The Rochester Grizzlies are one win away from finishing their unfinished business.
The Grizzlies entered Sunday’s North American 3 Hockey League national semifinal game beaten up, with four regulars out of the lineup due to injuries.
That didn’t stop them.
In fact, it had the opposite effect.
Rochester thoroughly dominated the first 20 minutes against the Sheridan (Wyo.) Hawks, scoring four times in less than 10 minutes to build a big first-period lead. The Grizzlies didn’t let up over the final 40 minutes, rolling to a 7-1 victory against the Hawks in a Fraser Cup semifinal at the St. Peters Rec Plex in St. Peters, Missouri, just outside St. Louis.
“The two teams we played (in pool play) were very physical teams,” Grizzlies forward Joey Fodstad said of Rochester’s wins over Texas and Oklahoma City in pool play on Thursday and Friday. “Everyone was a little battered. Having Saturday off after a few guys went down Friday, it was good for everyone. It was nice to rest and recover for what was our biggest game of the year, until tomorrow.”
Rochester native Joey Malugani led the way for the Grizzlies (41-6-1 overall) on Sunday, recording his first postseason hat trick. Fodstad added three assists, while Justin Wright, Garrett Smith, Matt DeRosa and Peyton Hart also scored. Shane Soderwall made 17 saves before giving way to Zach Wiese over the final 5:12 of the game, to earn his fifth straight win.
The victory lifts the Grizzlies into Monday’s 3 p.m. Fraser Cup championship game (live streamed at HockeyTV.com) against a familiar opponent: the NA3HL West Division champion North Iowa Bulls.
“We’ll have to do the same things we did in the first three games here,” Grizzlies head coach Chris Ratzloff said. “We’ll have to get pucks deep, don’t be too cute. It has to be a lunch-pail game. They’ll come to play. They have a rich tradition of coming to this tournament and winning.
“It’s going to be a battle. We have to take care of ourselves tonight; it’ll be a war tomorrow."
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SUNDAY'S 3 STARS
3. Justin Wright, Grizzlies: The first-year Grizzly scored the game-winning goal and assisted on Garrett Smith's goal late in the first period that put Rochester up 4-0.
2. Joey Fodstad, Grizzlies: The veteran forward had three assists, including a great play in the corner to keep control of the puck and help set up Justin Wright's first-period goal that held up as the game winner.
1. Joey Malugani, Grizzlies: The Rochester native was electric in the first period Sunday, scoring twice en route to a hat trick. He showed off his speed, his hands and his playmaking ability throughout the game.
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The Grizzlies and Bulls did not meet during the regular season this year, but they scrimmaged in late December and played physical, tightly contested games. The Bulls advanced to Monday’s national championship game by beating Oklahoma City 2-1. The Grizzlies and Bulls were also West Division rivals in the Grizzlies’ first season in the NA3HL, 2018-19.
The Bulls defeated the Grizzlies 2-1 in a best-of-3 divisional semifinal series that year, the first-ever playoff series the Grizzlies competed in and, until this season, the only playoff series the Grizzlies had competed in.
Rochester believed it was among the favorites to win the Fraser Cup a year ago, when it won its first-ever Central Division championship, only to have the postseason canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now North Iowa — which won NA3HL championships in 2013, 2014 and 2016 — is the last hurdle for the Grizzlies to leap over en route to a Fraser Cup championship.
“They’re very good offensively,” Fodstad said of the Bulls. “A lot of their team played in the (NAHL) at some point this year. We feel like it’s just (going to take) a lot of hard work and working our systems.
“They have a good goalie and defensemen, too. They’re a good team top to bottom. This is the game everyone’s been waiting for for two years. We’ll give it our all, 110 percent for 60 minutes.”
Rochester will likely head into the title game without some key players, including three of its top defensemen. Blue-liners Yo Nakadate, Ethan Noonan and Tommy Gordon, and forward Dylan Schneider, were all injured in Friday’s pool-play game against Oklahoma City and did not play Sunday against Sheridan. Ratzloff said the injured players will be evaluated Monday morning to determine whether or not they can play.
Even without those players, and with a handful of players suiting up for the first time this postseason, the Grizzlies dominated play from the opening drop of the puck on Sunday.
They outshot the Hawks 17-2 in the first period and scored four times.
“For guys who haven’t played in the postseason, they came in and played like they’ve been in every single game,” Fodstad said. “Those guys, when they get their chances, they’re going to give it all they’ve got. That’s a big testament to this team, always saying we’re not going to give up, no matter what.”
Rochester native Malugani scored twice in the first period, including the game’s first goal, where he carried the puck into the Hawks zone 1-on-2 as his linemates went for a change. Malugani turned on his speed through the left circle, then cut across the top of the crease and tucked it past Hawks goalie Christian Wong-Ramos.
Justin Wright hammered in a rebound of a Garrett Smith shot 1:15 later to make it 2-0.
Three minutes later, Malugani showed off his nifty hands by deking Wong-Ramos four times before scoring into a mostly open net for a 3-0 lead. Smith made it 4-0 with 3:30 to go in the period when he beat Wong-Ramos short-side from the left faceoff dot.
The teams traded goals in the first eight minutes of the second period, with Jacob Cummings getting Sheridan on the board 6:50 into the period, and DeRosa responding for the Grizzlies 27 seconds later.
Malugani capped his hat trick with a power-play goal from the left circle with 4:59 to play in the second. Hart capped the scoring midway through the third, beating Wong-Ramos clean from the slot.
“Our message to the boys tonight was ‘if you let (Sheridan) have time and space, they score a lot of goals,’” Ratzloff said. “The message was ‘get all over them, don’t give them time to make plays, finish checks. For the last few months, that’s the way we’ve been playing.”
GRIZZLIES 7, HAWKS 1
First period — 1. ROC, Joey Malugani 8 (Cody Reagle 18) 7:00. 2. ROC, Justin Wright 14 (Garrett Smith 41, Joey Fodstad 27) 8:15. 3. ROC, Malugani 9 (Reagle 19) 11:20. 4. ROC, Smith 13 (Wright 12) 16:30. Second period — 5. SDN, Jacob Cummings 43 (Blake Billings 48, Nick Wieben 20) 6:50. 6. ROC, Matt DeRosa 27 (Fodstad 28, Peyton Hart 29) 7:17. 7. ROC, Malugani 10 (Fodstad 29) 15:01 (pp). Third period — 8. ROC, Hart 27 (DeRosa 23) 11:53.
Shots on goal — SDN 2-11-6—19, ROC 17-15-9—41. Goalies — SDN, Christian Wong-Ramos (L, 13-4-0; 34 saves-41 shots); ROC, Shane Soderwall (54:48; W, 26-3-0; 17 saves-18 shots), Zach Wiese (5:12, 1 save-1 shot). Power-play opportunities — SDN, 0-for-4; ROC, 1-for-5. Penalties — SND, 6-20 minutes; ROC, 4-8 minutes.