Utah Grizzlies: Oy Vay

Following a strong weekend, Grizzlies fans were greeted on Monday morning with the astounding news that Kevin Carr was headed to Zagreb, and the news didn’t get any better as it turned out that Ryan Olsen too was Europe-bound.

With Cliff Watson playing in the All-Star game, and Pelech out, injured, Garrett Haar, Brad Navin, and C.J. Eick all returned to the lineup. Travis Howe returned as well, following his suspension.

The Grizzlies came out hard, largely controlling possession, and getting shots on Adam Vay, all the while keeping Rapid City away from Angus Redmond.

Navin appeared to pick up right where he left off, getting chances, but having no luck finding the back of the net.

Peter Sivak was by far the most dangerous looking player on the team early, but it was Riley Weselowski who made it 1-0 at 14:41.

Sivak also took the first penalty of the night, a slash, and Utah went to the power play with 4:02 to go in the frame.

Chris Leibinger made a terrific move after he lost the puck at the blue-line, and caused just enough chaos that Redmond was able to sweep the puck aside.

At the end of 20, despite being the visibly superior team, Utah headed to the locker room down 1-0, out-shooting the Rush 16-8.

Ryan Misiak began the second centering Austin Ortega and Brendan Harms, while Navin took Ortega’s spot on the third line. With just over four gone in the second, shots were 17-8 for Utah, but the possession was much less one-sided. Rob Mann made a really nice hit to prevent the Rush from leaving the zone, and it led almost immediately to a beautiful shot from Kyle Thomas in the high-slot, but once again, the puck went right into Vay.

Misiak, Harms, and Ryan Walters followed that up with a strong shift, but shortly afterwards, Rapid City had a couple of shifts of their own, forcing Redmond to make some big saves.

Thomas, Walters, Ortega, Eick, and Jon Puskar all had strong shifts, and Eick drew a boarding call with 3:40 to go in the period. Five seconds later, Josh Elmes took a delay of game penalty, putting the Grizzlies on a lengthy five-on-three. It most certainly paid off, with Ortega, Walters, and Thomas connecting for Ortega’s third goal (and sixth point) in six games.

With moments left in the second, there was a pile up around Redmond. Chase Lang and Mitch Jones may have started the kerfuffle, but Thomas definitely ended it. He got five for fighting and two for roughing, while Lang only got five for fighting.

At the end of forty, the game was tied 1-1, shots 26-21 for the Grizzlies, who would start the third with 1:25 of penalty kill time.

Of course, that’s exactly when Sivak capitalized. Just 27 seconds into the period 2-1 Rapid City.

On the other hand, the Grizzlies didn’t deflate, and with 16:56 to go, Puskar made a gorgeous move. It initially looked like Vay had it, but the light and goal-horn went off, so the officials gathered to discuss it. It was declared no goal, which was unfortunate, but definitely looked like the right call.

Navin drew a slashing call on the next shift, but never really got organized. They got another chance on the advantage about six minutes later, but despite some terrific plays from Leibinger, who is such a catalyst for offense and who was especially noticeable quarterbacking the power play, Utah was unable to tie the game.

About four minutes after that, Leibinger made what looked like a terrific defensive play, but was sent off for hooking. The Grizzlies killed it off in style, however. Walters nearly got in on a short-handed chance, Higby and Misiak ran the Rush around their own end, and a post, a big save from Redmond, and another strong shift from Walters and Thomas got Leibinger out of the box.

With a minute to go in a 2-1 game, they pulled Redmond, Leibinger was once again buzzing, but Rapid City got an empty netter right at the buzzer to put the game away.

Redmond stepped into the void left by Carr, and came up huge, turning in what was probably his best start this season. Ortega continues to be strong, getting third star of the game, and Chris Leibinger is a force to be reckoned with.

“I thought we outplayed them, we had lots of scoring chances, once again you’re in that situation where you can’t score goals.” Tim Branham said after the game. “I thought we outworked them the majority of the game” he added, “I thought we out-chanced them. Obviously I didn’t like their goals that they scored, but we have to score more than one goal, and we scored five-on-three. So we have to do a better job of burying our chances.”

Now on to Carr and Olsen going to Europe. It feels a little like the rug got yanked out from under the team just when it looked like they’d finally tacked it down.  But, now is also a good time to remember that the entire blue line had to be rebuilt last year, Ryan Faragher got hurt, and the team still climbed out of a ridiculous hole to make the playoffs.

The Grizzlies already proved that they could comfortably overcome Hanson’s absence with players already on the roster, and while Utah has seemed to struggle line-stability with Olsen out of the lineup (and this game did not help that impression), that’s still only two players that need to be replaced. (Though it certainly isn’t going to be fun with Pelech and Graaskamp out for at least a month…)

Even better, by the time this past was actually written, Sean Maguire has already joined the team, and at least based on his ECHL numbers, he looks like he could be pretty good.

There’s half a season left to play, and the Grizzlies have overcome worse odds than they’re up against now. Things are looking rough, but don’t pack it in just yet.

It ain’t over till it’s over.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.


Utah Grizzlies: Stolen Thunder

After a win in Wichita on Friday night, Utah looked to build on their success. The roster remained the same, Utah once again going with ten forwards, five defensemen, and Kevin Carr on Saturday night.

The Thunder were much more active early, controlling play through the first three minutes. Fortunately, Carr was sharp, and though they weren’t able to keep Wichita out of the offensive zone, they didn’t give up many shots.

The third line got a flurry of opportunities, and Taylor Richart rang the post about five minutes in. Brendan and the Ryans also followed that up with a strong shift.

Michael Pelech took a tripping call for the first penalty of the game, but Olsen grabbed the puck, sprinted out of the zone, shot, and Chris Leibinger slipped one past Shane Starrett at 10:57.

Utah almost immediately drew a tripping call of their own, but were unable to capitalize on the advantage. It didn’t matter, however, because Brendan and the Ryans had a terrific shift, and Misiak made it 2-0 from Harms and Cliff Watson.

Kyle Thomas drew a massive crowd with 2:30 to go, but except for it taking a few moments to break up, nothing came of it, and the period came to an end. Utah led 2-0, out-shooting Wichita 11-9.

Although Brendan and the Ryans had a strong shift a few minutes into the second, it ended with the puck trickling past Carr with agonizing slowness off the stick of Ralph Cuddemi. Cuddemi’s thirteenth of the year would be the Thunder’s only goal.

Mitch Jones took a high-sticking call at 9:14, but Thomas flew in, and scored the Grizzlies’ second short-handed goal of the game.

Misiak nearly got the second line another goal when he received a breakaway pass with about three minutes to go, but Starrett shut the door.

In the end, it didn’t matter either, as the next shift was a good one, and Walters made it 4-1 at 17:59. The assists went to Watson and Jon Puskar.

Olsen took a roughing call towards the end of the period, but Utah went into the locker room 4-1, with the 23-17 edge in shots.

Utah killed off the remainder of Olsen’s penalty to start the third, but Pelech collided with a Wichita player, and both had to be helped off the ice. This put Utah down to nine forwards and five defensemen, but it hindered them not at all.

The rest of the third was surprisingly uneventful, with no penalties, and no goals.

Wichita did hold possession throughout the middle of the period, evening up the shots 24-24, but between shot blocking and some amazing saves from Carr, the game came to an end with no change in score, shots 26-26.

Walters and Misiak were awarded the first and second stars of the game, Walters extending his goal-scoring streak to three (five points in two games) while Misiak now has goals in consecutive games. Olsen picked up his fourth primary assist in two games, while Puskar’s assist gave him his fourth point in three games. Austin Ortega put up a team-leading five shots, while Watson picked up two assists, before heading out to the ECHL All-Star game.

The Grizzlies have now turned in two very strong outings after the pair of disastrous games against Rapid City, scoring four goals in each game. They also did some damage on special teams, with two power play goals on Friday, and two short-handed goals on Saturday. Likewise, the first period or so of Friday’s game, and the lone goal on Saturday aside, it looks like Carr has returned to form.

Hopefully Utah will be able to keep the momentum rolling on Monday afternoon, when they kick off the first of four straight against the Rush.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Bring on the Thunder

With three disappointing losses under their belts, Utah came into Wichita looking to bounce back, especially on the defensive end of things. With Travis Howe out with a two game suspension, and James Melindy scratched with a day-to-day injury, Utah went back to ten forwards but played only and five defensemen, Mitch Jones drawing back in on the blue line. Kevin Carr once more got the start.

The first line of Ryan Walters, Jon Puskar, and Kyle Thomas started for the Grizzlies, and were followed by a strong shift from Brendan Harms, and the other two Ryans, who got the first shot of the game.

Misiak, Olsen, Zach Saar, and Sam Windle had a great shift, crashing the Thunder net, and Saar dropped the gloves with Cory Melkert at 3:21. Five minutes into an 0-0 game, shots were 8-2 for the Grizzlies.

Wichita had a brief stretch of possession shortly thereafter, but Utah responded well, and the Thunder took a delay of game penalty with 13:09 to go. They didn’t capitalize, but they held possession for nearly the entire advantage.

The Grizzlies’ strong, structured play continued through the first half of the period, out-shooting Wichita 11-4.

The defensive woes of the Pelech and Ortega line continued, and after a strong shift from the Thunder in the offensive zone, Evan Polei roofed it on Carr to give them the 1-0 lead, despite the 12-6 shot advantage for Utah.

It looked like Wichita had scored again moments later, but the linesmen went racing in, and after a brief conference, the goal was waived off with 5:13 to go.

Olsen made a couple of good plays, which ultimately culminated in a pass to Misiak through some bodies. Misiak pulled it around Shane Starrett, and into the net to tie the game up at 17:42. Ortega got the secondary assist.

After 20, Utah out-shout Wichita 20-8, goals one apiece.

The Grizzlies came out buzzing to start the second, getting the first three shots of the frame. Windle got a nice shot 16 seconds in, and then Brendan and the Ryans had a strong shift.

It eventually payed off. Olsen dished to Higby, and Higby batted it past Starrett, giving Utah the 2-1 lead.

Wichita then took two penalties in quick succession, and Puskar made it 3-1 from Ortega and Walters on the two-man advantage. Carr kept it a two goal lead, shutting down a one-on-none with roughly eight minutes gone, and Utah drew yet another power play.

They were unable to capitalize, and Chris Leibinger just missed scoring a gorgeous goal, as he flew in, and sniped on Starrett. Unfortunately for Utah, though he beat Starrett, the puck hit the post, and rolled to the wrong side.

Misiak took an offensive zone penalty with 3:15 to go, and after lengthy offensive zone possession, Wichita drew within one.

Brendan, the Ryans, and Cliff Watson buzzed around Starrett after he goal, but after 40, Utah headed out with a 3-2 lead, and a 38-18 shot lead.

Wichita took a face-off violation just 17 seconds into the period, but Utah was unable to beat the determined kill, and the Thunder returned to full strength.

Momentum swayed back and forth, first Colin Martin and the Thunder varying play, then Higby and Pelech, then the Thunder again through the first ten, as Wichita pressured, and Utah’s structured play briefly fell apart under it.

Jones took an elbowing call at 8:19, but Utah gave up relatively few looks, Walters got in on a short-handed breakaway, and Carr made a save right as the kill expired.

Another unforced error from the Thunder (too many men this time) led to another Utah power play, but the Grizzlies struggled again, Olsen and Harms having to hustle back to break up a good  Wichita short-handed look.

With 5:49 to go, Jones took another penalty, but fortunately, the penalty kill looked far more dangerous than their power play had in its last two outings, and Carr held down the fort.

With less than two minutes to go, Starrett went to the bench, but the Grizzlies controlled play in the offensive zone, holding the puck for almost fifteen seconds. The Thunder got a little too excited and got caught with seven men on the ice with 46 seconds to go.

Wichita once more pulled their goalie to skate five on five, and held possession of the puck, but for the second time that night, Walters pounced on the puck at the Utah blue line, and despite the best efforts of Jeremy Beaudry, pulled away, and scored into the empty net with ten seconds to go. Olsen got his third assist of the night

It was a fitting end to a pretty strong game, in which Utah out-shot Wichita 42-27 to halt the skid at three.

Olsen appeared to be more engaged than he had been for several games past, shooting more in the first period than he had in the four previous games combined. It certainly payed off, as he got three primary assists, and made some big moves on both ends of the ice, as well as playing a role on the power play and penalty kill.

The play of Misiak and Olsen earned them both stars, Misiak picking up the first star, while Olsen received the third.

The same two teams square off tonight before Utah returns home for their Monday afternoon match against Rapid City.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.

Utah Grizzles: From Bad to Worse

From start to finish, it was a bizarre affair.

To begin with, Utah came out sluggishly on Friday night, but still managed to score a trio of goals against Rapid City, the first an excellent jam-in from Jon Puskar, the second from Ryan Olsen, and the third also from Puskar. It wasn’t so much that they played well, as that they were opportunistic, and Adam Vey struggled.

Former Grizz Peter Sivak also scored, but the luck seemed to be tipped entirely in the Grizzlies’ favor.

Then, just when it seemed that the second period was about to get underway, they discovered issues with the ice in front of the Grizzlies’ bench and also behind the net. After a lengthy delay in which they attempted to repair the ice, it was decided that the best course of action was to postpone the end of the game.

So the game was re-scheduled for Sunday, Utah leading 3-1, and outshooting the Rush 13-8.

The second pass at the second period saw Brendan Harms, Ryan Olsen and Rob Mann out for Austin Ortega, James Melindy and Zach Saar.

The team looked decent at the start, Ortega looking more comfortable and making a few nice moves, while Puskar made an early bid for the hat trick.

Unfortunately, Charley Graaskamp went hard into the boards shortly thereafter, had to be helped off the ice, and did not return (he was later placed on injured reserve). That’s more or less when the issues started.

The Grizzlies gave up a number of breakaways on defensive breakdowns, most of which Kevin Carr turned aside until just after the seven-minute mark. Utah gave up an unassisted goal to Tyler Deresky on a bad turn over.

Utah had a few decent shifts afterwards, sparked by a strong one from Puskar, together with Erik Higby and Travis Howe. Their work eventually led to a power play at the half-way mark of the period. However, Michael Pelech took a roughing call a minute or so later, and despite some strong shifts from Utah, and Ryan Misiak especially, the various penalties came to an end.

Despite a strong effort from Garrett Haar, and Mitch Jones, the next goal went to the Rush with five minutes left, followed less than a minute later by the go-ahead goal.

When the second period came to a merciful end, Utah had been utterly out-played their top line an abysmal -3, and a two-goal lead squandered.

The third period did not begin any more auspiciously, Jones taking a penalty less than two minutes in. That was killed off, but then first Saar and then Pelech went to the box, and Rapid City scored on both the five-on-three and five-on-four to give them the 6-3 lead. That was the end of Carr’s night.

His departure seemed to serve as a wake-up call the Grizzlies needed, and their play improved.

It seemed like it was destined to be derailed, however, after Melindy went down to a spear. At first it seemed that Melindy alone was going to go off for unsportsmanlike conduct, but in the end he got two and ten, while Pavel Jenys got five for spearing, and a game misconduct.

Pelech made it 6-4 at 16:10 on the power play, giving Ortega his first point in a Utah jersey, and Ortega followed that up with a power play goal of his own at 18:37 with the net empty, and the Grizzlies playing with the extra skater.

Unfortunately, that’s as close as they got, and Sivak capped off his hat trick into the empty net with ten seconds to spare.

“I think it’s a classic example of not coming ready to play.” Tim Branham said after the game, “Built a 3-1 lead there on Friday, maybe thought, once again, that it was going to be easy, and didn’t have that killer instinct. Too little too late at the end, and gave up too many scoring chances.”

Of the struggles the Grizzlies had in the second, he said, “Your best players have to be your best players. You can’t have that top line be -3, they’re the ones that dug us into that hole, whether it was their fault or not, they were on the ice for it. I think a lot of different guys were at fault for those goals in the second period, but we just, not enough time to get ourselves out of that one. Learn from it, get out on the road here, and have a good road trip.”

So what do they need to work on besides being more prepared? “Our power play needs to improve, we’ve been saying that all season, it’s tough to defend there that five on three. I thought our penalty kill was doing pretty good, the two power play goals that they got, one’s a five-on-three, one’s just a bad, broken play. Our five on five play, it was disappointing that we couldn’t take more advantage of Rapid City five-on-five. I think that was the story of the weekend, and we’ve got a little bit of a tough hill to climb.”


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming & staff

Utah Grizzlies: Far From Ideal

With Austin Ortega and James Melindy down from San Diego, Ryan Olsen and Rob Mann joined Zach Saar, Brad Navin, and C.J. Eick in the press box. Charley Graaskamp took over Olsen’s second line center duties, and Ortega initially slotting in with Ryan Misiak and Jon Puskar. Kevin Carr got the start once more.

The Grizzlies got off to a much sharper start than they had in Sunday’s aborted game. Chris Leibinger got the first shot of the night, in tight against Rapid City’s rookie backup, Christian Frey, and Utah also drew the first power play, as Michael Sdao got sent off for crosschecking at 2:48.

Utah allowed a short-handed breakaway, but Carr was more than up to the challenge, and shut the door.

Carr got run over (albeit gently), with 12:49 to go in the first, a crowd gathered, and somehow after that, Graaskamp was the only one to come out with a penalty.

Erik Higby made an absolutely phenomenal cross-crease pass to Brendan Harms on the two-on-one short-handed, which while it did not beat Frey, drew a penalty.

Utah was once again on the iffy end of a roughing call as a crowd gathered around Carr after the power play expired, and only Melindy was sent off just past the half-way mark.

Utah killed off the power play with relative ease, but Garrett Haar put the puck over the glass immediately thereafter, to put Rapid City back on the advantage.

Utah once again killed the penalty off, and Harms drew a tripping call against Peter Sivak, to make it briefly four-on-four before a Utah power play that struggled to get going.

At the end of a scoreless first, Utah led in shots 12-9, thanks to some truly great saves from Carr, and a good penalty kill.

A pass from Ortega to Mitch Jones on the point led to a nice shot, and a Utah power play at 2:12, and the Grizzlies went to work with a will, creating a high-tempo salvo of opportunities around Frey.

Graaskamp broke up a two-on-none at 4:11 and took a hooking call as a result, but Dante Salituro boarded Sam Windle just moments later, so the two teams went to 1:19 of four-on-four time once more.

Graaskamp came flying out of the box, and was hauled down, leading to a penalty shot for the first Grizz player to score in the shoot-out. Unfortunately, he waited too long to shoot, and Frey averted his attempt to stuff the puck past him.

However, a strong defensive move from Utah on one end led to an up-ice two-on-one from Misiak and Kyle Thomas, and the later made no mistake, giving Utah the 1-0 lead, from Misiak and Michael Pelech at 8:20.

Jones took a slashing call at 12;42, but Utah killed it off, and the rest of the period went largely in the Grizzlies’ favor,an up-ice rush from Liebinger, and a net-front look from Puskar being the most memorable.

After 40, shots were 23-15 for Utah, who held the 1-0 lead.

Rapid City kept Utah in their own end for the first minute or so of the third, but that’s not to say that they had possession of the puck for all that time. They did, however, get four of the first five shots in the final frame, and kept the Grizzlies fighting in their own zone, or chasing the puck down the ice.

Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly after all the Rapid City control, a bad pass in the defensive zone put the puck square on the stick of Pavel Jenys, and the Rush tied the game with 12:07 to go.

The Grizzlies had a good bounce-back shift, following the goal, with both Melindy and Puskar getting chances

Utah drew a slashing call at 10:49, but were unable to muster a shot.

Ryan Walters made a dandy play to strip a Rush player of the puck, but Carr shot the puck over the glass at 16:04 to put Utah on the kill. The Grizzlies’ penalty killers spent a substantial period of time in the offensive zone. Carr made a huge save, and Thomas blocked a shot, but the Rush took the 2-1 lead at 17:45 to give them their first lead against Utah of the season.

The Grizzlies pulled Carr, Ortega made a couple of nice moves to keep the puck on the move in the offensive zone, but at the end of 60, Rapid City held onto their lead, getting Frey his first pro win.

Carr played a strong game, and was awarded second star as a result, but didn’t get very much help later in the game, as the Grizzlies failed signally to put the game beyond Rapid City’s reach.

“We let them hang around too long, let them gain confidence as the game went on.” Tim Branham said afterwards. “I thought we had quite a few good scoring chances, didn’t put the puck in the net, didn’t play with enough desperation. We have to come out with a better effort tomorrow, or it’s not going to be a good outcome either.”

Melindy fit seamlessly back into the lineup, but you could tell that Ortega had never had a chance to skate with the team. There were quite a number of instances where it was clear that the new teammates weren’t quite sure where to expect each other.

When asked about his newest winger, Branham said, “It looked like he struggled with the altitude a little bit, I know that. I know he’s trying to keep shifts short and what not. He hasn’t played since December 9th or something, so it’s a little bit of an adjustment coming to this level and playing in the altitude for sure. But he’s got a good skill set, and hopefully we can get him open for some looks.”

Utah will complete Friday’s suspended game today at 1 PM at the Maverik Center. Utah leads 3-1 in that game with two periods to go.