Utah Grizzlies: Speed Kills

After last night’s 2-1 shoot-out loss, there were some changes on the ice. Brandon Saigeon drew back in after Dalton Mills was released, J.C. Brassard returned to the press box, while Brad Barone got the night off. Jeff Smith backed up starter Martin Ouellette, and Yuri Terao joined Ty Lewis, and Tim McGauley on the first line.

Utah had the jump early on, picking up the first five shots of the game in the opening six minutes. Terao and Taylor Richart teamed up to get perhaps the best chance during that time, Terao pouncing on a rebound from the Captain’s shot, but Nick Schneider covered it up.

Josh Dickinson and C.J. Eick had strong shifts for their respective teams around the nine minute mark, and McGauley drew the first power play at 12:28. The Grizzlies got one of those illusive first goals, Ryan Wagner opening the scoring from Richart and Eric Williams on the advantage.

McGauley drew another power play, this one a double minor, at 15:42, and the Utah power play got back to work.

They were unable to score on the advantage, but picked up 13 shots to Kansas City’s 3 by the end of the frame.

Utah got goal number two at 3:40, Dickinson saucing the puck across the crease to a WIDE open Wagner. Wagner made no mistake on his seventh of the season, and Eric Wlliams got his second secondary assist as well.

The Grizzlies picked up the third power play of the game at 9:24 as they out-shot KC 20-7. Wagner nearly capped off his hat trick with about two to go, Terao put the puck in off his hand (no goal), and was knocked down. Joe Wegwerth took umbrage, and was given a roughing call with about 25 seconds to go. At the end of 40, shots were 27-8 for Utah.

Utah comfortably killed off the Wegwerth penalty to start the third, Tischke playing the part of Griffen Molino with McGauley in one of those traditional two-on-one short-handed chances. Utah killed it off, but Wagner found himself back in the box at 7:58. This time, it was Jack Jenkins who sprinted in short-handed with McGauley, and threw the puck on net. The puck hit the post, and McGauley put the puck in from the blue paint for the third off the night.

By the fifteen minute mark, shots were 33-15 for the Grizzlies, but Richart took a roughing call at 16:27. Wagner had yet another chance to complete the hat trick short-handed, but was denied.

With just five seconds to go, Loren Ulett slashed Garrett Klotz, and the two dropped the gloves, Klotz getting the definitive victory. When the final buzzer sounded, Utah too had a definitive victory, out-shooting the Mavs 34-17 in the 3-0 shut out.

Wagner, Ouellette, and Williams got the three stars of the game, and Utah closed off the homestand on a definite high note.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard.

Utah Grizzlies: Home, Sweet Home

After three long, but successful, weeks on the road, the Grizzlies finally returned home, getting reinforcements in the form of Tim McGauley and Ty Lewis. The team wore Batman jerseys with the team’s nicknames (both real and invented) on the back. Martin Ouellette made his 21st start, while the return of both McGauley and Lewis meant that Brandon Saigeon sat out.

The game got off to a great start for the Grizzlies, as Rapid City took two penalties in quick succession, and Yuri Terao made them pay for it on the back-half at 3:27. Mitch Maxwell and Jack Jenkins got the assists.

Ouellette made a big save, and then Eric Williams was sent to the box for interference, followed rapidly by Taylor Richart. Utah killed off the two man disadvantage, and maintained both shot and score superiority.

McGauley leveled Myles McGurty, and drew a crowd, eventually being sent to the box for boarding on a very delayed call.

Utah continued to hold the lead in both shots and goals into the final five of the first. Josh Anderson threw a thunderous hit, and Tanner Karty took exception, dropping the gloves. Both were sent to the room to cool their heels for the final 4:58 of the period.

Griffen Molino had two great attempts in close on Gordie Defiel, but he got taken down, and Defiel made both saves.

Utah continued to pepper the Rush with shots, picking up 12 to Rapid City’s 5 with just over two to go.

Joe Wegwerth got shot number thirteen, and then answered the bell against Brennan Saulnier shortly thereafter.

At the end of a highly eventful first period, Utah retained the 1-0 lead, shots 13-5 in their favor.

The second period began with a fair amount of Rush zone time, but no shots, and Anderson and Karty were released before anything changed.

Utah got the first shot of the period, but in general, their feet kept getting ahead of their hands.

Molino’s hands certainly didn’t get away from him at 8:21, however, as he used his reach to hold on to the puck around a defender, and then swung it over Defiel’s head for his 21st of the year. Lewis got the primary assist, while McGauley got the secondary.

Utah didn’t stop there, extending the shot lead, and getting another goal from Josh Dickinson at 12:58 from Richart and Ryan Wagner.

By the fifteen minute mark, shots were 23-9 for the Grizzlies, and if Ouellette hadn’t made a couple of really nice saves the few times he was tested, it would have been pretty easy to forget that a very good goalie was in the net at all.

Rapid City challenged that a little as time went on, but except for a scuffle between Peter Tischke and Karty after a hit on Lewis, the end of the period maintained the status quo.

Second intermission saw shots 25-13 for the Grizzlies, with 45 seconds left on the offsetting penalties to Tischke and Karty.

The Rush came into the third with more jump than heretofore, but missed the net, or were met by Ouellette or the Utah defense. After that, however, Utah returned the favor in spades.

By the half-way point, the Grizzlies had firmly re-taken control of the game, hitting thirty shots by the 10 minute mark.

Wagner had a glorious offensive zone shift, topped off by a perfect set up, and Maxwell JUST missed spinning the puck into a gaping net.

Chris Leibinger stood Garret Klotz up at the Utah blue line, and was probably fortunate that Klotz didn’t look particularly interested in really dropping the gloves. Both got two minutes at 11:57.

Klotz got a borderline tripping call with under five to go, but the Rush were unable to cleanly complete a pass for almost the entirety of the penalty. With 40 seconds or so to go, the Rush pulled their goalie, and scored on the multiple man advantage.

With two to go, they again pulled their goalie, but were unable to close the gap, giving Utah the 3-1 win, shots 31-23 for the Grizzlies.

Ouellette picked up his 16th win and first star honors, while Terao and Maxwell took second and third.

“You know, I’m really proud of the group right now,” Tim Branham said after the game. “When you bring back McGauley and Lewis — and I know, they’re good players, but we just spent two games without them in a different game plan — they come back in and it’s like they never left, everyone picks up where they left off, other people accept different roles. When you add two high-skilled players like that, two other guys are going to take a back seat, which means it’s gonna be a trickle down effect. We’ve got a great group of guys, guys that accept whatever role they’re put in. They just want to win. Really proud of them for playing a complete game today. That was bigger to me than anything because Rapid City is a tough team. They try to come in and play physical and play hard, and we always have problems with them, have fits, and I think the guys did an excellent job playing between the whistles and playing a good physical, yet skilled, puck possession game.”

While there is certainly no doubt that the level of skill on this team is high, it’s their relentless willingness to work hard that’s set them apart so far.

“Their mindset is different” said Branham, “They have a hard working mindset instead of just a skilled game mindset. You know the old cliche, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. But when you can have talent that works hard, it’s a dangerous thing. We know come playoff time, it’s going to be a tough brand of hockey, so we want to make sure we’re used to playing that style and you throw our skill into the mix and good things happen.”

While the Grizzlies’ speed and high-intensity approach have contributed to their success, they have played a lot of games with a lot of travel lately, and while the travel is decreasing in the coming weeks, the number of games certainly isn’t. So how is the team preparing both for the short term and the big picture?

“We got to be careful here now. We played so much hockey lately, and we’ve been on the road, they’re tired. Even a day off is a travel day, you know, and being able to sustain that energy like they are is huge. So we’re trying to manage that, making sure that we do have enough energy to be able to compete at a high level, and the level that we want to compete at. We’re not measuring ourselves to the other teams, we’re measuring ourselves to ourselves, and we want to be the best team that we can possibly be.” 

It’s a management challenge, for sure, but Dickinson also sees it as good practice for the playoffs.

“Come playoffs you’re playing every other night/every night,” he said, “So I mean, it’s a good warm-up for us and it’s good to see what we’re made of and how we respond to it, and the night-in-night-out games is what is going to take in the playoffs, so it’s it’s good.”

And while long road trips are difficult, even late road trips like this one also allow teams to gel together. “Obviously it’s later in the season here, so you’re already close with the guys,” Dickinson added, “But when you’re on a road trip for a long time you’re spending every hour with the guys so you get to know everyone a lot better–it’s where you really find each other and it makes it easier. You kind of get in a groove and you just know more about each other so it’s nice.”

With both the need to manage energy, and that playoff goal in mind, the fact that the offense is clicking on all cylinders rather than being carried by one line or guy at a time is a big help.

“With any given night, we’ve got a bunch of guys that step up,” Branham said. “Lewis and McGauley and Molino have done a really good job for a long stretch, but now you’ve got Wagner and Dickinson, and Wegwerth is back in the mix, and Maxwell scored, I don’t know how many game winning goals for us over that stretch. Then you’ve got Jenkins who’s just a motor. He’s our motor. He’s the one that does everything right and plays hard and doesn’t get any accolades for it. He is so important to our team.

“Our D are learning to compete in the tough areas because they’ve got a lot of ability,” he continued, “They’ve got a lot of ability to move the pocket and things like that. So we’re starting to come together. We want to learn lessons through success. So far, we’ve been able to do that, and definitely proud of this group for for sticking with it.”

Speaking of defense, while the return of Davis and Anderson has filled out what was once a rookie-heavy blue-line, the rookie defenders no longer look like rookies.

“What can you say,” Branham said of his defensive core, “They stuck with it, definitely, you know, maybe early on some of the goals were going in a little bit too easy, maybe. And you can get down and frustrated, but they stuck with the game plan. We’ve worked with them after practice and video and things of that nature. But the biggest thing is just the attitude. Their attitude is a professional attitude. They want to get better every day, and they want to learn. When you’re at this level, if you’ve gotten to this level, you’ve got something in the toolbox, you’ve got a bunch of tools. When you put on top of it the mix of forwards that they’re playing with, and a great attitude of listening to the coaching staff and they work hard every day — they work harder in practice than they do in games, this whole group, it’s unbelievable — when you’ve got that kind of combination, the sky’s the limit. So you know, hopefully we can continue to play well. I know there’s dips and valleys sometimes, but if we can continue to play well going into playoffs some good things will happen.”

As mentioned before, the schedule does not get any easier, both in number of games and in opponents, but if they can stay healthy and keep their momentum going, they’ll have had plenty of practice for the post-season.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Berry.

Utah Grizzlies: Yau-za

With three weeks of road hockey on the horizon, the Grizzlies rolled into Saturday night with a 6-2-1-1 record, hoping to have another good game against the Allen Americans. Garrett Klotz drew in for Dalton Mills, and Mason McDonald once again got the start.

There was absolutely nothing slow about the start from either team, Utah picking up the first four shots, but Allen skating just as hard.

Utah’s jump paid off first, and Connor Yau scored his first pro goal off the post and in at 5:35 from Travis Barron and Ty Lewis.

Meanwhile, though he only saw one official shot through the first seven minutes or so, McDonald proved that he was just as awake as his teammates.

Utah iced the puck a couple of times around the 7:30-8:00 mark, but McDonald made short work of the Americans’ zone starts.

Klotz and Sasha Larocque broke in on and odd-man rush, and Utah got the first power play at 8:46 after Klotz was tripped up. The Grizzlies had a number of really great ideas on the advantage, but were unable to double their lead.

A couple of minutes later, Yuri Terao went off for hooking but though they did a great job for the most part, with just a couple of seconds left, a brief moment of clumsiness from the Utah defensemen gave Allen all they needed to tie it up.

J.C. Brassard drew a holding call with about 1:30 to go, but the power play was immediately negated, as Lewis got called for holding just moments later.

The Grizzlies played some really beautiful four-on-four hockey, and with two seconds left, tempers began to flair. Josh Dickinson tripped up an Allen player, and a crowd gathered.

Thirty seconds into the second with only Dickinson still in the box, the Americans made it 2-1.

However, Lewis drew a power play at 4:25, and Dickinson wired one past Dereck Baribeau ten seconds into the advantage to tie the game.

At 6:04 things got a little out of hand, as Josh Britain and Garrett Klotz began a scuffle. Both got roughing calls, but Klotz was also given a game misconduct for continuing the altercation, apparently.

The Americans scored on the ensuing four-on-four. No sooner had the teams returned to full strength, however, than they both went back to the box Terao for slashing, and Jared VanWormer for unsportsmanlike conduct. With one second left in the four-on-four, Jack Jenkins took a hooking call, but Utah killed that one off.

Lewis had two chances to tie the game up on the same shift, but missed wide both times. Molino got leveled with under six to go, and as one thing led to another, Maxwell dropped the gloves with Doetzel. Both got five for fighting.

Things continued to devolve from there, and with under two to go, Barron was cross-checked. He resented this, and tangled with Brett Pollock. Both got two for roughing, while Pollock got an extra two for cross-checking. Utah went to the power play, but more concerning, Barron went to the room.

At the end of 40, shots were 18-17 for Allen, who also led 3-2 in what had become an official-heavy game.

Barron was not back to start the third, and the Americans returned to full strength.

Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Allen made it 4-2 with almost exactly four gone.

However, Terao drew a penalty shortly thereafter. Just nine seconds in, Jack Jenkins wired the puck past Paterson for his fourth of the year from Terao and Dickinson.

Brassard and Tischke especially had really strong shifts as the game headed towards the final ten minutes, but Baribeau stood on his head. Even more impressively, the Grizzlies did NOT look like a team playing down two forwards, even as the Americans pressured.

Utah returned the favor, Maxwell was robbed, Jenkins rang iron, and the Grizzlies drew a power play with 6:09 to go.

With 2:12 to go, following and Allen icing, the Grizzlies pulled McDonald for an extra attacker. Allen then iced the puck again.

In the end, the Americans scored twice into the empty net with less than a minute to go.

Obviously, a 6-3 score doesn’t look great on paper, but without the empty netters, it was a very close –if oddly officiated– game.

“I thought our guys played really well.” Coach Branham said after the game, “Not sure why Klotz was kicked out of the game. No clue. I watched it on video and I still don’t know why but you know it is what it is. I thought our boys played really well. The first two periods, like you’re talking about, it was really choppy, like penalty here penalty there, we couldn’t get into flow. And then you see in the third period where you can finally get some five on five shifts and you know, we’re able to take it to them. I’m actually probably the way the boys played with Klotz kicked out. Then we had another injury. We played short handed, and I thought they battled really hard to be honest.

Once again, Brassard, Tischke especially, but also Yau with his first goal, stepped up and continued to improve. “Yeah, I think those three are playing really well,” said Branham, “Tischke’s really stepping up playing big minutes playing important minutes, Yau, same thing. I thought Brass was really good. You’re exactly right, those guys played really well. Our players played really, really well. To be honest. Once again, we gave up 24 shots, they had those two empty netters for 26, but that we gave up 24 shots and our players played really well. They played hard. It was a choppy game back and forth. I thought we had a lot of grade A scoring chances where we tried to get a little fancy, we could have just shut the puck, but you know, is what it is. We’ll regroup here, go on a road trip and get some wins.”

For Yau, obviously he would have preferred his first pro goal come with a win, but it’s still a nice milestone to get out of the way.

“Yeah, it’s nice to get the first one but obviously would like a better outcome. We know they’re good team. Essentially a playoff game right there. High pace, we had some forwards go down. So we needed some of our D-men, to you know, fill that void up front. So it was nice to have guys like Brasser and Tisch, really good skaters to kind of fill in for those close holes we had.”

Despite losing two forwards in the second, the Grizzlies didn’t look like a team playing with a severely shortened bench, and that’s down to their conditioning — something that will become more and more valuable as this very busy stretch continues.

When asked about the team’s ability to turn it on in the third period, even down two guys, Yau said, “We work hard every day in practice. We  work out, we condition, we skate to be as prepared as we can be for these third period efforts and that’s why I think it shows. Sometimes we have those sluggish first periods. We know in the second and third, we can rely on our conditioning to propel us through the game.”

Obviously, you don’t ever want to lose 6-3, empty-netters or no, but the Grizzlies played well, and isn’t overly concerned going forward.

“This is just a minor set back” Yau added. “We know it’s one game, we knew we weren’t gonna win every game this season. They’re a good team, we’re a good team, we just know we’ve got to learn from it, we know we can be better, and we can apply those types of principles going forward, especially on this big road trip when we’ll need to rely on those types of things.”

The Grizzlies head out for a three week road trip, where they’ll take on Atlanta, Greenville, Wichita, Idaho, Tulsa, and Kansas City.

 

Goals

  • First Period: Yau (Barron, Lewis)
  • Second Period: Dickinson (Williams, Brassard)
  • Third Period: Jenkins (Dickinson, Terao)

 

Photo courtesy of Mauree North

 

Utah Grizzlies: Max-imum Drama

Coming off wins against Wichita, and a shoot-out victory on Monday against Idaho, the Grizzlies looked to continue their success against the best team in the division — this time on home ice.

Mason McDonald once again go the start, while Dalton Mills drew in for Garrett Klotz.

Allen got the lion’s share of zone time in the first couple of minutes, but McDonald saw the puck well and kept all four shots out of harm’s way.

It quickly became clear why the Americans are at the top of the division, with their speed, skill, and excellent positioning, however, they remained unable to solve McDonald as the period past the half-way mark.

Taylor Richart blocked a shot with his ribs at about the eight minute mark, and Yuri Terao took a hooking penalty shortly thereafter, shots 6-4 for Allen.

However, Utah got the only shot of the special teams situation, and returned to full strength none-the-worse for wear.

As the final three minutes of the first approached, the Grizzlies turned up the intensity several notches, thanks to a great shift from Ty Lewis and Peter Tischke that saw Utah leap to a 10-7 shot lead. However, Mitch Maxwell took a high-sticking double minor with 2:23 to go.

The excellent Utah PK went to work, and for the final minutes of the period, played a great game of keep-away until the buzzer. At the end of the first, shots were still 10-7 for the Grizzlies in the scoreless frame.

Unfortunately, the Americans struck with seven seconds remaining on what was otherwise a very strong Utah penalty kill to put them up 1-0 less than a minute into the second.

Utah returned the favor very shortly thereafter, Brandon Saigeon snapped home his sixth of the year from Travis Barron and Peter Tischke.

Utah drew their first power play of the night at 5:26, and the Grizzlies had some really lovely chances, but weren’t quite able to pull it all together or beat Jake Paterson.

Utah continued to pick up shots, out-shooting the Americans 17-9 by the time the period hit the half-way point. Utah continued to play well, and at 12:34, Jordan Topping boarded Connor Yau. Tischke’s retribution was immediate, and he was sent to the box for roughing.

The Grizzlies looked terrific on the four-on-four, and a spectacular rush from Lewis culminated in his 19th of the season unassisted.

Yuri Terao had a dazzling chance shortly thereafter, and McDonald made a spectacular save before Topping tied the game through a mad scramble of players.

Utah kept their foot on the gas though, and Lewis got another great look in the final couple minutes. The period was, by no means, a dominant affair for the Grizzlies, they held their own in what had definitely become a great game between two very skilled teams.

At the end of the second, shots were 24-13 for Utah.

The Grizzlies came out absolutely flying to start the second, though they didn’t get a shot in the first 30 seconds.

Allen did pick up the first two shots of the period, but the third period Grizzlies had arrived.

At about 4:20, Jack Jenkins positively danced into the offensive zone past the defenders, and instead of jamming the puck on net at a bad angle, backhanded it through the crease straight onto Saigeon’s stick. Saigeon made no mistake, burying his second of the game.

Just over ten seconds later, Utah bore down on the Allen net, and Tischke scored his third of the season.

Ultimately, Allen got one back about a minute later, but the Grizzlies continued to impress as the third period hit the half-way mark.

Just past the ten minute mark, Utah picked up their 30th shot to the Americans’ 16, and had made themselves quite at home in the offensive zone.

With 8:19 to go, Lewis drew a penalty after Kayle Doetzel roughed him over in front of the Allen net, but the Americans scored on the ensuing PK to tie it up. After all, the best team in the division was hardly go away without a fight.

The Grizzlies got a couple of really great chances in the final couple of minutes, as did Allen, but with one minute to go, the game remained tied, despite Mitch Maxwell’s best efforts.

At the end of the third, the teams were still tied 4-4, shots 37-20 for Utah.

Jenkins and Richart got terrific chances on the first shift, Tim McGauley had an incredible takeaway from a charging Allen player, and Josh Dickinson narrowly missed burying the GWG.

Allen got some zone time after that, but Utah hit 41 shots to the Americans’ 21 by the half-way point of OT.

In the final seconds of OT, the Americans set up in the offensive zone, and as the buzzer sounded, they scored. Allen piled off the bench to celebrate, but the Grizzlies remained on the ice, and the officials reviewed the video. The replay quickly showed that the goal only occurred after time expired, and the game went to the shoot out.

McDonald went a perfect three for three, and once again Maxwell scored the winner.

Saigeon’s two goals earned him first star of the game, while Maxwell took third with his shoot-out performance.

“I’m just getting the opportunity out there” Maxwell said of his multiple big goal performances lately. “Worked on a few moves on Bonesy [Brad Barone] and Smitty [Jeff Smith] in practice,” he added, “have kind of been helping out and talking to them picking the goalies’ brains. That’s actually a huge thing in the shootout is kind of asking them for certain things and what’s working and so, yeah, it’s just been it’s been a lot of fun.”

The Grizzlies are now 3-0-2 against the Americans, with two wins being absolute blow-outs. So what is it that has given them such tremendous success against such a good team?

“Well, you always get up for the team in first place, that’s for sure. I’m sure they deal with that on a nightly basis” said Maxwell. “And, you know, we play them a lot of times got a bit of a rivalry. They’re a good team. So we know we got to come ready to play and you know, we’ve had some big performances from some guys when we played against these guys. And so we just got to stay with it and not get complacent tomorrow.”

Maxwell has been with the Grizzlies for parts of two seasons prior to this one, but this is his first full year with the team, and it’s been a bit of a wild ride.

“Yeah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster going from the classroom back to the ice rink” he said of his season last year, “And then yeah, not playing a ton at the start of the year’s never easy, but you’ve just got to keep a good attitude. We got great guys, it’s fun to come to the rink, and so I’ve enjoyed coming, you know, every day and just trying to get a little bit better and just try to stay confident out there the best you can and when you get putting opportunities, you got to perform that’s kind of pro hockey sometimes you don’t get put in them, sometimes you do. And it’s just a matter of what you do with it when you get them.” Needless to say at this point, but he’s definitely been making the most of his opportunities.

Head coach Tim Branham clearly agrees. “It’s great,” he said. “You know, he’s a guy who we’ve seen in parts of three seasons and he’s found a little niche here and he leads on and off the ice and he’s a good leader in that dressing room and yeah, we need other people to step up. You know for for a month there that Molino, McGauley, Lewis line was carrying us you know, now we’re finding depth and other guys are finding ways to to contribute and get the win. That’s what it takes. So, overall, it’s a good team. Good team effort and guys like Mitch, leading the way by example, holding people accountable in the locker room, our leadership group is the reason we’re doing that.”

“These games can go either way with us and Allen,” added Branham, “They’re a great team, so are we so you know, it’d be interesting to see these two teams in the playoffs. But I can’t say enough about the resiliency of our team just finding ways to win, whichever way it is, you know, I mean, we could have ended in overtime six times, or if we shut her down in third period. At the end of the day, we found two points. Learn our lessons through winning. I thought we played a pretty solid game. We came out maybe a little slow, it was kind of back and forth, they took it to us, we took it to them, you know, and then I thought we shut her down pretty good in the second and third and did pretty good. You try to contain a team like that they have high offensive power. You’re not gonna be able to shut them down completely, and I thought we did a pretty good job containing them, I think they had what 25, 24-25 shots through overtime, so at the end of the day I think we did a pretty good job. And we’ll take the two points and regroup for tomorrow.”

The Grizzlies may be closing ground with games in hand, but they’re not focused on catching Allen, they’re thinking about the bigger picture.

“Yeah, I mean, they’re pretty far ahead,” Branham said, “And we just, we just want to, you know, hopefully get two points every time we step on the ice and if at the end of the day, it’s good enough it is and make sure we’re playing good hockey, come come playoff time and make the playoffs. And that’s what we’re worried about right now. Obviously, it’d be it’d be great to catch them. And I think schedule wise, it’s gonna be pretty tough. But at the end of the day, every time we step on the ice, we’re trying to get two points. So we’ll see where it takes us.”

The Grizzlies take on the Americans on Saturday before hitting the road for a lengthy February road trip.

 

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Berry

Utah Grizzlies: Tick Tack Terao

In the last game of the decade, if you’ll pardon the use of a very tired phrase, the Grizzlies made only one roster change, activating Brad Barone to back up Martin Ouellette.

The Tulsa Oilers got the first shot of the game just over two minutes in, but the Grizzlies got the first serious attempt.

Overall, though, the speed and tenacity that characterized the Grizzlies’ first match against Tulsa, and which waned a bit in Saturday’s game, was once again lacking, and the Oilers struck first at 3:53 after an extended sequence in the defensive zone.

Despite not looking terribly sharp overall, there were still early flashes. One such instance involved Peter Tischke losing his footing, still got a pass away, and then muscling his way into the offensive zone where Utah drew a power play at 8:37.

Unfortunately, the power play struggled, as the Grizzlies continued to have trouble handling the puck cleanly and finishing passes, but between Ouellette and a defenseman, they muddled through without giving up a short-handed goal.

Yuri Terao took a hooking call at 9:15, and perhaps not surprisingly, that’s when the Grizzlies showed signs of waking up.

Griffen Molino and Tim McGauley got their traditional two-on-one short-handed chance, and Travis Barron chased the Oilers around their own zone. Likewise, Joe Wegwerth, aided and abetted by Ty Lewis, saw the Grizzlies have their best shifts of the game so far.

Utah sunk back down into lethargy again after the penalty kill until about the 15 minute mark, when a strong shift from Terao, Wegwerth, and Jack Jenkins,  created a spark of life. Brandon Saigeon followed that up with a nice move that didn’t result in a shot on goal, but also didn’t miss the empty top of the net by much at all.

The Grizzlies still resembled a team skating through molasses in the final couple minutes of the first, but did still manage to spend more time in the offensive zone.

After 20, despite the slow start, they only trailed 1-0, despite being out-shot 14-8.

The Grizzlies had far more life in the second period, skating better, if nothing else, but misfortune struck rapidly as, with 18:18 to go, Teigan Zahn went awkwardly into the boards, and had to be helped off the ice.

On the next shift, Richart got checked, pushed back, and another full line scrum broke out. Peter Tischke and Joe Wegwerth were the only real combatants for Utah, and both found themselves in the box, together with Jake Clifford and Miles Liberati for Tulsa. Liberati got an extra two for cross-checking, while Clifford and Wegwerth both got an additional ten for continuing the altercation.

The Grizzlies got going in earnest after that, however, and the shots began to even up to 16-13 for Tulsa. Terao continued to work absolute magic with a spin-o-rama chance that led to a power play when he got hauled down.

He continued to electrify the crowd by scoring the equalizer in the dying seconds of the advantage, and just a few moments later, the Grizzlies had seized the shot lead 19-16, absolutely pouring it on as the game hit the half-way point.

Utah was the first team to hit 20 shots, and then somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net as certain disaster seemed imminent with Tulsa pin-balling the puck through a veritable sea of legs and sticks.

Josh Anderson took a cross-checking penalty later on the same shift, but Terao and Maxwell had the most serious chances of the special teams time.

By the time Wegwerth and Clifford were freed with just under three to go, shots were 21-19 for the Grizzlies.

A questionable call on Jenkins saw Utah down a man in the final minute of the period, and a clock issue dragged it on even longer. Thankfully, a huge effort from Tischke and Ouellette kept the game tied as they headed into the locker room. After 40, shots were 23-22 for Utah, and 15-8 in their favor in the second.

The Grizzlies killed off the remaining 22 seconds of Jenkins’ penalty, but Tischke headed to the box at 1:02 to put them right back on the kill.

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they got on an up-ice rush, and Maxwell was tripped up, leading to a brief 4-on-4 and then to a Utah power play.

Flying out of the penalty box, Tischke set up a perfect pass, but both Molino and Williams were unable to beat Devin Williams. Not that it mattered much. At 3:42, McGauley chipped the puck over Williams and in for his 12th of the season unassisted.

And the Grizzlies weren’t done. About 20 seconds later, Josh Anderson rocketed one past the Tulsa goalie for his first of the season from Maxwell and Barron.

Not to be outdone, Tischke didn’t give anyone a chance to think, scoring just ten seconds later to make it 4-1 from Saigeon and Yao. Three goals in less than a minute, and by the nine minute mark, shots were 30-26 in their favor.

Tulsa rallied, but Utah didn’t back done, Barron and Saigeon especially harrying the Oilers into their own zone, and Ouellette calmly turning aside pucks on the other end of the ice.

With 11:22 to go, Piccinich boarded Richart, a crowd gathered, and Utah headed to the advantage. Molino showed off his blistering speed, but wasn’t able to elevate a back-hander over the sprawling Williams.

Just 16 seconds from killing off the penalty, the Oilers took a roughing call, sending Utah to a brief 5-on-3, and a longer 5-on-4. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do a whole lot with it.

In the end, it didn’t much matter, as the Grizzlies held the 4-1 lead until the end, amassing 36 shots to Tulsa’s 29, and completing the series sweep in decisive fashion.

It was especially impressive, as prior to the series, the Oilers averaged 38 shots a night, and the Grizzlies held them to less than 30 every game.

Moreover, after getting so much scoring from the same couple of guys, the Grizzlies mixed it up in a big way, getting contributions from two defensemen, and two forwards, of whom only McGauley was on the usual suspect list. Ouellette, Anderson, and Terao were named the three stars of the game, respectively.

“That team worked hard.” Tim Branham said following the game, “That’s a hard working team over there, and it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row in these series. But I thought we stuck with the process. It was a really slow first, first couple shifts were pretty good, we still had four or five scoring chances — if we’d have hit the net we would have scored in the first period — but not good enough by our standards, that’s for sure. Second period we took it to them. What can we say, power play came up big, penalty kill was good, Martin Oullette, he’s a rock back there. He allowed us to battle through some things and eventually put some pucks in the net. All around, really proud of this group, really proud of the way they battled, and go into the new year on a high.”

Getting contributions from defense first guys like Tischke and Anderson was also a big plus. “I thought they played a really solid game. To be able to step up and provide scoring like they did, that’s huge. We don’t look for it from them, but I think that’s them getting rewarded for playing well, and playing hard. We ask a lot of them, sometimes it’s not a glamorous job going out there and grinding it out, sticking up for your teammates like Tischke does, over all, really proud of the way Josh played, really proud of the way he played, and Tischke has been really solidi for a while now, so kudos to them.”

But Branham saved some of his highest praise for Terao. “He’s got a really high skill level, that’s for sure. A great person, works really hard out there on the ice. It was good for him to get that goal, he needed that one for his confidence, some things weren’t going his way, but what a great human being. I wish some fans would be able to get to know him better, he’s just an amazing person. Really proud of him. If we can get him going, get that depth scoring that we’ve been, obviously that top line has done really well, but get some depth scoring, which we did tonight, then we’re a dangerous team.”

Despite speaking only some English, Terao agreed to do a post game interview. When asked about his time with the Grizzlies, especially during this winning streak, he said, “I’m so happy because [we have a] good coach, and good players, and good fans. I’m so happy now.”

About the slow first period he said, “I think everybody was a little bit tired here,” and of his own play he added, “I needed a mind change, keep things simple, simple, simple, and then shoot, shoot, shoot, you know what I mean? Hockey is simple. Go to the net!”

Go to the net the Grizzlies certainly did, ultimately out-shooting Tulsa 36-29 to close out the year.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard