Pretty good dog catchers, these Utah Grizzlies.
A 7-0 win over the Long Beach Ice Dogs Saturday was Utah's seventh straight over the International Hockey League points leader. It also continued a trend dating back to when these teams were, well, cubs and pups. The Grizzlies now lead the all-time series 17-3-1, though the Ice Dogs hold the satisfaction of winning last year's playoff match-up."It's just a funny thing how that works," Utah coach Butch Goring said. "If it wasn't for us, they'd be sailing away with the league. I don't know why it happens."
Long Beach coach John Van Boxmeer was also at a loss for words.
"In games like this you've got to be prepared to battle," he said. "And we haven't."
John LeBlanc registered a hat trick as Utah snapped Long Beach's seven-game winning streak. Dan Plante added two goals, while Chris Taylor and Greg Spenrath added single scores for the Grizzlies.
"Things fell into place tonight," Goring said after his team bounced back from a 2-0 loss to lowly Manitoba Friday. "We played with a lot more zip tonight."
The Ice Dogs entered the game with 90 points and the distinction of being the only team in the league to have already clinched a playoff berth. Utah, meanwhile, improves to 38-17-7 and moves to within seven points of Long Beach in the Southwest Division race. The gap may be closer than it appears considering the Grizz, who are the only team in the IHL with a winning record (8-0-1) against the Ice Dogs this season, have played four fewer games.
The Grizzlies enlisted a familiar face to assist in their drive for the playoffs. Niklas Andersson, who once scored five goals in a post-season game for the 1995 Turner Cup champion Denver Griz-zlies, rejoined the organization earlier in the day. He racked up 35 points in 30 games for Utah in 1995-96 before spending the next season and a half with the NHL's New York Islanders. The left wing opened the current campaign with the San Jose Sharks before being sent to minor-league Kentucky. Goring obtained his services in an effort to boost Utah's sagging power play (16.9 percent).
Andersson also adds speed and experience to the league's fourth-best penalty-killers (84 percent).
His impact was felt immediately as the Grizz outshot the Ice Dogs 37-23. Among their five scores were two converted power plays, just Utah's fourth and fifth over its past 56 chances.
"Good fortune smiled on me," Goring said of Andersson who recorded an assist in his homecoming game.
Defensively, Utah killed six penalties as goaltender Philippe DeRouville notched the Grizzlies' seventh shutout on the season - a team record.
The contest capped a three-game homestand for the Grizz. Utah visits San Antonio today and Houston Wednesday before returning to the E Center for five games beginning Friday.