Utah Grizzlies: Goat Rodeo

After playing two pretty good games, but only coming up with one point to show for it, Utah looked to keep the goals coming, and do a better job of keeping the puck of out of their own net. Troy Redmann got the start for Utah, while Kenton Helgesen drew back into the lineup.

Things did not exactly go as planned.

Luke Salazar scored just 50 seconds into the first. Although the Grizzlies had a few good chances, Colorado outshot them through the first half of the period 8-2. Michael Sdao and Martin Nemcik were both sent to the box with 9:17 to go, Nemcik getting two, and Sdao getting four, which gave Utah the first power play of the game.

The man-advantage continued to look shaky for the Grizzlies, and with 7:48 to go, Erik Higby took Teigan Zahn into the boards behind the Eagles’ net. Sean Zimmerman took exception to it, and both Higby and Zimmerman went to the box for roughing.

Unfortunately, Travis Howe took a delay of game penalty shortly after they returned to full strength, and just moments after that, Nemcik went to the box for slashing, putting Utah on the wrong side of a 5-on-3 for 1:52. Colorado scored just over 30 seconds into the power play, and the Grizzlies found themselves down 2-0.

Helgesen drew a power play as he was hit and then slashed by Darryl Bootland, but the Grizzlies found themselves fighting off a 2-on-1 shorthanded. Fortunately, Redmann made the save, and Zac Larraza got a bit chance in the dying seconds of the power play, but that was all.

At the end of 20, Utah found themselves down 2-0, outshot 12-5.

Just 17 seconds into the second, the Grizzlies drew a power play as they continued to do a good job of not retaliating. Unfortunately, just as they began to get going, Austen Brassard took a tripping penalty.

The momentum changed a bit after that, as the Grizzlies kept their cool, and didn’t retaliate as Colorado pulled down Brassard. When the dust cleared, there were three Eagles in the box, and on the ensuing power play, Colorado took yet another penalty. The Grizzlies kept possession well, but were unable to get the puck through the Colorado defence. They got yet another crack at the 5-on-3, as the Eagles continued to pick up penalties.

Colin Martin cut the deficit in half at 8:55, scoring his fifteenth of the year from Marc-André Lévesque, who picked up his third point in three games. Colorado established some pressure after they returned to full strength after 5:32 on the penalty kill.

Colorado went up 3-1 with 4:48, restoring their two goal lead, and then things got a little crazy. Jon Puskar bumped an Eagles player by the bench, and absolute mayhem ensued. Zahn tried to goad Lévesque into a fight, Howe threw some punches from the bench, and there was a general pile up. Howe got a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct, while Nemcik got five for fighting, and Puskar got two for boarding. Bootland also got two for roughing and five for fighting.

The first half of the penalty kill for Utah went quite well, but Alex Belzile scored with 1:24 left in the period, and the Grizzlies found the game slipping further out of their reach.

After 4o, the Grizzlies trailed 4-1, and had been outshot to the tune of 20-16. It would take a huge third period to pull off the comeback, but it wasn’t entirely out of the question – especially considering that Ralph Cuddemi once scored two goals in thirty seconds.

The opening four minutes or so of the third saw a number of strong shifts from Utah, but then things went a bit further south. Pelech took an elbowing penalty at 4:24, but the Grizzlies killed it off, forcing Saunders to rob first Cuddemi and then Larraza on short-handed breakaways. However, no sooner had the Eagles returned to full strength than they made it 5-1, capitalizing on a defencive scramble that ensued after Helgesen took a puck to the face.

Any dying thoughts of a comeback were thoroughly squashed just under three minutes later when Jackson Houck’s shot trickled agonizingly through Redmann and into the net. Moments later, an alert play by Pelech kept the puck from crossing the line as another shot rolled through the blue paint, but shortly thereafter Colorado got the seventh goal anyway.

It was a miserable end to what had otherwise been a well played – if highly frustrating – road trip.  It didn’t seem so much that there was a lack of will to win, as that when they went to kick the comeback into gear, the engine sputtered on an empty tank instead of coming to life as it had previously.

Standings wise, fortunately for Utah, both Alaska and Missouri lost as well, so the Grizzlies remain four points behind the former, and one behind the latter. Certainly well within striking distance, provided that they rest and regroup, and are able to pick up some vital wins against tough competition in the coming weeks.

The Grizzlies are back home Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday against the Alaska Aces in what could be some of the most important games of the season.

Utah Grizzlies: Death by Special Teams

After Wednesday’s close contest which saw them fall in overtime, the Grizzlies looked to keep the offense going. Carlos Amestoy drew into the lineup as they elected to play eleven forwards and five defencemen. Kenton Helgesen and C.J. Eick were both scratches as a result.

Utah got the game’s first two shots, but Jake Marto opened the game as he’d ended the previous contest, scoring at 3:01 as Utah was unable to shut down a three-on-two.

The Grizzlies continued to collect some good chances though, including a breakaway as Phil Pietroniro sprang Erik Bradford all alone. Lukas Hafner shut the door, and Faragher was called upon to make a couple saves in a row.

Martin Nemcik had a good chance on the doorstep, which led to some sustained offensive zone pressure through the middle portion of the first frame.

Utah drew the first power play of the game as Matt Register put the puck over the glass at 12:17. They had a very good first shift from Larraza and Brassard. The second shift had it’s moments, setting up Pietroniro’s shot from the point, before running into some trouble in their own end.

Jon Puskar was tripped up by Register with 1:55 left in the first, and it looked like Colin Martin had scored his 15th of the year 33 seconds later, but despite the initial call being a good goal, it was eventually overturned. The Grizzlies went right back to work, but were unable to capitalise despite a few good looks as the period came to an end.

Although the very brief man advantage to start the second wasn’t enough to get Utah going, their subsequent shifts continued to be quite good.

At 4:57, Larraza was boarded by Matt Garbowsky, Puskar and Brassard took exception, and the officials were obliged to break them up. Puskar and Garbowsky both got two for roughing, while Garbowsky got an additional two for boarding.

And this is where all the special teams struggles began. Bradford lost control of the puck at the blue line on the ensuing power play, and Casey Pierro-Zabotel beat both Pietroniro and Faragher to make it 2-0 short handed.

Utah did not let that stop them though, as Cuddemi cut the deficit in half at 14:05, and Higby tied it up less than a minute later.

Things seemed to be looking up for Utah as they avoided what probably should have been a penalty, and then drew a power play of their own at 12:59, but it was not to be.

Jackson Houck got in on a short-handed break away, and was tied up by Higby in a desperate bid to negate the breakaway. Houck was awarded a penalty shot, and beat Faragher to put Colorado up 3-2. The remaining power play got some really good chances, but was unable to erase the deficit.

Colorado got dinged for too many men with just over four minutes in the period, but in the midst of a strong shift, Pelech took a hooking penalty. Colorado scored 4-on-4 to make it 4-2 with less than two minutes left.

Puskar took an interference call with 18 seconds to go, and at the end of a wild second period, shots were 22-20 for Utah, but they trailed by two.

The opening moments of the third period saw a handful of key saves from Faragher, and some big clears from Pietroniro as the Grizzlies killed off the rest of Puskar’s penalty.

Utah got another crack at the man-advantage as Aubin was sent to the ice at 4:04. Martin got a good look, but Faragher was also forced to turn aside yet another short-handed breakaway before all was said and done.

Pietroniro took a retaliatory penalty at 8:21, and Colorado made it 5-2, and more or less continued to carry the play through the rest of the period.

Higby scored his second of the game with just under two minutes to go, but though the Grizzlies pulled Faragher for the extra attacker, they were unable to draw any closer, ultimately falling 5-3.

Special teams definitely hurt Utah in this game, as they allowed two short handed goals, one power play goal, and one four-on-four, and were only able to convert on one of their seven opportunities. They played quite well through large stretches of the first two periods, but the Eagles made them pay for every little break in concentration.

This game was doubly unfortunate, as the Missouri Mavericks beat Idaho, and now are ahead of Utah by one point, as the fight for the last playoff spot intensifies. However, they are by no means out of contention, remaining well within striking distance of Alaska.

Moreover, special teams aside, there were definitely some positives. The new-look lines of Larraza-Reid-Brassard, and Cuddemi-Pelech-Bradford looked excellent. Cuddemi picked up his 25th goal of the season, and his fourth point in the last two games, while Pelech had a two assist performance.

Likewise, the Utah defence has stabilized considerably now that they’ve had time to adjust. Higby especially has been impressive as a defenceman, picking up two more goals tonight, while Pietroniro continues to eat up big minutes on the blue line, and has looked especially good quarterbacking the power play. Marc-André Lévesque also picked up his first point in a Grizzlies’ uniform, and appears to be fitting in well.

Utah is back in action tomorrow against the Eagles, where they look to pick up two all important points and come home with the series split.




Utah Grizzlies: A Point Taken

In the first of Utah’s three games in Colorado, the lineup saw a little bit of a change up, as Zac Larraza returned to the Grizzlies after having spent most of the season thus far with the San Diego Gulls. Marc-André Lévesque also made his debut in a Grizzlies’ jersey, and Ryan Faragher got the start.

Erik Higby got the Grizzlies on the board first at 3:58, on a gorgeous shot from the right circle, with assists from Austen Brassard and Larraza.

Unfortunately, Utah had no time to rest on their laurels. The Eagles answered with two goals in 61 seconds less than a minute later, and the Grizzlies found themselves in desperate need of some more offense. The first goal was off a wild scramble and repeated rebounds that eventually beat Faragher, and the second off a takeaway and a big shot from Sam Jardine.

Colorado continued to press after their two goals, but Faragher turned aside multiple two-on-ones, and other chances, while the Grizzlies scrambled to get their bearings.

Matt Garbowsky made it 3-0 with a wrap-around at 11:08, and Faragher narrowly prevented a 4-0 deficit immediately after. Martin Nemcik and Sean Zimmerman took a penalty after the ensuing scramble. Colin Martin took a tripping minor a few minutes later, but Utah killed off their first short-handed situation of the game, silencing the best power play in the league.

The Eagles got a second go on the man advantage after a slashing call on Travis Howe at the very tail end of the period. Erik Bradford nearly capitalized on a turnover all alone in front of the Eagles’ net, but Clarke Saunders dove out of  to make the save

At the end of twenty, Colorado led 3-1, and the shots were tied at 11 a piece.

Despite starting the second on the penalty kill, Ralph Cuddemi had a spectacular chance by himself as the Eagles’man-advantage ended, and Larraza, Brassard, and Cam Reid had a shift that started a brief stretch of Utah possession at about the seven minute mark. On the other end, Faragher continued to turn aside some dangerous Eagles’ opportunities.

Cuddemi made it 3-2 as the puck hit Saunders on the 2-on-1, and then bounced into the net at 10:28. With 7:33 left in the period, Utah was outshooting Colorado 21-15.

Despite drawing their first power play of the game with 3:06 left in the frame, Utah was unable to capitalize, and Martin took a high-sticking penalty with less than two left to go, sending the teams to a brief 4-on-4, and then an Eagles’power play.

Aubin and Higby both had chances on the penalty kill, but it would be Bradford who tied the game short-handed on a beautiful buzzer beater. Utah outshot Colorado 15-5 in the frame, and 26-16 overall after forty.

Utah killed off the remainder of the Eagles’ power play to start the third, and then they had to weather some Colorado pressure. Faragher made a couple of key saves, and the Grizzlies pushed back, getting a very nice shot off a Cuddemi drop-pass to the trailing Pietroniro. There was another very close call when the puck trickled through Saunders in the blue paint, but Teigan Zahn narrowly beat Pietroniro to the puck and swept it out of danger.

Colorado pressed for large portions, but the Grizzlies got a few counter-punches that forced Saunders to make a few good saves. At 9:01, Brassard and Zahn got sent off with matching cross-checking penalties, and Utah drew a 4-on-3 when Bootland tripped up Larraza by the Eagles’ net.

Casey Pierro-Zabotel got away with a couple of crosschecks on Pietroniro by the goal mouth, but just moments later, Cuddemi scored his second of the game with assists from Bradford and Lévesque.

The pace kicked up a couple of notches in the final six or seven minutes or so, and with just 2:20 left in the third, Alex Belzile tied the game up again. Despite a good response from the Grizzlies, the game went into overtime.

Unfortunately for Utah, after a fast paced 55 seconds, the Eagles got in on a two-on-one, and Jake Marto scored the game winner.

It was not the Grizzlies’ finest performance, though it certainly wasn’t one of their worst either, and the point is a valuable one in the playoff push.

Larraza and Lévesque seemed to fit in fairly seamlessly, which is a major benefit, especially for the defence.

Utah plays tonight (Friday) and Saturday against Colorado, and it is to be hoped that a renaissance in goal-scoring together with more familiarity on defence will lead to a better result.

Utah Grizzlies: Goalie Duel

With the Missouri Mavericks breathing down their necks in the standings, and the next three games on the road against Colorado, Utah very much wanted to pick up a win in the last of the three-game home stand against Idaho.

Just prior to the game, it was announced that Kevin Boyle had been re-assigned to Utah, and that SPHL defenceman Brandon Lubin had been signed to help shore up the defence. Both were in the lineup, and the only other difference in the roster from previous games was the absence of Brad Navin.

The Grizzlies came out flying to start the period getting the first three shots of the game. They then proceeded to carry the play for the majority of the first, skating hard, defending well, and getting quite a number of nice shots.

The level of play from Utah continued to be at a higher level than we’d seen this weekend, and by the half-way mark in the period, shots were 9-4 for Utah, who had by and large dominated play. Offense and defence worked strongly together, supporting each other on both ends, and the speed and work ethic was definitely superior to what we’d seen previously. They hustled to be first on the puck, and when anything got through the defence, Boyle was there with some terrific saves.

Anthony Luciani got two breakaways and came flying in, but both times Boyle shrugged off the shot like it was nothing. Phil Pietroniro took a slashing penalty on the second breakaway, and the Grizzlies went to the penalty kill with 4:44 left in the period.

The Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked good though, and Idaho took an interference penalty against Ralph Cuddemi. Utah got a few chances on the man advantage, including a few big point shots from Pietroniro once they went to the power play.

Idaho took another penalty with 40 seconds to go as Joe Basaraba took an interference call against Kenton Helgesen, but 20 seconds after that, Cam Reid also went to the box, and the period ended on a 4-on-4.

Both teams killed of their penalties early in the period, but sadly, it was Idaho who drew first blood as a rebound beat Boyle in a scramble around the net.

The Grizzlies kept pressing though, and got two three-on-twos in a row thanks to the speed of Pelech, Cuddemi, and Erik Bradford, and then Pelech, C.J. Eick and, Carlos Amestoy, but though they got off a number of shots, they couldn’t beat Landon Bow.

Idaho looked much more awake as the second period progressed, and the Grizzlies had a little bit of trouble handling them. Utah iced the puck, but won the ensuing faceoff, and proceeded to get quite a number of really good scoring chances, including a number of shots from Pietroniro, and a point blank chance from Reid, but Bow remained a brick wall.

The Grizzlies continued to skate well and by the 14 minute mark, Pietroniro and Pelech had five shots a piece while Bradford was right behind them with four.

Both teams exchanged a few minor penalties in the final minutes of the second, and Idaho got in on yet another breakaway, only to be stonewalled yet again by Boyle.

The Grizzlies got an incredible chance of their own at the other end, but were unable to put the puck past Bow as it pin-balled wildly around the blue paint, and Pelech took a penalty.

At the end of 40, shots were 34-21 for Utah, but they had been unable to erase the 1-0 deficit.

Utah killed off the remaining 30 seconds or so of Pelech’s penalty to start the third, but Idaho pushed hard through the third.

With just over fifteen minutes left to go, Helgesen was stapled to the boards, and left the ice favouring his left leg – and leaving the Grizzlies short-handed on defence once again.

6:17 or so into the third, Erik Higby beat Bow, but the puck hit the post and went out of play in heartbreaking fashion. The good news, however, was that Helgesen returned to the bench not long after.

Utah continued to play well, and to generate chances, but none of the bounces went their way, and Bow remained unbeaten by any of the Grizzlies 39 shots.

With 5:09 left to go in the third, Boyle made another nice save look effortless, as he largely had all game, keeping the team within one.

Despite putting up 43 shots on Landon Bow, and pulling Boyle with one minute left for the extra skater, the Grizzlies were unable to tie the game up and fell in regulation.

It was a disappointing outcome, especially considering how well the entire team played from start to finish. Pietroniro, Bradford, and Pelech all picked up six shots a piece, and Boyle turned in a phenomenal 32 save performance, which earned him first star honours.

“Their goaltender definitely won them three games, there’s no doubt about that.” Branham said of the Steelheads’ second star of the game, and his 43 save performance. “He’s good. When you have a .930 save percentage, that’s a pretty good goaltender.”

Of Boyle’s first star performance, and the Grizzlies’ short-handed defence, he said: “Our goalie stopped five breakaways in the first period, and that’s what happens when you have three regular defencemen in the lineup, you’re going to give up chances like that. You’ve just got to weather the storm, and keep pushing on until we either bring guys in or get guys healthy. I really think our guys are doing a good job of doing that.”

However, the game also emphasized some scoring woes, some of which are simply circumstantial, and some which need to be addressed. “We didn’t score a goal today, scored two yesterday, you don’t win scoring that many goals, you’ve got to put the puck in the net more. But that’s probably due to a depleted blue line, so it’s not just your forwards needing to score goals. I thought we generated a lot of shots today, I thought we could have been a little more tenacious on the rebounds that were there, and drive the net a little bit better, you know, kind of get in his face and bump him a little bit when he’s having that much success. The bounces just didn’t go in our way in that regard.”

Brad Navin’s absence from the game was later explained by the announcement of a trade that sent Navin to Alaska, in return for defenceman Marc-André Lévesque.

“He’s a good defenceman. We’ve seen him last year, and seen him this year a lot. He’s a really good D-man. Unfortunately, I really like Brad Navin. He did a great job here, but in order to get something, you have to give up something. It’s the way this game is, and there was no end in sight. We had to get a D-man, we’ve got guys out injured, and I don’t see any time table for them to be back, so you gotta do something. You can’t continue to play with three or four and forward on the back end at this part of the season, so unfortunately, that’s part of the business, and I wish Brad nothing but the best, and I thank him for all his hard work and success, he did a really good job here, it’s sad that we had to do it.”

In 30 games, Lévesque has two goals and 13 assists, 32 penalty minutes, and a +10 rating, and will help bring further stability to the Grizzlies’ depleted blue line.

Utah plays three games in Colorado Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and it is to be hoped that they can both pick up wins, and avoid any further injuries while they’re there.


Utah Grizzlies: Closing the Gap

If Idaho came to Utah motivated, Utah came into game two of the homestand even more so after Friday night’s showing. Colin Martin did not dress, serving the first of his two game suspension, but Carlos Amestoy returned to the lineup, and started in his stead. The Grizzlies remained short-handed on defence.

The Grizzlies looked far more alive than they had the night before in the opening shifts of the first, but it would be Idaho again who struck first. On the next shift out, Mathieu Aubin was tripped up in the offensive zone, and Utah went to the power play.

They were unable to establish any kind of prolonged offensive zone pressure, but the C.J. Eick-Jon Puskar-Brad Navin line caused all sorts of havoc in the offensive zone, and at 7:55 tempers flared. Puskar got tangled with David Glen and Charlie Dodero, and all three were sent to to the box, giving Utah the power play.

The Grizzlies were unable to capitalize, but they looked much better after the stint on the power play, and looked much better through the remainder of the first period, both on the power play and the penalty kill.

As the period went on, it also became clear that the Steelheads were actively targeting Phil Pietroniro as the Grizzlies’ best remaining defenceman, even taking out Faragher at one point as collateral damage.

Both Jefferson Dahl Pietroniro took penalties later in the period, but at the end of 20, Idaho led 1-0, and shots were 13-10 for Utah.

Utah opened the second period with 1:42 on the Pietroniro penalty kill, but killed it off, and proceeded to look much more like their usual selves through the minutes that followed. Idaho continued to gun for Pietroniro, but he responded by getting a number of big shots, and allowing the Grizzlies to maintain offensive zone pressure.

The the second period belonged solely to Utah, as they looked far more like the team that won nine out of ten games, than the one that limped through the the last two contests. As the game progressed, Higby became the only forward to consistently line up as a defenceman, and he started looking far more comfortable in that spot, giving Utah another mobile defender they very much needed – though Pietroniro still seemed hardly ever to leave the ice.

As the period went along, Puskar and Eick were robed of gorgeous chances, as was Ralph Cuddemi while Faragher, when tested at all, made some big saves.

At the buzzer the Grizzlies still trailed 1-0, but they were well and truly in this game.

Unfortunately, after all the good work, the Steelheads scored on a gorgeous shot scarcely twenty seconds into the period. Higby took a slashing penalty in the immediate aftermath, but Cuddemi and Bradford got one of their usual short-handed offensive zone jaunts, followed by one from Cam Reid and Austen Brassard, and the Grizzlies returned to full strength.

Travis Howe took a roughing penalty at 6:06, but Utah played exceptionally well, and a beautiful up-ice rush from Bradford followed by a perfect read of Bow’s pass gave the Grizzlies a lengthy offensive zone that killed off the majority of the short-handed situation.

At the half-way mark, the Grizzlies finally solved Bow, as Michael Pelech scored his 13th of the year with assists from Howe and Higby.

Utah continued to skate hard, and at 15:56, Puskar off a gorgeous up-ice rush with an equally gorgeous goal to tie the game.

In the final minutes of the period, Nemcik, Pelech, and Jefferson Dahl all went to the box, but the Grizzlies killed the short-handed situation, and the game went to overtime. Utah played quite well in the extra frame, Erik Bradford especially controlling the puck in the offensive zone for an extended period of time, and eventually forcing Idaho to take a penalty. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were unable to capitalize, and the game went to the shoot out.

Faragher allowed only one goal in the shoot out, but none of the Utah skaters was able to beat Bow, and the Grizzlies fell 2-1.

While the loss was disheartening, to say the least, the Grizzlies did pick up a point, and move within two of the Alaska Aces. They also played far more like the Utah team that had won nine of ten coming into this weekend – despite being short-handed. Erik Higby was the lone forward who remained on defence as the game progressed, which seemed to help, as Utah no longer looked lost in their own end.

“He’s done a great job back there,” Tim Branham said of Higby’s performance. “It’s a lot to ask for for a forward. He’s done an amazing job. Definitely lucky that he’s been able to transition to the back end there.”

“Monday’s going to be a big test.” He added. “Everyone’s gotta be ready. It’s a big game for us, a big game in the standings, so we’ve gotta take advantage of it.”

The Pink in the Rink jersey auction was, as it always is, a rousing success. Ryan Faragher’s jersey went for a record breaking $3,500, and the team raised 30,000 dollars in total.

Utah plays their third game against Idaho this afternoon, where they hope to pick up two points and catch Alaska, as well as to hold off the Missouri Mavericks who are currently tied with them in the standings.