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

Utah Grizzlies: Flat as a Pancake

With the the finish line coming up fast, the Grizzlies received a boost on the blue line with the return of Taylor Richart. Joel Rumpel got the start, while Charley Graaskamp drew in for Brad Navin.

Utah got off to a pretty decent start, following up an early shot from Idaho with a couple of good shifts in a row. Sam Babintsev drew a penalty. Brendan Harms missed just wide on a gorgeous pass from Graaskamp, and Kyle Thomas had the puck roll through the blue paint after he beat Tomas Sholl, but hit the iron.

Tomas got the better of Thomas a couple of shifts later, as Kyle got in on a breakaway but couldn’t beat the Idaho goalie.

Babintsev looked sharp early, drawing that first penalty, forcing a couple of turn overs, even though he wasn’t credited with a shot until the third period. Utah also probably got away with one around the same time when an Idaho player was run over by the Utah blue line.

James Melindy took a hooking call at 11:47, and though Richart made a couple of nice clears early on in the kill, Rumpel stopped the first shot by Joe Faust, but Connor Chatham put the puck past him at 12:32.

Mitch Maxwell took a tripping call at 16:15 but the Grizzlies killed it off, with some good play from the penalty killers, and a very snazzy glove save from Rumpel.

At the end of twenty, Idaho led 1-0, out-shooting Utah 13-6.

Brendan and the Ryans buzzed on the first shift, Harms just missing Misiak on the cross-ice pass. Idaho responded on the rest of that shift, but the second line pushed right back.

Sholl put the puck over the glass at 2:20, and though it was first ruled as tipped, the refs gathered, and the Grizzlies got a power play.

At 5:32, the 24s, Travis Howe, and Zach Bell dropped the gloves. Howe got in far more punches, before the two exchanged back pats and headed off to the box. Richart took a cross-checking call moments later, but the Grizzlies killed that off as well.

The game went into a bit of a lull for a few minutes in the middle of the frame, Idaho more or less getting the best of it. The Grizzlies did get a good offensive zone shift about forteen minutes in, but the play went the other way before they could do anything with it. Despite a couple of huge saves by Rumpel, Utah couldn’t clear it, and Idaho made it 2-0.

Graaskamp took an apparent hooking call at 15:16, and then got a ten minute misconduct, presumably for arguing the call. Howe served it, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and on the very next shift, Walters was taken down, going awkwardly into the net and then the boards. He seemed to be ok, but the power play was lethargic at best.

At the end of 40, shots were 21-11 for Idaho, Howe’s fight being the most exciting moment for Utah.

Howe laid a big hit and Michael Neville retaliated with a cross-check that sent the Grizzlies to the power play once more. Though they did a pretty good job keeping the puck in the offensive zone, the Steelheads did an equally good job keeping Utah around the perimeter. Babintsev got one of the better looks on the play, firing from the slot, but Idaho returned to full strength.

Half way through the period, Mitch Jones was left alone to defend Jefferson Dahl and Cole Ully, and Ully put the puck past Rumpel.

On the very next shift, the puck squeaked past Rumpel, sitting in the blue paint. Unfortunately, it was the players in black who pounced, making it 4-0 with everyone but Howe and Walters standing still.

Melindy took a holding call as tempers flared around the Utah net, but the Grizzlies killed that off as well.

Jones drew a penalty with 3:03 to go, taking a stick up high, and Utah pulled Rumpel in favor of an extra skater. The Steelheads shot the puck down the ice, and a short-handed empty-netter. It was the final nail in the coffin, and when the buzzer went, the Grizzlies had been soundly beaten 5-0, out-shot 31-20.

For a goalie that let in four goals, Rumpel played a pretty good game. Richart and Babintsev had moments, as did Harms and the Ryans, and Howe’s fight was definitely well timed and entertaining, but overall, it was an incredibly underwhelming showing after the first part of the opening period. After the game against Colorado, which showed exactly what Utah is capable of, and with the playoffs at stake, this was not the kind of effort the Grizzlies or their fans wanted to see.

The playoffs are still not an impossibility, but with Allen getting an OT point, and Tulsa winning in regulation, Utah is going to have to be flawless going forward, and get a healthy dose of help from around the division.

They get a chance to redeem themselves tonight (Saturday) in their last meeting with Idaho.

Utah Grizzlies: Howe Sweet is Victory

When your fighter is a fight away from a Gordie Howe hat trick and doesn’t get it because he’s too busy being a scoring forward, you know it was an extraordinary night.

“I am proud to be their coach” Tim Branham said after the game. “It was a little worrisome there in the first five minutes, but I thought everyone settled in and held in the five shots in the first, seven in the second. I mean, that team can play, so they’re going to get some scoring chances there in the third. I thought we played extremely well five on five the entire weekend. Thought we deserved a better fate on Wednesday. Friday could have went either way, it is what it is. Power to the boys, battled back hard, in front of an awesome crowd, obviously our fans are the best in the league. We deserved this. We got some help around the league as well, so four points out, we just gotta keep it going.”

While the night ended with a certain feeling of triumph, it certainly did not start that way.

The first couple of shifts were promising. Utah got off the mark strong, and in the second shift or so, Mitch Jones threw the puck at the net almost from the goal line, and Ryan Misiak nearly put it past Lukas Hafner. Travis Howe drew a tripping call behind the Eagles’ net, but Ryan Olsen flew in, and even though Mitch Maxwell got back in time, Olsen made it 1-0 short-handed.

Things continued to look pretty bleak for a while after that as well. When the Eagles returned to full strength, Ryan Siiro beat Brandon Wildung on a cross crease pass from Jake Marto. 2-0 at 4:40, and it looked like the game was teetering on the verge of a blow out.

But whatever the Grizzlies issues may be, or have been, this season, they have never given up easily.

Misiak got boarded at 8:16, and the Grizzlies drew another power play. This one ended without mishap as the team got their feet under them.

At 12:52 Maxwell made it 2-1, freezing Hafner, and roofing it for his second goal in as many nights from Howe and Jake Marchment, cutting the lead in half. Utah then killed off a Michael Pelech tripping called a minute later.

The third line continued to absolutely shine, and at 17:49, Maxwell shot the puck on net. Marchment collared the rebound on the edge of the blue paint, and sent it cross-crease to Howe who scored his third of the season to tie it up.

Jones and Brady Shaw took matching minors for cross-checking and embellishment respectively at 19:02, and at the end of 20 the Grizzlies headed into the room tied 2-2, shots 13-5 in their favor. They never looked back.

The second opened with what should have been about a minute of four-on-four, but instead was twenty seconds of four-on-four before Pelech took a tripping call to put the Grizzlies down four-on-three. The team fought hard though, allowing only two shots on the short-handed situation. Misiak flew in with a short-handed look during that time, but continued to be plagued by bad luck, and Hafner turned it aside.

Utah drew another power play as Marchment got roughed, and after the whistle, a crowed gathered, which resulted in Jones and Joey Ratelle both getting five for fighting as well.

Brendan and the Ryans continued to be outrageously snakebitten, as all three converged on Hafner, but were unable to beat him. Howe also got a glorious opportunity for a second goal, but was denied as well.

With 13:53 to go, Drayson Bowman got two for slashing, and Utah went to yet another power play. Utah continued to put together their best period of hockey this weekend. Pelech spun and fired a great shot on Hafner, and so did Mitton, But the Eagles returned to full strength with no change in score, and Howe leveled Ben Storm right as the Eagles were whistled off side.

The Grizzlies continued to roll with a vengeance, playing stellar defense, getting sticks down in lanes, crowding puck-carriers off the puck, and spending long shifts in the offensive zone. Nate Mitton flew around absolutely fearlessly laying hits on Matt Register and Teigan Zahn, and then helping generate scoring chances left right and center.

With just eight seconds to go, Ryan Walters took a tripping call, but after 40, the Grizzlies had out worked and out-shot Colorado to the tune of 24-12.

Utah killed off the Walters penalty, allowing only one shot on the opening advantage. Colorado played for several minutes in the offensive zone, before the Grizzlies got on their horse, and responded with a couple of great shifts from some newish lines, one centered by Brad Navin with Misiak and Pelech, the other by Walters with Harms and Thomas.

It was the later line that put the crowning touch on the game. Brendan Harms electrified the 9,288 fans in attendance by making it 3-2 at 9:54 finally capitalizing on some lengthy Utah dominance.

Neal Goff took a roughing call against Thomas 11:36 into the third, and Hafner had to be helped off the ice after his skate blade broke. He came back a couple of shifts later, however, and the Eagles killed off the penalty.

Colorado bore down, but the Grizzlies fought them off, forcing players like Olsen to rush back and play defense against former line-mates in Walters and Harms.

With 1:30 to go, the Eagles pulled Hafner for the extra skater. The Grizzlies twice grazed the outer netting of the empty net, and when the final buzzer went, they were the victors.

Harms’ five shots led the team, and his goal stood up as the game winner. He was named a well deserved first star of the game,  Wildung got second star, and Howe the third with his second professional multi-point night in the last six games. Maxwell easily could have been a star as well, like Howe netting a goal and an assist, and picking up his third point in the last two games.

“We battled hard this weekend. That’s a good team right there, that team works hard.” Branham said of Colorado. “There is a reason why they are defending champs, and doing so well the way that they are. We are going to take a couple days and rest, spend some time with the Booster Club tomorrow. Rest up for a couple days and get back out there on Tuesday, prepare for Idaho. We play well against Idaho, we play well in Idaho. Can’t take that for granted, we have to make sure that we come ready to play. They’re a good team as well.”

Unsurprisingly, he had nothing but praise for Howe. “He’s been amazing. Absolutely amazing. Played a regular shift tonight. The way he’s blocking shots, and getting pucks out, and playing defence, and producing. I don’t know how many points he has recently, it’s a lot. It’s great. He’s got a lot of space out there because no one wants to go around him. But, he’s using it to his advantage. He’s an unbelievable force in our dressing room as well, as well as in the community. Really happy for him. He’s come a long way, and I’m really, really happy for him.”

Howe himself was just happy to have helped the team, and quick with praise for his line-mates. “Really realistically, anything I can do to help the team out, and tonight I just happened to get put in a situation where I was able to put up a couple of points…and playing with Marchment, Maxwell those are unbelievable hockey players, so it just makes the game so much easier. I haven’t got a Gordie yet and I was hoping to get one tonight but as long as you got the win that’s really all that matters.”

Thanks to regulation losses by Allen and Tulsa, Utah trails the former by four points, and the later by two in the push for the final spot.

“Yeah, I mean, the other teams lose it’s huge.” Howe said of the outcome of those games, “But at the same time, we’re just focusing on us right now. Chipping away, trying to win every game, get as many points as we can to climb the ladder, and hopefully we get that last playoff spot.”

There isn’t a lot of time left, but as every sports fan knows, it ain’t over till it’s over, and as every Grizzlies’ fan knows, this team isn’t going down without a fight.



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