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ECHL Update: Opening Week

Grizzlies glorious in perfect opening weekend

Lethbridge Hurricanes v Calgary Hitmen Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

The season got off to a very good start for the Grizzlies — in fact, it would have been practically impossible for their first two games to go any better than they did.

Kevin Boyle started in the season opener, a 4-1 walloping of the Steelheads, at least on paper. It felt much closer in the game — though not because of Boyle. The first period was, quite frankly, boring, though the Grizzlies out-shot Idaho to the laughable tune of 20-5. Each team took a penalty, and the score remained 0-0 after 20. The second period was far more entertaining. Idaho took three penalties, Utah took two, and also scored two goals in about three minutes, both from returning veterans C.J. Eick and Jon Puskar. At the end of 40, shots were 23-12, for the Grizzlies, and the score 2-0, also in their favour.

Then the Steelheads made things interesting. Down 2-0, and after having looked like they were going to sleepwalk through their first game of the year, they woke up. In the final 20, they threw 18 shots on net. The period opened with a bang, as Zach Bell of the Steelheads, and Evan Stoflet of the Grizzlies dropped the gloves, these teams are never on the best of terms, and have seen an awful lot of each other lately. Stoflet got an extra two for high-sticking prior to the fight, and the Steelheads scored on the ensuing power play. It was, perhaps, the only time Boyle looked out of his element, losing his footing as he dove across the crease, and the puck went into the wide open net. But that was as bad as it got, as Boyle turned aside 17 of the 18 pucks he saw.

Kevin Boyle makes a save en route to a 4-1 Grizzlies victory Friday, October 14, 2016.

A little over ten minutes after the goal, the Grizzlies established good offensive zone pressure, Kenton Helgeson got the puck to Shane Walsh, Walsh threw the puck to the slot, and C.J. Eick scored his second of the night (unfortunately, the replay here doesn’t really show Helgeson’s pass, but he is in front of the net wearing 71).

Ducks prospect Kenton Helgeson gets the secondary assist on C.J. Eick’s second goal of the game on October 14, 2016.

With under four minutes left in the game, Jordan Samuels-Thomas (who attended the Gulls’ training camp) put the game out of the Steelheads’ reach on a power play tally, and that’s all she wrote.

A number of players had very good games, but Kevin Boyle was definitely the stand out, being named first star and stopping 29 of 30 shots. In his first pro game, he was as cool as the proverbial cucumber. Despite passing long stretches in the early going without seeing a shot, he never looked surprised or unprepared when they did come his way. In the third, he held down the fort until Eick added a little cushion to the lead. To see him, you would never have guessed that it was his first game as a pro.

"He makes some big saves, that's for sure" said head coach Tim Branham after the game, "but he makes every save look easy. He's one of those goaltenders that moves really well, controls his rebounds really well. The next time he plays, watch him, how many pucks that come off of him and go into the netting. He does a great job with it. He's calm and cool, no matter what he's doing."

He added that as Boyle came off the ice after being named first star, he jokingly asked him if his heart rate had gone above 90 yet. If the outward signs were anything to go by, the answer could well have been no. "He's pretty special," Branham added, and given the evidence so far, it's hard to disagree.

Boyle played preseason games with Anaheim, San Diego and Utah, and attributed his surprising lack of nerves before this game to these appearances, as well as to the fact that the team in front of him allowed him to ease into the swing of things by only allowing 12 shots in the first two periods. His mindset, he said, is "always just to win." And that's exactly what he did.

Helgeson doesn’t often get a whole lot of ice time in the grand scheme of things, and only stood out a few times, twice when he was just a hair slow to negate an icing, and once with his secondary assist. He was the lone Ducks prospect in Saturday’s game, and had one shot in the game.

The Grizzlies won Saturday’s game 3-0, goalie Ryan Faragher (a former Ducks prospect) was absolutely perfect in his season debut, and the team looked much better all around, though the power play definitely still needs a little tightening up.

The Grizzlies travel to Idaho for games this Friday and Saturday, both starting at 7:10 MST, and it is likely that Boyle will start at least one of those games.

Full highlights from Friday and Saturday’s games can be found here and here.

Hockey is back, and I get to cover it! I'm so grateful for this opportunity.

A photo posted by Namiko (@freawaru2020) on