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, 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 lines—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

Utah Grizzlies: Brendan and the Ryans

Finally home after a good road trip, the Grizzlies took on the Fort Wayne Komets in the first of seven home games to finish November.

With Ryan Walters loaned to the Belleville Senators of the AHL, it was a bit of a hitch in the Grizzlies’ scoring machine to find out that Kyle Thomas had also been called up to the Gulls prior to the game. Charley Graaskamp and Brad Navin drew back into the lineup in their places, and Kevin Carr got the call in net.

Walters and Harms are the latest in a series of call-ups that have taken Greger Hanson, and James Melindy to San Diego, leaving Utah without some of their top scorers.

“We’re missing Walters, Hanson, Thomas, it’s tough when those guys are gone,” Tim Branham said after the game, “But it’s definitely an opportunity for other guys to step up, I thought [Ryan] Misiak, [Ryan] Olsen, [Brendan] Harms, obviously, they were great, and some other lines had some scoring opportunities, but we just didn’t cash in. In times like these, you’ve really got to rely on your power play, and again, I thought we had some good looks on it, but just didn’t put it in. We’ve just got to dig in a little deeper.”

When asked for his thoughts on the game in general, he said: “I thought we played a pretty solid game the first two periods. We started getting low on players with some injuries, and some penalties, so that was kinda hard. Special teams was a difference, we couldn’t cash in on the power play, had a few good looks, and they get one good chance and scored, right? That’s the difference when you’re missing three of your four top goal scorers, it’s tough. I mean, no excuses. I thought we played a pretty solid game, a few mistakes on some bad goals. Not on the goalie, our goalie played amazing, but systematically, just some bad goals on our part. We’ve just got to clean that up. We know we gotta make it a low scoring affair, we’re not going to get in a track meet with these guys, and I thought a couple of times we did, through turnovers and stuff, so we gotta make sure that we clean that up.”

Fort Wayne got off to the best start, spending a long first shift in the Grizzles’ zone, but after that first shift, both teams got chances.

There was a particularly dangerous moment when Carr wound up well out of his crease in a crowd of players, but he managed to poke the puck out of harm’s way amongst a sea of players to keep it scoreless.

Utah drew the first power play of the game at 6:22 when Artur Tyanulin attempted to break up a great Grizzlies’ opportunity.

Of course, former Grizz Ralph Cuddemi struck first for Fort Wayne, but Travis Howe dropped the gloves off the next face-off with Taylor Crunk, both getting two for removing their helmets, and of course, five for fighting.

The Grizzlies made it 1-1 at 4:59 when Olsen made a great pass to Harms, who passed to Misiak after Michael Houser bit on the play, and Misiak scored into the wide open net.

After the first period, Fort Wayne led the shots 14-13, and the score was tied at one.

The second period began well, but the Komets ended up with some very, very good zone time. Fortunately for Utah, it was Olsen who scored at 4:59 to make it 2-1.

A few minutes later, however, Garrett Thompson tied the game up right off the face-off. The two teams treated the fans to some fast end-to-end hockey. Carr made a pretty little windmill save on Cuddemi, and Brendan and the Ryans created some really great chances on a Grizzlies’ power play.

They continued to get great looks after the penalty expired, and when C.J. Eick drew yet another man advantage, they got even more chances. Navin, Zach Saar, Erik Higby, Michael Pelech, and Cliff Watson also had a great shift on another power play as the period came to an end.

After forty, the score was still 2-2, Utah out-shooting Fort Wayne 24-21.

Utah opened the third on a 59 second power play, but like most early power plays, it got nothing accomplished, and Carr had to make a couple of good saves.

Mason Baptista ran over Carr at 4:01, and Richart took exception. Both went to the box for roughing, Richart getting an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Ryan Culkin scored eight seconds later on the power play to break the tie.

Both teams exchanged penalties, the Grizzlies moving the puck quite well, Richart and Graaskamp both making good plays. Despite some good pressure from Utah in the final minutes, the Komets scored into the empty net, and the Grizzlies fell 4-2.

Ryan Olsen (1G, 1A) and Ryan Misiak (1G) got the second and third stars, the former also leading the team with seven shots. Carr was his usual stellar self, as well, turning aside 27 of 30 shots.

When asked if the Grizzlies need to change anything for the next game against the Komets, Branham said no.

“I thought we played a pretty good game.” He added. “The mistakes that we made were definitely not system, once again, we got scored on on a face-off, that’s just not being ready on a face-off. Their power play goal our d-man didn’t take the pass away, and their first goal, we had the puck on our stick, and shot it at their chest, just some plays we need to clean up, and when we have the puck on our stick we need to make sure that we make good plays, and don’t just give it back to them.”

The two teams meet again tonight (Saturday).


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff

Utah Grizzlies: The Road Home

On Sunday afternoon, in the last of three games in three days, the Grizzlies scratched Brad Navin for Travis Howe, and started Kevin Carr in nets.

Wichita carried the play early, and Carr had to make some big saves in the first half of the period.

C.J. Eick scored the first goal of the game at 7:42, his first of the season assisted by Zach Saar and Erik Higby.

The Thunder scored glove side with just about ten minutes left to tie the game. After a stretch of good play from Utah, Wichita pushed back again, and made it 2-1 with 2:43 to go in the frame.

Mitch Jones made an absolutely gorgeous play to defuse a 3-on-1 to end the first, Wichita outshooting Utah 14-9.

The second period did not get out to an auspicious start, as Wichita came back with numbers…on the penalty kill, and scored. The next couple of minutes didn’t go very well either, though the Thunder didn’t score.

Utah killed off a penalty in the first half of the period, but Wichita drew another power play with 6:58 to go, and scored on the advantage, making it 4-1. They also got an odd man rush to end the period, and after the buzzer, Jeremy Beaudry dropped the gloves with Travis Howe. While Beaudry certainly started the fight, he most decidedly did not end it. Howe laid into him with a will, and Beaudry got very few punches in before the two were separated.

In a way, it was a preview of the Grizzlies’ third period.

Jones scored 2:04 into the frame, Ryan Walters and Ryan Olsen getting the assists on his first of the year. The momentum kept rolling in Utah’s favor, and they drew a penalty at 5:09. Both Kyle Thomas and Ryan Misiak had terrific plays on the advantage, but the Thunder returned to full strength.

However, Zach Saar made it 4-3 on a gorgeous shot, Chris Leibinger getting his second point with the Grizzlies, and Jones picking up his second of the night on the assists.

The tying goal came just over two minutes later from Michael Pelech , Thomas and Misiak getting the assists, and for the second time in two games, the Grizzlies erased a three goal deficit. Once again, they pressed hard in the final minutes, Walters getting a sweet little spin-o-rama chance on one end, and Carr continued to hold down the fort, and once again the game went into overtime.

Once again, unfortunately, Utah fell in overtime, but first period issues aside, it was a good end to a successful road trip.

Saar earned the third star of the game with the goal and the assist, the Ryans once again had a great game, and Kevin Carr remained a rock.

So, after five days, four games, 129 saves, and 13 goals, the Grizzlies are coming home with six points.

Not a bad road trip at all.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: A Couple of Firsts

In their second game against Tulsa, and the second of three games in as many days, the Grizzlies iced the same lineup, with the exception of Angus Redmond, who got the start.

Zach Saar, Brad Navin, Erik Higby, Taylor Richart and Chris Leibinger had a great first shift, Leibinger getting two shots right off the bat, but it would be the Oilers who struck first. Captain Adam Pleskach made it 1-0 at 1:03 off a play in transition.

The two teams exchanged penalties with no change in score, and then Eric Drapluk beat Redmond glove-side. Tulsa scored again two minutes later to get the 3-0 lead.

Michael Pelech and Mike McKee dropped the gloves with 2:34 to go but as it was far more a wrestling match than a fight, both only got two for roughing. Redmond was called upon to make a strong save on the breakaway during the ensuing 4-on-4.

After 20, shots were 17-9 for Tulsa.

The Grizzlies began the second with several very strong shifts, (and slightly re-shuffled lines) and then Higby drew a power play. Utah maintained possession for almost the entity of the man-advantage, getting several great chances, and mere seconds after Tulsa returned to full strength, Brendan Harms scored his first pro goal. Ryan Walters and Cliff Watson drew the assists, Walters getting his fourth assist in three games.

Jake Hildebrand robbed Ryan Misiak as Utah continued to play well through the middle of the second frame.

McKee dropped the gloves for real at 14:23, this time with James Melindy, and at 16:12, Harms again off a shot from Mitch Jones. Walters got yet another assist on Harms’ second of the game.

The second period ended on a mad scramble, as Redmond lost his stick, the puck ended up behind him, and chaos ensued. Somehow in the insanity, the puck never crossed the line, and the Grizzlies went into the locker room down one goal. Utah out-shot Tulsa 19-13 in the second.

Unfortunately, Dmitrii Sergeev scored on a wrap-around just a few minutes into the third, putting the Oilers up 4-2. However, the Grizzlies didn’t stop working hard, drawing two penalties in the first half of the period. Though they didn’t score on the first power play, Ryan Olsen scored his second of the season assisted by Watson and Walters at 9:54 on the second man advantage.

A little over two minutes later, Misiak got his first of the year from Pelech and Thomas to tie the game.

Despite Utah’s best efforts, and 42 shots, they were unable to beat Hildebrand, and Conner Bleackley won the game 28 seconds into overtime.

The first period was pretty bad, but the rest of the game had a lot of good points. In addition to tightening up their defensive play, and showing far more hustle in the other periods as a team, Redmond settled down well.

Additionally, it was a great game for the Ryans. Misiak put up seven shots, in addition to scoring his first goal, Olsen scored his second, got four shots, and was a +2, while Walters got three assists, bringing up his total to six assists in three games, and was also a +2. Thomas and Pelech both continued to pick up points, Thomas now with 13 points in 11 games, and Pelech with 11 in 11.

While it certainly would have been ideal to pick up the second point against a divisional rival, after going down 3-0 it was certainly a far better outcome than it could have been. The Grizzlies go into Wichita having picked up five of a possible six points on the road.

The Thunder also played Saturday night in Allen so both Wichita and Utah are traveling tonight ahead of their 3 PM game on Sunday.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming & staff

Utah Grizzlies: Coming Up Clutch

James Melindy returned from San Diego, and Chris Leibinger made his Grizzlies debut against Tulsa on Friday night. Tim Branham went with the hot hand in goal, and Kevin Carr got the start against his former team, and boy was it a good one. Facing him in nets was the reigning ECHL goaltender of the month in Devin Williams.

Carr made the first of many nice saves about thirty seconds in, and Utah drew the first power play of the game about a minute later, following a strong offensive push by the Grizzlies.

Although Utah picked up a number of good scoring chances, they were unable to capitalize on the man advantage. Carr made another spectacular save about four minutes in, and Sam Windle scored his first pro goal on a beautiful shot from the left circle. Brendan Harms and Michael Pelech got the assists.

Harms rang the post, and Zach Saar also had a chance crashing the net about half-way through the first. Unfortunately, though, Tulsa scored the next goal at 13:59 as multiple Grizzlies got tied up in the offensive zone, and Taylor Richart was left all alone to defend a two-on-one.

Ryan Olsen took a slashing call at 15:11, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and after 20, the game was still tied 1-1, shots 14-12 for Tulsa.

The Oilers came out flying in the second, but Utah held them off early, and Saar drew a power play. Kyle Thomas made it 2-1, pouncing on Ryan Walters’ rebound and firing bar down into the open net. Walters and Richart got the assists on Thomas’ second of the year.

Thomas took a hooking call at 8:08, and Windle took another about a minute later, but Carr held down the fort, and the penalty kill remained perfect, as it did again when Windle went to the box again with four minutes to go.

Carr made several more incredible saves, (are you sensing a theme here?) including an especially spectacular moment where Carr and Richart combined to snatch the puck from the goal line on yet another two-on-one. The play drew a penalty for charging with less than a minute to go in the frame. After 40, shots were 33-26 for Tulsa, but Utah held the 2-1 lead.

Utah opened the third with 1:06 on the power play, but it did not go well, Evan Richardson scoring short handed 15 seconds in.

Olsen had a fantastic chance a little bit more than two minutes in, splitting the Oilers’ defense, and beating Williams, but either the puck bounced off Williams’ gear or off the back of the net, and there was no celebration, no goal light, and play continued.

Melindy and Kale Kessy got tangled up and both got two, while Melindy got an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty kill remained perfect once more.

Tulsa and Utah exchanged penalties through the middle of the period, the Oilers taking two, and Utah one, but neither team was able to draw ahead.

Williams went down holding his back with 26 seconds left in the third, and it looked bad for a while, but though Jake Hildebrand warmed up in front of the bench, Williams remained in the game.

Forty two seconds into OT, Thomas was tripped up as he flew into the offensive zone, and Utah got a four-on-three.

The Grizzlies got set up, and after a back and forth between Walters and Richart, Taylor got his league leading third game winning goal of the year to win the game from Walters and Thomas.

The Grizzlies are now 5-5-0-0 on the year, are 3-0 in OT games, and have won four of their last five. Walters has three assists in two games, all three on the power play, which he has helped improve immensely.

Richart was named first star of the game with the goal and the assist, and Carr was a most deserving second star with 39 saves on 41 shots.

Utah is back in action tonight (Saturday), before they head out to Wichita tomorrow.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff