Utah Grizzlies: Storms of Autumn

 

The Grizzlies got off to a very good start in the last of the three home games against Adirondack, with Ryan Faragher making some big saves early, and Eriks Higby and Bradford each getting breakaways within the span of a few minutes.

Several shifts midway through the period showcased the speed of the Grizzlies, but it would be Adirondack who drew the first power play, as Phil Pietroniro was sent off for tripping. Despite killing the penalty, the Thunder struck first, as Peter MacArthur scored in a net-front scramble with just over three minutes left in the period.

Eleven seconds before the end of the first, Brandon McNally got called for hooking, and at the end of the period, shots were 12-7 for Adirondack, who also led 1-0.

The second period opened with the remaining 1:49 of McNally’s penalty, and Adirondack scored their second just 57 seconds in.

A few minutes after that, Phil Lane and Jon Puskar tangled up, and everyone grabbed a buddy. Puskar and Lane got four each for roughing, Stoflet got two for cross-checking, and Lane got two for slashing, so the play continued 5-on-5. C.J. Eick took a penalty shortly thereafter, but the Grizzlies held off the Thunder.

Just when Lane and Puskar were freed, Brian Ward took a hooking penalty, and the Grizzlies power play went to work. Utah players took a few good whacks at the puck in front of Mason McDonald, and McNally put the puck away with authority for the Grizzlies’ first of the night.

About a minute later, Gunnar Hughes took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the Grizzlies’ power play had a stellar outing, keeping the puck in the offensive zone for nearly the entire two minutes, but they were unable to solve McDonald.

The Grizzlies got another crack at the power play as Lane took a holding penalty as he tried to catch Eick. The second power play was nowhere near as impressive as the first, but they still got a pair of chances.

With just about three left in the period, Higby missed the corner of the net, the Grizzlies kept possession, Pietroniro got off a huge point shot, and Higby missed the net again.

After all that Grizzlies offensive pressure, Stoflet found himself back in the box for hooking at 18:21.  However, with 1:30 left in the penalty, Bradford broke away from the Adirondack defense halfway to the blue line, and scored a beautiful short-handed goal for his first with the Grizzlies.

The third period saw the Grizzlies get some great chances, and carry a large portion of the play. But it was Adirondack who slipped the puck past Faragher for their third of the night with 12:25 left to play.

Utah got another chance to tie it up on the power play as Keegan Kanzig took an interference penalty, tripping up Kenton Helgesen who was poised to break away up the ice, but the Thunder penalty kill went off without a hitch.

Despite pulling Faragher for the extra skater, and some last-second heroics from Brandon McNally, Mathieu Aubin, and Tim Daly to keep the puck out of the open net, the Grizzlies were unable to tie the game up, and fell 3-2 to the Thunder.

“I’m not sure how many open nets we missed, rebound opportunities … we missed a lot of them,” said Grizzlies’ coach and general manager, Tim Branham, after the game. “And I’m not even going to say their goalie made good saves, it was just we missed them.

“But you know what? I thought that was a really good hockey game for us. I thought we battled much harder, and it was gradual. Our first period was decent … and then our second period was really good. Our third period was really good. We had so many chances to score, but that is what it is. The bounces didn’t go our way again, and you just gotta battle through it. Saw a lot of good things. Saw a lot of good things that I’m happy about.”

Bradford looked excellent in his second game for the Grizzlies, scoring on that speedy short-handed breakaway.

“I sort of had a tough time getting adjusted to the altitude,” Bradford confessed after the game.  “I’ve never been this far west in my life, so I definitely felt a little more tired than usual, but I try to give it my all. It’s unfortunate” he added, “that we didn’t get the two points tonight and yesterday, but the guys have been very welcoming, and I’ve been very appreciative of that.”

Coach Branham in turn was appreciative of Bradford’s efforts: “He’s working hard. He skates well with the puck, he’s got good vision, good skill … he’s been a good addition, that’s for sure; he’s been a good addition.”

Like Branham, Bradford went on to say: “We played a pretty good game tonight. If you look at their goals, they had some fluky goals out in front of our net where maybe we should have been a bit stronger, tougher in front of our net, but other than that I thought we played a pretty good game.

“But at the end of the day, you only score two goals in a game, you’re probably not going to be winning a lot of hockey games, so we gotta find a way to put more in the back of the net for our goaltenders.”

After the game, the Grizzlies auctioned off their specialty jerseys, raising $16,800 for Angel’s Hands Foundation, with Jon Puskar’s jersey selling for $1,600, and C.J. Eick’s for $1,400!

The Grizzlies will look to resurrect their scoring touch tonight against Allen where they are looking to avoid being swept at home before heading out for a lengthy road trip.

 

Utah Grizzlies: Fickle Fortune

If Fortune favoured the Grizzlies on Monday, she proved a fickle friend last night.

The first shift of the game began well for the Grizzlies, though they were quickly hemmed into their own zone for the next few shifts, as Adirondack got to work. Utah scrambled in their own end a little, but after four minutes, shots were tied 3-3, and the Grizzlies began to push back.

At 4:15, Jon Puskar turned and fired in the high slot, and Mathieu Aubin put the puck past Ken Appleby for his second of the year.

The play went back and forth with plenty of board battles and chances on both sides. There was a bit of a scare as Puskar went down after being hit up high with the puck, but he remained on the bench, apparently little worse for wear.

With 2:25 left in the period, Phil Pietroniro was called for holding, the Grizzlies’ penalty kill got down to business, and Kevin Boyle made several very good saves.

At the end of 20, Boyle and the Grizzlies were up 1-0, though the shots tipped in Adirondack’s favour, 13-12.

The Grizzlies came out flying in the second, and Brandon McNally just missed the wide open net, but it was the Thunder who scored first, as both Robbie Donahoe and the puck went into the net behind Boyle at 1:22.

Utah went to the power play shortly thereafter, as James Henry hooked Ralph Cuddemi, but the Adirondack penalty kill proved up to the task against a lacklustre power play. To make things worse, right off the power play, the Thunder came the other way, James Henry’s pass beat out a sprawling Grizzlies’ defenceman, and Peter MacArthur deked out Boyle.

The game got heated after that, as Keegan Kanzig and Travis Howe dropped the gloves with 13:03 left in the second, and the crowd roared their approval as Howe saluted them on the way to the box. Adirondack was assessed an extra slashing penalty, so the Grizzlies went back to the power play. The first half of the power play was pretty abysmal, but the second half had some signs of life, though it ultimately came up empty.

With about eight minutes left to play, Adirondack got in behind the Grizzlies’ defence, and Boyle made an outstanding save to keep the deficit to one goal.

For a couple of teams who almost never see each other, a fair bit of dislike has built up between them in the past two games, and the last five minutes saw two fights break out. the first between McNally and Phil Lane with 4:31 left, and the second between Mike Bergin and Kenton Helgesen, after Bergin took exception to a big hit of Helgesen’s. As the Thunder also took a slashing penalty together with the first fight, the Grizzlies got a power play, but were unable to make anything of it yet again.

Pietroniro took his second penalty of the night with 18.2 left to go in the period, but the Grizzlies ended the period buzzing around the Adriondack net. After 40, shots were 27-18 for the Thunder, who also maintained the 2-1 lead.

 

Then the game got a little weird.

Half way through the third, Boyle made a big save, the whistle went, the puck flew out, and Adirondack scored, but the goal was waived off.

A few shifts later, the puck rang the crossbar and bounced out to the slot, where the Thunder put the puck back in the net, but it was waived off immediately thanks to a distinct kicking motion, so the Grizzlies dodged yet another bullet.

With about 1:20 left to play in the period, the Grizzlies pulled Boyle in favour of an extra skater and called their time out. Unfortunately, despite some good pressure, the Grizzlies were unable to capitalize, and they fell 2-1, outshot 32-25.

It was good to see Boyle return to something like the form he showed in his first two games of the season. As head coach Tim Branham said, “He’s a competitor, and we saw when he first got here that he’s going to be a top goalie in this league…his first two starts were excellent…obviously there were probably some goals he would have wanted back, and we kind of put him under some pressure too in those three games that he lost, which is tough for a rookie goaltender. But today he responded. He was solid. We left him out to dry on those two goals against, and he made some big saves tonight, that’s for sure.”

As to what they need to do tonight to come  out on top in this three game series with Adirondack, Branham added “Guys just need to refocus, take a look in the mirror, figure out what they did right, what they did wrong, come back with a better effort. When the pucks aren’t going your way, you just have to work that much harder to make sure they go your way, and you can’t give up, can’t give in.”

The Grizzlies and the Thunder face each other again tonight at 7 PM for the last time until January, and will be wearing their specialty throw back Golden Eagles jerseys which will be auctioned off after the game with the proceeds going to the Angel’s Hands Foundation.

 

Utah Grizzlies: Into the Storm

The Grizzlies came out flying against the Thunder on Monday night, and were rewarded almost immediately, as Ralph Cuddemi pounced on a rebound at 2:45, and Shane Walsh deked out a lone Adirondack defenceman before putting a laser of a backhand past Mason McDonald at 5:10.

Just before the half-way mark, first Colin Martin and then Phil Pietroniro were hit hard, and were slow to get up. Pietroniro remained on the bench, and Martin returned to it before the penalty was even over.

The Grizzlies took full advantage of the power play, and Cuddemi scored his second of the night at 11:51.

Adirondack pushed back a bit after that, but Utah ended the period on a strong note with excellent pressure around the Thunder net. At the end of 20, Grizzlies led 3-0, and outshot the Thunder 11-7.

The first five minutes of the second were pretty scramble-y, and the puck remained in the Utah zone for long stretches of time, but between Faragher, and the Grizzlies’ defensive play, they were able to remain on top in both shots and on the board. That is also not to say that they spent the entire stretch in their own zone, as Cuddemi nearly capped off his hat trick early on.

At 6:53, new acquisition Robbie Donahoe found himself in the penalty box for hooking, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill was more than up to defending against an unexciting power play. Right after Utah returned to full strength, however, Faragher was called on to make a huge save as a Thunder player got in all alone, and Utah went right back to the penalty kill as Mike Banwell took a seat for hooking. The power play was unable to generate anything as the Grizzlies were quick to jump on every puck.

Just over 12 minutes into the period, the Grizzlies stormed into the offensive zone en mass, and C.J. Eick scored his fourth of the year to put the Grizzlies up 4-0.

Not long thereafter, Walsh got taken down, and Brandon McNally made his return to the lineup felt, as he took on Phil Lane. They both would be assessed double minors for roughing, but as Adirondack took an additional slashing call, the Grizzlies went to the power play. They got a few chances on the man advantage, but Adirondack stemmed the tide.

Unfortunately, with just under two minutes to go, Mathieu Aubin took a highsticking penalty, and the Thunder scored at 18:50. After 40, Utah was up 4-1, but Adirondack had taken the lead in shots, 18-16.

The first half of the third was spent largely in the Grizzlies’ end, but between Faragher’s strong play, and Utah largely keeping Adirondack pinned along the boards, the Grizzlies maintained their lead. At 7:14, Cuddemi was penalized for closing his hand on the puck, but between some well timed clears, and tight defensive play saw them through.

With 6:18 left to play, the Grizzlies had only turned two pucks on McDonald, but rapidly remedied that in the next minute, as Puskar and Amestoy both got chances, putting the shots up to 25-22 for Adirondack.

Going with the bold strategy, Adirondack pulled their goalie down 4-1 with roughly five minutes to go, and the Grizzlies took a number of icing calls as various players, including Faragher, took shots at the empty net that missed by the slimmest of margins, including one that just clanged the post, before Evan Stoflet scored his first of the season into the empty net.

Just seconds thereafter, Adirondack added a second goal, but despite pulling their goalie again, that was as close as the Thunder got.

Faragher, Cuddemi and Stoflet were named the three stars of the game.

It wasn’t a great game, by any means, what with the long stretches hemmed in their own zone, and some general sloppiness, but after two great games against Allen that were lost in such a frustrating manner, sometimes you need a break like this game to get back on track. “We’ll take the two points,” said Coach Branham after the game, “Much, much needed two points, that’s for sure, a big win here at home in front of our awesome fans, and a few things we just gotta clean up, but we’ll definitely savour the moment.”

The same two teams will face off again on Friday and Saturday at 7pm.