When a team loses three games in a row to start a season, it’s easy to obsess over the negatives, to get caught up in the lack of goals, or the rebounds, or the defensive lapses. But at the end of the day, it’s three games with a team finding their feet and their identity.
In Monday’s first match-up against the Norfolk Admirals in franchise history, there were some changes to the lineup. Charley Graaskamp and Brendan Harms suited up for their pro debuts in place of Zach Saar and Peter Sivak.
Utah had some good puck possession in the early going, but Tim Daly got the first high-danger chance for Norfolk.
Then the Grizzlies ran into some penalty trouble. Norfolk scored on their second man advantage, the primary assist going to, you guessed it, Tim Daly.
Utah got a chance on the power play when Ryan Olsen got taken down in the middle of a great scoring chance. The Grizzlies’ power play was one of their better ones this season, and the puck did, in fact end up in the back of the net, but as the net was coming off its moorings, it was immediately and emphatically waived off.
Norfolk scored again with 2:21 to go, as Grant Besse was left all alone in front of Redmond.
Things didn’t get a whole lot better before the end of the period, with Angelo Miceli scoring with 28 seconds left in the frame.
The second began far better than the first ended, at least in terms of puck possession. Unfortunately it did not improve in other ways.
After some back and forth play that saw Utah even up the shot count, Norfolk took a slashing penalty, but Kyle Thomas took a high-sticking penalty, and the teams played 4-on-4 for 43 seconds, only for C.J. Eick to take a holding penalty, Norfolk scored into a wide open net with 9:04 to go.
At the buzzer, a number of players went into the boards, and a cranky crowd gathered. The upshot of that was that Thomas and Alex Pompeo got coincidental double minors for roughing, and Hanson got two for tripping.
The Grizzlies killed off the penalty, to start the third, but at 4:52 Norfolk scored yet again, making it 5-0. That very well could have been the end, but instead, Utah improved, while the Admirals faded.
One of the most frustrating things in this early season has been watching the top line get chance after chance to no avail, knowing that they’d be productive once they got that first goal…if only they could get that first goal.
Just past the 10 minute mark, Michael Pelech did just that, banging the puck past Jake Paterson to break the shutout. Hanson and Thomas got the assists, giving all three their first points of the season.
Barely two minutes later, the same line struck again, this time it was Hanson with his first of the year, making it 5-2 from Richart and Pelech.
Galvanized by two goals in such rapid succession, the Grizzlies continued to press on, and were rewarded at 15:35 when Graaskamp scored his first pro goal.
The Grizzlies continued to hustle, pulling Redmond with two minutes left, but were unable to close the gap any further.
However, despite the loss, three goals in under five minutes, two from the woefully snake bitten first line, and one from the the rookie in his debut made for a far more exciting finish than it had looked like it would be at the end of second period.
“It was pretty neat seeing my name up there on the board between Hanson and Olie [Olsen], two really good special players,” Graaskamp said when asked about his debut. “Just kind of wanted to take it a shift at a time, and play to my strengths and play my game. It just so happened that Cliff made a great play, and [I] ended up scoring a goal.”
“I think it was a tail of two halves.” Greger Hanson said of the game. “I thought we played better in the second half overall, we kind of found a little bit of a sample of what we can do better, if we keep playing like this I think we’ll be rewarded. But the first half of the game was not acceptable.”
Of his first goal of the season, he added: “It was nice. I think it started something, definitely. I’m not used to not scoring. I have a history of scoring, so when I’m not, I know I’m not doing something right. I’m not helping the team so it was nice. Hopefully it can spark the team going forward.”
Hanson’s goal and assist earned him the third star of the game, and praise from Tim Branham.
“Greger, that’s what he’s capable of right there. He was pretty determined there at the end of the game to play hard and to get the job done. He’s been good every game, to be honest. He makes things happen every single game, and even though he wasn’t getting the production, he was still making plays. He’s tough to defend.”
“Hopefully we got that out of our system.” He said, speaking of the weird bounces and defensive lapses that led to several of the goals Utah allowed. “I think maybe a couple of their goals were a result of us not scoring at the other end too. You put one in early or in between their two and three, and maybe the third one doesn’t happen kind of thing. Then obviously, when we want to work hard, we can be really good offensively. So I think we finally saw that tonight, and hopefully we just keep that momentum rolling into next game.”
That next game is tonight (Wednesday) at 7 in Idaho.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and other staff photographers