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.

Updates

I finally updated my Hockey Writing page. You can now find all the things I’ve written to this point there.

I also have a new job, so I’m going to be switching my posting schedule up a little bit. I haven’t decided if I will be posting Saturday or Sunday yet, but it’s definitely going to be the weekend as my EOTP duties occupy most of my writing time during weeknights.

This means that I’ll probably be re-scheduling (and resuming)  may Weekly Warbles as well. Though I also haven’t completely figured that out either.

Sorry for my long absence…things got a little…crazy around here.

Hockey: My Hockey Adventures Part I: The Preseason

N.B. Large portions of this post are lifted directly from my journal. I meant to post this a long time ago, but never quite got around to typing it up.

 

Penny of the thousand stories used to tell me how she loved working at rinks – or simply being at rinks. She waxed poetic about the smell of the ice and the sound of skates. I didn’t disbelieve her, but it seemed a little crazy. I mean, I couldn’t very well disbelieve her when I can honestly say I love the way a stable full of horses smells. I just didn’t really get it.

image

I have since spent quite a few summer Sunday evenings sitting in a rink, soaking in the cold and the smell of the ice at Steph’s ringette practices, listening to the sounds of blades, and sticks and, in this case, rings on the ice, and I understood a bit better.

IMG_20150926_154311Then this September, through a pretty incredible series of events, I had the chance to go see a preseason game with
Steph at the Bell Centre. Habs vs Hawks, sitting way up in the rafters. It was amazing.

Well, the game part of it kind of sucked, because the Habs played pretty terribly, but the rest of the experience, that part was amazing. As I said, we were way up in the sky, almost level with the press gallery, but while we were really far away from the ice, it gave us a great view of the plays as they unfolded (or didn’t unfold…as the case might be…).

Also, no amount of hearing how great the Bell Centre is quite prepares one for the sounds of “Fix You” booming over the dark arena, or for when the horn goes off and the crowd erupts. Thanks Zach Kassian. If he did nothing else, he at least ensured that I got to witness a Habs goal at my first game.

It was also pretty special to hear the crowd (thin as it was) come alive for Francis Bouillon when he came out to be acknowledged at the start of the game.

Unfortunately for me, there was no Eller, and no Pacioretty, no Subban, or Christian Thomas, but it was still great. There’ll be other opportunities to see them.

img_20150929_222406.jpg

The crowd came alive again when Gabriel Dumont dropped the gloves in defence of his teammate, Ryan Johnston, and again when Jeremy Gregoire dropped the gloves after a terrible hit on Dumont. It was pretty scary.

Other than that, it was a great way to finally understand why people were so grumpy about the way the Habs were playing at the time.

IMG_20150925_190211889_HDRIt’s one thing to hear how the Habs had been a perimeter team and know that they had trouble exiting the defensive zone, and another to actually see Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry struggle to get past what was essentially the Blackhawk’s AHL team. It was also pretty amazing to get to see Carey Price play, and all the others, even if they were mostly tiny numbers on the ice.

But even at that distance, Plekanec’s stride and Gallagher’s goalie adventures were easily identifiable, as were Emelin’s…defensive…um…adventures of a totally different kind. He’d been looking pretty good all game, not great, but  certainly not bad, and then…well…adventures. Frustrating when he essentially was (and is) keeping Jarred Tinordi or Mark Barberio out of a spot.

Nathan Beaulieu looked fantastic, singlehandedly bailing out several veterans, and Brett Lernout looked surprisingly solid for a baby defenceman (it’s also so strange that Beaulieu’s the one taking rookies under his wing when last year, that was basically him).

Regardless of the results, it was hockey at the Bell Centre, and I got to see it.

IMG_20150925_220016921_HDR