The Utah Outliers took the ice Friday night to host the Northern Colorado Eagles at the Acord Ice Center for a 7 p.m. puck drop. The game had special meaning for Utah as it was 'Autism Awareness Night' and the team wore special themed jerseys that were auctioned off to fans with all the proceeds going to the Autism Council of Utah (ACU).
As expected, the game drew a capacity crowd as everyone was excited about celebrating Autism Awareness and looking forward to an exciting night of hockey between two very talented teams. The packed house brought a lot of energy and excitement to the building as the two teams prepared for a competitive night of hockey.
Utah's Garret Alderman got the nod in net for his team while the Northern Colorado Eagles chose to start Brendan Smith between the pipes. Both goalies have put up strong numbers this season for their respective teams, making goal scoring a premium for this game.
The first period began at a feverish pace as both teams found their skating legs early, played fast with the puck, and brought some physical assertiveness to the contest. The intensity on this night started early and never let up for 60 minutes.
With a fast pace of play on display, each team was able to create several good offensive chances but could not find the back of the net on their scoring chances. Alderman and Smith repeatedly made key saves to keep either team from scoring.
The opening period looked like it was going to wind down to be scoreless, but with just over two minutes remaining in the frame, the Eagles converted the first goal of the evening to give themselves the lead.
The play began with a face-off loss in the Outliers’ zone which the Eagles won back to the point. Colorado defenseman Evan Wammes gained control of the puck at the blue line and released a quick shot from the point that would get tipped on its way to the net by Eagles’ forward Alexandre Bedard. The deflected shot by Wammes found its way over the shoulder of Alderman and gave the visitors a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Moving into the second period the Outliers demonstrated a great amount of intensity hoping to establish a rhythm to their game, but the Eagles were tenacious in their aggressive checking and made things challenging for the home team. Utah would continue to press their offense but when some good scoring chances presented themselves, Eagles netminder Smith was up to the task and shut the door.
With the Outliers pressing hard offensively in the Eagles’ zone it would finally take its toll on Northern Colorado as they were flagged down for a penalty that would result in a Utah power play. This seemed to be just the spark Utah needed to get on the scoreboard.
As the power play began, Utah created solid opportunities but was still unable to score, so the team called a time-out to sort some things out and discuss strategy. Upon returning from the time-out, the Outliers gained control of the puck in the Eagles’ zone and went to work on their offensive set up which led to a goal by Nikolas Schwab to tie the game at 1-1.
The play started with the Outliers breaking out and establishing possession in the Eagles’ end to set up their power play. Leyton Pettypiece established control low in the zone and made a pass up to the point to Will Cohen who passed along the blue line to Miles McCue. Once the puck was delivered to McCue, he was quickly pressured but spotted Nikolas Schwab low at the goal line and all alone. Schwab would accept McCue's pass and spin to the net for a skillful play and slip his shot past the Northern Colorado netminder.
The period would conclude with the game tied 1-1 to set up a fierce battle heading into the final frame. The Outliers would go to the locker room with the momentum having scored with just over five minutes remaining in the second period and intent on bringing home the victory on Autism Awareness Night.
In the Final period, Utah came out charging with a lot of determination and hunger to get the go-ahead goal. The home team continuously hunted down loose pucks and won a lot of battles on the boards as they fought to get to the Eagles’ net. A multitude of chances were presented to Utah, but they were stonewalled by the play of the Northern Colorado goaltender.
Finally, with just 4:48 remaining in the game, the Outliers were rewarded with the goal they were looking for to take a 2-1 lead. Utah controlled possession of the puck in the Eagles’ zone and a broken play found the puck on the stick blade of Nick Urtis who was high in the offensive zone. Urtis would take control of the puck and attack the Eagles net, but when pressured quickly by an Eagles defender, he dished a lateral pass to defenseman Matthew Koepke sliding down from the point. Koepke skated down an open lane to the net and rifled his shot top-shelf over the glove hand of Smith for the winning goal.
Koepke would add to the Outliers lead when he intercepted a Northern Colorado play in the neutral zone and shot the puck into an empty net to beat the buzzer with no time remaining on the clock to solidify an Outliers 3-1 win.
Garrett Alderman finished the game making 25 saves for Utah and was solid all throughout the game. Alderman's strong play throughout the season has been a big reason for the Outlier's strong defensive statistics.
The Outliers were elated to be able to secure the victory and win an important game in front of their home fans on Autism Awareness Night. The game had special meaning for many of the players, staff, and fans. We thank everyone who showed up to support such a terrific cause.
The team is back in action again on Sunday, Feb. 27 at noon as they play host again to the Northern Colorado Eagles. This will be the final regular-season game for the Outliers before heading into playoffs. The game can also be viewed live stream on HockeyTV.com.