ORLANDO, FLA – Thursday night at the Amway Center, the two “bears” of the ECHL got together for the first time with the intentions to claw at each other until the opponent gave in. It took almost 64 minutes to decide which bear was better and it turned out to be the one from the mountains.
Phil Mangan scored his second goal of the game 3:35 into overtime as the Utah Grizzlies made their first visit to Central Florida memorable with a 3-2 win over the Orlando Solar Bears in front of an announced crowd of 5,306. Both of Mangan’s scores came on the power play in a game that was contentious from the start and set the tone for two more contests this weekend.
84 penalty minutes were assessed in the game, 56 coming during a near line brawl late in the first period. Two players from each team were given game misconducts in the melee, leaving both benches short for the remaining two periods and as it turned out an overtime frame.
“It got pretty complicated when you’re down to seven forwards and five defensemen and guys are playing everywhere,” Orlando head coach Vince Williams said after the frustrating loss. “That’s the culture of this league sometimes. There’s really not much to take from it [the game].”
Much of the frustration that Williams, his players and the fans felt was built on the fact that the Solar Bears (16-12-1-1) dominated a good portion of the first period, even hitting the iron behind Utah goalie Aaron Dell, but not being able to get a comfortable lead. The home team racked up a 15-6 shot advantage in the opening period but only led 1-0 thanks to Tyler Murovich’s eighth goal of the season when he deflected a Bryce Aneloski shot past Dell thirteen minutes into the frame.
“We’ve got to execute. We had a team on the ropes and we’ve got to be better finishing all over the ice,” Williams said.
The first ever meeting between the two teams took a turn to the dark side with a little less than two minutes left before the first intermission. By the time the dust had settled, Orlando’s Trevor Gillies and Ian Slater along with Utah’s Danick Paquette and Teigan Zahn had been tossed from the game by referee Chris Pitoscia.
The middle frame was a much more even period of play as both teams put nine shots on net and had two power play opportunities. It was not even on the scoreboard however as Utah (11-14-1-2) tied the score. At the 12:23 mark of the stanza, Michael Pelech got the puck to David Vallorani who blasted a shot past Orlando goalie Christopher Gibson from the right circle to pull the Grizzlies even.
Penalties and power plays would prove to be a deciding factor in the third period and overtime. Early in the final frame, Solar Bears defenseman Paul Baier was called for elbowing, giving Utah a man advantage. With Pelech providing a screen and a distraction for Gibson, Mangan snapped a shot from the top of the right circle that snuck past the Solar Bears netminder on the short side.
Orlando’s response to falling behind was swift and firm. Just forty seconds after Mangan’s score, Mike Ullrich carried the puck into the Utah end and slid a pass to Mickey Lang. Lang wound up and unleashed a shot that hydroplaned off the stick of a Grizzlies defender and whistled over Dell’s left shoulder.
The Solar Bears continued to pound shots at the Utah net but Dell, who entered the game with a 5-1 record, was equal to the task. Down the other end, Gibson (18 saves) tightened up and held the fort to send the game to the extra period.
Three minutes into overtime, Orlando’s Cody Wild was nabbed for hooking, giving the Grizzlies a power play. It took just 28 seconds of the four-on-three advantage for the visitors to work the puck to Mangan who drilled a shot from the middle of the high slot past Gibson’s stick side shoulder for the game winner.
“I think we have to be smarter. We had a couple bad calls with misconducts and stuff after the whistles,” Solar Bears captain Eric Baier said. “I think if we play hard between the whistles and take care of what we need to do during the game, that will limit some of those bad penalties.”
Baier and his teammates will get the chance to even up the three game set with the Grizzlies when the two teams meet again Friday night at the Amway Center at 7:30 pm.
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