Utah Grizzlies: Too Much to Overcome

Ahead of AHL camps starting up, and facing the likelihood of losing at least some (if not all) of the five players in Utah on contract with Colorado, the lineup saw even more shakeups. Tanner Jago was released, and Riley Woods, Ryker Killins, and Ryan Lowney all signed and dressed to play. Despite the extreme makeover, the Grizzlies hoped to bring some stability to their game, and get back in the wins column.

Utah got an early chance to try to redeem their penalty kill after allowing quite a few on the power play on Saturday. It did not go to plan, as Luke Scheidl scored at 1:58. The Grizzlies got in a little zone time after that, getting some shots in on Matt Greenfield, but the Mavs picked up their second goal on three shots at 4:50. Though he didn’t get a lot of help from his team, neither goal was great on Payton Jones’ part.

Once again following the goal, the Grizzlies spent some time in the offensive zone, but the Mavericks did a good job of clogging the lanes. Charlie Gerard got a mini breakaway, and shortly thereafter, Kansas City took a slashing penalty, and an additional two for unsportsmanlike conduct. The power play saw passing improved from Saturday, but though they got some chances, they weren’t able to get a much needed goal.

The parade to the penalty box continued as Willie Corrin exited the box, and Gerard entered it. Utah dodged a bullet as, with eight seconds left in the penalty, the puck went into the Utah net. However, upon review, it was clear that it went in off his foot, and the goal was called back.

Unfortunately, Bradley went to the box for interference at 15:02, and this time the goal the Mavericks scored counted. The Mavericks scored again at 17:10, and Jones got pulled in favor of Parker Gahagen to finish the period.

An inglorious first saw Utah down 4-0, shots tied 10 a piece.

The second period did not begin very auspiciously, with Matt Abt heading to the box for holding. However, the penalty kill looked much more like itself, and spent more time in the offensive zone than the Mavericks did. Though Utah looked much better as the second progressed, the Mavericks were able to hold the zone for longer stretches of time, and outshot the Grizzlies 5-2 in the period through the first five minutes.

Cedric Paré was slow off the ice shortly thereafter, and Jenkins was at the heart of another scuffle around the Mavericks’ net which drew a power play. Grizzlies fans got a good look at new guy Woods, as he was at the center of some really nice passing a couple of times on the advantage. But, once again, they came up short.

Fortunately, Paré returned to the ice, and seemed alright, but the penalty problems continued, Pat Cannone heading to the box for goaltender interference. Jenkins again chased the power play into the offensive zone, and the Grizzlies proceeded to score short-handed, Bradley from Woods in a former Growlers teammates connection goal.

Utah continued to look more organized as the period continued, getting some good goaltending from Gahagen when they still found themselves in the defensive zone, including one where he got knocked down and made the save anyway. A scuffle between Scheidl and Gerard sent them both to the box, and with a little more open ice, A.J. White made it 4-2 with slightly over three to go.

Boucher drew a cross-check penalty in front of the Mavs net with seconds to go in the second sent Utah into the intermission outshooting Kansas City 24-22.

Bradley made life interesting on a Utah power play about five into the period when Greenfield left his net to play the puck, and put it right on Bradley’s stick. Greenfield dove back to make the save, and the power play came to an end without a change in score. However, Utah also took the shot lead 30-25.

They got another crack at the power play with just under nine to go, but weren’t able to capitalize. The Grizzlies played well through the end of the period, but were unable to cut down the score, despite outshooting the Mavs 38-28 into the last couple of minutes.

They pulled Gahagen with 2:30ish to go, but unfortunately the Mavs scored into the empty net to complete the victory.

Gahagen was a perfect 19/19 at the end of the game, and the Grizzlies played much better in the second and third, but that dreadful first period proved too much to overcome.

Bradley led the team with eight shots, while Boucher and Horn had four a piece. Overall, it was an improvement on Saturday’s game, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

“Obviously, it’s tough to climb out of a four nothing hole, right?” Coach Branham said. “I thought in the second and third, we played extremely well and played our kind of game. And, you know, I think it’s an adjustment adding so many players all the time. Hopefully, we can just manage the roster here a little bit and get some chemistry amongst guys. I thought we finally got a little better on the penalty kill as the game went on. But our power play goes one for six, that’s not a good thing. We’ve been getting on special teams all year, it’s just too bad that we didn’t carry it through at all this weekend. We’ve got a little bit of work to do. And we’ll get back at ‘er.”

When asked what needed to happen to get that complete sixty minutes that has eluded the Grizzlies, some of it’s about experience, and some of it is just a matter of time.

“When you when you look at our roster, we’re pretty young, when you look at our guys up front, we’ve got a couple of veteran guys, but a lot of first year players. You look at our back end with Scheid and Myllari, and even Gendron and Johnston, there’s gonna be some ups and downs, and there’s gonna be some inconsistencies. That’s something that we’ve talked about every game, playing a full 60 minutes, and that’s part of being that professional.”

“Here’s one thing I know,” he added, “We’re off to a decent start. Decent. There’s a couple of games there where we could easily have won. I think it’s an unbelievable group of guys. They’ve got a ton of character and they want to do well. So we just got to find a little bit of consistency and a little bit of chemistry amongst each other — and keep working. I think this is a special team, and once again, we’re losing five guys, tomorrow to the American League, and we’re adding six guys, so there’s a little bit of movement here. But we got a couple days of practice to try to get on the same page and a big weekend against Rapid.”

One of the biggest challenges the team has faced is the above mentioned turnover of personnel. Currently they have what amounts to an entire starting lineup and then some either injured or on reserve, and then some in Diego Cuglietta, Joe Wegwerth, Mitch Maxwell, Yuri Terao, Garrett Johnston, Alex Lepkowski, Teigan Zahn, and Brad Barone, and it’s not about to slow down. Such is life in the ECHL, so it’s not an excuse, but it does effect the game.

“It’s a huge challenge. I mean, we already had three guys tonight that have no idea what kind of systems we play, and two of them are defenseman. But you know, it’s what I was telling them, we’ve got three losses, we’re above 500. We’re doing okay. We’ve won a few games. It’s a long season, we’ve got 60 something games to go, so, like I said, it’s a good group they want to do well, they’ve got the ability to do well. I like our chances.”

There were a couple of bright spots in the game as well, as players like Woods teased a little of what he has to offer the Grizzlies.

“Woodsy’s a good player, he’s good on the face off, he’s tenacious, he’s a good penalty killer, which you can never have enough of, he’s gonna be a special player. That’s for sure. That’s one guy you want to keep an eye on.”

The other new additions, defencemen Ryan Lowney and Riker Killins had quiet nights, but Coach had good things to say about them too.

“Ryan, he’s a proven player at this level. You can tell he’s a savvy vet back there who can move the puck, he’s a good two way guy. Riker is a young kid, still trying to find his way in this league and bring a consistent game, but he’s very talented offensively, which we didn’t really use a whole lot tonight. We just didn’t want to throw too much at these guys, we wanted to kind of get their feet wet. But I thought they both had a real strong game today. They haven’t skated a whole lot at all, so for them to jump in and have a strong game that was pretty good.”

Fortunately with all this roster turnover, they’ve got a week to spend getting guys familiar with each other and with the system before they head out to Rapid City to hopefully return to their winning ways.

Goals

  • First Period: None
  • Second Period: Bradley (Woods) (SH), White (Boucher)
  • Third Period: None
    Jones: 6/10
    Gahagen: 19/19

Image courtesy of Rob Church.

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