The puck dropped for the first time at the Maverik Center to kick-start the 2016-17 season, and no one appeared more excited than Utah Grizzlies forward C.J. Eick to face a familiar foe in their division rival Idaho Steelheads. Eick outscored Idaho on his own with a pair of goals as Utah won its season opener 4-1.
"Eick led the way," Utah coach Tim Branham said. "For him to come out and do what he did was fantastic, and it wasn't just the goals. He played a great game on the penalty kill and five-on-five and he was rewarded for it."
Utah was clinging to a precarious 2-1 lead with six minutes remaining in the contest. However, Eick thwarted any notion Idaho had of stealing the first game of the season as he came up with a loose puck and fired for a 3-1 lead. Moments later Jordan Samuels-Thomas poured some extra salt in Idaho's wound to make it 4-1.
Half of the game had expired and neither team had been able to muster a goal. That would change at the 11:30 mark of the second period.
Seconds after a penalty to Grizzlies defenseman Jon Puskar ended, Utah found itself on an odd-man rush. Eick found some open space and scored the first goal of the season for Utah, rifling a top-shelf shot that got by Steelheads goalie Landon Bow.
"It was nice to get on the board first," Eick said. "Idaho has a good team and getting up a goal on them was big since we had a tough time coming back on them last year when they scored first."
Seizing momentum, and with the pressure of scoring the first goal released, Utah transitioned into another gear. Two minutes later, Mike Banwell made a crisp cross-ice pass to an open Jon Puskar who deposited it into the back of the net. In a blink of an eye, Utah suddenly found itself ahead 2-0.
Idaho finally solved the mystery of Utah goalie Kevin Boyle in the third period. The lone goal Utah's keeper allowed occurred on a Steelheads power play by Joe Faust. Boyle deflected 29 of the 30 shots he faced.
"Boyle made some big saves but he makes every save look easy," Branham said. "He's calm and cool no matter what he is doing."