Simeone and Brayden Guy fighting each other. All the game’s penalties resulted in a combined 160 minutes between the two teams as Orlando’s frustration boiled over.
Monday, February 20, was the second game of the two-game set, and it was the ultimate thriller to watch, featuring another line brawl and a comeback for the ages. Despite the high shot count, there wasn’t a lot of scoring in the first. However, Orlando finally opened the floodgates when Foget won a draw on the right circle getting it to Dureau, who took a point-blank shot to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
In the middle frame, it was Tristan Langan knocking the puck into the net on a scramble around the net, Grizzlies netminder Garrett Metcalf argued for goalie interference, it was reviewed, and the goal stood with 15:20 to go in the second. Around the halfway mark of the period, the Grizzlies got a 5-on-3 power play chance resulting in head coach Ryan Kinasewich using his timeout. Despite not scoring on the power play, the momentum continued, and it was former Solar Bear Dylan Fitze getting the Grizzlies on the board at the 13:35 mark of the frame with his 11th of the season. The Solar Bears, who looked better than Sunday, got a big chance to regain their two-goal lead with around five minutes left. However, it was Metcalf sprawling out, making a big save and robbing Orlando.
The 2-1 Orlando lead was taken into the last period, and early on, the Solar Bears started to run away with this game with two goals in a span of 1:25 as it was Matthew Barnaby on the power play and Foget for his 10th of the year, that second goal was reviewed for goaltender interference, and after a short review, the call on the ice stood- good goal.
Approximately 30 seconds after Orlando took a 4-1 lead, the Solar Bears took a couple of big and high hits on a couple of the Grizzlies skaters. They took exception resulting in many penalty minutes and very crowded penalty boxes. Shortly after all the penalties were announced at the arena, fans started to chant “Utah Sucks,” and oh boy did the Grizzlies have some words for those fans as just past the halfway mark of the period, it was Jameson, Fitze, and Dakota Raabe all scoring within a span of 3:42 tying the game at four apiece.
Orlando players weren’t happy with the comeback by Utah as just 20 seconds later, it was Cajkovic catching Metcalf out of his net, giving Orlando the lead with 4:43 left. The Grizzlies knowing they had a chance, started to pressure and drew a penalty on Grant Mismash with 2:14 left, giving the Grizzlies a late power play chance. With the goalie pulled, it was Chris Harpur shooting from the middle of the ice missing the empty net. Fitze got the puck near his net and passed it to Raabe, who was alone on the other side of the ice for the perfect breakaway goal to tie the game again with 46 seconds left, leaving the Amway Center crowd stunned.
In a series like this, where two teams who only face off against each other for one short series a year played this like they were major rivals, of course, it needed overtime. It was a slow start to the first part of the extra frame as Utah and Orlando traded shots. However, it was MacArthur coming off the bench, uncovered, scoring the goal from the slot, and giving the Solar Bears the extra point.
Side note: Solar Bears Forward Ross Olsson was suspended for Monday’s game due to being an aggressor in the final five minutes of regulation on Sunday.