While most of the nation's hockey fans were mourning the demise of the U.S. Olympic hockey team Wednesday, Utah Grizzlies fans found a lot to celebrate.
Thanks to the two-week Olympic hiatus in the National Hockey League, three of Utah's best players returned to home ice, helping the team to an enormously important 4-0 win over Houston.Of the trio of Dan Plante, Vladimir Orszagh and Kip Miller, only Orszagh and Miller managed to score goals. But all three players, who also were with the team during its recent road trip, made a difference. "They add stability to our hockey club," said Utah Coach Butch Goring.
However, the Grizzlies are not sure whether that stability will continue once the Olympics end. All three have spent significant time with Utah's parent club, the New York Islanders, and they may find themselves back there again.
How big was this win? It brought Utah to within one point of Houston in the Southwest Division. It also snapped a five-game losing streak against the Aeros, making an important statement as the International Hockey League season nears the playoffs.
"We talked about it as maybe being a must-win," Goring said. A loss would have dropped Utah to five points behind Houston. "Five points is a lot to make up against a good hockey team."
Realizing the importance of the game, Utah started with an energetic barrage, outshooting Houston 19-3 in the first period. If not for several acrobatic moves by Houston goalie Frederic Chabot, the Grizzlies would have led by much more than 1-0 at the end of the period.
That lead came courtesy of Orszagh, who flicked the puck into the net after snagging a pass from Rastislav Pavlikovsky. Utah nearly took a 2-0 lead a few minutes later when Mark Lawrence scored a goal that was disallowed because the Grizzlies had a man in the crease.
Utah added a goal by John LeBlanc in the second period. LeBlanc, who later assisted on another goal, recorded his 750th point as a professional. Lawrence and Miller added goals in the third period. Utah ended up outshooting Houston 48-25.
Grizzlies goalie Philippe DeRouville may have been making a statement of his own Wednesday night. His shutout came in stark contrast to his last start, which ultimately ended with a 9-2 shellacking at the hands of the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg.
"That may have been his way of telling me, `I'm still the man,' " Goring said.
The shutout was the sixth this year for the Grizzlies, a franchise record. DeRouville is one of three goalies who have contributed to that record.
Utah plays two games this weekend in Las Vegas before returning home Wednesday to play Houston again.