Utah Grizzlies: Goals Return at Season’s End

On the first night of the last home-stand, the Grizzlies faced the Kansas City Mavericks, for the first time this season. It was a bit of a preview of what will be a Mountain Division match up next year. At the beginning of the night, the Mavericks were chasing a playoff spot, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from their early play.

“I think for the most part, I thought we played pretty well.” Tim Branham said of the game, “For the most part, I thought we’ve controlled the last bunch of games, except the one Idaho game. But I thought the boys played well. We have a problem keeping the puck out of our net. I thought we’ve controlled the play for the majority of this last month, we’ve just got to keep that up. It’s tough for these guys, I know they’re professionals and whatnot, but they’re pretty disappointed that they’re not in the playoff hunt, so for them to go out there and play the way they did, against Colorado, the fights that they had, and to come out here and find a win in front of this unbelievable crowd, you’ve gotta give them props.”

Through the first two periods, Utah out-worked, out-shot, out-hustled, and generally out-played the Mavericks, who also struggled to complete passes all game.

Brendan Harms got the game’s first shot at 1:24, and the Grizzlies proceeded to get the next five shots as well, as they more or less had their way in the offensive zone.

Joel Rumpel was left alone in the Utah end, making his first save 3:19 into the period. That’s the only one he saw until 8:14. There were no penalties, and very few whistles through the first half.

Ryan Walters rang the cross bar with eight minutes to go, and on the next shift, a really fast whistle robbed Sam Babintsev of what would probably have been a grade A chance.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as Kyle Thomas wired one past Parsons at 13:08 from Michael Pelech and Travis Howe.

Unfortunately, despite all that zone time, and all the dominant game the Grizzlies played, the Mavericks tied it up at 18:44 with the primary assist going to C.J. Eick after a turn over, and a good bit of Kansas City passing.

Utah went right back to work, but the score remained tied at one after 20, shots 16-6 for the Grizzlies.

Utah drew a power play 19 seconds into the second, but a shot from Thomas was the best chance they got on the advantage.

Pelech took an elbowing call at 2:42, but they killed it off, allowing only one shot.

However, despite continuing to look like the better team, Kansas City scored at 6:18 to take the lead as Utah couldn’t clear the zone. Once more, the Grizzlies went back to work.

Walters was hauled down about half-way through the period with no call, and Thomas racked up another couple of chances.

At 15:40, those chances paid off, and Thomas scored another on an absolutely sick backhand. Barely fifteen seconds later, on the very next shift, Matt Robertson beat Rumpel clean for their third goal.

With 56 seconds left in the second, Mitch Jones wired the puck at the net and missed, but James Melindy picked the puck up, and put it into the far corner past Tyler Parsons to tie it up again. So the teams went into the room tied once more, shots 23-16 for Utah.

The third got of to a wild start. Just 33 seconds in, Jake Marchment flew in, and scored his 17th of the year from Mitch Maxwell and Gage Ausmus. On the next shift, one of the Kansas City players put the puck into their own bench, hitting captain Tyler Elbrecht in the collarbone area. Fortunately, he ended up being ok. At 1:28 Brendan Harms blasted one in off the face-off. There was a little bit of a scare on that one too, as the puck went in off the throat or chest of Troy Donnay.

The goals kept coming, and Kansas City scored about a minute later, 5-4 Utah, and not even five minutes in. Utah got lucky a couple of times, as the Mavericks continued to have trouble completing passes.

The game calmed down a little after that, Maxwell taking a tripping penalty at 5:09, but thanks to big clears from Ausmus and James Melindy, the Grizzlies killed that one off without any change in score.

The Ryans got in two-on-one, but Parsons continued to make saves, making another one on the same two a few moments later, and then anther couple on Harms and Marchment.

At the half way mark, Rumpel went on a bit of an adventure, but made it back to the net in time to make a big save, which led to a two-on-one going the other way from Thomas and Pelech. Thomas went for the hat trick, but once again Parsons stopped it calmly.

Utah got a couple more chances on Parsons, but once again, it was Kansas City who scored, tying it up at 14:01. The goal came after an extended period of Mavericks pressure, who had woken up and finally seemed to remember that they were playing for their playoff lives. Eick got his second assist of the night on the marker.

Harms had a great shift, starting with a defensive play, and then ending with another scoring chance in the final five, and in true Grizzlies fashion, the game went to overtime for the 22nd time this season.

Unlike so many others, however, the Captain sealed the deal for Utah, and the 8,035 fans in attendance.

“I wouldn’t say a little scoring slump,” said Walters of his 12 game goal drought, “I’d say a pretty big one, probably the most in my career, actually, but it was a great win. It felt really nice to get that monkey off the back and score a goal for the team. We just want to play as hard as we can for the rest of the year. We’ve still got a job to do, and hopefully I can bring the same intensity tomorrow.”

When asked about the last game of the year, he said, “Like I said, we’ve still got a job to do, we’re still getting paid. Our fans have supported us all year, so we don’t want to come out and just throw an egg on the ice. We want to play hard for them, and give them a good farewell for the season.”

Branham’s thoughts were the same. “I just want them to be professionals. Come out, play hard, we owe it to these fans. We didn’t have the greatest record here at home, and that’s been pretty disappointing, because they’ve come out and supported us. We just want to go out and make sure we give it all we got until they tell us we can’t anymore. That’s the only thing I’m looking for. If every one of my guys gives it their all, we’re going to win. So I just want to focus on that.”

Utah took all three stars of the game, Thomas with two goals and two assists, and Marchment and Melindy with a goal and an assist each. Their win eliminated the Mavericks from post-season contention, and they hope to end the regular season in style tonight.


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

Utah Grizzlies: For Auld Lang Syne

With the Eagles moving to the AHL next season, Wednesday night’s game was Utah’s last trip to the Budweiser Event Center, at least for now. And as ever, the game did not disappoint.

Brandon Wildung made his fourth career start in goal, while Travis Howe, Michael Pelech, Kyle Thomas, Gage Ausmus, and James Melindy rounded out the rest of the starting lineup. Brad Navin and Nate Mitton remained the scratches.

The Grizzlies came out hot to start the first, out-shooting Colorado 4-1 though the first four minutes, and getting especially good looks from Brendan and the Ryans.

By the half-way mark, Utah outshot the Eagles 7-3, though Colorado had gotten a little more by way of zone time. At 8:57, Jake Marto put the puck through Wildung to open the scoring.

At 12:55, Howe, Pelech, and Ben Storm tangled by the benches, and all three were sent off, the two Grizzlies with two each for roughing, and Storm with a double minor also for roughing. The Eagles continued to press after that, and after a big hit on Harms, Jake Marchment and Teigan Zahn dropped the gloves with about four to go.

Melindy took a slashing call with 1:43 to go, and at the end of 20, the score remained 1-0 for Colorado, shots 12-8 in Utah’s favor.

About three into the second, the Grizzlies were incredibly sluggish coming back to defend an Eagles rush, and Brady Shaw made it 2-0. Utah continued to look slow, and though they continued to get shots, they didn’t create much by way of traffic or rebounds.

Walters took a hooking call, and Joey Ratelle made it 3-0. Utah got a lengthy power play at 10:29, when Brady Shaw took a double minor for high-sticking. Sam Babintsev drew another power play, and the Grizzlies had about 1:20 on the five-on-three, which then went straight into another power play, as Collin Bowman took a roughing call on Howe with about five to go.

The Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize on either of the power plays, but Jake Marchment made it 3-1 at 17:24 to put Utah on the board.

When the buzzer went at the end of the second, the score remained 3-1, shots 24-15 for the Grizzlies.

Unfortunately, if you leave Ryan Olsen all alone with a rebound, he’s not going to miss from a couple of feet away from the net, and he made it 4-1 at 1:22.

Howe, Sam Windle, Gabriel Verpaelst, and Storm all dropped the gloves at 5:29. When the dust cleared, the four of them had picked up a whopping 54 penalty minutes Howe got a misconduct, while Verpaelst and Windle both got game misconducts.

Harms cut the lead in half at 7:20 from Graaskamp and Pelech, finally capitalizing on one of his multitude of great chances.

Misiak drew a hooking call at 11:58, and Mitch Maxwell did not miss by much on the ensuing power play, and Harms followed that up with a nice look of his own. However, when Colorado returned to full strength, the Grizzlies still trailed by two.

With three minutes to go, Utah pulled Wildung for the extra attacker, and Richart made a big save. In the end, though, Olsen scored into the empty net with about a minute left, and the Eagles took the final meeting in Loveland 5-2.

I once said that when the Grizzlies and the Eagles played, you might fear for the Grizzlies’ lives, but you’d never be bored. While this year Colorado left fewer Utah injuries in their wake, the games were no less exciting, and with one exception, as painfully close as ever. It’s been a fantastic rivalry, and a chapter we’re sorry to see closed.

As the Eagles move up and on, the Grizzlies return home to meet the Kansas City Mavericks, where they will end the season against next year’s division opponents.



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

Utah Grizzlies: Do Not Go Gentle

Travis Howe has always been better at hockey than he’s generally been given credit for. He’s rarely a liability defensively, and he routinely makes good plays in addition, of course, to being a hard hitting, hard fighting enforcer. All he’s seemed to lack was some offensive finish. That has very much not been the case lately.

The roster was the same as on Friday, though the lines got a shuffle. Mitch Maxwell slotted in with Michael Pelech and Brendan Harms in the starting lineup, while Sam Babintsev centered Kyle Thomas and Ryan Misiak. Jake Marchment centered Howe and Ryan Walters, while Charley Graaskamp became the tenth forward. Taylor Richart and Mitch Jones opened the game on the back end, and Brandon Wildung got the start.

The first period did not get off to an auspicious start. Off the opening face-off the Steelheads had a couple of looks, and Howe got sent off for interference. 44 seconds later, Max French, fresh from his stint in the AHL, opened the scoring.

But the Grizzlies responded, picking up the shot lead on a couple of successive offensive zone shifts. At 8:40, former unlikely hero turned likely hero of late, Howe took a pass from Marchment, and backhanded it past Tomas Sholl to tie up the game. Howe is always quick to pass on any complements to his line mates, but he’s showed some serious finish lately, picking up some serious goal scorers goals in the past couple of games.

Utah ran into some penalty trouble after that, first Thomas taking a cross-checking call at 9:40. The Grizzlies killed it off, but Marchment took an interference call at 14:29, putting Idaho on their third straight power play. Misiak’s stick got caught in an Idaho players stick, and Utah got away with one, as the reffing continued to be spotty.

Pelech, Walters, Richart, and Rob Mann got a good shift short-handed in the offensive zone. Pelech started a scrum in front of the net, and Idaho responded. Somehow, Pelech was the only one to go to the box, but the Grizzlies killed off the six seconds of five-on-three.

Utah killed it off thanks to a combination of good saves, decent defense, and a couple of misplays by Idaho.

Despite getting eight minutes of power play time, it took Idaho until the last minute to tie the shot clock at nine, and after 20 the game was tied 1-1, shots the same.

Utah got all six shots in the opening four, largely controlling play. Pelech drew a power play and a scrum eight minutes into the period. They weren’t able to make anything of it, but finished the advantage with all seven shots so far.

The Grizzlies kept the cycle going, and at 10:26, Howe got his second goal of the night reaching out to poke the puck past Sholl. Windle and Graaskamp got the assists on Howe’s fifth of the year.

Pelech drew another power play at 12:02 when Corbin Baldwin went after him, and he didn’t oblige. Utah wasn’t able to capitalize yet again, but at the end of the advantage, out-shooting the Steelheads 11-2.

Unfortunately, Melindy took a puck to the face with just over five minutes to go, and Idaho tied it up again. Melindy went to the locker room, and at the end of 40, the game was still tied, the Grizzlies out-shooting the Steelheads 14-5 on the frame, and 23-14 overall.

Two games after he was a fight away from a Gordie Howe hat trick, Travis had his sights set on an entirely different kind of hat trick going into the third.

The Grizzlies had some good shifts to start the final frame, including one from Windle, and one from Howe and company.

Howe blocked a shot and limped off, and a couple of shifts later Graaskamp took and gave a high-stick within a few seconds. However, only the one on Graaskamp was called, and he headed off to the box.

A couple of shifts later, Melindy and French tangled in front of Wildung, and were both sent off for roughing.

Both penalties were killed off, but Windle took a slashing call. At 13:44 Ully scored his second, but there was lots of traffic in front of Wildung, and contact was definitely made, but the goal was allowed to stand.

After a fairly inconsistently called game, the refs totally lost control at that point, Jones and Steven McParland both got double roughs and misconducts, while Thomas and Chris Martinet got five and misconducts after Thomas emphatically won the fight, despite giving up seven inches and more than twenty pounds.

Idaho immediately took another penalty, but the Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize. Jefferson Dahl flew in all alone, but rang the post, and then Wildung made another save.

Utah pulled Wildung for the extra attacker, both teams took their time-outs, and Idaho scored into the empty net, effectively killing the Grizzlies’ post season hopes.

As utterly infuriating as the game was, Utah put up a good fight–as they’ve done all season. And though for the first time in a decade there will be no playoff hockey at the Mav, the Grizzlies, led by their enforcer, turned goal-scoring hero, went down swinging.


Picture courtesy of Tim Broussard