Utah Grizzlies: No Such Luck

The Grizzlies came home after a fairly successful Florida road trip, looking to continue picking up points. Ryan Faragher once again got the start, Gabriel Verpaelst made his home debut, and Travis Howe again dressed as Utah iced eleven forwards and five defensemen.

The early minutes of the game saw action and hard skating from both teams, but Colorado picked up six of seven shots in the opening few minutes, and struck first 7:21 into the frame.

Sean Zimmerman went after Jon Puskar after the latter got a shot in on Clarke Saunders, and a crowd gathered, as they often do in Grizzlies/Eagles games. Utah came in hot after the following media time out, and drew the first penalty of the game. Harrison went to the box for slashing with 9:37 to go, but the Grizzlies were unable to get properly set up, and Colorado scored on a short-handed breakaway a minute later.

They got some offensive zone pressure to end the power play, but Cam Reid’s stick broke as he went to take a shot from the point, and the man advantage came to an end.

With six minutes left in the period, Utah was already spotting Colorado 12 shots, and there was a fair bit of stick and door slamming at the bench.

Though the Grizzlies had a few good shifts and chances in the offensive zone, especially from the Puskar line, Faragher still had to make a huge save with 14 seconds left in the period. After twenty, the Eagles still led 2-0, and supposedly outshot Utah 13-6, though there were definitely some shots that were not recorded.

The Grizzlies came out hot to start the second, though there were some nearly costly defensive turn overs, but 4:11 into the period, they got the power play as Darryl Bootland came in hard after Faragher made a save, and the Utah defense took exception.

There was a bit of a delay as the ice crew needed to repair a chunk taken out of the ice with about 13 minutes left to play in the second. Coming off of the delay, Puskar, Howe, C.J. Eick, and got the Grizzlies some good opportunities. Michael Pelech, Mathieu Aubin, and Ralph Cuddemi followed it up with a good shift of their own, and with 11:02, Eick drew a penalty. Unfortunately, Erik Higby took a slashing penalty, and Matt Garbowsky scored 14 seconds into the ensuing 4-on-4.

Utah continued to get chances, including a great shot from Cam Reid, who beat Saunders but couldn’t hit the net.

With 6:51 left to play, Puskar was taken down in the offensive zone. The Maverik Center held their breaths as both the Grizzlies’ and Eagles’ athletic trainers tended to him. He was taken off the ice on a backboard as a precaution, and thankfully, at the end of the night it was announced that he was going to be ok.

Cuddemi and Reid both got chances on the power play, once the game resumed, as the Grizzlies held the zone for a large portion of the man advantage. However, after the power play expired, the defensive coverage again fell apart, and Matt Brown scored over a sprawling Marc-André Lévesque.

Howe got a cross-checking minor, and off the next puck drop, Aubin and Garbowsky both got sent to the box for slashing and cross-checking respectively.

The Grizzlies’ penalty kill continued to be excellent, killing off the minor penalty, with 1:39 to go.

But the eventful second wasn’t over yet.

Phil Pietroniro was stapled to the boards in the corner behind the Grizzlies’ net, and Howe had enough, collaring Jackson Houck, and eventually trading punches with Zimmerman in what turned into a free for all.

Howe was given two for roughing, five for fighting, and a ten minute misconduct. Zimmerman got a two minute rough, and the Grizzlies had a five minute penalty kill on their hands.

Cuddemi got a short-handed breakaway, and was tied up, resulting in a penalty shot. Unfortunately his backhander was gloved by Saunders.

After 40, shots were 21-12 for Colorado, who led 4-0.

With over three minutes of penalty killing time to start the third, Utah closed ranks, and kept the Eagles puck-chasing.

With 1:45 left in the penalty kill, Bootland cross-checked Pietroniro in the corner, and Pietroniro retaliated. Both were sent off for roughing, and en rout to the box, Verpaelst grabbed Bootland and got in a few punches, sending him to the ice, joining the others in the bin. Both Bootland and Verpaelst got five for fighting.

The Grizzlies drew another penalty with 17:20 left to go, as Johnny Lazo went off for goaltender interference. However, 20 seconds in, Utah negated the 4-on-4 when Eick went off for tripping. The Grizzlies killed off the 4-on-3 and the ensuing 4-on-4 before the Eagles took a holding call with 15:09 left in the second that sent Utah back to the power play.

Colin Martin got a great chance in alone, but missed the net, and was shortly afterwards put into the boards by Teigan Zahn, which gave the Grizzlies a 5-on-3 power play. Aubin got a spectacular chance at a wide open net that somehow didn’t go in, but the Grizzlies kept going. At 7:54, Austen Brassard put the Grizzlies on the board tipping in Reid’s shot from the doorstep on the man advantage.

Then Cuddemi scored his 27th of the year from Tim Daly at 9:45 on a beautiful shot, and the arena came alive with half a period left to play.

The Grizzlies worked hard after the goal, coming quite close to solving Saunders on a number of occasions, but the Eagles were not without chances of their own, which Faragher turned aside.

The Grizzlies spent a lot of time in the Eagles’ end in the last five minutes, as they took advantage of two icing calls, and pulled Faragher for the extra skater. Utah got their chances, and with 1:27 to go, Lazo and Daly were sent off with matching minors.

Utah kept Faragher on the bench for the extra skater, but with eight seconds to go, Harrison scored into the empty net.

“To be honest, I think the difference was just goal-scoring.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We had a penalty shot, we missed, they had a breakaway they scored on. We probably had three or four empty nets that we didn’t score on where their goalie is making a diving save, in last minute, [last] second desperation. To be honest, we had pretty good chances. I don’t think the shot clock was correct, I know I counted four or five shots throughout the game that they didn’t even give us credit for, so it wasn’t as lopsided as you think, but we had our scoring chances.

“We had some scoring chances that we missed the net on, but the empty nets kill you. We literally had empty nets that we didn’t put in, and then the penalty shot. That kills you. that can be a totally different game when you put those in, so I didn’t like some of the goals that went in on us, as far as a team effort, I thought we could have done things to prevent them, we’ve gotta make sure that those little small things don’t cost us.”

“Obviously you gotta try a little harder, and bear down a little bit more. We’re going to put that one behind us. It stings, that’s for sure. We’re going to put that one behind us. Tomorrow’s the biggest game of the year, so we’ve gotta make sure that everyone is on board.”

Utah squares off against the Eagles again tonight (Saturday), and will be wearing their special Military Appreciation jerseys which will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Salt Lake City Fisher House.



Utah Grizzlies: Turning the Tables

After falling 3-0 on Friday despite amassing 42 shots, and playing pretty well, the Grizzlies were highly motivated coming into the matinee rematch.

Coach Branham elected to go with eleven forwards, scratching defenseman Garrett Haar in favor of Travis Howe – a decision which ended up paying off in spades. Ryan Faragher got the start again, facing down Ryan Massa, who looked to extend his 12o minute shut-out streak.

The Grizzlies came out of the gate with speed, and Travis Howe made it 1-0 at 1:29, breaking the shut-out streak, and picking up his second goal of the year on a nice shot. Austen Brassard and C.J. Eick drew the assists.

Utah continued to press hard after Howe’s goal, getting a number of chances, including a beautiful, point-blank shot from Higby. Faragher was also called upon to make some saves of his own, which he did with alacrity.

Utah picked up an 8-5 shot advantage through the first four minutes, as the Grizzlies continued to drive the play. Utah drew the first power play of the night, but though they got a few looks, they were unable to capitalize.

The Grizzlies negated their power play at 11:16, but they played well on the ensuing 4-on-4, and killed off the ensuing 5-on-4 thanks both to the penalty kill and some excellent play from Faragher.

No sooner had Orlando returned to full strength, than the speed of Pietroniro and Erik Bradford drew yet another penalty, sending the teams back to 4-on-4 before a Utah power play.

The Grizzlies drew two more penalties toward the end of the first, including one right at the buzzer.

After 20 the Grizzlies maintained the 1-0 lead, and had outshot the Solar Bears 14-11.

Utah began the second period with a lengthy 5-on-3. They were unable to capitalize on the two-man advantage, despite a number of strong shifts. However, Colin Martin scored on a nifty little spin-o-rama just as the first penalty expired. Cam Reid got his 20th assist of the year, and Pietroniro picked up the secondary for his 13th.

Orlando pushed back after the goal, but the Eick-Puskar-Howe line pushed right back, and the teams continued to trade chances, Faragher and Massa both making some excellent saves.

Michael Pelech took an interference call at 8:04, but the Grizzlies killed it off. Gabriel Verpaelst and Martin Nemcik got involved in a slight scuffle around Faragher with the Solar Bears forwards, and Verpaelst got jumped by Taylor Doherty as the teams returned to the bench. Both got four for roughing, though Doherty more or less grabbed Verpaelst and pummeled him without much resistance.

Off the very next faceoff, Howe and Daniel Maggio dropped the gloves. Maggio got the take down after a spirited bout, and both were sent to cool their heels in the box just past the half-way point.

Austen Brassard took a slashing minor with 5:38 to go. The Bears got some pretty good looks, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill remained strong. At the end of 40, the Grizzlies remained up 2-0, but had been outshot 26-20.

Orlando came out with some jump in their step in the third period, but Faragher stood strong.

Puskar drew a power play with 11:16 left to go, but though the Grizzlies maintained possession and zone time for the majority of the man advantage, they were unable to beat the penalty killers.

Utah ran into some penalty problems of their own, as Reid took a slashing call at 11:12, and Verpaelst joined him at 11:25 for boarding. However, the penalty kill was so good that Faragher hardly saw any shots.

With 4:42 to go, Pelech drew an interference call, sending the Grizzlies to a power play of their own, and the officials were quick to break up Pietroniro and Chris Crane before more than words could be exchanged. The Grizzlies were unable to generate much on the man advantage.

Orlando pulled their goalie with just over a minute to go, but they took a penalty with 1:52 left to go. Utah finished the game on the power play, but were more or less content to kill time as the clock wound down.

When the final buzzer sounded, Faragher collected his second shut out of the season with 39 saves, and was named first star of the game. Howe and Martin were named the second and third stars of the game respectively, and the Grizzlies headed back to Utah with four of six points.

Utah is off until Friday, when they play the first of five straight games against the Colorado Eagles.

Utah Grizzlies: Cloudy Skies

The Grizzlies continued their Florida road trip with their first game in Orlando. Ryan Faragher got the start against the Solar Bears, Garrett Haar made his debut, and Erik Higby returned to his natural position at forward.

Utah began well, maintaining some good possession, but it would the Solar Bears who struck first 3:01 into the period. After the goal, the Grizzlies struggled to play crisp hockey, while Orlando hemmed them in their own zone.

The Solar Bears made it 2-0 at 6:47 as they established a strong cycle game, and then put a rebound past Faragher.

The Grizzlies responded well, though, with Erik Bradford having a terrific shift, followed by another strong shift by Cam Reid, Ralph Cuddemi, and Colin Martin. However, momentum ended with Reid taking a slashing call. The penalty kill proved to be up to the task, Austen Brassard even getting a scoring chance, and Orlando negated the final 30 seconds or so of their man advantage.

Utah looked far better after their power play, especially in the dying minutes of the period, getting a few really good shots on Ryan Massa. At the end of 20, the Grizzlies had made up ground, tying up the shots at 11, but Orlando still led 2-0.

The Grizzlies got the first two shots of the second, as they got 10 of the last 14 shots, but the Solar Bears came back and forced yet another great save from Faragher.

As the period progressed, Orlando dominated zone time, but the Grizzlies did a good job keeping shots away from Faragher, shots 14-11 with 12:08 to go. The Solar Bears’ strength was especially evident as they efficiently took away time and space from the Grizzlies.Utah had some trouble completing passes as a consequence.

The game opened up a bit in the second half of the period, as Orlando negated another power play, and the teams played 4-on-4. Cuddemi and Phil Pietroniro gave the Grizzlies a good chance, but with 4:29 left in the period, the score was still 2-0. Orlando also led in shots 19-17.

Ty Stanton high-sticked Daly at 15:55, sending the Grizzlies to their first power play of the game. Although Utah took a 21-20 lead in shots, they were unable to capitalize, and Pietroniro took a tripping call with 1:05 to go.

After 40, shots were 21-20 for Utah, but the Solar Bears remained up 2-0.

Utah killed off the tail end of the penalty kill, and got a terrific shift from Cuddemi and Jon Puskar, as the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to throw shots on Massa.

The first six minutes belonged emphatically to Utah, as they racked up seven of the first nine shots. They continued to win battles and get shots all through the third, but were unable to get past Massa.

Haar took a penalty with 6:34 to go, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked terrific, Cuddemi and Bradford both getting shots, followed by a short-handed breakaway from Higby. Higby drew a penalty at 14:46. Pietroniro got a pair of shots off from the point on the 4-on-4, as the Grizzlies came agonizing inches away from beating Massa.

Unfortunately, Eric Faille made it 3-0 at 15:13, and though the Grizzlies continued to buzz, none of their shots got past Massa.

Despite their valiant effort, the final buzzer saw Utah shutout 3-0, despite outshooting Orlando 42-26.

Unsurprisingly, the Grizzlies defense had some tentativeness to work out early with so many new bodies, however, as they game wore on, they looked far more comfortable.

Offensively, Cuddemi (seven shots) and Pelech (five shots) had very strong nights, despite the lack of goals, while the Puskar line also generated a number of grade A scoring chances. In fact, every single player on the Grizzlies recorded at least a shot, and all but three of them recorded two or more.

The loss was by no means due to a lack of effort.

Utah is off tomorrow, before playing their final game in Orlando at 11:30 on Sunday morning.


Utah Grizz: Unfamiliar Territory

Coming off a big weekend against Alaska, the Grizzlies looked to keep the wins coming against stiff opposition. Ryan Faragher got the start in Utah’s first encounter ever against the Florida Everblades, while Gabriel Verpaelst made his Grizzlies’ debut in place of Sean Robertson.

The Everblades began well, but it was the Grizzlies who brought all the fire power early. Michael Pelech, Cam Reid, and Austen Brassard all scored in the first five minutes for Utah. Florida pulled Anthony Peters in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic, and the fireworks weren’t over yet. The Everblades an interference penalty, and Marc-André Lévesque dropped the gloves with Dalton Smith.

Faragher stopped a short-handed breakaway on man advantage, and the Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize. Unfortunately, Florida had some terrific zone time afterwards, and scored at 10:31 when Utah was unable to clear the puck, making it 3-1.

The Grizzlies held off a swarming Florida, including on a power play following a Pelech holding call. Faragher absolutely stood on his head through the rest of the period, and at the end of 2o, the score was 3-1 Utah. However, Florida outshot them 11-5, and the Everblades’ most dangerous period, historically, was yet to come.

Utah came out of the gate quickly, and just 59 seconds into the second, Erik Bradford tipped in a big shot from Phil Pietroniro to restore the three goal lead. Jon Puskar’s work to keep the puck alive earned him the secondary assist.

The Grizzlies got another power play at 3:06, but it was negated shortly thereafter when Pelech took a tripping call at 3:37. Utah killed it off, and even got a breakaway chance of their own from Mathieu Aubin.

The Everblades cut the lead in half again with 11:02 to go, again after a prolonged shift in the Grizzlies’ end.

Utah thwarted what seemed like a sure recipe for disaster when Puskar, Brassard, Amestoy, Daly, and Pietroniro were trapped in their own zone for what must have been well over a minute. Shortly thereafter, Daly drew a power play with just under two minutes left to play, but though Utah got a few looks, they were unable to capitalize.

After 40, Utah led 4-2, but the Everblades continued to outshoot them 20-13.

Faragher made two enormous saves to start the third period, and at 3:46 Martin Nemcik took a slashing call, sending Utah to the penalty kill. C.J. Eick got in on a glorious breakaway, but Nedeljkovic turned him aside, and on the next shift, Gabriel Verpaelst took a boarding call, sending the Grizzlies to a lengthy 5-on-3.

The Grizzlies killed off the 5-on-3, but unfortunately, Florida scored after Pietroniro whiffed on the clearing attempt, and the puck went straight to a waiting Everblade to make it 4-3 at 6:46.

Utah held Florida off through the later minutes of the period, and with 1:30 left to go, Florida pulled their goalie. He had to return to the net 30 seconds later when Grizzlies drew a power play. Verpaelst took an elbowing call mere seconds after that, though, allowing Florida to pull their goalie yet again, and play 5-on-4 with the empty net.

Regardless, the Grizzlies hung on through the last minute, and they picked up a huge two points against one of the top teams of the ECHL. Unfortunately for the playoff race, Alaska beat Colorado, so instead of moving within one of the last spot, the Grizzlies remain three back.

Marc-André Lévesque remains a point-a-game with the Grizzlies, while Bradford’s multi-point game ties him with Ralph Cuddemi for the team lead with 13 multiple-point games this season. Bradford and Reid were named the first and third stars of the game, and while Faragher was not, he very well could have been as well after that performance.

Utah moves on to Orlando next where they will take on the Solar Bears on Friday and Sunday.

Utah Grizzlies: Swagger

Saturday night’s game was likely the last to ever be played between the Alaska Aces and the Utah Grizzlies, and it did not disappoint.

Ryan Faragher got the start for the third straight game, and the only roster change saw Sean Robertson draw in in place of Zac Larraza.

Utah came out flying in the opening minutes of the period, and Jon Puskar scored his 19th of the year at 3:37, making it 1-0 on a beautiful shot. Ralph Cuddemi drew the only assist.

About a minute later, Phil Pietroniro put the puck over the glass, and was sent to the box for delay of game. There were some tense moments to follow, as C.J. Eick joined him shortly after for interference, drawing a crowd of ticked off Aces players. Between some beautiful saves from Faragher, and the Grizzlies’ excellent penalty kill, however, the 5-on-3, and subsequent 5-on-4 were both killed off.

Both teams collected chances in the following few minutes, but it would be Utah who capitalized. At 10:45, The Grizzlies came flying into the Aces’ zone, and Colin Martin made it 2-0 on Pietroniro’s rebound.

Martin took a penalty at 13:02, and though Utah did an excellent job of killing it off, Alaska cut the Grizzlies lead in half mere seconds after it expired.

Both teams got good chances in the last four or so minutes, but Utah decidedly carried the play, throwing a flurry of shots on net in the last three seconds, and the period came to an end with Utah up 2-1, outshooting Alaska 9-7.

The Grizzlies continued to buzz right out of the gate in the second, as Erik Bradford rang the post mere moments into the frame.

Brad Navin took a goaltender interference penalty at 2:34, and the Grizzlies got a few chances early, but Alaska also got two breakaways. Ultimately, however, Martin made Alaska pay, scoring his second of the night at 3:49 after absolute mayhem around the net. Cam Reid and Marc-André Lévesque drew the assists, and Utah reclaimed their two goal lead.

Despite being up by two goals, the Grizzlies stayed hungry, continuing to skate hard and get chances. Alas,, that’s when the questionable penalty troubles began. Mathieu Aubin was pulled down in the defensive zone at 9:22, yet it was Pietroniro who was sent to the box for tripping.

Unfortunately, Nolan Descoteaux scored on the suspect penalty, and the game was made 3-2. Alaska put the pedal to the metal after their goal, and with 8:31 left to go, they tied it up.

The Aces continued to press, but Faragher made a pair of big saves, and the momentum slowly began to shift back in Utah’s favor.

Mitch Jones tried to goad Ralph Cuddemi into a retaliatory penalty, but with no luck after the Grizzlies continued to crash the net.

The crease crashing paid off as the Grizzlies went to the net hard, and Martin’s wrap-around slipped past Kevin Carr for the hat trick. Martin’s hat trick makes him the third Utah player this year to put up a three goal game, joining Cuddemi and Puskar. Reid picked up his third assist of the night – all three coming on Martin’s goals.

The missed calls continued to pile up, as Erik Higby was taken down with no call. A few minutes later, Brassard was sent into the back of the net at 16:45, and took justice into his own hands, dropping the gloves with Mitch Jones. Brassard won the bout emphatically, Jones got an extra two for roughing, and Utah went to the power play.

The Grizzlies’ power play generated some chances, including two from Martin, but the most dangerous attempt of the play went to Alaska who jumped on a bad line change, and got a 2-on-0 on Faragher. Faragher made a phenomenal save, and the Grizzlies went into second intermission up 4-3.

Alaska got a big scoring chance eighteen seconds into the third on their sixteenth shot of the night, but Faragher shut the door.

Puskar took a shot up high along the boards with no call with 14:31 to go, and Reid took a holding call moments afterwards. Once again, Descoeaux scored on the power play, to tie the game at 6:02.

The Grizzlies responded emphatically as Bradford, Aubin, and Michael Pelech capped off a terrific shift with a goal from the Rocket at 9:08.

Alaska countered, but the Grizzlies did a terrific job blocking out shots, and responding with offensive zone shifts of their own. With roughly five minutes to go, Alaska twice got away with blatant calls against Tim Daly, but Utah continued to battle

The Aces finally took a penalty as Stephen Perfetto all but hitched a ride on Daly through the neutral zone with 2:18 left in regulation. The power play was not so much a power play as a time killer, Utah playing keep-away in the offensive zone as much as possible.

When the final horn sounded, Utah had outshot Alaska 28-24 en route to the 5-4 victory, while Martin, Reid, and Faragher were the well-deserving three stars of the game.

“This whole series, I don’t think we put together a full 60 minutes until tonight.” Martin said after the game. “We took it to them from puck drop right to the last buzzer there. That’s what we need to do every night. It’s playoff hockey, starting now, and it’s time to go.”

Coach Branham had similar thoughts on the team’s game. “Definitely proud of the effort. I’m sure it was exciting for the fans, but we would have liked to keep the puck out of our net a few more times, but I thought we did a pretty good job. We did a good job of answering every time. Alaska did a good job of responding, and then we would respond back. It was just great. No matter what got thrown at us — we were talking on the bench — no matter what gets thrown at us, we’re not losing this game. I thought we could have had quite a few calls there at the end, that weren’t called. I don’t know what was going on there. But we did get the one at the end, and we were able to seal the deal.”

“Our destiny is in our hands” Branham continued. “We’ve gotta just win. Win games, and we’ve got a tough stretch here, but so do they. Missouri lost again tonight, so we’re two points up on them, and they make up a game in hand tomorrow, so we’ll be watching the scoreboards, but at the end of the day we’ve gotta just worry about what we gotta do, and focus on continuing to win hockey games.”

“It’s pretty crazy” Martin said, reflecting on the future of the Aces, “Every time you think about this league, one of the teams you obviously think about is the Alaska Aces. It’s sad. I feel sorry for the guys down there, but at the same time, it’s hockey. Stuff happens, and you’ve just gotta do what you can.”

As much as Martin may sympathise with their fate, he, and the Grizzlies, are focused on their own play, and the task ahead. “We’re confident. That’s what we need. We need confidence, we need guys going to the net, we need guys scoring goals, that all comes with confidence. I think we have that right now, we’ve got some swagger, and it’s time to go to Florida and get six points.”

Confidence and swagger were the watchwords of the day as Branham echoed Martin’s words:”It’s all about confidence and swagger. It’s a confident group in there, so we’ve just gotta build on that, and keep that rolling.”

With the win, Utah improves to 9-0-0-1 when they score first, and a staggering 13-1-1-2 when Puskar scores.

They’ll look to take their winning ways to Florida in the coming week, where they will face the Florida Everblades, and the Orlando Solar Bears, both of whom have been hot as of late.

Photo courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies