Utah Grizzlies: Step Up

In the second game in two nights against Fort Wayne, the Grizzlies looked to avenge their 4-2 loss. And avenge it they did.

With Mitch Jones out after missing most of the third period, Ryan Walters back from the AHL, and Garrett Haar drawing in for his first game of the season, the Grizzlies went with five defencemen and eleven forwards. Tim Branham also elected to go with the hot hand, so Kevin Carr once again got the start in front of 7,656 fans.

“The guys were excited. I know we got beat last night, and were motivated not to get swept” Walters said after the game. “You can’t lose two in a row at home. So our goal is just to go out there period by period, and that first period was huge for us. We got a lot of momentum, and it ended up working out in our favor for the rest of the game.”

You could tell from the get-go that it was going to be a big night from Ryan Walters, as the Walters, Michael Pelech, Charley Graaskamp line had a couple of good early shifts. Likewise, Brendan Harms, Ryan Misiak, and Ryan Olsen picked up right where they left off.

Despite the early jump from the top two Utah lines, Carr saw a lot of rubber in the first nine minutes of the period. But as always, he was his usual calm, cool, and collected self, turning aside every shot he faced.

While the Grizzlies may have been a little passive in the defensive zone early, there was nothing passive about their offensive output. C.J. Eick got a shot just past the ten minute mark, which drew a crowd.

Two shifts later, Pelech tossed the puck to Walters in front of the net, and Ryan tipped it in perfectly. Graaskamp got the secondary assist, and it all boded very well for the Grizzlies who were 5-0-1-0 when scoring first.

Eick got two minutes for hooking, and Fort Wayne went to the power play at 13:42, and a minute later Richart got taken down behind the play. Before play could be blown down, Walters got his second goal on a thrilling goal short-handed breakaway. Pelech once again got the primary assist, and Chris Leibinger got the secondary.

Marc-Olivier Roy went to the box for the rough on Richart, but Utah was not able to capitalize four-on-four or five-on-four. They did, however get some good puck movement. Carr turned aside Roy’s breakaway bid out of the box with, wand through the second half of the period, the Grizzlies were much sharper in front of him.

Harms had two strong moves on one shift with less than a minute left in the frame, and Travis Howe and Cody Sol exchanged words in a scrum that gathered with mere seconds left.

After the buzzer, both teams converged on the ice, and words were exchanged, but while there was a lengthy discussion, nothing came of it.

After 20, shots were 13-10 for Fort Wayne, but Utah held the 2-0 lead, thanks to Carr’s terrific goaltending, and Walters’ pair of goals.

The Grizzlies drew an early power play, and got a few good chances, including a great set-up for Richart from Graaskamp, but the took a too-many-men call half way through.

Ralph Cuddemi and the Komets got some chances of their own on the four-on-four, and on their ensuing power play, but Carr and the Grizzlies’ defence held them off.

Richart leveled Garrett Thompson at the blue line with about 12 minutes to go, and Utah pressed the Komets. Brendan and the Ryans had a great, hard-working shift, and Harms drew a power play with 10:45 to go.

Mere moments later, Utah got a two-man advantage, as Jamie Schaafsma got sent off for holding. Branham called his time out to get organized.

This time, the power play paid off.

It took lots of passes, and a clear, but Cliff Watson passed to Richart from the right circle, and Pelech tipped it in to make it 3-0.

Erik Higby took a penalty with 7:44 to go, but thanks once again to Carr, and the play of Watson, Richart, and the others, that one too was killed off.

Watson, Pelech, and Walters had a beautiful three-on-one in the minutes that followed, and were all a little too unselfish, passing the puck just a few too many times. In the end, it didn’t matter, as the Olsen line had a hard-working shift, and Richart scored at 16:04 with assists from Olsen and Harms.

Fort Wayne pulled Michael Houser after the goal, and rallied a bit around Garrett Bartus, but Utah got out of the period with the 4-0 lead, shots 24-17 for Fort Wayne.

Walters began the third with a nifty move in his bid for the hat-trick, but Bartus was up for the challenge.

Haar took an interference penalty, but once again, the Utah kill remained perfect.

Fort Wayne broke the shut out with 11:11 to go, scoring on their 27th shot, a frustrating turn of events followed by a good deal of door and stick slamming. Graaskamp and Sol went off with matching slashing calls immediately thereafter. Haar made his presence felt on the four-on-four with a big hit behind the Grizzlies’ net, but there was no change in score before both teams returned to full strength.

Unfortunately, Utah got stuck in their own zone for the second time at 12:26, and once again Komets scored..

That’s as bad as it got, however, and Olsen and Haar both gave Grizz fans something to cheer about with a couple of thunderous hits as the game entered the last five minutes.

Fort Wayne pulled Bartus with just under two minutes to go, but Misiak was hauled down shortly thereafter. Utah ended the game on the power play, but the Komets again pulled their goalie on to fish the game five-on-five.

The final buzzer saw another 4-2 victory, this time for Utah, despite Fort Wayne’s 31-20 edge on the shot clock.

Walters (two goals), Carr (29 saves), and Pelech (one goal, two assists) were the three stars of the game.

When asked about Carr’s great performance, Walters said, “Carrsy is a great goalie. We rely on him a lot. I wish sometimes we didn’t rely on him as much, maybe give him a break every once in a while, but he’s been great this year, and I hope he keeps it up, and we couldn’t ask for anything more from him either.”

While Walters was busy praising Carr, Branham had great things to say about the boost Ryan’s return gives the Grizzlies.

“Fortunately for us, Ryan is back. Obviously it makes an immediate impact. It’s nice to have him. It gives us a lot of depth up front, and allows Ryan Olsen’s line to do their thing, and gives Pelech and Walters a good second punch there.”

Walters, Pelech, and Carr were certainly the top three stand outs. However,ย with the exception of the shifts that led to the two Fort Wayne goals, the Grizzlies played a pretty complete game, both in terms of team contribution, and in terms of the overall game itself. That fact was pretty well reflected on the scoreboard.

Richart got his sixth goal of the year, and is now tied for the league lead in goals amongst defencemen, and Leibinger has clearly settled into his role, picking up his second point in five games.

Brendan Harms has really come into his own in the past couple of weeks, picking up four points in four games as he, together with Olsen and Misiak have put together a couple of impressive games. The line has combined for two goals and four assists in the last two games, and has clearly found some chemistry. They have easily been one of the team’s best linesโ€”only overshadowed by the terrific play of Walters and Pelech.

“I thought all our guys were really good tonight,” Branham added, “Obviously Carrsy in net was tremendous early on. We’re taking strides forward. It was nice to get Garrett Haar back as well. I’m sure he was feeling it a little bit, not having played there for a little while, but he did a great job.”

Utah has now won eight of their last ten games, their abysmal start rapidly disappearing in the rear-view mirror as they look forward to next weekend’s tilts with the Colorado Eagles.

 

Photo courtesy of Jess Fleming

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