Considering the only thing up for grabs was secondplace in the IHL's Southwest Division, Utah's 2-1 win over Houston Wednesday hardly resembled a regular-season tilt.
"This was a good, hard-fought hockey game," Utah coach Butch Goring said. "It was like a playoff game with a lot of intensity."The teams racked up a combined 44 minutes in penalties in the second of four consecutive Wednesday meetings. Utah won last week's affair, 4-0.
"These become four-point games," Goring said. "And we really have to win them."
The victory lifts the Grizzlies' record to 37-16-7. Utah's 81 points are one better than Houston but seven off Long Beach's division-leading pace.
Defenseman Gord Dineen's slap shot at 18:24 of the second period broke a scoreless tie. At the time, Houston held a 28-18 shots-on-goal advantage.
"They came at us hard. I think we embarrassed them here last week," Grizz center Kip Miller said. "They wanted to come out and play better." Problem was, the Aeros could reach Philippe DeRouville's level of play.
The Utah goaltender was spectacular in stopping 34 consecutive shots and finishing with 40 saves. His efforts allowed the Grizz to survive a 47-second span in the second period when they were at a 5-3 disadvantage after Chris Taylor (holding) and Darcy Loewen (roughing) drew penalties.
Though in the end it didn't matter, DeRouville wasn't as fortunate in the third period. Seconds after Utah's John LeBlanc caromed a shot off the post, Houston moved the puck to the other end where David Oliver evened the score with a goal at 8:16.
The deadlock, however, lasted just a little more than two minutes. Loewen charged the net on a break-away and Vladimir Orszagh fired the rebound past Houston goalie Ryan Bach for the game-winner. The score didn't sit well with the Aeros.
"It was a joke. There was interference on the goaltender. It shouldn't have been a goal," Houston coach Dave Tippett said. "It was too bad because it was a helluva hockey game. With a little bit of luck and good refereeing we win."
The contest ushered in a three-game homestand for the Grizzlies, who will play seven of their next nine at the E Center. Manitoba comes to town Friday with Long Beach visiting Saturday.
"It's not going to get any easier," Miller said. "It'll be a good tune-up for the playoffs."
After a Texas two-stop to San Antonio and Houston next week, Utah plays five straight at home. And as far as the Grizzlies are concerned, there's truly no place like home.
The Grizz sport the league's best home record at 21-5-2.
"We're playing great," De-Rou-ville said. "I think teams are impressed with our team when they come into our building . . . They're scared."
SLAP SHOTS: The attendance was 9,279 . . Goaltender Mark McArthur, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since Nov. 28, has been activated by the Grizzlies and will start Friday. Replacement Scott LaGrand was returned to Orlando. He was 1-1-2 with a 3.00 GAA for Utah while on loan from the Solar Bears . . . Now that the Olympics are over, KSL 1160 AM will resume its weekly Grizzlies Talk radio program Mondays at 7:30 p.m.