GLENDALE, AZ – The Colorado Blizzard traveled to Glendale to take on the Arizona Impact at the Arizona Sports Complex on Saturday night, in the first of a two-game road trip for the team, and came away with an 11-9 win.
The Blizzard started hot, scoring the first two goals of the match, the first from forward Shane Wheeler, chipping Impact goalkeeper Eric Tate at 11:09 of the first period, and the second from Stibe Torres at 9:40, both goals listed as unassisted. Arizona would get their first goal of the night off a John Sobey volley assisted by Ismael Castillo at 8:14. A brief time later, Blizzard midfielder Judson McKinney narrowly missed a one-time volley after the Impact failed to clear the ball.
The evening was rife with questionable calls, physical play, and blue cards. The first two-minute penalty of the game would go to Blizzard forward Cody Stratton who was rung up for a careless slide tackle against Tate in his penalty area, a tackle that left the Arizona goalkeeper punching the boards in frustration. Blizzard goalkeeper Miguel Rosales made a couple of key saves behind the Blizzard’s box formation penalty kill unit and the team was able to kill off the penalty.
Things started to get heated between the teams when goalkeeper Rosales was contacted as he cleared a ball by a late-sliding Impact player. The referees failed to recognize the challenge as a foul. Blizzard Head Coach John Wells was livid.
Tate struggled at times during the first half playing the ball with his feet. In one instance, Tate passed the ball directly to Blizzard co-captain Jay Hamilton who, unselfishly, played a nice pass to the back post for Stratton who knocked it in, putting the Blizzard up 3-1 with 3:29 remaining in the first.
With 2:47 left in the first, the Impact’s Castillo earned his team’s first penalty for what looked like an elbow to defender Alex Moseley, though it was recorded as a push. Moseley took exception to the foul and words were exchanged before Castillo was removed to the “sin bin”. Moseley would get even by scoring on the power play assisted by Torres, increasing the lead to 4-1. Hamilton would add one more for the Blizzard before the end of the first as Stratton returned the favor on Hamilton’s earlier assist. Blizzard led 5-1 after one.
The Impact struck first in the second period. Blizzard defender Moseley was penalized two minutes for elbowing, rendering them short-handed for the second time. This time the penalty would cost them. After a huge Rosales save, Josh Albers took a restart, passing the ball, which was “dummied” by another Impact player, allowing Matt Marcum to strike it home at 12:41, making it 5-2. Then, just over a minute later they scored again when the Blizzard turned the ball over resulting in a two-on-none breakaway against Rosales, cutting the lead to 5-3, Noel Castillo from Heliel Cortez.
Impact forward Albers was shown a blue card for pushing at 5:40 of the second period after he was fouled in the corner of the Blizzard’s defensive third. Then, as play resumed, the Impact were caught with six players on the field instead of five, but in what seemed to be a bizarre decision, the refs did not issue another blue card for “too many men on the field” and instead stopped play and allowed the Impact to retake the kick they had been awarded prior to the pushing penalty. Again, Coach Wells was not happy and expressed his opinion sternly to the officials. Despite several chances, the Blizzard were not able to capitalize on the man advantage.
The Blizzard wrapped up the first half with two superb goals. The first from Moseley, his second of the game, assisted by Torres, and the second from midfielder Andrew Mejia assisted by Moseley. The teams headed to the locker room with the Blizzard commanding the game, up 7-3.
In the third, the Blizzard picked up where they left off. Torres scored his second goal assisted by Moseley, who was racking up points, but then the Blizzard began to falter. They struggled with turnovers and odd-man rushes, allowing the Impact to net the next three goals: Omar Ledesma from Castillo, Phil Jackson (unassisted), and Albers from Tate, making it 8-6.
The Blizzard got things going again at 9:38 of the third. Though the box score has it down as Wheeler (unassisted), it came off a set piece taken by Torres to Wheeler who played a waist high ball across the face of the goal to Ri Armstrong who banged it in. The next goal, however, was scored by Wheeler, increasing the Blizzard’s lead to 10-6. It is listed as unassisted, but it came after the Blizzard blocked an Impact shot from a restart, and was passed by a Blizzard player to a streaking Wheeler who went in on a breakaway.
Tate was injured with 4:44 remaining in the third and had to be replaced by Josh Chelpka. With 1:16 left in the period, the Impact’s Eric Hernandez scored assisted by Cortez, making it 10-7.
The fourth period was riddled with penalties. First up was the Blizzard’s McKinney for tripping at 12:34. The Impact’s Jackson would score on the power play from Marcum, making it 10-8. Then, despite another differing account in the box score, the Blizzard were penalized for too many men on the field. Moments later the Impact’s Marcum was sent to the box for a slide tackle. While the teams were both playing a man down, the Blizzard’s Mejia was shown a blue card for pushing, the third penalty in 1:13. Noel Castillo would score a power play goal for the Impact cutting the Blizzard lead to one. Apparently the goal came just before the first Blizzard penalty expired, though Coach Wells and the Blizzard bench argued that it came just after the penalty expired.
The next several minutes were high intensity. The Blizzard hit the crossbar and Rosales made a huge kick save to hold the lead. It stayed 10-9 until the Blizzard grabbed an insurance goal with 1:05 to play when McKinney scored against sixth attacker Craig Tyrell.
With the win the Blizzard are now 3-0 on the season, sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference behind the Chicago Mustangs who are currently 5-1. They are back in action on Sunday, January 14 in Las Vegas against the Knights, kickoff at 3:05 pm. The Blizzard return home to start a four-game home stand at the Denver Coliseum on February 3 versus the San Diego Sockers 2, at 7:05 pm. Then they host the Las Vegas Knights on February 10 at 7:05 pm, the Colorado Inferno February 11 at 3:05 pm, and the Ontario Fury II on February 17 at 7:05 pm. Tickets are available at www.axs.com or at the Coliseum box-office.