Utah Grizzlies: War of Attrition

The Grizzlies came into this contest looking to take the third game of the series down Erik Bradford, Tim Daly, and Evan Stoflet, while Kevin Boyle got the start for the second straight night. These absences meant that Utah only dressed four defencemen and ten forwards.

Utah  got an early power play, as Ben Lake boarded Brad Navin 1:45 into the first. Utah got a few chances, but Alaska killed off the penalty.

Colin Martin, Erik Higby, and Michael Pelech all got big scoring chances, but it would be Navin who gave the Grizzlies the 1-0 lead at 9:35.

Utah killed off a holding penalty to Higby, and they continued to swarm, in no way looking like a short-handed team playing their third game in as many nights.

Cam Reid took a late penalty with less than a minute to go, but the Grizzlies headed to the locker room holding the 1-0 lead, outshooting Alaska 17-5.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Reid’s penalty handily, getting the only shot on the Aces’ man advantage, and generally looking like the better rested and hungrier team.

Higby, Cuddemi, and Martin crashed the Aces’ crease, and Martin collared Higby’s rebound, beating Michael Garteig for his twelfth of the year at 3:56.

Half way through the frame, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, and after the longest staredown ever, Howe got the edge in the fight, landing quite a number of punches before they were separated.

With just under five minutes left to play, the Grizzlies capitalized on an Aces’ bobble at their blue line. Cuddemi made a spectacular pass, sending the puck behind Garteig to Martin who scored his second of the night into the wide open net.

Utah closed out the second with some great chances, and the period ended in absolute chaos, Tim Wallace tangling with Nemcik and Pietroniro at the buzzer before both teams came flying in.

As the mayhem continued, Pelech and Marc-Andre Levesque dropped the gloves, and it was all the officials could do to break up the fight and get everyone off the ice. Utah went to the room up 3-0, and outshooting the Aces 24-19, but that’s when the tables turned.

As the dust settled, it became clear that despite the 3-0 lead, getting through the third period was going to take a Herculean effort from the Grizzlies. Pelech and Levesque both got five for fighting and a game misconduct, while Nemcik and Laplante were assessed a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct each. Wallace, who started the whole mess, also got two for roughing.

Alaska, who got three fresh players back for the game, could shrug off the loss of two players. Utah, already down their leading goalscorer and two defenders, would now have to play with only three defencemen for all but six minutes of the third without yet another top six forward.

It didn’t get any better from there.

In the early stages of the third, Cuddemi scared Grizzlies fans everywhere, when he left the ice looking uncomfortable. Fortunately, he appeared to be alright, but that was only the beginning.

A few minutes later, Richart was sent head over heels by a pair of Aces players, and went to the bench before taking a few tentative spins during the break. It appeared that Utah had dodged yet another bullet when he returned to play, only for Pietroniro to take a tripping penalty at 5:46. Unfortunately, Tyler Shattock scored just ten seconds later to make it 3-1.

Although the Aces manhandled Helgesen in the middle of the frame, it was Puskar who went to the box with 11:08. A mere six seconds later, Wallace took a healthy swing at Pietroniro off the faceoff. Pietroniro went down to the ice, and Wallace joined Puskar in the box.

With both Pietroniro and Richart banged up, Nemcik still in the box, and Helgesen the sole healthy defenceman on the bench, the Grizzlies struggled, and at 9:07, Nolan Descoteaux put the Aces within one.

At 10:33 Shattock took a charging penalty on Helgesen, Martin took exception to the hit, and both got two for roughing. Navin also tangled with an Alaska player, but neither were given penalties. Thanks to these infractions, Utah had a brief 5-on-3 situation, before a returning to a 5-on-4 power play.

Each team returned to full strength with no change in score, but Utah got a few really excellent chances on the man advantage. Alaska got a power play of their own as Navin took a slashing call with 5:37 to go in the period. Austen Brassard had a great chance short-handed, and the Grizzlies got Nemcik and Navin back. However, the Aces tied up the game with less than four minutes left to go.

Utah and Alaska both pressed in the remaining minutes, but Boyle and Garteig made some big saves to send the game to overtime.

Just fifteen seconds into OT, Cuddemi was sent to the sin bin for hooking, but the Grizzlies killed the penalty off, even getting a 2-on-1 chance from Helgesen and Nemcik.

In the dying seconds of OT, Martin made a bid for a hat trick and the win with an incredible shift, but it was not to be, and the game went to the shoot out.

Boyle — who has received far too little praise in the recap for being instrumental in helping get Utah this far — allowed a lone goal in the shoot out. Reid and Aubin scored for the Grizzlies, and Utah took the extra point.

Martin and Cuddemi earned the first two stars, but there were no passengers in this game. The performances of Pietroniro, Richart, Helgesen, and Boyle especially were also essential in earning the win.

This was a huge game for the Grizzlies, not only because they won despite being down three to five players for significant stretches of the game, but also because the two points they earned put them three points behind both Alaska and Idaho.

At the end of the day, they’re well within striking distance of a playoff spot, and they have a whole week to recover from what was unquestionably their gutsiest performance of the season.

The Grizzlies are next in action in a three-game home-stand against the Steelheads, where they will hope to take possession of a playoff spot.

Utah Grizzlies: Take Two

After a disappointing loss last time out, the Grizzlies returned to action ready to put Wednesday night’s game behind them. Kevin Boyle got the start, Tim Daly returned to the lineup, while Erik Bradford sat this one out.

Utah looked much better throughout the game than they had in the previous match-up, in that when Alaska came at them, they were not as thoroughly overwhelmed, and counterattacked far more quickly.

Just moments into the period, the Grizzlies tangled with the Aces behind the Alaska net, and as a result, Austen Brassard and Mackenze Stewart were sent off for roughing. Utah picked up the first three shots of the game on the power play, and Stewart and Brassard dropped the gloves properly mere seconds after they returned to the ice. In the ensuing scrap, Brassard decidedly got the best of the exchange, and they were both sent back to the box.

Seconds later, Nolan Descoteaux took a tripping penalty against Travis Howe, and the Grizzlies went to work on their first power play of the night.

At 7:52, Brad Navin took a tripping penalty, but Alaska negated their man advantage as goalie Kevin Carr took an interference penalty. Both teams took two more penalties, first Richart and Puskar, then Tyler Ruegsegger and Tim Coffman, before the period drew to a close. Utah had the 9-7 advantage in shots, and the score remained tied at zero.

The Grizzlies had a brief power play to begin the period, as Coffman’s penalty carried over, and the Aces took yet another penalty, giving the Grizzlies a 19 second 5-on-3.

Though they were unable to capitalize, the Grizzlies’ power play looked pretty good. Phil Pietroniro had a couple of alert plays to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and then a few more on the other end to keep the puck out of the Utah net as the penalty expired.

There was a bit of a scare at 13:25, when Ben Lake went barreling into Kevin Boyle, but he appeared to be no worse for wear.

Colin Martin broke the deadlock at 7:45, picking up the puck, and dancing in all alone to put the puck past Carr to give the Grizzlies the 1-o lead on his eleventh of the year.

Mere moments later, Taylor Richart picked up his seventh goal of the season, and sixth point in the last five games to give the Grizzlies the 2-0 lead. Boyle, in his turn, made some great saves as Alaska fought to get something going.

Alaska took yet another penalty with 8:09 to play, but Utah was unable to capitalize, and Travis Howe took a tripping penalty. The Grizzlies killed off the minor, but no sooner had they done so than the Aces scored with just 2:55 left to go in the second. The Aces pressed back hard after their goal, but the Grizzlies were able to fight them off.

The Grizzlies escaped to the locker room after 40, still holding the 2-1 lead, with Alaska holding the lead in shots by only the slimmest of margins.

The Navin-Puskar-Brassard line continued their strong play to start the period, causing trouble for the Aces in their own end, and less than two minutes in, Howe fought Dax Lauwers after the later laid a big hit on Ralph Cuddemi. Howe got an extra two for instigating, but Alaska quickly negated their power play when Stephen Perfetto tripped up Puskar.

Through the rest of the game, the teams traded chances, the Grizzlies fighting tooth and nail to keep their lead, while Alaska pressed for the tying goal. Carr robbed Cuddemi, and the Grizzlies narrowly missed several other chances to get an insurance goal on the last power play of the game. On the other end, Boyle shut the door with help the really excellent play of Richart, Pietroniro and Nemcik.

With one minute remaining, Idaho pulled their goalie, but the Grizzlies escaped, giving Boyle his second win since returning to the Grizzlies. His 33/34 save performance earned him second star of the game, and Richart – who scored what ended up being the game winning goal – was named third star.

Boyle has saved 74 of the 77 shots he’s seen in the two games since his return from San Diego, which gives him an incredible .962 Save Percentage, and an equally impressive 1.49 GAA. Per Adrian Denny, he will start in tonight’s game as well.

Though Daly returned to the lineup, he played very limited minutes, meaning that once again, Richart, Pietroniro and, to a lesser extent, Nemcik shouldered the lion’s share of the minutes. All three have flourish with the extra ice time, which has allowed the Grizzlies to not only survive but to succeed, in the absence of their best defenceman.

The two teams square off tonight for the third time in as many games, where the Grizzlies will hope to draw within two points of the Aces’ much coveted playoff spot.


Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

Utah Grizzlies: Shooting Gallery

The last time the Grizzlies were in Alaska, they were swept in three straight. But that was a team mired in the midst of what would be a nine game losing skid near the bottom of the standings. They returned to Sullivan Arena on a seven game winning streak within striking distance of a playoff spot.

With Tim Daly still out, and Erik Higby healthy, the Grizzlies went with eleven forwards and five defensemen again, and Ryan Faragher got the start.

Both teams exchanged early penalties, and Idaho struck first on the power play with 14:33 left in the period. Immediately afterwards, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, both getting in some heavy punches before being separated.

The Grizzlies proceeded to have difficulties hanging onto the puck, as Alaska picked up ten shots to Utah’s five, but Faragher calmly closed the door. At 8:39, an Alaska player socked Taylor Richart in the face, and the Grizzlies objected. Martin Nemcik and Yan-Pavel Leplante were sent off, and the teams played four-on-four.

The Grizzlies gave up a couple of really good chances as they had difficulties in front of their own net, but Kenton Helgesen plucked the puck out of danger, and Phil Pietroniro set up Higby for a good chance, which drew a power play.

Jon Puskar had the most dangerous chance of the man advantage, but Utah was unable to capitalize – though they did close the gap in shots.

Utah pushed the pace a bit after that. Erik Bradford got in on a breakaway, Michael Garteig made the save, Bradford kept the puck, leading to a few more Grizzlies chances. Moments later, Nemcik was tripped up in the offensive zone, sending Utah back to the power play at 3:45.

With 52 seconds left in the first, Faragher made a save, and a crowd gathered around the net. Nemcik and Hunt were both sent to the box after the kerfuffle, and the period ended four-on-four. After one, the Aces remained ahead 1-0, outshooting Utah 17-14.

The Grizzlies started the period with a couple of very good shifts in the offensive zone, and Higby showed no signs of rust, tying the game up just over two minutes into the second.

Austen Brassard took a tripping penalty after that, and the Aces got all sorts of chances, but Faragher, Helgesen and Nemcik kept Alaska at bay. Alaska owned the puck after the power play, but Faragher was stellar, and the game remained 1-1.

The game settled down after the penalty expired, and it wasn’t until the final five minutes that things picked up again. Daniel Moynihan took an interference penalty, and Michael Pelech made it 2-1 just fifteen seconds into the man advantage. The Puskar line, which had been buzzing all night, nearly made it 3-1 mere moments later, and then again in the dying seconds of the period.

After forty, shots were 31-29 for Alaska, but Utah held onto the 2-1 lead.

Scarcely had the third period started when Puskar and Shattock took matching minors, and just seconds after that, Reid was high-sticked. The Grizzlies got a couple of looks, and then Higby took a holding penalty, sending the game to 3-on-3, then 4-on-4 before an Alaska power play.

Around the half-way point, the Grizzlies got caught in their own end for quite a long time, and Stephen Perfetto made it 2-2. The game continued to be tilted in Alaska’s favour, as they held the shot advantage 44-33. Unfortunately, Puskar missed the puck at  the top of the blue paint, and the play came back the other way, where Wallace made it 3-2.

Utah pulled Faragher for the extra skater in the dying minutes of the game, but unfortunately no sooner had he made it to the bench when Alaska scored into the empty net.

Alaska scored another empty net goal with less than ten seconds to play, but Utah was saved by the clock, which never started, and the goal was called back.

Ultimately, Utah fell 4-2, outshot 49-35.

On a positive note, Bradford now has points in ten consecutive games, Faragher looked terrific, stopping a season-high 45 out of 49 shots, Pietroniro, Puskar, Bradford, Navin, and Richart all had four shots a piece, and were among the Grizzlies’ best over the course of the game.

With the loss, the Grizzlies are now back to six points out of a playoff spot, and the games tonight and Friday become that much more important.

Utah Grizzlies: Bear Fight

Friday night’s game began the first of two hugely important games for Utah in terms of the standings, as they faced off against Alaska, who, coming into the game, held a nine point lead. The lineup remained mostly the same, Evan Stoflet coming in for Mike Banwell being the only change.

The hostilities started even before the puck dropped, as Travis Howe and Garet Hunt began what turned into a gathering of both teams by the penalty boxes in warm-ups. The situation defused, but did not go away, as would later be seen.

Alaska began crisply, collecting three of the first four shots, but the Grizzlies kept their legs moving, and Ryan Faragher was, as always, rock solid.

At 3:26, Howe and Hunt dropped the gloves right off the faceoff, as the situation from warm-ups bubbled up. Howe absolutely pummeled Hunt, though they both remained upright, and were sent off to cool their heels.

Unfortunately, it was Alaska who struck first, as Stephen Perfetto put the puck past Faragher at 5:06, and then the Grizzlies went to the penalty kill on a roughing call on Kenton Helgesen. Utah’s penalty kill remained strong however, allowing only one shot, which Faragher snagged easily.

Utah got some chances of their own around Alaska’s net, including a point blank chance from Brad Navin, and the Grizzlies drew a power play of their own with about eleven minutes left to play. they did get a few chances, but several times had to chase the puck down, and seemed to lack urgency.

They got another not long after, and there was nothing sleepy about this one, as  they kept possession in the offensive zone, Cam Reid got a big shot on net, and Michael Pelech got a hold of the puck and put it around Kevin Carr.

Jon Puskar took an interference penalty with six minutes left, but the penalty kill kept Alaska running down the puck in their own zone. The game became noticeably more physical in the aftermath, and with 2:53 left, Howe and Mackenze Stewart dropped the gloves. Howe got the take down, and the two as the instigator. Utah killed off the penalty, largely thanks to a couple of great saves from Faragher, including a gorgeous windmill.

At the end of the first period, 30 penalty minutes had already been assessed, shots were 11-8 for Alaska, but the score was all tied up at one.

Alaska had all the jump through the first minute of the second period, running the Grizzlies around in their own zone, and hitting a crossbar, but as the period progressed, Utah pushed back. Utah and Alaska both took a number of penalties through the middle of the frame, and Faragher was huge for Utah, though the defensive play of the Grizzlies was also fairly strong.

Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of Faragher and the Grizzlies, the puck took a series of bounces that ultimately landed it in the back of the net with just 17 seconds left in the period. The goal was given to Perfetto, for his second of the game.

The Grizzlies got out to their best start in the third period, holding on to the puck through most of the first two minutes, but they were unable to generate much by way of shots.

Alaska slowly took over play though, and at 8:24 Tim Daly took tripping penalty that ultimately resulted in a power play goal for the Aces, putting them up 3-1 about a minute later.

Although the Grizzlies pressured towards the end of the game, with Aubin drawing two power plays with 5:53 and 3:35 to go respectively, and Bradford and Daly producing a few chances, they were unable to capitalize.

Colin Martin and Ryan Trenz both went off for roughing after a tussle around Carr’s net, and Martin Nemcik took a penalty while making a desperate play to break up an Alaska rush, and the game ended on a Grizzlies’penalty kill.

It wasn’t the best or most consistent of the Grizzlies’ games lately, but they still had good stretches, just about keeping pace, shot for shot, with Alaska throughout. Faragher especially was sharp, and despite a few lapses, the team’s defensive play was far more cohesive than it was earlier in the year.

“I thought we had our spurts, where we played well in the offensive zone” said Tim Branham after the game. “They had a lot of the puck bounces go their way, which led to puck possession, a lot of the plays up the wall ended up on their tape, our plays up the wall ended up on their tape, they worked hard. They’re a fast team, they work hard, their goaltender made some phenomenal saves – so did ours. Both goalies played tremendous. We just gotta make sure we rest tonight, and come back ready to play tomorrow.”

“I think we’ve come a long way in that regard, that’s for sure” he added, when asked about the team’s defence. “We’ve made some changes, we’ve learned, grown, we realize how important it is to defend. In this game, it’s not complicated. It’s a simple game. When you say defend, all defence is is hard work, so we know that, and when we don’t have the puck, you have to work as hard as you can to get it back. When you do have the puck, you have to make good plays, and be smart and support each other, and we understand that. This was just a little set back. They’re a good team, that was a playoff game, and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

The teams return for round two on a snowy Saturday evening, two even more valuable points on the line.