WEST VALLEY CITY Goaltender Mike Mole has had quite a ride in his third professional hockey season.
After training camp with the New York Islanders and AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he was sent down to Utah, then recalled three times to Bridgeport and even spent recent time on the bench with the Islanders due to injuries.
But his last start was March 14 for the Grizzlies at Las Vegas.
Since then, he's done a little fill-in duty but hadn't played much until Thursday, when he replaced teammate Nathan Lawson five minutes into the second period and came out with a stunning 7-5 victory after Utah had been down 4-1 when he went in and 5-1 after he'd played 39 seconds.
Saturday night at the E Center, Mole got the start and held the potent Victoria Salmon Kings scoreless in a 2-0 Utah win that gives the Grizzlies the chance to close out this second-round series when the two teams meet again at 4 p.m. today in Game 5 in the E Center. Utah is up 3-1 in the best-of-seven playoff.
Should the higher-seeded Victoria team win, the series heads back to British Columbia for Game 6 Tuesday and Game 7 Wednesday, if necessary.
Ryan Kinasewich backhanded a shot in from his knees in the slot at 5:02 of the first period, and that score stood until Olivier Labelle raced a Salmon King to the Victoria endboards, came away with the puck as the defender fell and was nervously able to score an empty-net goal with 25 seconds left.
"To be really honest with you, I was in my biggest slump of the year. I don't have a goal in nine games. I wasn't even thinking about it," said Labelle. "I was just chasing that puck as hard as I could, the guy fell down. I got nervous when I got puck, but whatever. I'll take it."
So will Mole, who finally realized his dream of starting a professional postseason game.
"That's my first-ever postseason start in my professional career, and that was a great way to start it off," Mole said. "It was a good feeling to get a win and an even better feeling to get a shutout."
He admitted it's been tough to sit on the bench and watch as Lawson stayed hot, but the whole team has taken notice that he worked hard and stayed ready, and the support they've shown him shown every player who's had difficulties indicated to Mole just what a special club this is.
"The guys played outstanding in front of me, and (Victoria) had a couple of chances but nothing real difficult," he said. "It was a great way for me to get my feet wet and get some confidence, and I owe everything to the guys in front of me. I just can't say enough about how they played tonight and how supportive they've been throughout the last couple weeks."
The Grizzlies spent much of the game keeping three players in the neutral zone disrupting Salmon King rushes, which is one of the high-scoring team's strong suits, and the tactic worked well.
"They wait for the neutral zone to open up, and they wait to hit those chances on the rush," said Mole. "Our forwards did a good job getting back so that our D-men were able to stand up and really eliminate them from entering the zone."
The Salmon Kings still managed five or six quality chances, but Mole was up to the task, though he credited the goalpost for the biggest save on a breakaway by Ryan Wade with 12:30 left in the second period. The puck bounced from the post into the back of his leg, where Mole corralled it.
"It's been a long and winding road," Mole said of his last few months, "up to the NHL, down to the American League, down to the ECHL just to sit on the bench. It was definitely nice to get back on the horse (Thursday) and have a chance to help the team win a game and start today."More than anything, it was fun for me. It's been a long time. It's a whole 'nother feeling to be in the game and to make a save or make a play that you know are really helping out."
ECHL KELLY CUP PLAYOFFS
Utah @ Victoria Utah 6, Victoria 0
Utah @ Victoria Victoria 6, Utah 1
Victoria @ Utah Utah 7, Victoria 5
Victoria @ Utah Utah 2, Victoria 0
Victoria @ Utah (today, 4 p.m., E Center)
Utah @ Victoria (Tuesday, 8 p.m. MDT, if necessary)
Utah @ Victoria (Wednesday, 8 p.m. MDT, if necessary)