Utah Grizzlies: Keep Your Friends Close…

With Taylor Richart out, and Chris Leibinger no longer with the team, the Grizzlies went with five defensemen, eleven forwards, and scratched Charley Graaskamp in favor of Nate Mitton. Joel Rumpel got the start behind some very different looking lines.

“I thought that was a fun game.” Tim Branham said after the game. “That was a good hockey game full of lots of mistakes, that’s for sure. Our power play’s hurting us, that’s for sure. But you’ve got to give credit too, they have one of the best kills in the league, so obviously if we could have taken advantage on the power play, or had we not gotten scored on on the power play, either one it’s a different story. But that’s a good hockey club, and I’m proud of the way our boys — I thought we came out really flat, they scored that first goal, it was like we were standing still, then we took it to them hard.”

That first goal came 1:05 in, when the Utah defense failed to pick up Joey Ratelle.

About five minutes four minutes later, Drayson Bowman and Travis Howe both got two for roughing, but the resulting four-on-four saw no change of score, or shots.

At 3:51 Howe and Teigan Zahn squared off at center ice and duked it out in a battle of heavyweights to the great delight of all 7,074 fans in attendance. It was a fairly even fight, but Howe got the last punch. Both got five, and on the very next shift, a sprawling Kyle Thomas poked the puck past Joe Cannata to tie the game.

Brad Navin took a hooking call at 9:06, but Ryan Olsen took an offensive zone slashing call about a minute later, and the teams played four-on-four, before a Utah power play.

Jake Marchment just narrowly missed tipping in a shot from Sam Babintsev, but the Eagles returned to full strength with no change in score, though the Grizzlies had taken over the shot lead.

With 3:08 to go, Ryan Misiak was boarded, and headed straight for the locker room, though he ended up not missing a shift. Ratelle got two for boarding.

With just over two to go, all nine guys tangled after a whistle, resulting not so much in a line brawl as a line tussle. James Melindy and Ben Storm were both sent off to the locker rooms.

However, with 46 seconds to go, and the Eagles back at full strength, the Grizzlies coughed up the puck at Colorado’s blue line, and Ratelle made it 2-1.

At the end of the second, Utah trailed 2-1, despite out-shooting the Eagles 16-7.

The Grizzlies came out hot to start the second, Brendan Harms’ shot whistling just over the cross bar, and then Utah drew a power play at 1:06 as a Utah player was hauled down in front of the Eagles’ net.

They put up six shots on the advantage, including several as Cannata was down, but didn’t have the puck covered.

The third line caused all sorts of chaos around the net at around the four minute mark, and Maxwell got dinged for roughing after he gave Olsen a couple of extra shoves.

Gage Ausmus took a hooking call 25 seconds later, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and Melindy sprang Mitch Maxwell straight from the box to tie the game all alone short-handed.

The chippy game continued, and at with half the period to go, Thomas and Gabriel Verpaelst had to be separated.

Walters was tripped up at 13:08, and Utah went to the power play. They got some zone time, but the biggest play was a short-handed breakaway that Rob Mann just barely got back in time to muddle, and Rumpel made a great save.

The play continued, fairly free flowing and continuous through the end of the period, and with 2:41 to go, the Eagles took a cross-checking minor.

At that point, however, the Eagles went the other way, and Gabriel Verpaelst beat Rumpel glove-side to make it 3-2 short handed.

With a couple of seconds left on the power play, Navin took a tripping call, and the Grizzlies ended the second on the kill, out-shooting the Eagles 33-20, but trailing 3-2.

Utah opened the third with 1:17 of penalty kill time, but they kept the Eagles chasing the puck back into their own zone for most of the whole of the disadvantage.

Michael Pelech took a tripping penalty of his own at 5:21, but the Grizzlies killed that one off too. The most dangerous opportunity went to Olsen, who danced into the offensive zone, was leveled by Melindy, got the puck back, and then had Rumpel calmly glove down his shot.

Unfortunately, Ratelle capped off his hat trick with 9:04 to go. Things looked a little bleak for the next few minutes, but the Grizzlies weren’t done just yet. At 13:25, Harms capitalized on a gorgeous shot, putting the Grizzlies within one, before drawing a power play on the next shift. The advantage accomplished nothing.

Although the teams went four-on-four at 16:44 after Thomas and Brady Shaw got sent off after a tangle by the benches, and Utah went on the four-on-three for a minute before pulling Rumpel for the extra skater, they were unable to tie it up.

Despite the loss, it was a fun game, and the Grizzlies put up another good fight. The difference, once again, being a defensive lapse or two. As per usual, games against the Eagles are never boring.

Thomas got the third star of the game, and he and Harms both led the team with five shots each. Having put up 42 total shots on Cannata (whose .933 SV% leads the league), all but two Grizzlies registered shots.

“The shots were 26-11 at one point,” Branham said. “You can’t play much better than that. We missed a few key opportunities, I mean, they have an NHL goaltender. They have a goaltender that doesn’t belong in this league, they’re lucky, but it is what is. I thought we did a great job, I thought they played a much better third period, first half of the third period, and then we kind of took it to them from then on, but it was a good hockey game, to be honest. We’re a couple of players away from beating a team like that, unfortunately. You’ve got to give them credit, they battled hard for sure.”

And they did it without Richart, who has, over the course of the season, developed into the best defenseman on the team, relied upon in all situations.

“There’s definitely still hope. Definitely losing Taylor in the last two games — he got hurt early last game — really hurts us, as far as power play, match-ups, things of that nature, it is what it is. The team, they still believe. There are six games left, and the teams that we’re chasing have some tough schedules. We’re never going to quit. That’s for sure.”

Getting those two points against the Eagles is a matter of taking care of their own game first.

“They’re a great team,”Brendan Harms said, “So everything you give them they take advantage of. They’re very opportunistic, so I think we’ve just got to shut it down defensively, be a little better in our own zone, take away what we’re giving them.”

Utah will hope to put all that into action on Military Night this Saturday (tonight) when they once again face Colorado for the penultimate time this season.

 

 

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

Utah Grizzlies: The Elusive Complete 60

On Wednesday night, in their first games against their former teams, Ryan Olsen, Cliff Watson, Gage Ausmus, and Jake Marchment were all in their teams’ starting lineups. In Utah’s net, new goalie Brandon Wildung got his first pro start.

The Grizzlies got off to a good start, Ryan Walters flying in largely uncontested, until Matt Register lifted his stick at the last moment.

Utah took the first penalty of the night, a cross-checking call on Chris Leibinger, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and Walters rang the cross-bar short-handed on a glorious pass from Brendan Harms.

In hi early tests, Wildung looked good, poised and calm, On a hard working shift in front of the net from Jake Marchment, Travis Howe, and Walters, Howe banged the puck in past Lukas Hafner to open the scoring.

Then things got interesting. On the very next shift, Brad Navin flew in with a head of steam, and was tripped up, sending Utah to the delayed power play and then the power play. On the first shift of the power play proper, Taylor Richart came wheeling around the Eagles net, and was leveled. It looked scary, fortunately in the end, he skated off under his own steam, though he did not return.

The power play unit got working after that, and though they didn’t score, Navin briefly hobbled Teigan Zahn, and the Grizzlies took over the shot lead.

Unfortunately, at 13:48 Watson beat Wildung with the assist from Olsen to tie it up. Leibinger took a hooking call on the next shift. Once again, the Utah penalty kill was strong, and Leibinger sprinted out of the box, and made a sweet pass to Harms, who shot just wide.

The Grizzlies drew yet another power play at 2:08 as Kyle Thomas kept his feet moving. The best chance on the advantage went to Thomas and Michael Pelech about half way through the power play, and at the end of twenty, Utah and Colorado remained tied 1-1, shots 8-7 for the Eagles.

The Grizzlies opened the second decently, Leibinger displaying a beautiful bit of puck handling to keep the play in the offensive zone, but after that, the Eagles pressured.

Utah eventually got themselves back in order, getting a couple of near things as first Mitch Jones’ shot bounced in on Hafner oddly, and then rolled through the blue paint moments later.

Half way through the period, Sam Babintsev broke the deadlock, scoring his third of the season from Thomas.

With under two minutes to go, Graaskamp made a really nice pass to Navin, Navin wired it just wide, and Melindy drew a power play with 1:55 yo go.

Olsen motored in one-on-one short-handed, but his shot was turned aside. The puck bounced wildly in front of Hafner, but the period came to an end, still 2-1 Utah, shots 13-13.

The Eagles got the first four shots of the period, but Wildung made some really great saves to hold on to the lead.

The Grizzlies got possession at about the six minute mark, but mostly cycled it until Jones wired one on net. Halfner was there to meet it however, and somehow Brendan Harms ended up with a high-sticking penalty at 6:51.

The Grizzlies’ kill continued to be excellent, Wildung making some more good saves, and Walters missing on a short-handed break away.

Just after the Grizzlies returned to full-strength, Pelech swatted the puck on net, beating Hafner five-hole to put the Grizzlies up 3-1 at 9:01.

The Eagles pressured after the goal, as one would expect, and Wildung turned aside a big shot one-on one.

Unfortunately, the wheels came off a bit, as Matt Garbowski scored at 14:55 when the coverage around the Utah net faltered, and on the very next shift, Olsen put one past Wildung to tie it up.

In the final minute, Harms threw the puck on net through traffic, but the game once more went to OT.

Harms had a really good looking OT shift, but shortly afterwards Watson flew in uncontested, was turned aside, then regaining the puck after Utah flubbed the play, beat Wildung and the Grizzlies’ defenders to win the game.

It was a familiar outcome; play a strong game against a strong opponent, lose focus at a few crucial moments, and pay for it with an overtime loss.

 

“I thought we played a pretty solid game,” Tim Branham said after the game. “I mean there were times where Colorado had control. We talked to the boys before the game about playing a full sixty minutes, same thing with the game in Worcester, we had complete control of the game in Worcester for fifty minutes, and then in the last ten we didn’t. Same here tonight. Fifty-five minutes we had control and then the last five we kind of let slip. There’s a couple of guys who made some huge mistakes, it is what it is, that’s a learning experience, and at this point in the season, it should be pretty clear your roles and responsibilities.

“They have players on their team that make big plays, we have guys that are learning, and they’re young. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way it went. At this point in the season, we needed two points, definitely, from a game like that. That one stings a little bit.”

Marchment’s thoughts were in a similar vein:

“We just gotta find ways to win. We’re finding ways to lose games right now, we’ve got leads going into third periods, or we’re tied, we’ve lost three of our last five in over time now, so just finding ways to get that extra point, work a little harder, bear down a little more on our scoring chances, but we still have a little bit of time here, we just gotta start getting some wins, and do what we can on our part. Hopefully other teams lose, and we can maybe sneak in.”

Wildung was definitely one of the players who did do his part. “I thought he played well, I thought for coming in his first pro game,” Branham said, “He definitely got some good experience, and did a good job.”

“It’s just a great opportunity for me,” Brandon said, “Playing professional hockey has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember it’s what I’ve wanted to do, so for this organization to give me a chance it means a lot to me.”

Wildung, whose freshman year overlapped with Misiak’s senior in the 2013-14 season at Mercyhurst, has appreciated already knowing someone in the organization.

“It’s awesome, it’s great to come to a new organization and see a familiar face,” he said. “I mean the guys have all been great, but when you come in and you know a guy it makes it…kind of gives a little bit of a breather.”

While a familiar face may give Wildung a breather from all the newness of location, level, team and the like, a breather is exactly what the Grizzlies do not have. They face Colorado twice more (Friday and Saturday) before heading out to Idaho next weekend. After that, they play Colorado once more, and then finish off the season at home against Kansas City. They are still chasing Allen and Tulsa who are both four points ahead with a game in hand.

The task is by no means impossible, last year’s Grizzlies were in almost exactly the same boat, but they’re going to have to play a complete 60 minutes every game to do it.

 

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

Utah Grizzlies: Keeping it Close

Another close game, another point collected in Manchester.

The Grizzlies hustled right out of the gates, getting the first shot from Brad Navin, who looked determined to start a new streak. He got two of the team’s first four shots, and at 3:08 the Grizzlies drew the first penalty. The early power play wasn’t able to score, but both lines generated chances, and the second unit of Navin, Michael Pelech, Kyle Thomas, Sam Babintsev, and Chris Leibinger continued to pressure after the Monarchs returned to full strength.

Manchester got their first lengthy possession around the 6:30, both teams got three-on-ones stopped by their goalies, and then Thomas roared in, and made it 1-0 at 8:04 with assists from Leibinger and Navin.

Exactly two minutes later, Kevin Morris tripped Navin in the Utah defensive zone, and the Grizzlies got another crack at the advantage. With eight seconds left in the power play, there was a collision in front of the Utah net, and that left Taylor Richart down on the ice. He went down the tunnel, but came back quickly, and didn’t even miss a shift.

Navin took a hooking call at 13:36, but a good kill, including a short-handed move by Harms, and some nice stops from Joel Rumpel took Utah out of danger.

James Melindy and Matt Schmalz tangled at 19:31 after Schmalz boarded a Utah player. Somehow, the teams ended up four-on-four to end the period, and after the whistle Manchester caused a crowd to gather as the teams headed off the ice.

The second began with about a minute and a half of four-on-four, which expired without event.

Thomas took a slashing call at 4:37, and then Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman ran over Rumpel, putting the teams once more on the four-on-four for 15 seconds, before a Utah power play. To say the power play was disastrous would be an understatement, as Thomas lost an edge trying to take the puck away from Joel Lowry, who pounced and tied it up short-handed.

Jake Marchment and Jake Wood dropped the gloves at 8:37. Marchment went to remove his helmet, but when Wood didn’t reciprocate, he put it back on, and then proceeded to punch Wood’s off. Both got five for fighting.

Unfortunately, one of the best second period teams in the league continued to show why they’ve earned that reputation, scoring again at 13:26.

The Grizzlies handily killed off a delay of game penalty on Gage Ausmus, and the third line once again had a great shift, drawing a power play of their own. Navin nearly missed on a shot from the point, but on the next shift, Richart made no such mistake, blasting one past Evan Cowley for his league leading 17th of the year at 18:47.

Babintsev gave up a turnover in the last couple of seconds of the period, but Rumpel made the save, and after 40, the teams were all tied up 2-2, shots 20-15 for Utah.

Ryan Walters and Brendan Harms had a nice shift to start the third, as did the third line. Manchester counterattacked though, and Navin went to the box again for hooking. Thanks to some good defense from Richart, a good save from Rumpel, and a short-handed attempt from Harms and Thomas, the penalty was killed off.

Both teams brought their full effort in the minutes that followed, the Grizzlies getting another especially great shift from the third line.

There weren’t a whole lot of whistles in the middle of the period, but the Monarchs iced the puck several times in a row around the five minute mark.

The first two lines got a bit of a shuffle down the stretch, Navin skating with Walters and Mitch Maxwell , while Pelech centered Harms and Misiak, but neither team was able to break the deadlock, and Utah headed to OT once more.

Both teams got chances, including a couple from Leibinger and Navin, but with 58 seconds to go, the Monarchs again took the other point in OT.

So Utah takes two points against the best team in the North Division, Harms’ point streak extends to five, Misiak has 15 points in 15 games, and Richart continues to lead all defensemen with 17 goals.

The Grizzlies are now 8-1-2-2 in the last 13, and head next to Worcester, where they’ll face Barry Almeida, T.J. Syner, and the Railers Sunday at 1 PM MT.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: The Unexpected

Two top notch goalies gave up 4+ goals each, a goal scorer dropped the gloves twice in one period, and an enforcer turned play-maker with a pair of glorious assists as the Grizzlies took on the Monarchs.

The new look BAM line (Brad Navin, Kyle Thomas, Michael Pelech) got of to a flying start as the Grizzlies picked up three of the first four shots in the opening four. Unfortunately, when Manchester had a strong shift in the offensive zone, Joel Rumpel was forced far to the right of the goal mouth to cover a shot. The cross crease pass was put into a wide open net, as the Grizzlies were unable to box out Michael Doherty.

Utah picked themselves up after the goal, as the Pelech line had a good offensive zone shift, followed by Brendan and the Ryans. At 8:28, a seemingly harmless shot from Ryan Misiak bounced off Charles Williams’ glove, and into the net to tie it up.

The Grizzlies took the first penalty at 9:55 on a hooking call against Sam Babintsev. The penalty kill worked hard in their own zone, and went to the four-on-four as Taylor Richart was boarded at 10:48. The shenanigans didn’t end there, as Pelech and Matt Leitner dropped the gloves with 8:08 left. It wasn’t a whole lot of a fight, and it was broken up quite quickly, both sent off for five.

In the brief power play that followed, the Grizzlies doubled up their shot count, 10-5, and continued to look good, collecting a really nice shot from Brendan Harms off a face-off, and Misiak almost snagging his second of the frame on the rebound. On the very next face-off, Walters also got a good look on Williams.

The third line had a hardworking offensive zone shift with just over four minutes to go, and boy did it ever pay off. Travis Howe made a really nice pass to Mitch Maxwell, and Maxwell put it emphatically past Williams to give the Grizzlies the 2-1 lead.

Pelech laid a huge hit at about 18:50, which wasn’t penalized, but Keegan Iverson took exception, and Pelech dropped the gloves for the second time in the game, and fourth time this season.

The Grizzlies ended the period in the offensive zone, after (with the exception of the one very bad shift) a strong road period, out-shooting Manchester 14-9 with the 2-1 lead.

The Monarchs pressured to start the second, but took a holding the stick call at 1:06 in the offensive zone, sending Utah to the advantage. The Grizzlies got a couple of looks from Thomas, and at least one good one from Marchment, and they continued to press after the penalty.

However, the play went the other way, Ryan Walters took a hooking call, and just seven seconds after he went to the box, Manchester tied it up.

At 8:12, Walters drew a tripping call after another stretch of Grizzlies offensive zone time (and another shift from Howe). This time, Utah got some of their own back, as Harms pounded the puck past Williams from Taylor Richart just six seconds in.

Walters continued to miss by inches, getting in on a mini breakaway for at least his fourth look of the night. Chris Leibinger took a slashing call with 5:45 to go. Utah failed to make the final clear of the kill, and once again, the Monarchs tied it up.

With about a minute left, the puck bounced over Navin’s stick on one end of the ice, and at the other, Rumpel made a big save, and the two teams got into a brief shoving match.

At the end of the second, the teams were once again tied 3-3, but Manchester had the 22-19 lead on the shot clock.

Navin started the third flying, first off the opening face off, and then into the wall, giving the Grizzlies the first shot of the frame.

The third line once again created some buzz, backed by the skill of Richart, but on the next shift, Rob Mann turned the puck over, then in the ensuing defensive zone shift, took a hooking call.

Fortunately, Utah killed it off, and at 5:29, Melindy and Jake Wood dropped the gloves.

The third line’s strong showing continued, as Howe and Marchment got in two-on-one. Howe looked like he was going to shoot all the way, but at the last moment, he passed it off. Williams was helpless to stop the shot that Marchment put in over him.

Unfortunately, Manchester once again tied it up at 8:06, and despite Rumpel immediately being up in arms calling interference, and a very, very brief consultation, the goal counted.

Melindy took a delay-of-game penalty at 11:45, but Utah killed it off, and just over two minutes to go, the Grizzlies drew a power play. The first and second units both had some good looks, but weren’t able to beat Williams, and the advantage expired just moments before the third came to an end.

Once again, the Grizzlies went to OT, but 1:45 in, the Monarchs scored to get the extra point.

Harms (one goal, one assist), Howe and Babintsev (two assists each) all had multiple points, Howe’s the first of his career. Although Navin’s eleven game point streak came to an end tonight, he remains over a point a game, having put up 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 23 games since January 20th. Meanwhile, Misiak now has 14 points in the last 14 games, while Harms is on a point streak of his own, with five in the last four straight.

The two teams face off again at 4 PM today (Saturday) before they head to Worcester to face the Railers on Sunday.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

 

Utah Grizzlies: All Good Things…

With Sean Maguire out on injured reserve, and Charley Graaskamp back from injury for the first time in months, there were some lineup changes ahead of Saturday’s game. Out were Travis Howe and Mitch Maxwell, and in were Graaskamp and Mitch Jones.

Joel Rumpel once again got the start, behind the BAM Line, James Melindy, and Taylor Richart.

Allen jumped up to an early lead as Gage Ausmus tied up Vincent Arseneau, but then lost him again just 36 seconds in. Ausmus took the first penalty of the game as well, getting sent off for hooking at 3:15.

The Utah PK wasn’t able to get a clear, but Sam Windle blocked a couple of big shots, and Rumpel made several quick saves before Arseneau beat him on a nice bit of passing.

Kyle Thomas was noticeable early, throwing his weight around, which another large crowd was quick to appreciate.

Ryan Misiak, Brendan Harms, and Sam Babintsev got in three on one, but the Allen defender got his stick down on the pass just past the half-way mark.

At 13:08 Melindy got boarded, and Arseneau tried to take Richart with him to the box, to no avail. Utah got a two minute five-on-three, but it was negated about forty seconds later, as Austin Ortega was sent to the box for slashing.

Utah had a mad scramble around the Allen net right as the penalties expired, but largely had to spend the four-on-three chasing the puck.

Allen scored again at 16:43, putting Utah down 3-0 before the end of the first. When the period ended, Utah was out-shot 13-8, still down by three.

The second period started with absolute chaos. Jake Marchment and Josh Thrower dropped the gloves right off the face-off, then Dalton Thrower took an interference call, then Graaskamp took an interference call, not even 1:30 into the second, and the two teams got ready for some four-on-four.

Michael Pelech broke the shut-out at 1:42, picking up the puck turned over after a big hit on Richart, and beating Paterson. Mike Gunn took an elbowing call at 2:24, but Utah wasn’t able to muster up a shot, just after it looked like the Grizzlies had gotten going, Gunn scored right after leaving the box.

Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored 6:05 in, putting Utah down 5-1. However, after that, though the line blender was in full swing, the pace settled down considerably. Harms took a hooking call at 19:17, and at the end of the period, Utah trailed 5-1, out-shot 26-13.

The third began well; Utah killed off Harms’ penalty, Windle laid a terrific hit near center ice, and Thomas drew a power play at 6:19. But it didn’t go entirely to plan, Alex Guptil scoring short handed 8:00 in.

A minute and thirty seconds later, Thomas pounced on a breakaway, and made it 6-2 unassisted. For reasons unknown, Allen elected to pull Jake Paterson in favor of Stephon Williams after Thomas’ goal. Utah drew another power play at 11:08, and though they didn’t capitalize, the reunited BAM Line was back to their strong play, showing the Maverik Center just what kind of hockey they’d been playing over the winning streak. The momentum continued even after the Americans returned to full strength, and Babintsev cut the lead neatly in half at 14:02, Ryan Walters and Harms picking up the assists.

With improved possession, zone time, passing, and defense, Utah continued to press, and at 18:04 Brad Navin extended his point streak, scoring his 13th of the season from Windle and Ortega, who also extended his point streak. Down 6-4, Utah pulled Rumpel, and called their time out. Unfortunately, the combined efforts of Walters, Ortega, Richart, Navin, Pelech and Thomas were unable to put the team within one, and in the end, Allen put one more into the empty net.

It was a disappointing end to the frankly impressive winning streak, but the end of the third period was one to build on. Thomas, who had a bit of a rocky comeback up until that point, was named third star of the game. Navin extended his point streak to eleven straight games, and has picked up 24 points in the last 22 games, while Ortega extended his to 13, with 45 points in 29 games. Although Richart’s scoring streak came to an end, he now leads all defensemen with 16 goals. Walters put up eight goals and five assists during the streak, while Misiak had five goals, six assists, and Pelech put up 12 points in 11 games.

“First off, I want to say that I’m really proud of this team for going on the run that they just went on. It was really good, we saw what kind of hockey we can play. When you’re the hottest team in the league, teams are going to gun at you. I think we’ve been playing some really good hockey, and this is just a small little hurdle, we’ll get back at it and get on another run here.”

So now, Utah heads to the snow buried East for a series against the Manchester Monarchs and Worcester Railers, where even without Ortega (recalled to the Gulls) they hope to start a new streak that will lead them to the playoffs.

 

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