Utah Grizzlies: A Night to Forget

The Grizzlies are finally home after a marathon road trip that saw them take five out of six games and climb within three points of a playoff spot.

With Tim Daly, Taylor Richart, Evan Stoflet, and Mike Banwell all injured, Utah only had four defensemen; Phil Pietroniro, Martin Nemcik, Kenton Helgesen, and newcomer Sean Robertson.

Wearing their Pink in the Rink jerseys, the Grizzlies faced off against a hungry Idaho team, looking to avenge a three game sweep in their own barn – a goal they accomplished in a painfully thorough manner.

The game began well enough for the Grizzlies, as they picked up the first two shots through the early going. Due to the shortage in defensemen, a number of forwards took shifts on the back end.

Unfortunately, it was not to last. Idaho scored first as Ryan Faragher got the initial shot, but was unable to collar Joe Basaraba’s rebound.

Basaraba got his second goal at 8:10 of the period as he fired the puck through a screen, and it popped over Faragher’s head.

Idaho scored yet another as Anthony Luciani got behind the Grizzlies, and beat Faragher clean at 15:36.

Idaho scored their fourth goal of the period on an Erik Higby penalty less than a minute later as yet another rebound uncharacteristically beat Faragher. Troy Redmann took over the pipes with just over three minutes left in the frame.

Utah looked slightly less disjointed to start the second period, but Idaho scored their fifth of the game as the puck slipped past Redmann.

About three minutes into the period, Howe and Helgesen got caught up in what rapidly turned into a a full line scramble. Howe got the best of four or five Idaho players, and was assessed five for fighting, two for slashing, and ten for continued altercation. Chatham got two for roughing, and Howe was sent to the room to thunderous applause from the Grizzlies fans in attendance.

Michael Pelech took a roughing call at 5:05, and Idaho scored on the ensuing 5-on-3. The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Howe’s five minutes thanks, in large part,  to some nice short-handed work from Cuddemi and Bradford.

Jon Puskar got a nice chance on the rush with just over 10 to go in the second, and though Bow stopped the shot, the Grizzlies drew a power play. They were unable to make anything of it, however, and C.J. Eick took a boarding call.

Things looked up, briefly for the Grizzlies, as Brad Navin got in on a short-handed  breakaway, and made it 6-1 , and Utah killed off the rest of the Eick penalty in style.

They closed the gap in shots through the rest of the second, and got a few good chances, but were unable to get another past Bow before the period ended.

In the first 25 seconds of the third, Pietroniro’s point shot was tipped into a sea of players, Idaho iced the puck, and Howe returned to the bench. Puskar’s hard back-checking negated what might have otherwise been a 1-on-0 against Redmann, and Idaho iced the puck again as the Grizzlies out-skated Idaho early in the frame.

But alas, barely three minutes into the frame, Idaho came the other way, and scored yet again to make it 7-1.

Pelech and Chatham tangled at 4:45,  with Pelech getting four for roughing, and Chatham getting two for slashing. Bradford and Cuddemi got two beautiful chances short handed, and the teams returned to full strength.

With 12:07 to go, the Grizzlies took possession of the puck off a scrambled offensive zone draw. Colin Martin came around the back of the net, and scored on the wrap-around to make it 6-2 with assists to Eick and Puskar.

However, as was the case all night, the Grizzlies’ better stretches were immediately followed by disaster. Higby took a slashing penalty immediately after the goal, and the Steelheads made it 8-2 on the ensuing man-advantage. Puskar was thrown out immediately thereafter for abuse of an official, and that was pretty much the game.

The final ten minutes of the period saw no change in score, and the Grizzlies ultimately fell to Idaho 8-2, outshot to the tune of 41-33.

With all the turnover on the back end, the Grizzlies frequently looked like a team struggling to be in the right spots defensively. Couple that with half the team suffering from the flu (possibly contributing to the uncharacteristically rough performances from their goaltenders), and a highly motivated Idaho team, and you have a very unpleasant night all around.

However, the Grizzlies rarely turn in back-to-back stinkers, and after the game, it was clear that they were already thinking ahead.

“We had three of our normal defensemen in the lineup, one call-up,” said Coach Branham after the game.  “Half our team’s got the flu, and it just wasn’t our night on top of that. Some lost puck battles that ended up in the back of our net, it was just one of those games, that’s for sure. Obviously, tomorrow is going to be a different story. We are short handed, but it wasn’t our best effort, and we just need regroup here and come back tomorrow.”

He also mentioned that there is no timetable for the return of the Grizzlies’ missing defensemen, so Utah is going to have to find a way to make do.

Colin Martin, who scored the Grizzlies’ second goal of the game, expressed similar sentiments.

“Every night you’re going to go through tough times. Obviously, it’s not what we want right now, but we’re a team that can play over top of that, and we just didn’t give our best showing tonight. They outworked us tonight, and that can’t happen.”

“It’s already over for us.” he added. “We’ve been playing really well lately, everybody. Right from the goalies, right up to the forwards, the defence, have been playing phenomenal. Obviously you’re going to have your off game, tonight was our off game, and tomorrow, we’ll be back.”

The Grizzlies are back in action Saturday night for the second Pink in the Rink game, which will feature the names of players’ and fans’ loved ones on the ice, and the jersey auction after the game.

Utah remains three points out of a playoff spot, despite the loss, as Alaska also lost to Colorado.

Utah Grizzlies: War of Attrition

The Grizzlies came into this contest looking to take the third game of the series down Erik Bradford, Tim Daly, and Evan Stoflet, while Kevin Boyle got the start for the second straight night. These absences meant that Utah only dressed four defencemen and ten forwards.

Utah  got an early power play, as Ben Lake boarded Brad Navin 1:45 into the first. Utah got a few chances, but Alaska killed off the penalty.

Colin Martin, Erik Higby, and Michael Pelech all got big scoring chances, but it would be Navin who gave the Grizzlies the 1-0 lead at 9:35.

Utah killed off a holding penalty to Higby, and they continued to swarm, in no way looking like a short-handed team playing their third game in as many nights.

Cam Reid took a late penalty with less than a minute to go, but the Grizzlies headed to the locker room holding the 1-0 lead, outshooting Alaska 17-5.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Reid’s penalty handily, getting the only shot on the Aces’ man advantage, and generally looking like the better rested and hungrier team.

Higby, Cuddemi, and Martin crashed the Aces’ crease, and Martin collared Higby’s rebound, beating Michael Garteig for his twelfth of the year at 3:56.

Half way through the frame, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, and after the longest staredown ever, Howe got the edge in the fight, landing quite a number of punches before they were separated.

With just under five minutes left to play, the Grizzlies capitalized on an Aces’ bobble at their blue line. Cuddemi made a spectacular pass, sending the puck behind Garteig to Martin who scored his second of the night into the wide open net.

Utah closed out the second with some great chances, and the period ended in absolute chaos, Tim Wallace tangling with Nemcik and Pietroniro at the buzzer before both teams came flying in.

As the mayhem continued, Pelech and Marc-Andre Levesque dropped the gloves, and it was all the officials could do to break up the fight and get everyone off the ice. Utah went to the room up 3-0, and outshooting the Aces 24-19, but that’s when the tables turned.

As the dust settled, it became clear that despite the 3-0 lead, getting through the third period was going to take a Herculean effort from the Grizzlies. Pelech and Levesque both got five for fighting and a game misconduct, while Nemcik and Laplante were assessed a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct each. Wallace, who started the whole mess, also got two for roughing.

Alaska, who got three fresh players back for the game, could shrug off the loss of two players. Utah, already down their leading goalscorer and two defenders, would now have to play with only three defencemen for all but six minutes of the third without yet another top six forward.

It didn’t get any better from there.

In the early stages of the third, Cuddemi scared Grizzlies fans everywhere, when he left the ice looking uncomfortable. Fortunately, he appeared to be alright, but that was only the beginning.

A few minutes later, Richart was sent head over heels by a pair of Aces players, and went to the bench before taking a few tentative spins during the break. It appeared that Utah had dodged yet another bullet when he returned to play, only for Pietroniro to take a tripping penalty at 5:46. Unfortunately, Tyler Shattock scored just ten seconds later to make it 3-1.

Although the Aces manhandled Helgesen in the middle of the frame, it was Puskar who went to the box with 11:08. A mere six seconds later, Wallace took a healthy swing at Pietroniro off the faceoff. Pietroniro went down to the ice, and Wallace joined Puskar in the box.

With both Pietroniro and Richart banged up, Nemcik still in the box, and Helgesen the sole healthy defenceman on the bench, the Grizzlies struggled, and at 9:07, Nolan Descoteaux put the Aces within one.

At 10:33 Shattock took a charging penalty on Helgesen, Martin took exception to the hit, and both got two for roughing. Navin also tangled with an Alaska player, but neither were given penalties. Thanks to these infractions, Utah had a brief 5-on-3 situation, before a returning to a 5-on-4 power play.

Each team returned to full strength with no change in score, but Utah got a few really excellent chances on the man advantage. Alaska got a power play of their own as Navin took a slashing call with 5:37 to go in the period. Austen Brassard had a great chance short-handed, and the Grizzlies got Nemcik and Navin back. However, the Aces tied up the game with less than four minutes left to go.

Utah and Alaska both pressed in the remaining minutes, but Boyle and Garteig made some big saves to send the game to overtime.

Just fifteen seconds into OT, Cuddemi was sent to the sin bin for hooking, but the Grizzlies killed the penalty off, even getting a 2-on-1 chance from Helgesen and Nemcik.

In the dying seconds of OT, Martin made a bid for a hat trick and the win with an incredible shift, but it was not to be, and the game went to the shoot out.

Boyle — who has received far too little praise in the recap for being instrumental in helping get Utah this far — allowed a lone goal in the shoot out. Reid and Aubin scored for the Grizzlies, and Utah took the extra point.

Martin and Cuddemi earned the first two stars, but there were no passengers in this game. The performances of Pietroniro, Richart, Helgesen, and Boyle especially were also essential in earning the win.

This was a huge game for the Grizzlies, not only because they won despite being down three to five players for significant stretches of the game, but also because the two points they earned put them three points behind both Alaska and Idaho.

At the end of the day, they’re well within striking distance of a playoff spot, and they have a whole week to recover from what was unquestionably their gutsiest performance of the season.

The Grizzlies are next in action in a three-game home-stand against the Steelheads, where they will hope to take possession of a playoff spot.

Utah Grizzlies: Take Two

After a disappointing loss last time out, the Grizzlies returned to action ready to put Wednesday night’s game behind them. Kevin Boyle got the start, Tim Daly returned to the lineup, while Erik Bradford sat this one out.

Utah looked much better throughout the game than they had in the previous match-up, in that when Alaska came at them, they were not as thoroughly overwhelmed, and counterattacked far more quickly.

Just moments into the period, the Grizzlies tangled with the Aces behind the Alaska net, and as a result, Austen Brassard and Mackenze Stewart were sent off for roughing. Utah picked up the first three shots of the game on the power play, and Stewart and Brassard dropped the gloves properly mere seconds after they returned to the ice. In the ensuing scrap, Brassard decidedly got the best of the exchange, and they were both sent back to the box.

Seconds later, Nolan Descoteaux took a tripping penalty against Travis Howe, and the Grizzlies went to work on their first power play of the night.

At 7:52, Brad Navin took a tripping penalty, but Alaska negated their man advantage as goalie Kevin Carr took an interference penalty. Both teams took two more penalties, first Richart and Puskar, then Tyler Ruegsegger and Tim Coffman, before the period drew to a close. Utah had the 9-7 advantage in shots, and the score remained tied at zero.

The Grizzlies had a brief power play to begin the period, as Coffman’s penalty carried over, and the Aces took yet another penalty, giving the Grizzlies a 19 second 5-on-3.

Though they were unable to capitalize, the Grizzlies’ power play looked pretty good. Phil Pietroniro had a couple of alert plays to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and then a few more on the other end to keep the puck out of the Utah net as the penalty expired.

There was a bit of a scare at 13:25, when Ben Lake went barreling into Kevin Boyle, but he appeared to be no worse for wear.

Colin Martin broke the deadlock at 7:45, picking up the puck, and dancing in all alone to put the puck past Carr to give the Grizzlies the 1-o lead on his eleventh of the year.

Mere moments later, Taylor Richart picked up his seventh goal of the season, and sixth point in the last five games to give the Grizzlies the 2-0 lead. Boyle, in his turn, made some great saves as Alaska fought to get something going.

Alaska took yet another penalty with 8:09 to play, but Utah was unable to capitalize, and Travis Howe took a tripping penalty. The Grizzlies killed off the minor, but no sooner had they done so than the Aces scored with just 2:55 left to go in the second. The Aces pressed back hard after their goal, but the Grizzlies were able to fight them off.

The Grizzlies escaped to the locker room after 40, still holding the 2-1 lead, with Alaska holding the lead in shots by only the slimmest of margins.

The Navin-Puskar-Brassard line continued their strong play to start the period, causing trouble for the Aces in their own end, and less than two minutes in, Howe fought Dax Lauwers after the later laid a big hit on Ralph Cuddemi. Howe got an extra two for instigating, but Alaska quickly negated their power play when Stephen Perfetto tripped up Puskar.

Through the rest of the game, the teams traded chances, the Grizzlies fighting tooth and nail to keep their lead, while Alaska pressed for the tying goal. Carr robbed Cuddemi, and the Grizzlies narrowly missed several other chances to get an insurance goal on the last power play of the game. On the other end, Boyle shut the door with help the really excellent play of Richart, Pietroniro and Nemcik.

With one minute remaining, Idaho pulled their goalie, but the Grizzlies escaped, giving Boyle his second win since returning to the Grizzlies. His 33/34 save performance earned him second star of the game, and Richart – who scored what ended up being the game winning goal – was named third star.

Boyle has saved 74 of the 77 shots he’s seen in the two games since his return from San Diego, which gives him an incredible .962 Save Percentage, and an equally impressive 1.49 GAA. Per Adrian Denny, he will start in tonight’s game as well.

Though Daly returned to the lineup, he played very limited minutes, meaning that once again, Richart, Pietroniro and, to a lesser extent, Nemcik shouldered the lion’s share of the minutes. All three have flourish with the extra ice time, which has allowed the Grizzlies to not only survive but to succeed, in the absence of their best defenceman.

The two teams square off tonight for the third time in as many games, where the Grizzlies will hope to draw within two points of the Aces’ much coveted playoff spot.

 

Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

Utah Grizzlies: Shooting Gallery

The last time the Grizzlies were in Alaska, they were swept in three straight. But that was a team mired in the midst of what would be a nine game losing skid near the bottom of the standings. They returned to Sullivan Arena on a seven game winning streak within striking distance of a playoff spot.

With Tim Daly still out, and Erik Higby healthy, the Grizzlies went with eleven forwards and five defensemen again, and Ryan Faragher got the start.

Both teams exchanged early penalties, and Idaho struck first on the power play with 14:33 left in the period. Immediately afterwards, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, both getting in some heavy punches before being separated.

The Grizzlies proceeded to have difficulties hanging onto the puck, as Alaska picked up ten shots to Utah’s five, but Faragher calmly closed the door. At 8:39, an Alaska player socked Taylor Richart in the face, and the Grizzlies objected. Martin Nemcik and Yan-Pavel Leplante were sent off, and the teams played four-on-four.

The Grizzlies gave up a couple of really good chances as they had difficulties in front of their own net, but Kenton Helgesen plucked the puck out of danger, and Phil Pietroniro set up Higby for a good chance, which drew a power play.

Jon Puskar had the most dangerous chance of the man advantage, but Utah was unable to capitalize – though they did close the gap in shots.

Utah pushed the pace a bit after that. Erik Bradford got in on a breakaway, Michael Garteig made the save, Bradford kept the puck, leading to a few more Grizzlies chances. Moments later, Nemcik was tripped up in the offensive zone, sending Utah back to the power play at 3:45.

With 52 seconds left in the first, Faragher made a save, and a crowd gathered around the net. Nemcik and Hunt were both sent to the box after the kerfuffle, and the period ended four-on-four. After one, the Aces remained ahead 1-0, outshooting Utah 17-14.

The Grizzlies started the period with a couple of very good shifts in the offensive zone, and Higby showed no signs of rust, tying the game up just over two minutes into the second.

Austen Brassard took a tripping penalty after that, and the Aces got all sorts of chances, but Faragher, Helgesen and Nemcik kept Alaska at bay. Alaska owned the puck after the power play, but Faragher was stellar, and the game remained 1-1.

The game settled down after the penalty expired, and it wasn’t until the final five minutes that things picked up again. Daniel Moynihan took an interference penalty, and Michael Pelech made it 2-1 just fifteen seconds into the man advantage. The Puskar line, which had been buzzing all night, nearly made it 3-1 mere moments later, and then again in the dying seconds of the period.

After forty, shots were 31-29 for Alaska, but Utah held onto the 2-1 lead.

Scarcely had the third period started when Puskar and Shattock took matching minors, and just seconds after that, Reid was high-sticked. The Grizzlies got a couple of looks, and then Higby took a holding penalty, sending the game to 3-on-3, then 4-on-4 before an Alaska power play.

Around the half-way point, the Grizzlies got caught in their own end for quite a long time, and Stephen Perfetto made it 2-2. The game continued to be tilted in Alaska’s favour, as they held the shot advantage 44-33. Unfortunately, Puskar missed the puck at  the top of the blue paint, and the play came back the other way, where Wallace made it 3-2.

Utah pulled Faragher for the extra skater in the dying minutes of the game, but unfortunately no sooner had he made it to the bench when Alaska scored into the empty net.

Alaska scored another empty net goal with less than ten seconds to play, but Utah was saved by the clock, which never started, and the goal was called back.

Ultimately, Utah fell 4-2, outshot 49-35.

On a positive note, Bradford now has points in ten consecutive games, Faragher looked terrific, stopping a season-high 45 out of 49 shots, Pietroniro, Puskar, Bradford, Navin, and Richart all had four shots a piece, and were among the Grizzlies’ best over the course of the game.

With the loss, the Grizzlies are now back to six points out of a playoff spot, and the games tonight and Friday become that much more important.

Utah Grizzlies: Weekend Winnings

This weekend, the Grizzlies continued to pick up very much needed points, as they completed the three game sweep of the Steelheads in Boise. The games on Friday and Saturday were both very close contests, each decided by one goal, Saturday’s in overtime.

Friday night’s game was a high-scoring, penalty-filled affair that saw both sides dissatisfied with the calls – or in some cases, the lack of calls – throughout. Troy Redmann got the start, backed by Ryan Faragher, and had a very strong outing overall, while C.J. Eick had the night off in favour of a full complement of defencemen.

Erik Bradford opened the scoring 6:17 into the first, as the Grizzlies crashed the net and the assists went to Tim Daly and Cam Reid, the later of whom picked up his first of what would eventually be three assists.

The rest of the period was more or less a wash, thanks to the ten penalties that were assessed in total, an uncharacteristic three of them on Daly., The teams went to their dressing-rooms with Idaho out-shooting Utah by the slim margin of 9-8.

Bradford scored his second of the game less than five minutes into the second to put the Grizzlies up 2-0, and mere moments later, Phil Pietroniro dropped the gloves with Anthony Luciani. The bout was a spirited one, and both combatants got in several really excellent punches before they were separated and sent to the box. The fight was Pietroniro’s fifth of the season, and third in the last six games.

At 7:13, Daly erased any memory of the three penalty first period with an absolutely gorgeous rocket from the high slot, giving Utah the 3-0 lead. The Grizzlies ran into some penalty trouble in the second half of the period, allowing two power play goals, despite a couple of unbelievable saves from Redmann. However, they responded well both times, and closed out the period still leading 3-2.

The third period did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, despite an Idaho penalty, as Kyle Jean got behind the Grizzlies defence, and tied it up on a short-handed breakaway just under 4:30 into the frame.

However, the game did not stay tied for long, as Colin Martin tipped in Pietroniro’s shot from the blue line. It was not a lead Utah was destined to hold for long, with Corbin Baldwin beating Redmann a few minutes later.

The two teams traded chances and penalties through the later part of the period, with Martin Nemcik and Jefferson Dahl going off for roughing at 16:08.

With just over five minutes to go, the Grizzlies got the upper hand once more, as Kenton Helgesen scored his third of the season with assists from Taylor Richart and Jon Puskar. The Steelheads were irate, feeling that the officials missed a tripping call in the play immediately proceeding the goal, but they argued their case to no avail.

Austen Brassard and Brandon Anselmini took matching roughing calls with two minutes to go, and Utah held on to win 5-4.

Bradford’s two goals earned him third star of the game, extending his point streak to eight games, while Redmann stopped 31 out of 35 shots.

Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Daly was hit hard along the boards part way through the third period, and played little, if at all after that point, while Idaho ran into troubles of their own when coach Neil Graham, and defenceman Travis Walsh were both given game misconducts at the end of the game. As a result, Walsh was fined, and Graham was suspended for a game, while Daly did not start on Saturday.

 

On Saturday, Kevin Boyle returned to the Grizzlies’ lineup after a lengthy – and largely successful – stint in San Diego, getting the start for Utah. C.J. Eick also suited up for the Grizzlies, as Daly’s absence freed up a spot. Consequently, Utah played eleven forwards and five defencemen, while Faragher backed up Boyle.

The first period was fairly uneventful, though by no means boring, both teams playing well, and fairly evenly. Boyle looked strong early, and Utah had the slight edge in special teams. Travis Howe and Jefferson Dahl went off with matching minors at 7:39, and about thirty seconds later, Brandon Anselmini went off after tripping up Cam Reid. After 20, shots were 12-11 for Idaho, and there was no change in score.

The second period saw a great deal more action, much of it not at all in the Grizzlies’ favour. Michael Pelech took a penalty 3:40 into the frame, and no sooner had Utah killed off that minor, then Erik Bradford also found himself in the box. Boyle made some terrific saves, but it was Idaho that scored first just past the half-way mark.

Utah came back strong, drawing a power play of their own a minute later, but nothing came of it. Shortly thereafter, Howe and Baldwin were sent off, and Travis Ewanyk made it 2-0 with under five minutes to go.

Things continued to go badly for the Grizzlies as Phil Pietroniro was shoved into the boards by Connor Chatham. He was sent to the locker room for repairs, while the ice crew cleaned up the blood, and the officials assessed Chatham five minutes for boarding and a game misconduct. Utah closed off the period on the man advantage, but after 40, they remained down 2-0, outshot  24-23, and missing a defenceman.

Unlike so many early period power plays, the remainder of the Grizzlies’ five minute power play proved lethal. Bradford extended his point streak to nine games, when Cuddemi took his feed from behind the Steelheads’ net and made it 1-o a mere 45 seconds in.

Pietroniro returned to the bench a few minutes later, and took the best kind of revenge, scoring the second goal on the Chatham penalty at 2:01 to tie the game.

Austen Brassard took the only other penalty of the third period at 5:26. Nothing came of it, nor of the nastiness that had been developing all game between Martin Nemcik and various Idaho players. Nor, unfortunately, did anything come of Eick’s glorious up-ice rush that saw him make two Steelheads appear as though they were standing still.

60 minutes was not enough to decide the contest, so the game went to over time. Utah dominated the extra frame, putting up five shots to Idaho’s zero, and Cuddemi gave the Grizzlies the win 1:13 into the extra frame.

In the absence of Daly, both Pietroniro and Richart stepped up in a big way, and were the two defencemen Branham relied upon in OT. Each picked up their third point in as many games, ensuring that Utah did not suffer from the loss of Daly’s production or defencive prowess.

Boyle, who had some struggles earlier in the year, looked very sharp, making 31 of 33 saves, as all three Grizzlies goalies picked up a win in Boise.

Cuddemi continues to display the prolific scoring touch that saw him named rookie of the month, picking up goals 21 and 22 to remain the leader in rookie goal-scoring. His two goal performance earned him third star of the contest. Bradford remains the Grizzlies’ leading scorer with 41 points in 33 games for Utah and 43 points in 38 games overall.

In taking all six points against Idaho, Utah is now only four points back of Alaska (though the Aces still have two games in hand), and five behind Idaho as the quest for a playoff spot continues. Moreover, their seven game win streak is currently the longest active winning streak in the league.

The Grizzlies very much need to keep the goals and wins coming as they travel to Alaska to play three straight against the team directly in front of them in the standings.