It’s a new season, and a new look Grizzlies.
Well, not altogether new. C.J. Eick, Brad Navin, Taylor Richart, Erik Higby, Michael Pelech, Travis Howe, Garrett Haar, Sam Windle, Rob Mann, Ryan Misiak (who played with the team during the 2015-16 season), and Jon Puskar have all returned for the 2017-18 campaign.
Among the most notable newcomers are Greger Hanson (Allen Americans), Peter Sivak (Alaska Aces), Kyle Thomas (Fort Wayne Komets), Mitch Jones (Alaska Aces), and Kevin Carr (also Alaska Aces) for some potent offensive flair, and strength at all positions. Zach Saar, Kyle Thomas, Angus Redmond, and Cliff Watson all come to the team via the San Diego Gulls this preseason (though only Redmond is a Ducks prospect).
The rest of the team are no slouches either, with the potential for some impressive firepower, and it should be fun getting to know this new group over the course of the season.
Garrett Haar will begin the season on the injured reserve, Sam Windle and Travis Howe are currently on reserve, while Redmond, Brendan Harms, and Charley Graaskamp were all scratches tonight.
In case you missed it, Eick was named the Grizzlies’ captain this summer, while Navin, Richart, and Higby all wore As during the preseason. Tim Branham remains at the helm as Head Coach and GM as the Grizzlies set their sights on an 11th Kelly Cup appearance, and the trophy that awaits the winner.
The Grizzlies got a good long look at the Cup in Colorado as the Eagles raised their 2016-17 championship banner before the game.
The Grizzlies got off to a decent start, getting the first two shots of the period. Puskar and Misiak got a 2-on-1 about five minutes in, drew a power play, and Melindy fought Joey Ratelle less than five minutes in.
Utah struggled to establish offensive zone time on the advantage, and Colorado scored on a breakaway just two seconds after their penalty expired.
The back half of the period saw the Grizzlies pick up a number of good looks, and their work paid off, as Drayson Bowman went to the box for slashing with 5:04 to go. The second man advantage looked far more commanding than the first, but did not capitalize. However, 22 seconds after the power play expired, Navin threw the puck on net, and the Captain put it past Lukas Hafner. Eick’s first of the year was, once again the opening goal of the Grizzlies’ season, and it sent Utah to the locker room with a 1-1 tie.
The Eagles and Grizzlies traded penalties to start the second, and Utah had a very strong penalty kill, but just four seconds after they returned to full strength, Colorado scored. All three goals of the game, up until this point, being scored 30 seconds or less after a penalty expired
Utah didn’t back off, though, getting a 17-10 edge in shots.
The two teams traded zone time though the later stages of the second, but it would be the Eagles who scored the next goal after a prolonged Utah offensive zone shift with less than two minutes to go in the frame. After 40, Utah trailed 3-1, holding the 28-20 edge in shots.
Four minutes into a somewhat lackadaisical third, Puskar came flying down the wing, cut to the middle, and put a back hand through traffic, making it 3-2, with assists from Taylor Richart, and Ryan Misiak.
Despite amassing 13 more shots over the course of the period, some of them on really good scoring chances, Utah couldn’t find the back of the net.
With four minutes left in the game, Saar and Teigan Zahn dropped the gloves, and though Zahn wound up getting the best of the scuffle, he also took an extra two for instigating, and the Grizzlies went to a big power play. They were, unfortunately, unable to tie the game up.
Coach Branham pulled Carr with less than a minute to go, but Utah took a penalty, and despite a last ditch attempt from Richart 5-on-5 with an empty net, they were unable to score the equalizer.
The loss was disappointing, but it wasn’t a bad first game. Puskar showed every bit of the offensive flair and foot speed that he displayed last season, while players like Thomas (6 shots), Olsen, Jones, Melindy (5 shots each), Saar and Misiak (both with 4) all had good chances throughout the game. Hanson and Watson also had some pretty good moments. Saar impressed in other areas as well, with a fight, and a +2 on the night.
In his post-game show comments to Tyson Whiting, Branham expressed some concern over the Grizzlies’ lack of goal scoring—a problem with which they struggled in the preseason. However, he also reiterated the fact that this is an offensively proven group of players, and that he liked how they played for the most part.
After all, it’s only the first game of the season, and many of these guys have never had the chance to play together before. It might take some tinkering, but the scoring combinations and chemistry are in there somewhere.
The Grizzlies and the Eagles are headed to the Maverik Center for Utah’s home opener tomorrow at 7PM.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and other staff photographers