Utah Grizzlies: A Disappointing Outcome

After picking up a big two points on Wednesday, the Grizzlies looked to keep their momentum rolling. With both Austen Brassard and Cam Ried back in the lineup, the Grizzlies skated without Travis Howe and Sean Robertson, electing to go with eleven forwards and five defensemen.

Utah drew the first power play of the night just under a a minute into the first, as Ben Lake and Martin Nemcik tangled at the Aces’ blue line. Utah had trouble getting set up initially, but in the last 30 seconds or so, they really began to get going.

Unlike Wednesday night, there was nothing wrong with Utah’s passing in the early going, their play alert, crisp, and quick as they picked up four of the first five shots in the opening half of the period.

Phil Pietroniro took a hooking call at 13:02, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked very sharp, and he returned to the ice with no change in score.

Both teams picked up shots through the remainder of the period, both Ryan Faragher and Kevin Carr making some great saves.

With just under two minutes left, Tim Daly and Mathieu Aubin both got absolutely incredible chances at the goalmouth, and Alaska took a delay of game penalty for taking the net off its moorings in the chaos.

Utah took a too many men penalty moments after that, but Alaska tripped up Michael Pelech mere seconds after that, so Utah went to a 4-on-3 power in the final seconds of the period.

Alaska opened the scoring 1:37 into the second on the 4-on-4 as Tim Wallace beat Faragher on an unfortunately gorgeous shot.

Jon Puskar drew a tripping penalty at the half-way mark, but Utah was unable to capitalize, and Faragher was forced to make a great, short-handed save.

A few minutes later, however, a fired up Puskar got in on a breakaway, and was taken down, earning him a penalty shot. He beat Carr clean, electrifying the Friday night crowd, and tying the game.

Things got a little chippy afterwards, and there was some pushing and shoving as Pietroniro and an Alaska player got tangled up behind the net. Both teams came in, and Michael Pelech and Taylor Shattock got five for fighting.

Brassard made it 2-1, scoring his fourth of the season with assists from Reid and Cuddemi at 16:10.

Utah ended the period with back-to-back penalties, but thanks to a big save from Faragher, Utah ended the second, up 2-1, and outshooting Alaska 19-16.

The third period was less crisp as the previous two had been for Utah, and just past the half-way mark, Tim Coffman tied the game at two. Alaska turned up the intensity after the tying goal, and Faragher made some big saves to hold the tie. Utah got a chance on the power play with just over five minutes to go in the third, but were unable to capitalize, and Faragher had to shut the door on yet another short-handed breakaway.

The end of regulation saw no change in score, and the game went to overtime. Faragher made another big save on the breakaway in OT, but was unable to stop Ryan Trenz, whose forth of the season gave Alaska the win.

“It’s pretty disappointing, obviously you always want two points,” said Brassard after the game, “But it’s over now. It’s still a big weekend, we’re still making this playoff push, so we’ve got to focus on the game tomorrow come of with the win then, five out of six points in three games is better than nothing.”

“I thought we played a good first period, but we let them stick around by not burying our scoring chances, that was the result of the first period.”Coach Branham said, “Second period, I thought we took advantage of our scoring chances, scored a couple of goals. Third period, we didn’t play with enough hunger to keep the puck out of the back of our net. Same with overtime. Defensively, when you’re up by a goal, you can’t allow plays like that to happen, and unfortunately we weren’t able to score another goal. I thought Kevin Carr made a bunch of big saves, and that’s what goalies are supposed to do. We’ve got to make sure that this one irritates us a little bit, makes us angry, and come back tomorrow with the same effort we had in the first period, but we need to sustain it.”

The Grizzlies tied with the Mavericks who have two games in hand, and are five behind the Aces. Utah is back in action tonight at 7 PM, looking to close that gap.

Utah Grizzlies: A Night to Forget

The Grizzlies are finally home after a marathon road trip that saw them take five out of six games and climb within three points of a playoff spot.

With Tim Daly, Taylor Richart, Evan Stoflet, and Mike Banwell all injured, Utah only had four defensemen; Phil Pietroniro, Martin Nemcik, Kenton Helgesen, and newcomer Sean Robertson.

Wearing their Pink in the Rink jerseys, the Grizzlies faced off against a hungry Idaho team, looking to avenge a three game sweep in their own barn – a goal they accomplished in a painfully thorough manner.

The game began well enough for the Grizzlies, as they picked up the first two shots through the early going. Due to the shortage in defensemen, a number of forwards took shifts on the back end.

Unfortunately, it was not to last. Idaho scored first as Ryan Faragher got the initial shot, but was unable to collar Joe Basaraba’s rebound.

Basaraba got his second goal at 8:10 of the period as he fired the puck through a screen, and it popped over Faragher’s head.

Idaho scored yet another as Anthony Luciani got behind the Grizzlies, and beat Faragher clean at 15:36.

Idaho scored their fourth goal of the period on an Erik Higby penalty less than a minute later as yet another rebound uncharacteristically beat Faragher. Troy Redmann took over the pipes with just over three minutes left in the frame.

Utah looked slightly less disjointed to start the second period, but Idaho scored their fifth of the game as the puck slipped past Redmann.

About three minutes into the period, Howe and Helgesen got caught up in what rapidly turned into a a full line scramble. Howe got the best of four or five Idaho players, and was assessed five for fighting, two for slashing, and ten for continued altercation. Chatham got two for roughing, and Howe was sent to the room to thunderous applause from the Grizzlies fans in attendance.

Michael Pelech took a roughing call at 5:05, and Idaho scored on the ensuing 5-on-3. The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Howe’s five minutes thanks, in large part,  to some nice short-handed work from Cuddemi and Bradford.

Jon Puskar got a nice chance on the rush with just over 10 to go in the second, and though Bow stopped the shot, the Grizzlies drew a power play. They were unable to make anything of it, however, and C.J. Eick took a boarding call.

Things looked up, briefly for the Grizzlies, as Brad Navin got in on a short-handed  breakaway, and made it 6-1 , and Utah killed off the rest of the Eick penalty in style.

They closed the gap in shots through the rest of the second, and got a few good chances, but were unable to get another past Bow before the period ended.

In the first 25 seconds of the third, Pietroniro’s point shot was tipped into a sea of players, Idaho iced the puck, and Howe returned to the bench. Puskar’s hard back-checking negated what might have otherwise been a 1-on-0 against Redmann, and Idaho iced the puck again as the Grizzlies out-skated Idaho early in the frame.

But alas, barely three minutes into the frame, Idaho came the other way, and scored yet again to make it 7-1.

Pelech and Chatham tangled at 4:45,  with Pelech getting four for roughing, and Chatham getting two for slashing. Bradford and Cuddemi got two beautiful chances short handed, and the teams returned to full strength.

With 12:07 to go, the Grizzlies took possession of the puck off a scrambled offensive zone draw. Colin Martin came around the back of the net, and scored on the wrap-around to make it 6-2 with assists to Eick and Puskar.

However, as was the case all night, the Grizzlies’ better stretches were immediately followed by disaster. Higby took a slashing penalty immediately after the goal, and the Steelheads made it 8-2 on the ensuing man-advantage. Puskar was thrown out immediately thereafter for abuse of an official, and that was pretty much the game.

The final ten minutes of the period saw no change in score, and the Grizzlies ultimately fell to Idaho 8-2, outshot to the tune of 41-33.

With all the turnover on the back end, the Grizzlies frequently looked like a team struggling to be in the right spots defensively. Couple that with half the team suffering from the flu (possibly contributing to the uncharacteristically rough performances from their goaltenders), and a highly motivated Idaho team, and you have a very unpleasant night all around.

However, the Grizzlies rarely turn in back-to-back stinkers, and after the game, it was clear that they were already thinking ahead.

“We had three of our normal defensemen in the lineup, one call-up,” said Coach Branham after the game.  “Half our team’s got the flu, and it just wasn’t our night on top of that. Some lost puck battles that ended up in the back of our net, it was just one of those games, that’s for sure. Obviously, tomorrow is going to be a different story. We are short handed, but it wasn’t our best effort, and we just need regroup here and come back tomorrow.”

He also mentioned that there is no timetable for the return of the Grizzlies’ missing defensemen, so Utah is going to have to find a way to make do.

Colin Martin, who scored the Grizzlies’ second goal of the game, expressed similar sentiments.

“Every night you’re going to go through tough times. Obviously, it’s not what we want right now, but we’re a team that can play over top of that, and we just didn’t give our best showing tonight. They outworked us tonight, and that can’t happen.”

“It’s already over for us.” he added. “We’ve been playing really well lately, everybody. Right from the goalies, right up to the forwards, the defence, have been playing phenomenal. Obviously you’re going to have your off game, tonight was our off game, and tomorrow, we’ll be back.”

The Grizzlies are back in action Saturday night for the second Pink in the Rink game, which will feature the names of players’ and fans’ loved ones on the ice, and the jersey auction after the game.

Utah remains three points out of a playoff spot, despite the loss, as Alaska also lost to Colorado.

Utah Grizzlies: Friday Night Fun

After the 6-2 victory on Wednesday, the Grizzlies got back to work against the Tulsa Oilers. Utah’s lineup remained the same, with the exception of Ryan Faragher who, fresh off the announcement of signing an NHL deal with the Ducks, took a scheduled night off. Troy Redmann got the start, and had a terrific game.

The Grizzlies got off to a very good start, getting three shots less than a minute into the game, but Tulsa got their bearings, and got some zone time of their own.

Utah drew the first power play of the night at 6:19, as Dennis Brown was sent off for slashing.  However, the Grizzlies would be called for too many men, part way through the man advantage.

Just over ten minutes into the period, in what was possibly one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the evening, Danick Paquette and Travis Howe dropped the gloves. Both players got in some good punches, and after a lengthy bout, they were separated with no clear victor. Both players got five for fighting, and an additional two for removing their helmets.

Mere minutes later, Erik Bradford scored his eighth of the year to give the Grizzlies the 1-0 lead with assists to Michael Pelech and Troy Redmann.

Jon Puskar went off for hooking at 14:43, but the Grizzlies’penalty kill was, as they have been so often of late, quite strong, and fought the Oilers off, before drawing a penalty of their own with about a minute and a half left in the period.

At the end of 20, shots were 10-7 for Utah, who also led 1-0.

The Grizzlies began the second period on a 26 second power play, and Ralph Cuddemi almost capitalized, but Tulsa returned to full strength before they could register more than one shot.

Tulsa took another penalty almost immediately thereafter, and the Grizzlies made them pay for it, Colin Martin putting the Grizzlies up 2-0 with assists from Austen Brassard and Phil Pietroniro.

At 2:50, Danick Gauthier boarded Taylor Richart behind the Grizzlies net and was sent to the box.

Scarcely had Tulsa returned to full strength than Emerson Clark tried to take a piece of Pietroniro, who wisely skated away.

Howe took exception to Clark’s attempt, and he went to the box too – though to serve the Grizzlies’ second too many men penalty of the night.

Richart, seemingly none the worse for wear, made the game 3-0, tapping in a beautiful pass from Brassard, who got his second primary assist of the night. Hardly had the goal been announced when Tim Daly scored his eighth goal of the year, putting the Grizzlies up 4-0, and resulting in a goalie change for Tulsa.

Down 4-0 with more than half the period left, Tulsa tried to push back, but the Grizzlies continued to skate hard, making it difficult for the Oilers to create useful chances. And when they got shots off, Redmann was more than ready to shut the door.

Howe took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 10:58, but Redmann and the penalty kill fought Tulsa off. The Oilers continued to hold offensive zone following their power play, but the Grizzlies did a great job of getting in the lanes and taking away shots, while whatever got through was deftly handled by Redmann.

At the end of 40, the Grizzlies still held the 4-0 lead, outshooting Tulsa to the tune of 24-16.

Pietroniro took a holding penalty eight seconds into the period and Tulsa established themselves well on the power play, but again, the Grizzlies’penalty kill was up for the task, and the penalty kill ended with an up-ice rush.

Redmann came up with a number of great saves, and the Grizzlies went to the power play as Clark slashed Pietroniro at 3:41. Cam Reid negated the power play at 4:28 as he tripped up a Tulsa player, and the teams played 4-on-4.

5:11 into the period, Danick Gauthier threw the puck on net, and while Redmann made the initial save, Paquette jumped on the rebound and made it 4-1.

Tulsa cut the lead in half with 7:41 left in the game, but the Grizzlies responded well, with two lengthy shifts in the Oilers’ end.

With just over five minutes left to go, Martin drew a hooking penalty, and the Grizzlies’power play went to work. Tulsa took a tripping penalty shortly thereafter, sending Utah to 1:13 of 5-on-3.

The Grizzlies were unable to convert on either advantage, and  Tulsa pulled their goalie with 1:40 left to play.

Though the Oilers fought, and fought hard to get another goal, the Grizzlies effectively shut the door to earn two more points.

“We’re getting a lot of bounces that we weren’t getting earlier on the year and everyone is working a full sixty” said Daly after the game, “Everyone’s just having fun right now. When that’s happening its way easier to work for your teammates and work for yourself so it’s a lot of fun right now.” On his own superb play this year he added, “I approach every game the same way but I think it has a lot to do with confidence, and I’m playing with more confidence than I ever have right now, and I think that really shows with the offensive production.”

“Daly played thirty-one minutes tonight,” Coach Branham was quick to point out. “For a guy to do that, play over half the game, and contribute the way he does is tremendous. So kudos to him and that entire D core. I think the difference is just, we are winning the battles back there. I don’t know…too many blocked shots to count, that’s for sure. Guys are just competing and doing whatever it takes to keep the puck out of your net. You know. And then on the offensive side our guys are really talented, we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, it’s really fun to watch.”

The Grizzlies have indeed been fun to watch of late, and hope to finish the homestand in a similar manner tonight against Tulsa.

Utah Grizzlies: Snakebitten

Finally back from a gruelling road trip, the Grizzlies hoped to defend their perfect home record against the reigning Kelly Cup Champions. Alas, it was not to be.

The opening minutes of the game were a back and forth affair, with the Grizzlies pressuring first, and then the Americans, and both Boyle and Allen goalie Riley Gill were called to make a couple of saves.

With a few exceptions, the Grizzlies carried play in the first half of the period, and were rewarded as Carlos Amestoy picked the puck up in a crowd in front of the net at 4:20 for his first of the year. Alexandre Carrier and Kenton Helgesen were awarded assists.

With 10:39 to go in the first, Eric Roy scored on a lightning quick shot that went right through Boyle, tying the score up at one apiece. Just about a minute later, Chad Costello got in behind the Grizzlies’ defence, and scored on the breakaway, putting the Grizzlies down by one. Troubles continued for Utah as Tim Daly was called for interference shortly thereafter. However, the Grizzlies penalty kill went to work, and looked excellent.

Though they were thwarted on the power play, Allen continued to roll throughout the rest of the period, with only brief Grizzlies’ forays into the Americans’ end.

With 2:24 left in the period, Jon Puskar was called for boarding, and the Grizzlies again went to the kill. A sea of Utah sticks kept the Americans to the perimeter, and a fangless power play came to an end just seconds before the period. At the end of 20, Allen led 2-1, and out shot Utah to the tune of 12-9 – their only shot lead of the night.

The second period had scarcely begun when Allen took a penalty against Ralph Cuddemi, and the Grizzlies went to the power play. Utah had several chances, maintaining possession of the puck through the majority of the man advantage, but though they racked up a number of shots and nice chances, they were unable to solve Gill.

The intensity of the Grizzlies’ game picked up a few notches thereafter, and there were a flurry of chances around the Allen net. Unfortunately with 9:36 left in the second, Evan Stoflet took a hooking penalty, and Allen scored on the ensuing power play, giving them the 3-1 lead as Costello again beat out Boyle.

With 8:09 left in the period, Chris Crane highsticked Puskar in Allen’s blue paint, sending the Grizzlies to the power play. Allen killed off the penalty, but though the Americans swarmed the Grizzlies’ end for several shifts in a row, they were unable to get a shot through Utah’s defence.

Despite out-shooting Allen 18-2 in the second, and largely dominating play, Utah remained down a pair of goals after forty.

Just five minutes into the third, Spenser Asuchak scored, giving Allen a three goal cushion. Though the Grizzlies continued to pressure Allen, putting up fourteen shots to Allen’s six in the final frame, they remained unable to solve Gill, or to get a lucky bounce. The bad luck continued when Gregor Hanson put the final nail in the coffin just two minutes before the game ended, his shot just trickling past Boyle, who thought he’d stopped it.

It was a frustrating night, all around, that unfortunately came down largely to goaltending. Riley Gill is an excellent goaltender who had a very good outing, stopping 40 of 41, while Kevin Boyle struggled on his end, letting in five goals on 20 shots.

“The difference tonight was goaltending tonight for sure,” Grizzlies’ coach Tim Branham said after the game,  “We outshot them 2-1, I guarantee we outchanced them 2-1. We gave up a couple breakaways, but we had two or three breakaways as well…We’ve got to play well defensively and not give up that kind of opportunity, but at the end of the day we had enough chances to win, and we just couldn’t put the puck in the net.”

While the Grizzlies did just about everything they could to get the win, creating traffic in front of the net and reaching their goal of 40 shots, sometimes there are elements outside a team’s control that simply have to be taken in stride.

“The hockey gods weren’t looking down on us very much there,” Branham added with a chuckle, “You just continue to press on…Like we said, there was a lot of good things, I think we had seven shots on the one power play, just couldn’t convert.”

Utah falls to 6-5 on the season, but has a second chance to beat the Americans, as these two teams square off tonight at 7:oo MT.

Hockey: World Juniors 2016 Team Denmark Preview

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” – Henry V, IV.iii

1297647642939_ORIGINAL.jpg
Team Denmark celebrates its shootout win against Team Switzerland during the group stage of the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Tuesday December 30, 2014. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)

Last year, Team Denmark was the quarter final casualty in Canada’s inexorable march to the gold medal, but they were there, and the fact that they were was something of a triumph on its own. Though the 8-0 loss was a bitter and thorough defeat, it did not eclipse the things they had accomplished. Two points from two overtime losses, and a historic win, closing out the tournament without even a whisper of the threat of relegation. As twenty-three players from a tiny country over 6,000 kilometers away saluted crowd in Toronto, the roar of the fans proved just how thoroughly Denmark’s Cinderella story had won the hearts of a nation. This year they are hoping to add another page to the history books — without Oliver Bjørkstrand, and without Nikolaj Ehlers as well.

Roster

Player Pos League Current Team
Thomas Lillie G SHL Växjö Lakers
Lasse Munk Petersen G WHL Spokane Chiefs
Mathias Seldrup G Metal Ligaen Herning Blue Fox
Ludvig Adamsen D BCHL Surrey Eagles
Morten Jensen D Allsvenskan Rögle Ängelholm
Lasse Knudsen D Metal Ligaen Aalborg Pirates
Anders Krogsgaard D Metal Ligaen Esbjerg Energy
Matias Lassen D Allsvenskan Leksands Stars
Christian Mieritz D OHL Hamilton Bulldogs
Nicolai Weichel D Metal Ligaen Rungsted Ishockey
Niklas Andersen F WHL Spokane Chiefs
William Boysen F Metal Ligaen Rungsted Ishockey
Emil Christensen F Metal Ligaen Rødovre Mighty Bulls
Mathias From F Allsvenskan Rögle Ängelholm
Jeppe Holmberg F Metal Ligaen Esbjerg Energy
Marcus Jensen F Metal Ligaen Herning Blue Fox
Kristian Jensen F SHL Luleå HF
Jeppe Jul Korsgaard F Metal Ligaen Aalborg Pirates
Nikolaj Krag F Metal Ligaen Rødovre Mighty Bulls
Søren Nielsen F Metal Ligaen Esbjerg Energy
Thomas Olsen F SHL Malmö Redhawks
Jonas Røndbjerg F Metal Ligaen Rungsted Ishockey
Alexander True F WHL Seattle Thunderbirds

In the hockey world, as in many other sports, it is not uncommon to hear a close-knit team likened to a family. For team Denmark, the statement is more literal. Hailing from a country with only 24 arenas, teammates are often quite literally family.* Names in boldface signify players returning to the team

True and Ehlers are cousins, many players have older brothers who played with them in last year’s World Cup, or even last year’s world juniors. Head coach Olaf Eller is, as many will remember from last year, the father of Montreal Canadiens‘ forward Lars Eller, and of Mads Eller, now playing for the ECHL Adirondack Thunder. Assistant coach Dan Jensen is the father of Vancouver CanucksNicklas Jensen, and of Markus who is making his return to the team.

Christian Mieritz, captain of the gold medal winning 2014 U18 D1A team, and the team’s final cut last year, plays for the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs and got into hockey because his older brother played.

Strengths

Coach Eller says that while the team lacks the obvious upper-tier quality it had last year in the form of Bjørkstrand and Ehlers, this year, the level of the team’s overall talent is spread more evenly through the whole roster.

On the blue line, there is both experience and familiarity at this level of competition, as Matias Lassen, Jeppe Holmberg and Anders Krogsgaard all played on the team last year, and Mieritz will be hoping to build on his performance as medal winning captain.

Alexander True will likely find himself looked to as one of the team’s offensive leaders, together with players like Søren Nielsen, and the U18 top scorers Jeppe Jul Korsgaard (3 goals, 3 assists in 5 games) and Mathias From (4 goals, 2 assists). True has 18 points in 27 games this year for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, while From has 14 in 24 for Rögel’s U20 team in the development league, and Korsgaard has six points in four games for Aalborg’s development team and 7 in 25 for the big club. They will also be looking for contributions from players like Andersen, Holmberg, Krag-Christensen, Thomas Olsen and Kristian Jensen.

The team’s biggest strength is in their goaltending. Like Sørenson before him, likely number one goalie Thomas Lillie is going to have to stand on his head. Fortunately, the numbers indicate that he can. Playing for one of the bottom teams of the SHL’s development league, Lillie’s .916 SVS% is good for ninth overall. He’s had good showings in every level of international play, earning accolades for his performances. Lasse Petersen too is an accomplished goalie at the international level, having backstopped the U18 team to the gold medal last year with a sterling .937 SVS% and 1.60 goals against average. Denmark is going to need them both to have the tournaments of their lives if they are to escape relegation.

Not counting Ehlers, eight of Denmark’s players from the 2015 team are back, and nine of the other players who won gold with Mieritz and Petersen are hoping to earn spots.

Weaknesses

While the overall quality of the team may have improved slightly, the fact that they lack a game-breaker like an Ehlers or a Bjørkstrand will likely hurt the team’s chances. Denmark’s best hope to avoid relegation may be to fight their way into overtime as many times as possible, or (more probably) to beat their likely opponent Belarus in the best of three relegation series.

X-factor

Denmark is lacking in a single player who jumps out in the same way that Ehlers did last year. Instead the x-factors will likely be, as previously mentioned, an improved overall team game, the goaltending and the powerplay. Last year, the Danes scored eight of their ten goals on the man advantage.

While building on last year’s win and two overtime losses with a stronger showing may an impossibly tall order against a series of formidable opponents that include Canada, Sweden, and the USA, that certainly isn’t going to stop the Danes from trying.

To say that the odds are stacked against them would be putting it lightly, but whatever the outcome, they may well say, in the words of Shakespeare’s Henry V: we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

 


 

This is a more detailed version of my preview for EOTP, which can be found here.  Also, a huge thanks to Patrik, aka @Zeb_Habs who was immensely helpful with explaining the European leagues.