Utah Grizzlies: Friday Funday

After a disappointing effort on Wednesday night, Utah got some reinforcements on Friday night. Forwards Mitch Hults (assigned by Anaheim to get ice time during the all star break) and Nate Mitton (who attended training camp) both joined the Grizzlies prior to the game, drawing into the lineup in place of Erik Higby and C.J. Eick. Hults, a centerman, slotted in with Ryan Walters and Austin Ortega, while Mitton played with Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

The game got off to a rocky start with a couple of quick penalties. Mitton flew into the Tulsa end looking not at all like a guy adjusting to the altitude, and first drew what looked like an interference call, but then was mysteriously dinged with an embellishment call as well.

Shortly thereafter, James Melindy and Justin Selman went off with “roughing” and tripping calls respectively, and then Travis Howe dropped the gloves with Mike McKee off the face-off at 4:30. Howe got some really huge punches in, and the 6,843 in attendance roared their support.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies coughed the puck up in their own zone, and Tulsa made it 1-0.

It looked, for a moment, like the Grizzlies were doomed to give up a quick second goal as Chris Leibinger lost the puck at the blue line, and the Oilers came in uncontested. However, Taylor Richart flew back from the far side to cut off the attempt.

Cliff Watson drew Utah’s first power play at 6:30. Tulsa got a short-handed shot against, but at the tail end of the advantage, Leibinger skated the puck down behind the Tulsa net, and threw it to Puskar just above the blue paint. Utah’s first shot of the game found the back of the net to tie it up. The assists on Puskar’s eleventh of the year went to Leibinger and Harms.

Utah got yet another crack on the power play less than a minute later, but despite Kyle Thomas’ bet efforts, Tulsa killed that one off. Watson got tripped up without a call, Leibinger stepped in on Ryan Tesink, who was sent sprawling before Dylan Hubbs jumped in on Leibinger. Both players got a couple of good punches in, and when the dust settled, Hubbs got an extra two for instigating.

Sean Maguire made a big save on a short-handed stretch pass that saw an Oilers player alone behind the defense, but after that, the Grizzlies got set up in the offensive zone. Hults got a huge shot off from the point, and Richart’s shot from the blue line flew into a crowd in front of the net. Ryan Misiak got his stick on the rebound, and Ortega scored his fifth power play goal in eleven games.

Mitton got a very nice chance on the ensuing shift, and Mitch Jones also got off a rocket in his return. Howe demonstrated that his hands are good for things besides big punches, making a nice play to keep the puck in the zone as the third line had a very strong shift. Tulsa had a hard time holding onto the puck in front of their own net, and Utah pounced on every opportunity, but were unable to capitalize.

Watson got a great chance at the end of the first, and Utah went into the locker room leading 2-1, and out-shooting Tulsa 13-8, despite having been out-shot 5-0 at one point in the period.


The third line got another really strong shift in a few minutes into the second, Mitton getting a shot off of of a hard-working cycle from Navin.

Tommy Vannelli tripped up Ortega at 2:55, and Ortega got up ready to fight. Vannelli didn’t oblige, but the two went off for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Utah controlled the ensuing four-on-four, and Melindy got a nice spinning shot off. Navin had another strong shift with Puskar, Leibinger, and Sam Windle. Leibinger and Puskar also got a scoring chance off the rush. On the defensive side of things, Jones hounded an Oilers player into the defensive zone to prevent a chance against.

After the teams returned to full strength, the third line had another terrific shift that culminated in a gorgeous goal from Navin, whose first goal since November 1st was a top shelf snipe. Howe got his first point of the year on the primary assist, while Harms got his eleventh with the secondary.

The same line had another big shift, and a couple of minutes later, Melindy took a high-stick, sending Utah to their fourth straight power play at 10:10.

Puskar and Richart both got good looks, and Utah got a lengthy five-on-three at 10:52. The first wave power play of Hults, Ortega, Thomas, Walters, and Watson got some really nice offensive zone pressure going, but weren’t able to capitalize, and Tulsa killed off both penalties.

Howe took a slashing call as the game got a little rough in the corners with 6:13 to go. The penalty kill came up big for Howe, Misak and Puskar orchestrating a couple of clears, as the Grizzlies allowed zero shots.

With less than two minutes to go, Melindy made a big defensive play and was sent off for holding. Maguire made a couple of big saves, and the period came to an end. After 40, Utah led 3-1, out-shooting the Oilers 24-16.

The Grizzlies began the third with just four seconds of Melindy’s penalty on the clock, and about four minutes later, Maguire made a couple of big saves, and Utah cleared the puck out of certain danger.

Watson made it 4-1 at 4:35, as the puck rolled past Hildebrand surprisingly uncontested. Walters got the primary assist, while Hults picked up his first point with the Grizzlies.

Tulsa pushed back, getting a couple of good shifts of their own, but weren’t able to capitalize until past the half-way mark, as the entire roster played hard and blocked shots.

With 8:05 to go, Utah got tied up in their own zone, and Tulsa scored to cut the lead in half.

The Oilers continued to work, but Maguire shut the door when shots made it through, and at 15:36 McKee got a closing hand on the puck penalty.

It took the Grizzlies just six seconds to capitalize. Leibinger held the puck in the zone, passed to Richart, who shot once again from the point. The puck bounced to Harms, who put it past Hildebrand from a tight angle. The goal was his fourth of the year, and his third against Tulsa.

That was pretty much the game, both teams got a couple more shots, but at the final buzzer, the 5-2 lead belonged to Utah, who out-shot the Oilers 31-24.

Utah is now only one point behind Tulsa, and four behind Allen, who own the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division.

In addition to a big two points, the game broke a couple of long time goalless streaks for Harms and Navin, Harms picking up three points and first star of the game, while Navin got his third point in three games. Without a doubt, Utah played a complete sixty, as well as a complete game from the entire roster. Maguire was awarded the second star of the game, while Howe took the third with the fight and assist.

“When we play like we want it, we’re tough to handle.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We’ve got some guys—when you can add Mitch Hults, Austin Ortega—when you’ve got guys who can score goals, it helps. We’ve lost a lot of one goal games. Our power play has been really hot lately, and we’re able to put the puck in the net. When we’re able to score, good things happen.”

“They’re a hard working team,” he added of the Oilers, “And they actually do a good job of getting to the blue line with speed, just putting pucks on net, and being tenacious. We did a much better job of winning our battles, getting the puck up the ice, controlling the play in the offensive zone. Obviously we spent a lot more time in their zone today than the last game, so we’ve gotta play the same way. They’re gonna come out hard, they’re not gonna be happy they lost today, but if we play with that effort, teams can’t stop us. When everybody is pulling the rope in the right direction, good things happen.”

Moreover, if the third line can keep their momentum going, it will be big for the team going forward. “Before last game, we were one of four teams who had three players or more that were a point a game. We lose those one goal games because we don’t have that depth scoring. So when Navin scores, Harms scores, it’s just huge for us, so we need that depth scoring in order to be able to compete and win those one goal games.”

Ortega’s thoughts were in a similar vein. “We’ve been talking about getting in a playoff spot, we haven’t been happy with the way we’ve been playing, especially last game, and we took it to heart. We had a big meeting about our effort, and I think tonight we were a completely different team, we had a tremendous amount of effort and hard work, and it paid off.”

So what do the Grizzlies have to do on Saturday night to keep rolling? “Same thing with effort and hard work, playing the way we’re supposed to be, and at this point, it’s just consistency.”

If Utah wins tonight (Saturday), they will be on point ahead of Tulsa, closing in on the Allen Americans, who have been on a bit of a losing skid. It would be a huge win for the Grizzlies, and they’ll do have to do it in front of what will likely be a nearly sold-out crowd.



Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Wild Wednesday Woes

For the first game of a six game home-stand, the Grizzies’  roster remained the same, Ryan Walters, Brad Navin, Austin Ortega, Cliff Watson, and James Melindy were all in the starting lineup for Utah, while Sean Maguire once again started for Utah.

The game started off with quite a bang, as Travis Howe dropped the gloves with Mike McKee at 2:40, and then barely a minute later Watson dropped the gloves with Kale Kessy. Watson got an extra two, and the Tulsa power play went to work. Grizzlies killed the penalty, and Ortega, and Kyle Thomas made the ensuing minutes quite interesting.

Maguire looked comfortable in his first game in front of the home crowd, and at 15:04 Chris Leibinger absolutely wired the puck to give Utah the 1-0 lead.

Utah got another chance on the advantage later in the period, but after 20, they led 1-0, out-shot 14-10.

Jon Puskar took a stick to the face 4:15 into the second, drawing a double minor, but the Grizzlies were unable to put the puck past Jake Hildebrand, and to make matters worse, Justin Selman scored short-handed with 21 seconds to go.

At 12:29 the third fight of the night occurred after a really quick whistle around the Tulsa net. This time, Howe dropped the gloves with Kale Kessy, and they both went of five five minutes.

Navin took a tripping call at 13:22, but Utah killed it off handily. The rough stuff by no means abated, and with just under 30 seconds go to, Kessy and Maguire got into it, both getting roughing calls.

When the second period came to a close, Tulsa out-shot Utah 22-16 in a 1-1 game.

The final frame opened with 1:38 of four-on-four time, and Ryan Misiak (who had been buzzing all game) got a couple of gorgeous chances, as did Brendan Harms, but both teams returned to full strength.

Misiak got high-sticked in the face about six minutes in, and in the aftermath of a no-call, Tulsa went the other way and took the 2-1 lead.

To add insult to injury, Walters was called for a fairly similar high-stick at 13:18. Though the Oilers did not score on the ensuing power play, by the time there were two minutes to go in the game, they were out-shooting the Grizzlies by a hefty 39-20, and largely out-playing them.

Maguire got pulled with just over a minute left, but Tulsa completed their win with an empty net goal.

Over all, it wasn’t a very inspiring performance from the Grizzlies, particularly in the third period, with a few exceptions. Misiak was noticeable on most of his shifts and was tied with Erik Higby for a team leading three shots. Maguire had a very good game, Howe did his best to spark the team on a number of occasions, and Leibinger’s goal earned him third star honours.

Overall, however, it was a disappointing result. The Oilers are directly ahead of the Grizzlies in the Mountain Division, and instead of leapfrogging them, they conceded two important points.

“Definitely our third period, the effort wasn’t good enough.” Branham said after the game. “To come out with six shots is clearly not what we wanted. Yeah that four minute was definitely a turning point. I don’t think either team got many chances on the power play, but it’s a tight game, definitely until the third period. I thought they controlled the play the majority of the third period. We’ve gotta make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The Grizzlies have another crack at Tulsa tonight (Friday), as well as on Saturday, which is also Guns ‘N Hoses night.


Photo courtesy  of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Road-trip Redemption

For the third game against Rapid City in three games, the Grizzlies more or less kept their roster intact on Sunday, with the exception of Travis Howe drawing in, and Mitch Jones sitting the game out.

Howe made his presence felt at once, dropping the gloves with Anthony Collins at 1:43.

Brad Navin continued to get chances, as the Grizzlies once again dominated play in the first four minutes. Once again, however, Rapid City struck first at 3:52, Daniel Leavens from Peter Sivak and Riley Weselowski.

Jon Puskar took a slashing call at 5:26, but the Grizzlies came on with a vengeance, Brendan Harms scoring short-handed at 6:13.

James Melindy took a cross-checking call, giving Rapid City a decent five-on-three, and though they killed off the five-on-three, Rapid City scored on the power play.

The Grizzlies responded again, Walters on another terrific pass from Navin.

Howe had a couple of nice moves on both sides of the ice, and the Puskar line had a strong shift that ended in Ryan Misiak getting robbed by Christian Frey.

After 20, shots were 11-9 for the Rush, but tied 2-2.

The Grizzlies and Rush both had chances in the first half of the second, Walters, and Mann especially getting looks for Utah.

The pressure paid off, as Kyle Thomas made a beautiful pass to Cliff Watson, who made no mistake, putting Utah up 3-2 at 9:13.

Unfortunately, Rapid City tied it up again with 3:36 to go. On the very next shift, Walters tried to sell a goal, but after the officials gathered, it was called no goal.

At the end of a penalty-less second period (even after the tussle between Weselowski and Walters), they were tied 3-3, shots 19-16 in Rapid City’s favor.

The two teams exchanged chances, but at 5:34 Rapid City took a tripping call, and Ortega pounced. He struck again less than two minutes later, giving Utah their first two-goal lead of the game at 7:34.

Utah maintained the lead, but were unable to extend it on the power play just past the half-way mark of the third.

The Rush pulled Frey with 1:30 to go, and Ortega just missed the empty-net hat trick. Puskar made no mistake on the next shift though, fighting past a Rapid City defender to score his tenth of the year from Walters and Ortega. Leibinger took a slashing call with 17 seconds to go, but Utah killed it off to win the game.

Ortega now has 12 points in nine games with Utah, and was named second star of the game with two goals and an assist, while Watson’s goal and assist earned him second star.

The Grizzlies returned to Utah with three of a possible six points, and thank to loses from teams ahead of them in the standings, are within striking distance of the final playoff spot.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Snowed Under

With snow falling, and the weather finally chilly in Utah, the Grizzlies found themselves buried by and avalanche of goals in Rapid City.

The roster was more or less the same, with the exception of Rob Mann in on defense in place of Travis Howe, while Chris Leibinger moved to forward

Utah got the first four shots of the night, holding possession almost without break through the first four minutes. Though it was not quite so one-sided thereafter, the Grizzlies continued to out-shoot Rapid City.

So of course, once again, the Rush struck first, Dante Salituro from Peter Sivak and Daniel Leavens. The game started feeling awfully familiar, as Riley Weselowski took a penalty at 7:30, and Utah went to the game’s first power play—just as they had on Friday.

The momentum of the game decidedly evened out after the middle of the first, Leibinger took a hooking call, but Utah killed it off.

Things continued to go badly, as Kenton Miller scored on the breakaway, and Angus Redmond came in to relieve Sean Maguire.

At the end of the first, shots were 16-8 for Utah, who trailed 3-0.

Utah came out working hard, and still shooting everything, but the bounces continued to go against them. They killed off a Brendan Harms slashing penalty, but Tyler Deresky and Jack Walker scored in less than two minutes, at 6:56 and 8:38.

Things didn’t go any better after that either, as Erik Higby took a hooking call. Shortly afterwards Josh Elmes and Kyle Thomas dropped the gloves at 13:59. The minor to Higby was killed off, but Alex Komm made it 6-0.

With 58 seconds left in the period, Ryan FWalters and Anthony Collins got sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, and with just .6 seconds left in the period, Jon Puskar made it 6-1 from Taylor Richart and Thomas.

Maguire took the net back over to start the third, but 33 seconds in, Salituro got the seventh goal of the game.

The Grizzlies answered right back though, James Melindy making it 7-2 on a sweet, sweet backhander at 1:56. Utah continued to play hard, getting chances all over the place, Melindy and Mann especially, looking strong

Higby and Leavens took matching slashing calls at 6:19, then Weselowski took a cross-checking call, but Salituro put the finishing touch on his hat trick at 8:30 short-handed.

Utah kept fighting, getting opportunities five-on-three, five-on-four, then four-on-four and four-on-three as well, but though the Grizzlies climbed over 50 shots in that time, Adam Vay still shut the door.

Austin Ortega made it 8-3, putting up his eighth point in eight games, and except for Brad Navin, of all people, losing his cool and taking a roughing call in the final minute, that was the game.

Losing 8-3, but out-shooting Rapid City 56-28—certainly a frustrating outcome. Looking at the score, you’d think that the Rush had run the Grizzlies around all over the ice. This was very much not the case. While it certainly wasn’t their best game, Utah played decently. On the other hand Rapid City scored on just about every chance they got, once again, capitalizing on every single mistake.

The most encouraging takeaway, from an otherwise thoroughly demoralizing evening, is that the Grizzlies never once stopped playing, which they well could have done down as many goals as they were.

Utah has one last chance to redeem the road trip this afternoon at 3 PM before returning home.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Shots in Vay-n

With Sean Maguire making his first start in a Grizzlies’ uniform, the Grizzlies came out buzzing in Rapid City. Unfortunately, C.J. Eick took an early penalty. The penalty kill went to work, and the Rush’s power play suffered the fate of many early advantages.

Rapid City still struck first, however, as Peter Sivak continued his hot streak, converting on an absolutely gorgeous drop pass at 6:15.

The Grizzlies responded well, Taylor Richart got a pair of big shots, and the Rush took a boarding call. Kyle Thomas made it 1-1 on the power play from Ryan Walters and Austin Ortega.

Utah kept pressuring after the power play goal, Richart getting off a couple more big shots around the half-way mark, and then Thomas and Geoff Fortman went off for matching roughing calls. Very shortly afterward, Dante Salituro took an unsportsmanlike conduct, sending Utah to a four-on-three advantage for 1:20.

The Grizzlies set up well, and Richart, who’d been stellar all game, shot a rocket from the point to give Utah the 2-1 lead 14:14 into the period. For some reason the goal was eventually credited to Ortega, who didn’t touch the puck.

Navin continued to be snake bitten, getting a really nice look around the net, but Higby took a high-sticking call, and Utah headed to the kill again. On the bright side, the kill looked at least as good as the power play did, and after 20, Utah led 2-1, shots 15-6 in their favor.

Ortega got into a fight against Salituro at 4:03, getting an extra two for instigating, and thought the Grizzlies killed it off, Sivak immediately tied it up.

Alex Kromm and Sam Windle took matching roughing minors at 6:39, but the four-on-four expired with no alteration in score.

Howe got a really nice scoring chance with 9:27 to go in the second, as Utah continued to out-shoot the Rush.

Rapid City pressured through to the end of the period, but the second buzzer saw shots 21-10 for Utah, and a 2-2 tie game. The second period wasn’t as crisp and strong from either team.

The Grizzlies came out flying in the third, and after some delay on a face-off, Jones wired the puck and it ended up past Vay to give Utah back the lead. Walters was credited with his fifteenth of the year, Jones getting the primary.

Maguire pounced on a loose puck on the next shift to keep the game 3-2, as Utah had some trouble in their own end.

They pushed back after the media time-out, out-shooting Rapid City 11-5 through the first half of the period. Unfortunately, after a strong shift from Howe and company in the offensive zone, the puck went the other way, and they were unable to hold off the tying goal.

Ortega and Puskar almost put together the winning goal, as Ortega perfectly tipped a nice shot from Puskar, but Vay, who’d been having himself another really strong night, smothered it.

On the other end, Maguire shot the door after the Grizzlies lost the puck in their own zone.

The Grizzlies went to the power play at 14:24, but it was not one of their stronger outings of the night, and they failed to capitalize.

At the end of 60, the score remained 3-3, and for a league-leading 14th time, Utah went to OT, Utah out-shooting Rapid City 47-18.

Vay absolutely robbed Erik Higby about two minutes into OT, and shortly thereafter, Sivak capped off his hat trick. The Grizzlies were furious, as Rapid City had too many men on the ice. Although the extra players did not affect the play, it added an extra layer of frustration to the end of the game.

Utah put a season high 49 shots on Vay, who once again was stellar. Last game, the offense suffered for a tighter defensive game, while in this game, the offense looked good, while the defense got a little bit lax. Hopefully, the Grizzlies can find the right balance tonight.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming, and staff