The Outliers returned to action following their Christmas break holiday without missing a beat. The club ended 2023 on a high note as they swept the Pueblo Bulls in a 3-game set. Utah defeated the Bulls by scores of 6-2, 4-2, and 2-1. The three wins propelled the team into first place in the Mountain division.
OUTLIERS 6, BULLS 2 (DEC 29TH)
Philip Rondina got the nod in net for the Outliers as he was coming off a winning performance in his last start against the Idaho Falls Spud Kings. Rondina has been red hot since joining the Outliers in November and was looking to continue his winning ways.
During the first period Friday, the Outliers came out ready to battle, pressing hard against the Bulls and pushing them deep in their zone as they controlled much of the early play. Utah strung together a series of shots at the net in the opening frame but were unable to capitalize on their chances. Rondina, as he has done so often, stood tall and turned away everything that came his way. The first period ended scoreless but Utah held a strong territorial advantage and wound up outshooting the Bulls by a 13-5 margin.
In the second period, Utah's offense came alive with four goals. The Outliers first goal of the game came at the 16:17 mark when Utah's defenseman Ben Thornley-Hall carried the puck up ice into the Bulls zone. Upon entering the Pueblo zone, Thornley-Hall slipped a drop pass to teammate Michael Schwartz who made a nifty saucer pass to Daniil Chuparnov to put him alone on the Bulls goalie. Chuparnov made a nice move to deke the Pueblo netminder and deposit the puck into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. The Bulls answered back with a power play goal at 14:33 to tie the game at 1-1. An unlucky bounce near the Utah net offered a Bull's player a wide-open chance to beat Rondina cleanly.
Just a couple minutes later, Utah took a 2-1 lead when David Utkin broke down the right side of the ice where he drove hard to the Bulls net and then tucked his shot inside the far post past the Pueblo netminder. At the 7:16 mark, the Outliers extended their lead to 3-1 when forward Evan England drove hard to the net and released a quick shot that tickled the twine.
Pueblo narrowed Utah's lead to 3-2 when the Outliers failed to clear the puck on the penalty kill and Bulls forward Jack Hanson made them pay. Utah completed the scoring in the second period when they converted on a nice passing play for their fourth goal of the second period. David Utkin skated the puck deep into the Pueblo zone and threw a centering pass to teammate Makar Klochkov who buried his shot into the back of the net. Shots in the second period favored Utah 15-7.
The third period belonged to the Outliers as they scored two more goals to secure a 6-2 victory. Utah's fifth goal came off the stick of Mason Keller who drove hard to the Bulls net and received a pass from teammate Garrett Joss. The Outliers sixth goal of the contest was scored by Daniil Chuparov off a set up from David Utkin.
Utah skated off the ice with a dominating 6-2 win as they outshot Pueblo 37-20 and earned another two points in the tightly contested Mountain division.
OUTLIERS 4, BULLS 2 (DEC 30TH)
On Saturday, the Outliers were looking to pick up another hard-fought win against the Bulls. This game proved to be a battle from start to finish as Pueblo was determined to make things difficult for the visiting Utah team.
In this game, Utah would look to newly acquired goaltender Connor Graham to hold the fort down. This was Graham's first start with his new team and he showed his stopping ability early and often throughout the contest.
Pueblo came out hard in the opening frame and wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as they converted on an opportunity just minutes into the game. The Bulls carried the puck into the Outliers zone off the rush and took a quick shot from the left circle where a rebound occurred. The Outliers were unable to clear the front of the net and Bulls forward Jimmy Zeissel put away the rebound for a 1-0 Pueblo lead.
Utah tied the game 1-1 at the halfway mark of the opening frame when forward David Utkin entered the Bulls zone and made a delay move to shake off the defenders. Utkin then slid a pass across the blue line to trailing defenseman J.S. Pack who rifled a one-timer into the back of the net.
The opening period came to a close with both teams tied at 1-1. Pueblo outshot Utah 14-8 but Utah's Graham stood tall and made several key saves to keep the Bulls from adding any additional goals.
The second period showed a lot of intense play from both clubs along with some outstanding goaltending at both ends of the ice. The two teams had their share of scoring chances but could not solve either netminder as both goalies were up to the task and shut the door to keep the game deadlocked at 1-1.
It wasn't until the last two minutes of the second period that Utah finally found its second goal of the contest. While set up behind their net, Utah began to exit their zone, and forward Makar Klochkov sent a long stretch pass up the ice to Garrett Joss who broke in all alone on the Pueblo goalie. Joss made no mistake as he fired a quick shot past the netminder to break the tie and give the Outliers a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.
In the third period, Utah scored its third goal while playing on the power play. The team moved the puck around the zone where Garrett Joss fed a pass to Makar Klochkov for a shot on net. The rebound bounced out front to Daniil Chuparnov who quickly shot it into the net for a 3-1 Outliers lead.
At the midway point of the period, Pueblo scored a power play goal of their own to make it 3-2 when Bulls forward, Eddie Paulissian recovered the puck behind Utah's net and stuffed it inside the near post.
With a minute remaining in the game, Pueblo pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker and pressed the Utah net looking for the tying goal. The Outliers defended their zone intensely and Utah's Daniil Chuparnov recovered a loose puck in the zone and shot it the length of the ice into an empty net to secure a 4-2 Utah win.
Outliers goaltender Connor Graham ended the night making 37 saves and many in spectacular fashion.
OUTLIERS 2, BULLS 1 (DEC 31ST)
Utah was looking for the sweep on Sunday as they played their final game of 2023. The game proved to be a spirited New Year's Eve battle with a lot of great action in front of a hostile Pueblo crowd.
Philip Rondina was back between the pipes for Utah and was looking to build on his strong performance from Friday's game.
Utah opened the scoring in this game midway through the first period when forward Nathan Huntington drove the puck deep into the Bulls zone and threw a backhand shot at the net. Huntington's shot was stopped by the Pueblo netminder but the rebound landed on the stick of Rhyle Shevlin who fired it into the open cage to give Utah a 1-0 lead.
There would be no more scoring in the opening frame as both teams applied a lot of aggressive checking pressure which stifled the offense at both ends of the ice. Utah skated into the first intermission leading 1-0 but were outshot 13-9 in the opening frame. Philip Rondina had another strong period for Utah in fending off the Bulls scoring chances.
At the 14:39 mark of the second period, it was the Pueblo power play coming to the rescue once again as Bulls forward Eddie Paulissian deflected a shot past Rondina to tie the game at 1-1.
The tightly contested affair continued between both teams as there was no further scoring in the second period despite some quality scoring chances. Both netminders came up big for their respective teams and shut the door to keep the game even at 1-1.
The third period was filled with back-and-forth action but neither team could find the back of the net until late in the game. With just 5:33 remaining, Utah found the go-ahead goal when Bailey Ewonus broke free on a 2-on-1 and twisted a ripper into the top corner of the net to give Utah a 2-1 lead.
For the remainder of the game, the Outliers showed their staunch defense and thwarted away all of Pueblo's scoring opportunities to earn a 2-1 victory and sweep the 3-game weekend set. Philip Rondina ended his night by making 35 saves and continuing his spectacular play.
Utah is currently on a 9-game winning streak and has won 12 out of its last 13 games. The team is now tied for 1st place in the Mountain division with 44 points.