Utah Grizzlies: Third Period Woes

The Grizzlies are finally on their way home after a rough road trip, earning only two points out of a possible eight.

After facing a relatively light night in Wichita, Ryan Faragher made the start again in Tulsa. Shane Walsh was out of this game, and with Brandon McNally, Zac Larazza and Austen Brassard up in San Diego, the Grizzlies were forced to play short-handed yet again.

The first period was fairly quiet, Utah taking and killing off a too many men penalty 5:06 into the game. Given the goal and penalty filled first periods the Grizzlies have had lately, this was probably their best (if most uneventful) opening 20 minutes in a while.

Just under half way through the period, Shawn Bates was sent to the box for slashing, and the Grizzlies went to the power play. Though they had some nice chances, they were unable to convert.

The second period was also fairly uneventful, the Grizzlies getting a chance on the power play which looked much better, but was unable to capitalise. Through the first two periods, the game was definitely a goaltending duel between the leagues winning-est goalies (Jamie Phillips 9-0, and Faragher 5-3).

Unfortunately, after a strong 40, the Grizzlies’ third period issues came back to haunt them again. With just 1:50 gone in the first, Garrett Ladd scored, slipping a rebound around Faragher, with former fan favourite Danick Paquette picking up the primary assist. Up until this point, the Grizzlies had looked pretty good, playing solid, though perhaps not terribly exciting hockey, and generally looking none the worse for wear. But after the goal, they looked a little flat-footed, and though they did eventually generate some push-back, it wasn’t enough to get them back into the game.

Just over four minutes later, Paquette himself walked in past Keaton Thompson, and beat out Faragher for an unfortunately pretty goal, putting Tulsa up 2-0.

Mike Banwell took a penalty at 9:33, but the Grizzlies killed it off with relative ease.  With about 1:30 left in the period, the Grizzlies pulled Faragher for the extra attacker, and Kale Kessey scored into the empty net.

The final score was 3-0, and shots were 33-30 for Tulsa, who remains perfect at home. Despite the loss, this was possibly one of the Grizzlies’ better road games until their breakdowns in the third period. They were quick to jump on Oilers’ turnovers, had two strong penalty kills, and were much cleaner on the power play. They were simply unable to sustain that effort through the end of the game.

However, despite falling to 6-4 on the year, the Grizzlies return to Utah atop the Mountain Division, where they hope to remain as they host the Allen Americans and the Adirondack Thunder over the next two weeks.

Utah Grizzlies: Weathering the Storm

With Brassard and McNally called up to the San Diego Gulls, the Grizzlies looked a little different than they have of late. However, if last night’s stinker was surprising, tonight’s rebound was not. Tim Branham teams don’t often drop two bad games in a row, let alone three.

Wichita came out hot again, but the Grizzlies were able to weather the early onslaught, before going short handed on a delay of game penalty 2:24 into the first.

Unfortunately, less than 30 seconds to go in the kill, a wildly bouncing puck got past the Grizzlies’defence, and trickled through Ryan Faragher’s five hole. It was a pretty bad goal all around, but the Grizzlies responded immediately, Colin Martin scoring on the very next shift. Evan Stoflet and Shane Walsh got the assists on Martin’s second of the year.

With 13:05 to go in the period, Travis Howe and Macoy Erkamps dropped the gloves, and were allowed to have a lengthy go at each other, before they were separated and sent to the box.

Just past the half-way mark, the Grizzlies were sent to the power play, and though they struggled to set up at first, they did eventually break Wichita’s perfect penalty kill record as Erik Higby put one past Drew Owsley. Helgesen got the primary assist, extending his scoring streak to five points in six games.

Taylor Richart made a fantastic play to break up a two-on-one a few minutes later, but took a penalty, negating a Grizzlies power play at 13:44. However, the Grizzlies pushed back, and a strong shift in the Thunder offensive zone led to a Thunder penalty in return.

Forced to take a  defensive zone draw, with mere seconds to go, and a one goal lead, Helgesen was one of the players Coach Branham trusted to get the Grizzlies out of the period, and they did just that, shots 14-6 in their favor.

Just under five minutes into the second, Nick Trecapelli checked C.J. Eick into the boards, sending the Grizzlies to the power play, and Ralph Cuddemi scored on a breakaway, putting one past Owsley for Utah’s second power play goal of the night. Tim Daly and Ryan Faragher got the assists on that one.

Several minutes later, the Grizzlies crashed Wichita’s net, and Travis Howe scored his first of the year, with Carlos Amestoy and Mike Banwell picking up the assists. It looked like Utah would escape the second up 4-2, but a bad turnover allowed Gerrad Grant to score with just two seconds left.

Utah has had rough third periods of late, being out scored to the tune of 18-7, so the goal in the final 20 was definitely to buck that trend, and so they did. At 7:24 Helgesen deflected Tim Daly’s shot into the net, giving the Grizzlies their third two goal lead of the game. With the goal, his second point of the night, Helgesen is is now one of four Grizzlies at (or above) a point-per game.

Nothing much of note occurred in the next few minutes until Alexandre Carrier and Logan Nelson dropped the gloves for the second fight of the night at about the 12 minute mark.

From there on out, the Grizzlies battened down the hatches, and rode out a few dangerous shifts from Wichita, though there were some uneasy moments down the stretch — including a strong shift from Alex Krushelnyski and his linemates.

With a little over 2:34 left, Faragher made a snappy windmill save, and with less than a minute remaining, and the Thunder net empty, Amestoy just missed the cage. Wichita called their time out with 13 seconds left, but were unable to capitalize, falling 5-3, out-shot 41-24.

The Grizzlies’ win halts a two game skid, and was a marked improvement over their last three games. They improve their record to 6-3, Faragher improves to 5-1, and ten different players registered a point. Helgesen (named first star of the game), Daly (third star) and Stoflet all picked up two a piece.

The defense and special teams looked much better tonight, with the power play scoring on two out of four chances, and hopefully they can continue the upward trend.

All in all, it was a much better game for the Grizzlies who will travel back to Tulsa tonight, and take on the Oilers in the afternoon tomorrow.


Utah Grizzlies: Thunderstruck

After getting off to a rocky start on the road on Wednesday, the Grizzlies looked to get back to their winning ways against the Wichita Thunder. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

The game began well for the Ducks’ prospects, as Kevin Boyle made some good saves early, Keaton Thompson had a key shift, blocking shots all over the place, and Kenton Helgesen looked good, finding himself in the thick of the action all over the ice.

C.J. Eick and James Melindy both went to the box with matching minors about halfway through the period, which kicked off a steady stream of penalties in the following three minutes. There were so many penalties that both teams were playing 3-on-3 for a brief stretch. The Grizzlies did eventually have a 45-second power play, but the Thunder returned to full strength with no change in score. Utah got a proper power play as Logan Nelson was sent to the box for making head contact with Erik Higby. Towards the end of the period, Phil Pietroniro took a tripping penalty, and  Alexis Loiseau scored right after the penalty expired. At the end of the first, shots were 9-9 and the score was 1-0, Wichita.

The Grizzlies started the second period well, crashing the net right off the first shift,  though Drew Owsley turned the puck aside. However, Helgesen was back just seconds later, taking the puck deep into the Wichita zone, which led to a goal from Tim Daly. Alexandre Carrier picked up his first point for Utah with the primary assist. The Eick – Helgesen – Carrier line was a bright spot throughout the second period, ending most of their shifts crowded around Wichita’s net. Unfortunately, the tie was short lived, as the Grizzlies failed to complete a pass in the neutral zone, and the Thunder struck again.

With 11:41 left in the period, a scuffle at the Grizzlies’ bench resulted in a Utah power play, as Brandon McNally, James Melindy and Landon Oslanski were all sent to the box. The Thunder have had a stellar penalty kill all season, and despite a strong looking power play, the Grizzlies were unable to tie it up.

With just over seven minutes left to go, the Grizzlies let Wichita walk in uncontested on Boyle and they scored from the bottom of the left circle. Utah came right back on the next shift and Austen Brassard cut the deficit back down to one with 7:02 left. They followed up the goal with several strong shifts in Wichita’s end, but the Thunder were able to keep them at bay.  Though the Grizzlies continued to pressure, the score remained 3-2 Wichita, shots 23-20 Utah after 40.

Right off the third period opening face off, Boyle was forced to make a huge save, but the puck then hit a Thunder player driving to the net and went in anyway, putting them up 4-2 mere seconds in. Wichita continued to press their advantage through the third period, and they were rewarded with yet another goal, largely uncontested, at 6:09.

The difficulties continued as Alexis Vanier fired off a laser past Boyle’s shoulder for their sixth goal and second power-play tally of the night just past the 12-minute mark. Alex Krushelnyski picked up an assist against his former team. Although the Grizzlies had a few really good chances and a power play to end the game, they were unable to capitalize and fell 6-2, dropping their second in a row on the road. They are now 5-3 on the season.

The Good

Helgesen, and his linemates Eick and Carrier, had some really great shifts all through the game, Helgesen picking up his fourth point in five games, with Carrier picking up his first in a Grizzlies jersey. Also, as much as I dislike plus-minus as a stat, Pietroniro managed to come out of a 6-2 loss as a +2 (though he was on the ice for the final power-play goal against, which just goes to show why goal differential is a tricky little bugger).

The Bad and the Ugly

Kevin Boyle was not good tonight, but neither was the defensive play of the team in front of him, who were often nowhere to be found on sequences that led to Thunder goals. Defensive breakdowns have been an issue in a number of games running now, which is definitely a cause for concern.

Utah’s power play continues to struggle, having managed to score only four times on 31 chances. They were held off the board tonight on the man advantage as well, though they did have at least one strong looking power play tonight. Their penalty kill, usually a strength of theirs, allowed two goals on four tries.

This is the second time in as many nights that a one-goal game at the end of two periods has slipped away from the Grizzlies in the third period.

On the plus side, it could always be worse. The NHL leading Montreal Canadiens were blown out and shut out, losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets 10-0…

The Grizzlies will face Wichita tomorrow at 6:05, before heading back to Oklahoma to face the Oilers on Sunday.

Utah Grizzlies: Unbowed, Unbent, Only Slightly Broken

When the Utah Grizzlies and the Colorado Eagles play, you may fear for the Grizzlies’ lives, but you’ll never be bored. The Eagles are big, they’re nasty, and to top it off, they’re chock full of talent. But the Grizzlies are every bit as skilled, never ones to back down from a fight, and are happy to give as good as they get. As a result, gratuitous penalties and painfully close games are par for the course when these two teams square off. Saturday’s game was no exception to the rule.

After the physical game on Friday night, the Grizzlies were down Eric Springer, Jon Puskar and Taylor Richart. As only Travis Howe and Colin Martin replaced them, the Grizzlies faced an uphill climb, playing short-handed against the meanest team in their division for the second time in as many days.

Shane Walsh opened the scoring for Utah 10:41 into the first period off a nice little drop pass from Tim Daly and Austen Brassard, and then the game took on all the hallmarks of an Eagles-Grizzlies tilt.

Jessey Astles plastered Daly to the boards, and Martin flew in to defend his teammate. Both Astles and Daly would get double minors for roughing, followed just two minutes later by Michael Sdao and Howe, who also got roughing penalties after a scrum in front of the Eagles’ net. Less than a minute after that another Grizzlies’ chance led to another net-front scuffle, and both Brandon McNally and Sean Zimmerman were sent to the box; Zimmerman with a double minor for roughing, and McNally with a minor for slashing.

Though Walsh was again flying on the Grizzlies’ power play, they were unable to capitalize. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Jesse Mychan, one of Colorado’s leading scorers, got in behind Utah’s defence, and tied the game up with 1:44 left in the period.

Less than a minute later, Martin tripped up Teigan Zahn, and the pair dropped the gloves for real, sending Colorado to the power play to end the period. After 20, shots were 8-6 for the Grizzlies, the score 1-1, with 30 penalty minutes already assessed.

The Grizzlies killed off the first-period penalty, but a few minutes later found themselves again on the kill after Daly was sent to the box for hooking. Ryan Faragher stonewalled Mychen, and C.J. Eick, corralling the puck in his own zone, blew into the Eagles’ end and nearly had a breakaway. Although Eick was unsuccessful, Kenton Helgesen followed up Eick’s excellent shift with one of his own, blasting a short-handed point shot through a screen for his first goal of the year.

The rest of the second period was fairly uneventful by way of goals or penalties, but there was no shortage of chances, possibly missed calls (including what should probably have been a couple of Eagles’ penalties against Phil Pietroniro), and general ill will all ’round. The end of the second saw the Grizzlies leading 2-1, and holding the smallest of edges in shots, outshooting the Eagles 17-16.

The pace of the third was good, but neither team was able to muster more than one shot in the opening five minutes. Helgesen had another big shot from the point just after the 10-minute mark, and Faragher smothered the puck on Matt Garbowsky, who nearly managed to sneak past the Grizzlies’ defence. With five to go, shots were 25-24 for the Grizzlies, and they were maintaining the 2-1 lead, but with the Eagles, you can never rest comfortably on such a slim advantage.

With just under three minutes to play in the period, Erik Higby took a slashing penalty, Faragher made some huge saves, and the penalty was killed off. However, with about 30 seconds left in the game, Colorado pulled their goalie and called a timeout. A mere four seconds later, with a swarm of bodies in front of the Utah net, Luke Salazar somehow trickled the puck over Faragher to tie the game up, and a scrum broke out. Both Ralph Cuddemi and Cole Sanford were sent to the box off the ensuing faceoff, and the game went to overtime.

Because of course it did.

A wild five minutes of hockey — in which there were definitely too many men on the ice for both teams at one point, Daly rang a shot off the post, Faragher made a huge save, and the Eagles continued to target Pietroniro — solved nothing, and the game went to the shootout.

Aubin (missed the net), Cuddemi (saved by Lieuwen) and Higby (lost control of the puck) all shot for the Grizzlies, while Faragher stopped Pierro-Zabotel, Garbowsky hit the crossbar, Salazar was robbed by a beautiful toe save, and Mychen too was unable to score for Colorado before Walsh put the game away 3-2 for the Grizzlies.

With the victory, the Grizzlies remain unbeaten at home, improve to 5-1 overall, Faragher has won four straight, and the team finds themselves on top of the Mountain Division. They also improve to 9-3 against Colorado in the regular season over the past two years.

Although Tim Branham, the Grizzlies’ head coach and general manager, had no concrete explanation for why his squad is consistently able to come out on top in such closely contested games against the skilled and nasty Eagles, he did add that “we have big players that play here in Utah, and big players play in big games, and when Colorado is in your building, you better be sure you come ready to play.”

Come to play they certainly did.

Walsh Continues to Shine

Shane Walsh continues to be a force to be reckoned with, scoring the game’s opening and winning goals, and being generally noticeable all over the ice at all times. He now has four goals and two assists over six games, trailing only Jon Puskar in team scoring, and has been named a runner-up for October’s CCM ECHL Rookie of the Month. He was named third star of the game.

First Star Honors

Kenton Helgesen was named first star, and had another terrific night again doing double duty for the short-handed Grizzlies. Coach Branham had nothing but praise for the Ducks’ prospect.

“He’s done tremendous. He’s come a long way from last year. And we’ve utilized him in the front, we’ve utilized him on the back end, he scored a huge goal for us today, he’s played big minutes. He has definitely come to play this year. He’s done a fabulous job.”

The flexibility Helgesen gives the Grizzlies by being able to play forward and defence has been a big benefit to the team in the past two games.

“It’s tough to do,” Branham added. “You have to think differently, so for him to just do that is great. He’s had a great season so far.”

Helgesen now has three points in four games, and is a +2 with three shots.

Firing on all Cylinders

In their six games this season, the Grizzlies have two or more points from all but three of their skaters. Jon Puskar holds the lead with seven points, Walsh has six, and Brassard five.

Even more impressive, there are six players (not counting Samuels-Thomas, alas) who are at or near a point per game. Puskar and Walsh, of course, lead the list, but there are also Colin Martin (1G, 2A in three games), Zac Larraza (1G, 1A in two games), Austen Brassard (1G, 4A in five games) and Helgesen (1G, 2A in four).

Combine the team’s excellent scoring contributions with Faragher’s goaltending (which saw him named one of the runners-up for October’s goalie of the month) and you have a very strong team.

The Grizzlies begin a grueling stretch of four games in five nights in two different cities starting tonight in Tulsa before playing Friday and Saturday in Wichita, and Sunday back in Tulsa.