October 2, 2023
Salt Lake City, Utah
On Friday the Skatin’ Utes went head-to-head with the Montana State University Bobcats. The Utes were up against a great team and they quickly became aware of it. Right from the drop they were faced with an onslaught of shots owed to Montana establishing themselves in the offensive zone. They kept the pressure on and drew a penalty, scoring a goal on the ensuing power play, and as the first period came to a close MSU forward Zach Lane notched his second of the night. The Utes put up a healthy 13 shots but couldn’t find the twine, a pursuing trend in this game, and Utah goaltender Jack Nowicki managed 17 saves on 19 shots.
Lane was able to complete his hat-trick early on in the second frame, and after a bombardment of 20 shots and the opportunity of three power plays, the Bobcats led 4-0 going into the third. The final period also began with a Bobcat score and although the Utes stayed out of the penalty box, they couldn’t climb out of the 5-0 hole. Allowing one more to squeak through towards the end, the final result was 6-0 Montana State.
Utah’s offense ran dry on Friday night, their shot total of 26 was dwarfed by MSU’s 51. In spite of the heavy workload, Nowicki posted a strong .902 save percentage similar to his performance against Weber State University on opening weekend. MSU goaltender Jorgen Johnson started his season hot by recording a shutout, stunting Utah’s offense all night long.
The following night the Utes found themselves in Missoula, where the University of Montana Grizzlies were hosting their home opener. In front of a packed and raucous barn the Grizzlies came out of the gates flying, forcing their physical and fast play on the Utes. The energy brought on by the crowd was certainly responsible for the full on surge that was the first 8 minutes of the 1st period, but Utah found their footing and began to settle in after the chaotic start.
Halfway through the 1st, a weak Grizzly shot was tipped through a mess of bodies in the middle of the ice, trickling past Jamie Dziurdzik to make it 1-0. Neither team had much luck scoring for the next period and a half but the game remained a very spirited one throughout. Big hits, heavily contested board-play, and extracurriculars after the whistle all resulted in high tension, and in turn plenty of trips to the penalty box.
Responding to the physical play, defenseman Donovan O’Shea layed a massive open-ice shoulder-to-shoulder check at the offensive blueline, standing his ground and sparking some energy into the M2 squad. Another spark came from a superb Dziurdzik save in the 2nd period to keep the game a 1-0 affair. With a Grizzlies player flying into the zone and making a cross-crease deke to his forehand, the Utah netminder showed off his flexibility in the form of a split, shutting the door on a sure-fire goal.
Due to a lot of sloppy neutral zone play there was little offense in the 2nd period, but that quickly changed in the 3rd. By way of penalties and forcing plays Utah found themselves down 3-0 early on in the third frame, but soon after they got one back. Taking the puck across the neutral zone and deep into the offensive zone, O’Shea got it to Maxwell Hove behind the goal line, who then fired a pass to Ethan Kuhrt. In the slot, Kuhrt roofed the puck off of a one-timer to make it a 3-1 game. Kuhrt had a great game with good plays on the half-wall and a couple of essential backchecks, and was ultimately rewarded with a goal.
Despite their best efforts Utah was never able to get themselves back into the contest and fell to the Grizzlies, 5-1. The M2 team will have the opportunity to improve their record back to .500 and set themselves back on track this coming weekend in Idaho, where they will face Boise State University for two straight nights.