Utah Grizzlies: Keeping it Close

Another close game, another point collected in Manchester.

The Grizzlies hustled right out of the gates, getting the first shot from Brad Navin, who looked determined to start a new streak. He got two of the team’s first four shots, and at 3:08 the Grizzlies drew the first penalty. The early power play wasn’t able to score, but both lines generated chances, and the second unit of Navin, Michael Pelech, Kyle Thomas, Sam Babintsev, and Chris Leibinger continued to pressure after the Monarchs returned to full strength.

Manchester got their first lengthy possession around the 6:30, both teams got three-on-ones stopped by their goalies, and then Thomas roared in, and made it 1-0 at 8:04 with assists from Leibinger and Navin.

Exactly two minutes later, Kevin Morris tripped Navin in the Utah defensive zone, and the Grizzlies got another crack at the advantage. With eight seconds left in the power play, there was a collision in front of the Utah net, and that left Taylor Richart down on the ice. He went down the tunnel, but came back quickly, and didn’t even miss a shift.

Navin took a hooking call at 13:36, but a good kill, including a short-handed move by Harms, and some nice stops from Joel Rumpel took Utah out of danger.

James Melindy and Matt Schmalz tangled at 19:31 after Schmalz boarded a Utah player. Somehow, the teams ended up four-on-four to end the period, and after the whistle Manchester caused a crowd to gather as the teams headed off the ice.

The second began with about a minute and a half of four-on-four, which expired without event.

Thomas took a slashing call at 4:37, and then Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman ran over Rumpel, putting the teams once more on the four-on-four for 15 seconds, before a Utah power play. To say the power play was disastrous would be an understatement, as Thomas lost an edge trying to take the puck away from Joel Lowry, who pounced and tied it up short-handed.

Jake Marchment and Jake Wood dropped the gloves at 8:37. Marchment went to remove his helmet, but when Wood didn’t reciprocate, he put it back on, and then proceeded to punch Wood’s off. Both got five for fighting.

Unfortunately, one of the best second period teams in the league continued to show why they’ve earned that reputation, scoring again at 13:26.

The Grizzlies handily killed off a delay of game penalty on Gage Ausmus, and the third line once again had a great shift, drawing a power play of their own. Navin nearly missed on a shot from the point, but on the next shift, Richart made no such mistake, blasting one past Evan Cowley for his league leading 17th of the year at 18:47.

Babintsev gave up a turnover in the last couple of seconds of the period, but Rumpel made the save, and after 40, the teams were all tied up 2-2, shots 20-15 for Utah.

Ryan Walters and Brendan Harms had a nice shift to start the third, as did the third line. Manchester counterattacked though, and Navin went to the box again for hooking. Thanks to some good defense from Richart, a good save from Rumpel, and a short-handed attempt from Harms and Thomas, the penalty was killed off.

Both teams brought their full effort in the minutes that followed, the Grizzlies getting another especially great shift from the third line.

There weren’t a whole lot of whistles in the middle of the period, but the Monarchs iced the puck several times in a row around the five minute mark.

The first two lines got a bit of a shuffle down the stretch, Navin skating with Walters and Mitch Maxwell , while Pelech centered Harms and Misiak, but neither team was able to break the deadlock, and Utah headed to OT once more.

Both teams got chances, including a couple from Leibinger and Navin, but with 58 seconds to go, the Monarchs again took the other point in OT.

So Utah takes two points against the best team in the North Division, Harms’ point streak extends to five, Misiak has 15 points in 15 games, and Richart continues to lead all defensemen with 17 goals.

The Grizzlies are now 8-1-2-2 in the last 13, and head next to Worcester, where they’ll face Barry Almeida, T.J. Syner, and the Railers Sunday at 1 PM MT.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: The Unexpected

Two top notch goalies gave up 4+ goals each, a goal scorer dropped the gloves twice in one period, and an enforcer turned play-maker with a pair of glorious assists as the Grizzlies took on the Monarchs.

The new look BAM line (Brad Navin, Kyle Thomas, Michael Pelech) got of to a flying start as the Grizzlies picked up three of the first four shots in the opening four. Unfortunately, when Manchester had a strong shift in the offensive zone, Joel Rumpel was forced far to the right of the goal mouth to cover a shot. The cross crease pass was put into a wide open net, as the Grizzlies were unable to box out Michael Doherty.

Utah picked themselves up after the goal, as the Pelech line had a good offensive zone shift, followed by Brendan and the Ryans. At 8:28, a seemingly harmless shot from Ryan Misiak bounced off Charles Williams’ glove, and into the net to tie it up.

The Grizzlies took the first penalty at 9:55 on a hooking call against Sam Babintsev. The penalty kill worked hard in their own zone, and went to the four-on-four as Taylor Richart was boarded at 10:48. The shenanigans didn’t end there, as Pelech and Matt Leitner dropped the gloves with 8:08 left. It wasn’t a whole lot of a fight, and it was broken up quite quickly, both sent off for five.

In the brief power play that followed, the Grizzlies doubled up their shot count, 10-5, and continued to look good, collecting a really nice shot from Brendan Harms off a face-off, and Misiak almost snagging his second of the frame on the rebound. On the very next face-off, Walters also got a good look on Williams.

The third line had a hardworking offensive zone shift with just over four minutes to go, and boy did it ever pay off. Travis Howe made a really nice pass to Mitch Maxwell, and Maxwell put it emphatically past Williams to give the Grizzlies the 2-1 lead.

Pelech laid a huge hit at about 18:50, which wasn’t penalized, but Keegan Iverson took exception, and Pelech dropped the gloves for the second time in the game, and fourth time this season.

The Grizzlies ended the period in the offensive zone, after (with the exception of the one very bad shift) a strong road period, out-shooting Manchester 14-9 with the 2-1 lead.

The Monarchs pressured to start the second, but took a holding the stick call at 1:06 in the offensive zone, sending Utah to the advantage. The Grizzlies got a couple of looks from Thomas, and at least one good one from Marchment, and they continued to press after the penalty.

However, the play went the other way, Ryan Walters took a hooking call, and just seven seconds after he went to the box, Manchester tied it up.

At 8:12, Walters drew a tripping call after another stretch of Grizzlies offensive zone time (and another shift from Howe). This time, Utah got some of their own back, as Harms pounded the puck past Williams from Taylor Richart just six seconds in.

Walters continued to miss by inches, getting in on a mini breakaway for at least his fourth look of the night. Chris Leibinger took a slashing call with 5:45 to go. Utah failed to make the final clear of the kill, and once again, the Monarchs tied it up.

With about a minute left, the puck bounced over Navin’s stick on one end of the ice, and at the other, Rumpel made a big save, and the two teams got into a brief shoving match.

At the end of the second, the teams were once again tied 3-3, but Manchester had the 22-19 lead on the shot clock.

Navin started the third flying, first off the opening face off, and then into the wall, giving the Grizzlies the first shot of the frame.

The third line once again created some buzz, backed by the skill of Richart, but on the next shift, Rob Mann turned the puck over, then in the ensuing defensive zone shift, took a hooking call.

Fortunately, Utah killed it off, and at 5:29, Melindy and Jake Wood dropped the gloves.

The third line’s strong showing continued, as Howe and Marchment got in two-on-one. Howe looked like he was going to shoot all the way, but at the last moment, he passed it off. Williams was helpless to stop the shot that Marchment put in over him.

Unfortunately, Manchester once again tied it up at 8:06, and despite Rumpel immediately being up in arms calling interference, and a very, very brief consultation, the goal counted.

Melindy took a delay-of-game penalty at 11:45, but Utah killed it off, and just over two minutes to go, the Grizzlies drew a power play. The first and second units both had some good looks, but weren’t able to beat Williams, and the advantage expired just moments before the third came to an end.

Once again, the Grizzlies went to OT, but 1:45 in, the Monarchs scored to get the extra point.

Harms (one goal, one assist), Howe and Babintsev (two assists each) all had multiple points, Howe’s the first of his career. Although Navin’s eleven game point streak came to an end tonight, he remains over a point a game, having put up 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 23 games since January 20th. Meanwhile, Misiak now has 14 points in the last 14 games, while Harms is on a point streak of his own, with five in the last four straight.

The two teams face off again at 4 PM today (Saturday) before they head to Worcester to face the Railers on Sunday.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.


Utah Grizzlies: All Good Things…

With Sean Maguire out on injured reserve, and Charley Graaskamp back from injury for the first time in months, there were some lineup changes ahead of Saturday’s game. Out were Travis Howe and Mitch Maxwell, and in were Graaskamp and Mitch Jones.

Joel Rumpel once again got the start, behind the BAM Line, James Melindy, and Taylor Richart.

Allen jumped up to an early lead as Gage Ausmus tied up Vincent Arseneau, but then lost him again just 36 seconds in. Ausmus took the first penalty of the game as well, getting sent off for hooking at 3:15.

The Utah PK wasn’t able to get a clear, but Sam Windle blocked a couple of big shots, and Rumpel made several quick saves before Arseneau beat him on a nice bit of passing.

Kyle Thomas was noticeable early, throwing his weight around, which another large crowd was quick to appreciate.

Ryan Misiak, Brendan Harms, and Sam Babintsev got in three on one, but the Allen defender got his stick down on the pass just past the half-way mark.

At 13:08 Melindy got boarded, and Arseneau tried to take Richart with him to the box, to no avail. Utah got a two minute five-on-three, but it was negated about forty seconds later, as Austin Ortega was sent to the box for slashing.

Utah had a mad scramble around the Allen net right as the penalties expired, but largely had to spend the four-on-three chasing the puck.

Allen scored again at 16:43, putting Utah down 3-0 before the end of the first. When the period ended, Utah was out-shot 13-8, still down by three.

The second period started with absolute chaos. Jake Marchment and Josh Thrower dropped the gloves right off the face-off, then Dalton Thrower took an interference call, then Graaskamp took an interference call, not even 1:30 into the second, and the two teams got ready for some four-on-four.

Michael Pelech broke the shut-out at 1:42, picking up the puck turned over after a big hit on Richart, and beating Paterson. Mike Gunn took an elbowing call at 2:24, but Utah wasn’t able to muster up a shot, just after it looked like the Grizzlies had gotten going, Gunn scored right after leaving the box.

Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored 6:05 in, putting Utah down 5-1. However, after that, though the line blender was in full swing, the pace settled down considerably. Harms took a hooking call at 19:17, and at the end of the period, Utah trailed 5-1, out-shot 26-13.

The third began well; Utah killed off Harms’ penalty, Windle laid a terrific hit near center ice, and Thomas drew a power play at 6:19. But it didn’t go entirely to plan, Alex Guptil scoring short handed 8:00 in.

A minute and thirty seconds later, Thomas pounced on a breakaway, and made it 6-2 unassisted. For reasons unknown, Allen elected to pull Jake Paterson in favor of Stephon Williams after Thomas’ goal. Utah drew another power play at 11:08, and though they didn’t capitalize, the reunited BAM Line was back to their strong play, showing the Maverik Center just what kind of hockey they’d been playing over the winning streak. The momentum continued even after the Americans returned to full strength, and Babintsev cut the lead neatly in half at 14:02, Ryan Walters and Harms picking up the assists.

With improved possession, zone time, passing, and defense, Utah continued to press, and at 18:04 Brad Navin extended his point streak, scoring his 13th of the season from Windle and Ortega, who also extended his point streak. Down 6-4, Utah pulled Rumpel, and called their time out. Unfortunately, the combined efforts of Walters, Ortega, Richart, Navin, Pelech and Thomas were unable to put the team within one, and in the end, Allen put one more into the empty net.

It was a disappointing end to the frankly impressive winning streak, but the end of the third period was one to build on. Thomas, who had a bit of a rocky comeback up until that point, was named third star of the game. Navin extended his point streak to eleven straight games, and has picked up 24 points in the last 22 games, while Ortega extended his to 13, with 45 points in 29 games. Although Richart’s scoring streak came to an end, he now leads all defensemen with 16 goals. Walters put up eight goals and five assists during the streak, while Misiak had five goals, six assists, and Pelech put up 12 points in 11 games.

“First off, I want to say that I’m really proud of this team for going on the run that they just went on. It was really good, we saw what kind of hockey we can play. When you’re the hottest team in the league, teams are going to gun at you. I think we’ve been playing some really good hockey, and this is just a small little hurdle, we’ll get back at it and get on another run here.”

So now, Utah heads to the snow buried East for a series against the Manchester Monarchs and Worcester Railers, where even without Ortega (recalled to the Gulls) they hope to start a new streak that will lead them to the playoffs.


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

Utah Grizzlies: Closely Contested

With the playoff race so close, Allen the team directly ahead of Utah in the standings, and the Tulsa Oilers within one and two points respectively, the two teams squared off on Friday night with a lot on the line.

Allen came out with considerably more jump in their step, but the Grizzlies kept them away from Joel Rumpel, and eventually got the first shot of the night from Ryan Misiak. They took the first penalty of the game as well about four minutes in as James Melindy tangled with J.C. Campagna, but the power play was rapidly negated as Zach Pochiro took a hooking call seven seconds later. Taylor Richart made a diving play to prevent a breakaway, and both teams returned to full strength with no change in score.

At 7:13, Austin Ortega extended his point streak to 12 games, scoring the opening goal from Michael Pelech and Mitch Maxwell at the top of the blue paint.

Misiak got taken down without a call near the 8:30 mark, rightly or wrongly, and the crowd objected. Allen pressured briefly thereafter, but the BAM Line countered with a strong shift of their own.

Ryans Walters and Misiak motored in on a two-on-one with about nine to go, followed almost immediately by a two-on-one with Walters and Brendan Harms, but Walters missed high, and Harms missed wide as the Grizzlies got their feet under them and started to look more cohesive.

However, the Americans kept working, and both teams exchanged chances, Misiak, Richart, and the BAM Line all getting good looks.

Utah turned the puck over at around the 18:10 mark, and Vincent Arseneau scored off of a really nice bit of passing. The tie did not last long at all, though, as Richart scored his 16th of the season on a nice shot from the left wing that beat Jake Paterson top corner. Ortega’s assist gave him yet another multi-point game, and Brad Navin’s secondary assist meant that both he and Richart extended their point streaks to ten.

The Grizzlies took their 2-1 lead to the locker room, out-shooting the Americans 13-8.

The second did not begin well, as Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored just 37 seconds into the frame.

Brendan and the Ryans had a good shift in response, but with the exception of Walters getting thrown in front of the net, nothing came of it.

Allen scored again at 3:18 as Pochiro beat Rumpel on a really nice shot.

The Utah cycle game returned about seven minutes in, as Brendan and the Ryans camped out in the offensive zone, Harms wired a shot towards the net, and Misiak put it past Paterson.

Utah drew a power play at 9:03, but negated it 15 seconds later on a gentle hook from Navin.

Richart had a couple of absolute cannons from the point during the four-on-four, including one that rang the crossbar, and Jake Marchment came really close to giving Utah the lead as the Grizzlies returned to full strength.

The BAM Line backed by Gage Ausmus and Melindy had a really strong shift, Navin got a chance, and then Pelech and Ortega played ping-pong with the puck from behind the net, and on the doorstep. Pelech capitalized at 12:54 from Ortega and Ausmus to give Utah back the lead.

Utah continued to buzz following the goal, but Sam Babintsev got caught retaliating, and was sent off for slashing at 14:21. Despite playing one of the only uninterrupted power plays of the game, Allen wasn’t able to capitalize. Ortega was hit hard, but popped up, and Walters and Misiak nearly had a goal later on the same shift. In the dying seconds, Ortega was taken down again, and once again with no call.

At the end of the second, Utah once again led, 4-3 this time, out-shooting the Americans 26-16.

Ausmus bobbled the puck at the offensive zone blue line, and Arseneau pounced, beating out both flying defensemen to score the tying goal at 6:04.

Melindy took a holding call at 11:26. The Grizzlies killed it off, but immediately returned to the box as Windle took down an Allen player in front of the net. With one minute to go on the penalty kill, Misiak elected to carry the puck out rather than chip it, and drew a tripping call flying into the Allen zone.

During the four-on-four, the Americans put the puck over the glass, but what should have been a delay of game penalty was ruled tipped out.

The end of regulation solved nothing, and neither did OT. The shoot out did not go well for Utah, as Navin was the only player to score for Utah, while all three of Allen’s skaters capitalized.

Ortega and Pelech earned the second and third stars of the game, while Richart and Misiak both had strong games

“I thought we were really good with the puck.” Branham said after the game. “Obviously, any time you score four goals, you should win a hockey game, and any time you keep them to 22 shots you should win a hockey game.

We did not have one full power play today, which I thought was unacceptable, especially in that kind of game. We faced a lot of adversity, found a way to get a point, but it’s a crucial point that we didn’t get.”

In what was essentially a decent game, with a couple of egregious errors off lackadaisical play, Branham said: “I don’t think we need to really work on anything, we just need to make sure everybody comes ready. I felt we had a few guys straggling, those are the guys that made the mistakes. We gotta make sure that if a team is gonna beat us, they’re gonna beat us. We don’t need to be beating ourselves.”

With Richart, Ortega and Navin all extending their point streaks, Branham had nothing but good things to say about them. “All three of those guys, in particular, Ortega and Richart, have been phenomenal. Every single time they’re on the ice, they’re dangerous. Pelech’s line is pretty dangerous, and pretty special, they’ve got some good chemistry going. Richart has really had a break out year. We rely on him a lot, both offensively and defensively, and you can’t say enough about the job that he’s done for the team, that’s for sure. Navin has really come on strong … and he really complements Pelech and Ortega pretty well.”



Image courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Pedal to the Metal

In their third game in three nights, the Grizzlies went with the same roster, including Joel Rumpel in net.

The Grizzlies were rolling right off the opening face-off, the BAM line with a strong offensive zone shift, followed by a Ryan Walters point-blank breakaway shot, followed by a rebound that Matt Tomkins snatched up.

Utah took an early delay of game penalty as Walters put the puck over the glass at 3:18, and followed that up with another delay of game penalty, putting the Grizzlies down five-on-three for 50 seconds. However, they once again held off the league leading power play, shots 4-3 for Indy after the penalty kill.

After some confusion on the lines setting up on a face-off, the Grizzlies got another delay of game penalty, and the Indy power play finally showed some signs of life. Utah killed that off as well, even getting a two-on-one short handed from Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

Coming off the penalty kill, Indy looked hot, but the Grizzlies fought on, getting some zone time of their own. The offensive zone possession led to a Utah power play, as Gage Ausmus drew a hooking call at 14:35.

The Grizzlies had really good possession throughout the advantage, most notably from Ortega, and Mann, who rang the cross bar right before Indy returned to full strength.

Utah struck first as Sam Babintsev scored his first for the Grizzlies after looking so good all weekend. Mitch Maxwell got the assist on a great pass on the opener at 18:32.

At the end of 20, Utah led 1-0, and the shots were an even 8-8, Walters having half of them.

Indy came out hot in the second, getting four shots to Utah’s two, and keeping things uncomfortably interesting in the opening four.

Walters’ stick was broken in front of the Utah net at 4:08, but he got called for holding. The Grizzlies killed off all but 19 seconds of the Fuel power play, blocking shots and keeping pucks away from the goal, until Alex Wideman put the puck past a sprawling Rumpel to tie the game.

The tie was not allowed to stand for long, however, as Navin wired a puck at the net, and it took a bounce off Tomkins and in 48 seconds later. The goal extended Brad’s scoring streak to nine straight games.

Indy once again poured it on after Navin’s goal, and Rumpel came up huge as Utah squeaked through a couple of really close calls before catching a breather. Brendan and the Ryans together with Melindy and Richart had a phenomenal shift around the six minute mark, but weren’t able to beat Tomkins.

Utah got another crack at the power play at 15:29, but weren’t able to capitalize, despite some good looks. Navin and Reed Seckel took matching calls at 17:28, and then with 1:06 to go in the period, Maxwell took a retaliatory slash and was sent to the box.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Maxwell’s penalty to start the third. Utah ran into some difficulties early, but Rumpel and the defense kept it 2-1, and Harms continued to have a strong game, pushing the puck just wide yet again with about four gone.

About two minute later, Richart threw a big shot on net which, like Navin’s, went in off Tomkins, extending his scoring streak to nine, and tying him with Nolan Zajac of the Reading Royals for first in the ECHL in goals among defensemen.

The Grizzlies continued to keep their foot on the gas, getting strong shifts from Howe, Misiak, and others. The Fuel once again looked disinterested, and Utah pounced, Maxwell scoring at 9:58 from Marchment. The goal was Maxwell’s first as a pro, and with his earlier assist, he also picked up his first multi-point game.

Utah got hit with another extremely lengthy five-on-three penalty kill at 3:11 with first Jones and then Walters in the box for interference and tripping respectively. Once again, the vaunted Indy power play came up empty. Ortega was taken down at 16:50 with no call, and Pelech took matters into his own hands. As was the trend for this game with interesting calls, he got an extra two tacked on to his rough, while Jaynen Rissling got only two.

In the end, however, it didn’t matter, and at the final buzzer, Utah outworked their way to a 4-1 win.

Maxwell (one goal, one assist), Navin (game winning goal), and Rumpel (23/24 saves) were the three stars of the game, Walters ended the day with eight shots, and Ortega, Navin, and Richart all extended their consecutive point streaks. Harms was all over the place, getting an assist, and all three lines contributed. It was also a another night of firsts, as Maxwell and Babintsev scored their first goals for the team, after both of them had a really excellent weekend.

The Grizzlies and the Oilers are currently tied for the fourth spot in the Mountain Division, trailing Wichita by five points, and ahead of Allen by one. Utah could very much use an Idaho win against Allen on Wednesday and before they face the Americans themselves in what could end up being a season defining two game series at home with spots in the playoffs at stake.

In the meantime, the Grizzlies have put themselves in the best position they can, with seven of a possible eight points on the four game road trip, as well as their 8-0-0-1 record in the last nine.


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff