LA CROSSE, Wis. – The Rochester Grizzlies knew this game had a little more meaning than the average regular season game. They knew the standings heading into Thursday’s contest against the Coulee Region Chill. Rochester sat one point behind the Chill for second place in the Central Division after the Chill took advantage of the Grizzlies having last weekend off and won two of three games. The Grizzlies came out strong early by scoring the first four goals of the game, and five in the first period, while also getting a hat trick from Devin Hays, en route to a 9-2 road victory. With the win, Rochester jumped back into second place in the Central Division.
Rochester earned a power play just 1:20 into the first period and Noel Parker continued his strong play since joining the Grizzlies by knocking home his second goal of the season, making it 1-0 Rochester. Parker crept down low from his point position and Joey Fodstad made a nice back door feed to Parker for the goal. Clayton Shultz added the other assist. Not too long after the goal, the Grizzlies would find themselves in penalty trouble. Cody Reagle and Logan Olson were in the box, giving the Chill a brief 5-on-3 power play. Rochester would kill off Reagle’s penalty and 16 seconds after that, Joey Fodstad scored a shorthanded breakway goal, extending the lead to 2-0. The goal marked Fodstad’s second shorthanded goal of the season. Travis Shoudy, playing in his only game before being called back up to the Austin Bruins, picked up the assist.
First-year forward Jesper Hofling got in on the action as he beat Chill goalie Devin Naidow for his fourth of the season at 8:31 of the first period and it was 3-0 Rochester. Just 45 seconds later, Devin Hays would make it 4-0 and chase Naidow out of the game. Naidow allowed four goals on five shots. Parker Severson stopped the bleeding briefly for Coulee Region as he scored just 43 seconds after Hays, making it 4-1. However just 37 seconds later, recently named captain of the Grizzlies Peyton Hart made it a four-goal lead again by beating Michael Janke on the first shot he saw since entering the game. Rochester would put up 20 shots on net compared to just seven for Coulee Region.
The Grizzlies wouldn’t see the same offensive outburst in the second period, but they did add to the lead. Zak Justice added some offense from the fourth line as he scored his fourth of the season at 4:28 of the second. Reagle earned his first point as a member of the team by picking up the primary assist. Hays scored his second of the game at 15:13 of the second, making it 7-1 Rochester. Fodstad and Olson earned the helpers on Hays’ fifth goal of the season.
Rochester kept up the pressure in the third period. The Grizzlies maintained a strong forecheck and didn’t allow Coulee Region much time at all to set up in the offensive zone. Hart picked up his second of the game at 5:52 after dancing his way through the defense the beat Janke by firing a wrist shot on the ice. Ethan Noonan and Hunter Wilmes assisted on Hart’s eighth of the season. Marco Escobar scored for the Chill at 11:26, making it 8-2 Rochester. After some hard work of attempting to get him the puck, Hays completed his hat trick with just 1:05 left in the game. This marked his first hat trick in his NA3HL career and the third one for the Grizzlies this season (Fodstad and Michael Heitkamp have the other two).
Mathias Backstrom earned his fifth win of the season, stopping 14 of the 16 shots he saw on net. In comparison, Rochester finished with 47 shots on net for the game. The win sees Rochester improve to 2-1 against Coulee Region this season.
The Grizzlies (12-4-1-0, 25 points) are now one point ahead of the Chill and have played two less games than their closest division rival. Both teams are chasing the St. Louis Jr. Blues who have 29 points. The Jr. Blues have played 22 games this season, five more than Rochester.
Rochester will have a chance to gain some ground as Saturday it will travel to Wausau to square off against the RiverWolves. The Grizzlies are 2-0 against the RiverWolves this season. Puck drop is 7:30 and the game can be found on Hockey TV. There’s a chacne Rochester could be bumped back down to third place as early as Friday since Coulee Region faces Wausau that night and would leap frog into second with another win.
The Grizzlies are back home Friday, Nov. 29th and Saturday, Nov. 30th against the Peoria Mustangs. Friday’s game is Black Friday Blackout as fans are encouraged to wear black to the game to help create a blackout atmosphere. All tickets are $5, beer buckets are just $10 and draft beers are $2. Saturday’s game is Rochester Youth Hockey Night at the Rochester Recreation Center. All youth hockey players who wear their team sweaters get free admission. There will be a custom-made Grizzlies and RYHA themed sweater auctioned off at the game, as well. Puck drop both nights is 7 o’clock.