Utah Grizzlies: A Little Help From Our Friends

With a chance to clinch the final playoff spot, the Grizzlies opened their final Friday night game of the regular season with Kevin Boyle making his fifth straight start of the season. Rob Mann made his Grizzlies debut, while Travis Howe, Cam Reid, and Erik Higby all sat out.

Unfortunately Utah came out flat, giving up two goals to Dane Fox and Eric Scheid in the first 5:39.

After giving up two quick goals, the Grizzlies stepped up their game, more or less taking over the game, and keeping possession of the puck, and the shot lead.

With about 7:20 to go, Gabriel Verpaelst rang the crossbar, as Utah did a good job of creating some second and third chances around the net.

Jon Puskar and Zach Tokinen threw down at 14:08 after a battle in the offensive zone. It wasn’t so much a fight as a brief tussle with Puskar getting the take-down, to the great delight of the 6,702 fans in attendance. Verpaelst and Jacob Doty tangled briefly on the same whistle, but only Puskar and Tokinen were sent to the box to cool their tempers.

Dane Fox was whistled for slashing shortly thereafter, and tried to goad Colin Martin into taking a retaliatory penalty, without luck, and earned himself an extra ten minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalise on the power play, and despite working up to a 12-7 shot advantage, they remained behind 2-0.

After 20, the shots were 14-7 for the Grizzlies, but that slow start continued to haunt them.

There was nothing slow about the start of the second, as Mathieu Aubin cut the deficit in half just 40 seconds into the period. Austen Brassard and Michael Pelech got the assists on Aubin’s 18th of the year.

By the five minute mark, Utah had outshot Missouri 20-10 and continued to largely control the game. They got a few gorgeous chances, including a pair of hard shots from Verpaelst, and one from Zac Larraza on a beautiful Erik Bradford pass. Sadly, Zach Nagelvoort continued to be terrific, and kept the puck out.

Puskar took a slashing call with 5:57 to go, but the Grizzlies absolutely took over what was supposed to be a Missouri power play. Larraza sprang Bradford on a glorious breakaway, Larraza went after a rebound, Cuddemi got a chance, Boyle made some terrific saves, and the penalty kill was over.

Utah found another gear in the final five minutes, and with just eleven seconds to go, Brassard tied the game. Aubin and Pelech got the assists, and the roof all but came off the Mav.

The Grizzlies went into the final intermission tied 2-2, and outshooting the Mav 36-18 after opening and closing the period with a goal.

Josh Robinson came in for the Mavericks to start the third, and continued to thwart some beautiful Grizzlies’ chances from the likes of Brassard, Puskar, and Bradford.

With 7:38 Missouri scored on a weird bounce, while Martin went rib first into the goal post. He went to the locker room and did not return to the game.

The Grizzlies made a determined effort to tie up the game getting 45 shots to Missouri’s 23 with 5:22 left.

With just under two minutes to go, Branham pulled Boyle, and Utah made one last ditch attempt to tie the game, to no avail.

Brassard and Aubin were named the second and third stars of the game with a goal and an assist each, while Pelech picked up his fourth multi-point night in the last eight games.

It was a disappointing outcome, especially given how well the Grizzlies played after the opening five minutes, with the chance to clinch a playoff spot on their own power.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” Brassard said after the game. “That slow start kind of woke us up, but at that point you’re already down two, and you’ve gotta climb back, and you’re in tough. It’s pretty disappointing, but it’s done now we’ve gotta move past it. We’ve got an opportunity tomorrow to get the job done, so that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Tim Branham had a similar view of the game. “Definitely pretty disappointed in our effort, coming out there, top to bottom, goaltender on out, didn’t come ready to play,” he said. “You can’t play like that, and we dug ourselves a two goal deficit. Yeah we got 53 shots, that’s not good enough against this Missouri team. We should have 60-70 shots if we play the right way. Yes we had plenty of scoring chances, but they were one-on-one scoring chances with the goaltender. He saw every puck. Not sure if we had any second chance opportunities. We’ve got to be hungry in that two foot area, the blue paint in front of their goaltender, and if we’re not, they’re going to continue to stop 40 or 50 shots a night.”

“It’s just a matter of how bad do we want it,” he continued, referring to the Grizzlies’ playoff aspirations. “I don’t want to leave it to chance here, Idaho wins and we get in by default. I don’t like that. My main focus is the boys come in ready to play tomorrow, showing what we’re made of with a consistent sixty minute effort.”

Idaho did end up securing the win over Alaska 1-0 in regulation, ensuring the Grizzlies’ tenth straight post season appearance.

 

Winning Saturday night’s game is now a matter of pride.

Utah Grizzlies: Die Haar-d

After a terrific road trip, the Grizzlies opened their final home stand of the regular season against the Missouri Mavericks. Kevin Boyle made his fourth straight start, while Ralph Cuddemi returned to the lineup after serving his four game suspension. Erik Higby and Cam Reid remained sidelined.

Missouri started well to begin, but Utah got the first four shots of the game as the Grizzlies peppered Josh Robinson early and often.

After that, Utah did an excellent job of keeping the puck in the Mavs’ end drawing their ire on a number of occasions, but even so, Boyle was called upon to make a number of saves as well.

Dan Correale high-sticked Colin Martin with 8:39 to go in the period, drawing blood, and sending Martin to the room for repairs. Though Utah picked up a few good chances on the lengthy man advantage, the score remained unchanged. Martin also returned part way through the power play, and played a shift or two, looking none the worse for wear.

The Grizzlies accumulated 20 shots through the first 20 minutes, but when the period drew to a close the game was still scoreless.

C.J. Eick took a holding call 3:17 into the second, but the penalty kill allowed zero shots, while Zac Larraza and Erik Bradford had a pair of chances of their own.

With 8:44 left in the second, and the Grizzlies already up in shots 30-9, Gabriel Verpaelst took an interference call, but Utah killed it off, and he got a breakaway chance out of the box, which unfortunately went wide.

Jon Puskar was taken down with just over four minutes left with no call, much to the disgust of the 5,268 fans in attendance. The Mavs did eventually take a delay of game penalty at 16:17. However, the Grizzlies were unable to capitalize on the power play, and Boyle had to make a flurry of saves as it expired to keep the game tied at zero.

In the dying seconds of the second, Puskar made a beautiful intersection to prevent a breakaway,  and after 40, the score remained unchanged, shots 31-14 in the Grizzlies’ favour.

Missouri spent much of the first few minutes in the offensive zone, but at 4:00, the Mavs took a roughing call, and Utah went to the power play.

Garret Haar unleashed a cannon of a shot that beat Robinson to finally break the deadlock at 4:24. Bradford and Puskar got the assists, and the crowd erupted.

Alas, the Mavs answered about two minutes later, and just like that the game was back to square one.

With 5:16 to go, Austen Brassard was put into the Missouri bench, and both teams came flying in. In the end Brassard was extracted, seeming none the worse for his misadventure, and Martin Nemcik and Jacob Doty were both sent to the box for roughing. Nothing came of the ensuing 4-on-4, and with one minute left, Puskar was taken down yet again. However, this time, Radoslav Illo was sent to the box for crosschecking.

The Grizzlies were not able to capitalize on the power play, and a scrum ensued following the buzzer, which saw Larraza and Benjamin Dieude-Fauvel kicked out of the game with two minute minors and a game misconduct each.

Utah got a number of chances on the 4-on-3, including quite a few from Cuddemi, but the penalty expired with no change in score.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as Haar wired the puck past Robinson 2:07 into OT to give the Grizzlies the 2-1 win.

Haar was named first star of the night, while Boyle’s 19/20 saves earned him second star, and Michael Pelech’s assist saw him named one of the stars of the game for the second time in three games.

“Obviously it’s huge, right? It’s do or die right now, and we control our own destiny.” Haar said of the victory. “To get that win obviously, couldn’t ask for anything better. We just need to have a good practice tomorrow and move on to Friday.”

“We have so much skill that when we work hard along with our skill it’s kind of hard to stop us.” He continued, when asked about the team’s recent success. “That’s what we were doing tonight, we were hounding pucks and what not, but we just need to maybe tighten up our d-zone in transition a little bit and I think we’ll be alright.”

Coach Branham had nothing but praise for his defenseman, and for his team. “Garrett Haar has been tremendous since we got him. What a pick-up that was for us. He’s playing with confidence, he’s playing big minutes, those two goals were the biggest of the year so far, so props to him.

“We’ve got guys who have been here before. They know what’s at stake, they know how to play, they know what it takes to win, to have success. It’s their team right now. They want it. They want to win, they have all year. We faced so much adversity, through injuries and call ups and stuff like that, we’re finally getting a somewhat consistent lineup, and we’re getting rewarded for it.”

A Grizzlies’ win tonight (Friday), or an Aces’ loss will clinch Utah’s playoff spot. So, what do the Grizzlies have to do to keep the wins coming? “Play the same game, don’t change anything. We can’t change anything, we gotta keep the foot on the gas, and you wanna go on to playoffs winning. We just gotta make sure we take care of business on Friday, we have something to play for, that’s for sure. We don’t wanna change anything.”

 

 

Image courtesy of Tim Boussard

Utah Grizzlies: Coming in Hot

(The recap from Wednesday night’s game is coming soon! Apologies for the delay! Life caught up with me there…)

The Utah Grizzlies have returned from their most recent road, and come into the final three games of the season a perfect 5-0.

After beating Colorado twice in their own barn, and picking up a win in the first of three games against Rapid City, Utah continued to pick up steam.

Kevin Boyle once more manned the net on Friday night, and Tim Daly returned to the roster after a two game stint in the AHL.

Gabriel Verpaelst scored the game’s opening goal at 1:55 in the first for his first goal with the Grizzlies, and then Boyle held the fort as Utah struggled a little on the defensive side of things. Mathieu Aubin drew the first power play of the game with 4:37 to go in the frame as Mike Monfredo put him into the boards by the benches and was sent off for roughing. The power play was unable to capitalize, however, and after 20 minutes, Utah led 1-0 despite being outshot 8-6.

Scarcely had the second period begun than Boyle was called upon to make a pair of huge saves, but Rapid City would eventually tie it up as Ryan Walters capitalized on some more slightly sketchy defense at 5:53. However, the tie did not last very long. Michael Pelech scored his 19th of the season at 9:26, with assists from Aubin and Austen Brassard.

Pelech took a high-sticking minor about a minute later, but Terrence Wallin high-sticked Daly less than a minute after that, to negate the power play. The Grizzlies didn’t score on the four-on-four, or the ensuing (and brief) power play that followed, though Daly came painfully close.

In the end, though, it didn’t much matter, as Pelech scored his 20th from an incredibly tight angle from Pietroniro and Aubin to give Utah the 3-1 lead. With Pelech’s second goal of the night marked the third time in five games that he has picked up at least two points, and the Grizzlies now have four players who have hit the 20 goal mark.

Zac Larraza got a beautiful chance later in the period, but was robbed blind by Adam Morrison. With just 34 seconds to go in the period, Pelech got involved in a scuffle with Hunter Fejes, and they both received two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct as the second came to an end.

After two periods, the shots were 19-18 for the Rush, and Utah held a fairly comfortable 3-1 lead.

Martin Nemcik took a penalty in the early stages of the third, and Boyle made an absolutely gorgeous windmill save on the ensuing penalty kill, but nothing much of note occurred until about the halfway point. Brassard and Pelech tangled with Riley Weselowski, and all three players were sent to cool their heels for two minutes.

The Grizzlies killed off the penalty, and at 14:54, Larraza made it 4-1 with assists from Daly and Garrett Haar. The goal was Larraza’s 6th of the season, and his thirteenth point in eleven games.

Unfortunately, with 2:06 to go, Triston Grant made it 4-2 in a wild scramble in front of the net, but when the Rush pulled their goalie, Aubin scored into the empty net to ice away the game.

Pelech and Larraza were named the well-deserved first and third stars of the game, and Boyle made 31/33 saves in his second straight start.

 

Saturday’s game was a wild one right out of the gate as Travis Howe and Anthony Collins dropped the gloves less than two minutes into the first. Barely a minute later, Verpaelst and Weslowski dropped the gloves, and a little over a minute after that, C.J. Eick made it 1-0 with assists from Haar and Brassard.

Colin Martin took a cross-checking penalty at 9:14, but the Grizzlies penalty kill took care of it, thanks in large part to some terrific saves by Boyle.

But the shenanigans weren’t nearly over yet.

Collins and Verpaelst dropped the gloves at 12:28, both earning their second fights of the night.

Unfortunately, Ryan Walters scored on the ensuing 4-on-4 to tie the game up at one. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and with 5:56 to go, a pileup occurred along the boards. Once the dust settled,  Howe and Monfredo were in the box for fighting, joined by Pietroniro for roughing, and Grant for roughing and crosschecking.

Utah wasn’t able to capitalise on the power play, but right as it ended, Erik Bradford made it 2-1 for Utah with assists from Jon Puskar and Colin Martin.

 

Barely a minute later, Puskar was taken off a breakaway, and got a penalty shot, but was unable to beat Luke Siemens.

After 20 shots were 9-8 for Utah, who led 2-1.

Bradford nearly made it 3-1 with 17:54 to go, and a lovely play by Howe to slow the game down led to Puskar drawing a penalty shortly thereafter. Larraza scored his fifth goal in four games at 4:31, while Martin and Bradford drew the assists.

Despite holding a two goal advantage, the lead never exactly felt safe, and with 5:51 to go in the second, the Rush made it 3-2. Martin nearly picked up his second point of the game on a wrap-around attempt in the dying moments of the period, but after 40 the score remained 3-2.

Martin Nemcik began the third playing shifts at forward in place of Travis Howe, who played little (or not at all) through the remainder of the game. The Grizzlies played a much better game in the third — perhaps their best of the entire series against Rapid City, allowing not a single shot through the first 13 or so minutes of the period, including on the penalty kill.

Haar took the only other penalty of the game at 14:58, but Utah killed it off, and with just under a minute left in the game, Martin scored his 22nd of the year into the empty net.

Martin and Bradford were named first and second stars of the game, each with a goal and two assists, and Larraza could well have joined them, as he had a multi-point night, picking up a goal and an assist as well.

The win put the Grizzlies in sole possession of the final playoff spot in the mountain division, and saw them close out one of their most successful road trips to date.

Utah will close out the season against the Missouri Maveriks, and they hold their playoff destiny in their own hands.

Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies