Utah Grizzlies: A Taste of Redemption

With eight games to go in the season, Utah looks to continue their tradition of closing out the year on the high note. Branham elected to start Rob Nichols, signed out of the University of Connecticut in his pro debut, while Erik Higby returned to defense with Daly in the AHL.

Both teams got chances early, while Nichols held the fort. The top line of Zac Larraza-Erik Bradford-Ralph Cuddemi looked terrific in the opening five minutes, as the Grizzlies picked up seven of the first eleven shots of the game.

Utah drew the first penalty as Teigan Zahn went to the box for roughing at 9:31, and then just moments later, Gabriel Verpaelst was taken down in the offensive zone, and Cam Maclise went to the box for high-sticking. Higby made it 1-o after a nice shift for Utah, while Garrett Haar and Larraza got the assists.

The rest of their power play looked much improved, getting a few more chances before the Eagles returned to full strength.

The Grizzlies continued to play well, though they did occasionally get caught in their own zone, where they did a good job of helping out their rookie goalie.

With 3:07 to go, Austen Brassard continued his strong play, scoring on a tight angle shot, with assists from Michael Pelech, and Mathieu Aubin, and Haar drew a penalty in the final seconds of the period.

At the end of 20, Utah led 2-0, and outshot Colorado 10-8.

Utah opened the second period with 1:41 left in their power play, but while they got a few shots, so did Colorado, and the Eagles returned to full strength.

C.J. Eick took the Grizzlies’ first penalty of the game, a holding call after he got tangled up with Sean Zimmerman in the offensive zone, but Utah had no trouble keeping the Eagles chasing the puck out o the zone. Aubin took a goaltender interference and Bradford made it 3-0 on a gorgeous short-handed rush.

Unfortunately, Phil Pietroniro took a delay of game penalty just seconds after that, and the Eagles made it 3-1 on a tick-tack-toe play. They scored yet again just moments after that on the 5-on-4 to make it 3-2, and all the momentum the Grizzlies had built up was gone.

Matt Register took a slashing penalty on Nichols, who had to leave the game as a result. Ryan Faragher took over in nets, and the Grizzlies went on the power play. They were unable to convert, and Pietroniro and Harrison took matching minors at 16:02.

The game got a bit out of control as Cuddemi boarded Zahn, and then Jackson Hauk jumped Cuddemi. Brassard, Verpaelst, and Michael Sdao all got involved, and once the dust settled, Cuddemi was given five minutes for boarding, and a misconduct, while Hauk, Sdao, and Verpaelst got two each for roughing.

At the end of 40, Utah maintained the 3-2 lead, but were outshot 24-17, and staring down a three minute penalty kill, and without Cuddemi.

The Grizzlies killed off the three minute Cuddemi major, and Bradford nearly got a second short-handed breakaway, but was not quite able to elevate the puck over Kent Simpson’s pads.

Eick made it 4-2 at 5:32 with assists from Higby and Travis Howe, giving Higby his second point of the game, and Howe his fourth point of the year.

Faragher made some big saves to preserve the two goal lead, and Brassard scored his second of the night into the empty net to give the Grizzlies the 5-2 win.

Haar once again had a great game, as did Brassard, who now has nine points in the last ten games. It was also an encouraging outing, as the entire team looked better than they have at any point in the Colorado series for a complete sixty minutes. Now, if they can keep that momentum rolling, they should do pretty well.

Unfortunately, it has since been announced that Cuddemi has been suspended indefinitely for his hit on Zahn (who has since been placed on reserve), and Nichols has been released to return to UConn to finish school after being injured – though he returns having won his first professional game. So not only will Utah have to fight for their playoff spot without arguably their best defenseman in Daly, but without their leading goalscorer as well.

There is some good news though. With Alaska’s loss to to Rapid City, and Missouri’s win, Utah remains one behind Missouri, but only three behind Alaska for the final playoff spot.

Utah will need to dig in and overcome adversity to finish the season in a playoff spot, but they are no strangers to adversity this year, and have proved on several occasions that giving up on the Grizzlies is unwise.

After all, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Utah Grizzlies: Hard Fought

After last night’s game, the Grizzlies looked to rebound without Jon Puskar. Troy Redmann drew in for his first start in seven games, while Garrett Haar made his home debut for the team.

Colorado jumped out to a 3-0 shot lead in the first four or so minutes of the period, but Redmann looked exceptionally sharp, and the Grizzlies managed to stay out of trouble.

Martin Nemcik took a high-sticking, and the penalty kill was very short lived as Cam Maclise opened the scoring to put Colorado up 1-0 at 5:27.

The Grizzlies came back with a vengeance though, and Austen Brassard had a monster shift that he capped off with an assist. Michael Pelech got the goal, and Phil Pietroniro drew the secondary assist.

The Eagles got some chances of their own afterwards, but Redmann shut the door with a couple of very nice saves.

Travis Howe came in like a wrecking ball shortly thereafter, leveling Darryl Bootland and Sean Zimmerman on one shift, to the great delight of the 6,222 fans in attendance.

Utah drew a power play of their own at 15:03, and though they only got one shot, they played well, holding the zone for the majority of the man advantage.

At the end of 20, Colorado held an 18-5 shot advantage, but the game was tied at one a piece. Predictably, a crowd gathered as the teams separated at the buzzer, and Howe had to be restrained from further taunting of the Eagles’ bench.

The second period began on the remainder of the Grizzlies’ power play, which went about as well as their power plays have gone against Colorado, and Redmann made a stellar shorthanded save. He followed that up with another spectacular save on a Jackson Houck breakaway, but Colorado made it 2-1 shortly thereafter on a rebound.

Things got pretty scrappy after that, as Colin Martin took an elbowing call, and on the same whistle, Zimmerman and Martin Nemcik both got five for fighting. Nemcik won emphatically, and Zimmerman got an extra two for instigation. Nemcik may not have started the fight, but boy did he ever finish it. The Grizzlies were buzzing after that, and when any shots got through, Redmann was well up to the task.

At 13:10 Haar drew an interference call, and the Grizzlies went to the power play. Colorado got yet another short-handed chance, and this time Teigan Zahn buried the puck to put the Eagles up 3-1.

Despite that, Redmann continued to play well, charging out to break up a 1-on-0, and then following that up with another save for good measure.

The Grizzlies took off after that, thanks in part to a phenomenal shift from Howe, and after 40, though still trailing 3-1, the feeling in the crowd was far more positive than it had been the night before.

Utah controlled the play early, skating hard, and getting a glorious chance when a trailing Verpaelst hammered the puck just wide of the net. Haar also had what was perhaps his best look of the night on a big shot from the point.

With 8:27 to go Zahn and Brassard got tied up in a furious shoving match in front of the Eagles’ net, and when the whistle blew, they dropped the gloves. Both got five for fighting, and the crowd was elated.

Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort from the Grizzlies in the final minutes, Colorado scored into the empty net after a lengthy stretch of Utah possession.

“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Head Coach Tim Branham said, when asked about the team’s performance. “We certainly had enough shots to put more than one goal by them, but we couldn’t do that once again tonight. At the end of the day, they worked just a little bit harder than us. We had a good work ethic, for us. Colorado forwards, they work even harder. If you want to have success against them, you need to outwork their forwards, because their forwards are the hardest workers with and without the puck. They shut a lot of things down through the neutral zone. That’s the key to their success, and you’ve got to make sure that you can slow them down, but also transition fast before they can get back. We had a lot of chances, we just can’t put the puck in.”

When asked about the team’s struggles to get shots on net in first periods against the Eagles lately, he answered, “I think it’s just everyone needing to bear down and be ready to play. I thought, still, we had some good opportunities, we just didn’t get shots on them, whether they missed the net, or whatever, we still had some good opportunities. But Colorado had 18 shots. I thought Troy was really good in that first period. He actually did a good job controlling rebounds and killing plays, looked real poised in that first period. He did a good job.”

Utah wore beautiful specialty jerseys for Military Appreciation night, which were auctioned off after the game. C.J. Eick’s jersey went for a sale topping $3,125, and the Grizzlies raised over $22,000 for the Salt Lake City Fisher House!


The Grizzlies get one more crack at the Eagles at home on Monday night, before heading out to Colorado for two games, and they’ll need to rediscover their scoring touch if they’re to have any chance at running down the Aces for the final playoff spot.


Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

Utah Grizzlies: No Such Luck

The Grizzlies came home after a fairly successful Florida road trip, looking to continue picking up points. Ryan Faragher once again got the start, Gabriel Verpaelst made his home debut, and Travis Howe again dressed as Utah iced eleven forwards and five defensemen.

The early minutes of the game saw action and hard skating from both teams, but Colorado picked up six of seven shots in the opening few minutes, and struck first 7:21 into the frame.

Sean Zimmerman went after Jon Puskar after the latter got a shot in on Clarke Saunders, and a crowd gathered, as they often do in Grizzlies/Eagles games. Utah came in hot after the following media time out, and drew the first penalty of the game. Harrison went to the box for slashing with 9:37 to go, but the Grizzlies were unable to get properly set up, and Colorado scored on a short-handed breakaway a minute later.

They got some offensive zone pressure to end the power play, but Cam Reid’s stick broke as he went to take a shot from the point, and the man advantage came to an end.

With six minutes left in the period, Utah was already spotting Colorado 12 shots, and there was a fair bit of stick and door slamming at the bench.

Though the Grizzlies had a few good shifts and chances in the offensive zone, especially from the Puskar line, Faragher still had to make a huge save with 14 seconds left in the period. After twenty, the Eagles still led 2-0, and supposedly outshot Utah 13-6, though there were definitely some shots that were not recorded.

The Grizzlies came out hot to start the second, though there were some nearly costly defensive turn overs, but 4:11 into the period, they got the power play as Darryl Bootland came in hard after Faragher made a save, and the Utah defense took exception.

There was a bit of a delay as the ice crew needed to repair a chunk taken out of the ice with about 13 minutes left to play in the second. Coming off of the delay, Puskar, Howe, C.J. Eick, and got the Grizzlies some good opportunities. Michael Pelech, Mathieu Aubin, and Ralph Cuddemi followed it up with a good shift of their own, and with 11:02, Eick drew a penalty. Unfortunately, Erik Higby took a slashing penalty, and Matt Garbowsky scored 14 seconds into the ensuing 4-on-4.

Utah continued to get chances, including a great shot from Cam Reid, who beat Saunders but couldn’t hit the net.

With 6:51 left to play, Puskar was taken down in the offensive zone. The Maverik Center held their breaths as both the Grizzlies’ and Eagles’ athletic trainers tended to him. He was taken off the ice on a backboard as a precaution, and thankfully, at the end of the night it was announced that he was going to be ok.

Cuddemi and Reid both got chances on the power play, once the game resumed, as the Grizzlies held the zone for a large portion of the man advantage. However, after the power play expired, the defensive coverage again fell apart, and Matt Brown scored over a sprawling Marc-André Lévesque.

Howe got a cross-checking minor, and off the next puck drop, Aubin and Garbowsky both got sent to the box for slashing and cross-checking respectively.

The Grizzlies’ penalty kill continued to be excellent, killing off the minor penalty, with 1:39 to go.

But the eventful second wasn’t over yet.

Phil Pietroniro was stapled to the boards in the corner behind the Grizzlies’ net, and Howe had enough, collaring Jackson Houck, and eventually trading punches with Zimmerman in what turned into a free for all.

Howe was given two for roughing, five for fighting, and a ten minute misconduct. Zimmerman got a two minute rough, and the Grizzlies had a five minute penalty kill on their hands.

Cuddemi got a short-handed breakaway, and was tied up, resulting in a penalty shot. Unfortunately his backhander was gloved by Saunders.

After 40, shots were 21-12 for Colorado, who led 4-0.

With over three minutes of penalty killing time to start the third, Utah closed ranks, and kept the Eagles puck-chasing.

With 1:45 left in the penalty kill, Bootland cross-checked Pietroniro in the corner, and Pietroniro retaliated. Both were sent off for roughing, and en rout to the box, Verpaelst grabbed Bootland and got in a few punches, sending him to the ice, joining the others in the bin. Both Bootland and Verpaelst got five for fighting.

The Grizzlies drew another penalty with 17:20 left to go, as Johnny Lazo went off for goaltender interference. However, 20 seconds in, Utah negated the 4-on-4 when Eick went off for tripping. The Grizzlies killed off the 4-on-3 and the ensuing 4-on-4 before the Eagles took a holding call with 15:09 left in the second that sent Utah back to the power play.

Colin Martin got a great chance in alone, but missed the net, and was shortly afterwards put into the boards by Teigan Zahn, which gave the Grizzlies a 5-on-3 power play. Aubin got a spectacular chance at a wide open net that somehow didn’t go in, but the Grizzlies kept going. At 7:54, Austen Brassard put the Grizzlies on the board tipping in Reid’s shot from the doorstep on the man advantage.

Then Cuddemi scored his 27th of the year from Tim Daly at 9:45 on a beautiful shot, and the arena came alive with half a period left to play.

The Grizzlies worked hard after the goal, coming quite close to solving Saunders on a number of occasions, but the Eagles were not without chances of their own, which Faragher turned aside.

The Grizzlies spent a lot of time in the Eagles’ end in the last five minutes, as they took advantage of two icing calls, and pulled Faragher for the extra skater. Utah got their chances, and with 1:27 to go, Lazo and Daly were sent off with matching minors.

Utah kept Faragher on the bench for the extra skater, but with eight seconds to go, Harrison scored into the empty net.

“To be honest, I think the difference was just goal-scoring.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We had a penalty shot, we missed, they had a breakaway they scored on. We probably had three or four empty nets that we didn’t score on where their goalie is making a diving save, in last minute, [last] second desperation. To be honest, we had pretty good chances. I don’t think the shot clock was correct, I know I counted four or five shots throughout the game that they didn’t even give us credit for, so it wasn’t as lopsided as you think, but we had our scoring chances.

“We had some scoring chances that we missed the net on, but the empty nets kill you. We literally had empty nets that we didn’t put in, and then the penalty shot. That kills you. that can be a totally different game when you put those in, so I didn’t like some of the goals that went in on us, as far as a team effort, I thought we could have done things to prevent them, we’ve gotta make sure that those little small things don’t cost us.”

“Obviously you gotta try a little harder, and bear down a little bit more. We’re going to put that one behind us. It stings, that’s for sure. We’re going to put that one behind us. Tomorrow’s the biggest game of the year, so we’ve gotta make sure that everyone is on board.”

Utah squares off against the Eagles again tonight (Saturday), and will be wearing their special Military Appreciation jerseys which will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Salt Lake City Fisher House.



Utah Grizzlies: Turning the Tables

After falling 3-0 on Friday despite amassing 42 shots, and playing pretty well, the Grizzlies were highly motivated coming into the matinee rematch.

Coach Branham elected to go with eleven forwards, scratching defenseman Garrett Haar in favor of Travis Howe – a decision which ended up paying off in spades. Ryan Faragher got the start again, facing down Ryan Massa, who looked to extend his 12o minute shut-out streak.

The Grizzlies came out of the gate with speed, and Travis Howe made it 1-0 at 1:29, breaking the shut-out streak, and picking up his second goal of the year on a nice shot. Austen Brassard and C.J. Eick drew the assists.

Utah continued to press hard after Howe’s goal, getting a number of chances, including a beautiful, point-blank shot from Higby. Faragher was also called upon to make some saves of his own, which he did with alacrity.

Utah picked up an 8-5 shot advantage through the first four minutes, as the Grizzlies continued to drive the play. Utah drew the first power play of the night, but though they got a few looks, they were unable to capitalize.

The Grizzlies negated their power play at 11:16, but they played well on the ensuing 4-on-4, and killed off the ensuing 5-on-4 thanks both to the penalty kill and some excellent play from Faragher.

No sooner had Orlando returned to full strength, than the speed of Pietroniro and Erik Bradford drew yet another penalty, sending the teams back to 4-on-4 before a Utah power play.

The Grizzlies drew two more penalties toward the end of the first, including one right at the buzzer.

After 20 the Grizzlies maintained the 1-0 lead, and had outshot the Solar Bears 14-11.

Utah began the second period with a lengthy 5-on-3. They were unable to capitalize on the two-man advantage, despite a number of strong shifts. However, Colin Martin scored on a nifty little spin-o-rama just as the first penalty expired. Cam Reid got his 20th assist of the year, and Pietroniro picked up the secondary for his 13th.

Orlando pushed back after the goal, but the Eick-Puskar-Howe line pushed right back, and the teams continued to trade chances, Faragher and Massa both making some excellent saves.

Michael Pelech took an interference call at 8:04, but the Grizzlies killed it off. Gabriel Verpaelst and Martin Nemcik got involved in a slight scuffle around Faragher with the Solar Bears forwards, and Verpaelst got jumped by Taylor Doherty as the teams returned to the bench. Both got four for roughing, though Doherty more or less grabbed Verpaelst and pummeled him without much resistance.

Off the very next faceoff, Howe and Daniel Maggio dropped the gloves. Maggio got the take down after a spirited bout, and both were sent to cool their heels in the box just past the half-way point.

Austen Brassard took a slashing minor with 5:38 to go. The Bears got some pretty good looks, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill remained strong. At the end of 40, the Grizzlies remained up 2-0, but had been outshot 26-20.

Orlando came out with some jump in their step in the third period, but Faragher stood strong.

Puskar drew a power play with 11:16 left to go, but though the Grizzlies maintained possession and zone time for the majority of the man advantage, they were unable to beat the penalty killers.

Utah ran into some penalty problems of their own, as Reid took a slashing call at 11:12, and Verpaelst joined him at 11:25 for boarding. However, the penalty kill was so good that Faragher hardly saw any shots.

With 4:42 to go, Pelech drew an interference call, sending the Grizzlies to a power play of their own, and the officials were quick to break up Pietroniro and Chris Crane before more than words could be exchanged. The Grizzlies were unable to generate much on the man advantage.

Orlando pulled their goalie with just over a minute to go, but they took a penalty with 1:52 left to go. Utah finished the game on the power play, but were more or less content to kill time as the clock wound down.

When the final buzzer sounded, Faragher collected his second shut out of the season with 39 saves, and was named first star of the game. Howe and Martin were named the second and third stars of the game respectively, and the Grizzlies headed back to Utah with four of six points.

Utah is off until Friday, when they play the first of five straight games against the Colorado Eagles.

Utah Grizz: Unfamiliar Territory

Coming off a big weekend against Alaska, the Grizzlies looked to keep the wins coming against stiff opposition. Ryan Faragher got the start in Utah’s first encounter ever against the Florida Everblades, while Gabriel Verpaelst made his Grizzlies’ debut in place of Sean Robertson.

The Everblades began well, but it was the Grizzlies who brought all the fire power early. Michael Pelech, Cam Reid, and Austen Brassard all scored in the first five minutes for Utah. Florida pulled Anthony Peters in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic, and the fireworks weren’t over yet. The Everblades an interference penalty, and Marc-André Lévesque dropped the gloves with Dalton Smith.

Faragher stopped a short-handed breakaway on man advantage, and the Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize. Unfortunately, Florida had some terrific zone time afterwards, and scored at 10:31 when Utah was unable to clear the puck, making it 3-1.

The Grizzlies held off a swarming Florida, including on a power play following a Pelech holding call. Faragher absolutely stood on his head through the rest of the period, and at the end of 2o, the score was 3-1 Utah. However, Florida outshot them 11-5, and the Everblades’ most dangerous period, historically, was yet to come.

Utah came out of the gate quickly, and just 59 seconds into the second, Erik Bradford tipped in a big shot from Phil Pietroniro to restore the three goal lead. Jon Puskar’s work to keep the puck alive earned him the secondary assist.

The Grizzlies got another power play at 3:06, but it was negated shortly thereafter when Pelech took a tripping call at 3:37. Utah killed it off, and even got a breakaway chance of their own from Mathieu Aubin.

The Everblades cut the lead in half again with 11:02 to go, again after a prolonged shift in the Grizzlies’ end.

Utah thwarted what seemed like a sure recipe for disaster when Puskar, Brassard, Amestoy, Daly, and Pietroniro were trapped in their own zone for what must have been well over a minute. Shortly thereafter, Daly drew a power play with just under two minutes left to play, but though Utah got a few looks, they were unable to capitalize.

After 40, Utah led 4-2, but the Everblades continued to outshoot them 20-13.

Faragher made two enormous saves to start the third period, and at 3:46 Martin Nemcik took a slashing call, sending Utah to the penalty kill. C.J. Eick got in on a glorious breakaway, but Nedeljkovic turned him aside, and on the next shift, Gabriel Verpaelst took a boarding call, sending the Grizzlies to a lengthy 5-on-3.

The Grizzlies killed off the 5-on-3, but unfortunately, Florida scored after Pietroniro whiffed on the clearing attempt, and the puck went straight to a waiting Everblade to make it 4-3 at 6:46.

Utah held Florida off through the later minutes of the period, and with 1:30 left to go, Florida pulled their goalie. He had to return to the net 30 seconds later when Grizzlies drew a power play. Verpaelst took an elbowing call mere seconds after that, though, allowing Florida to pull their goalie yet again, and play 5-on-4 with the empty net.

Regardless, the Grizzlies hung on through the last minute, and they picked up a huge two points against one of the top teams of the ECHL. Unfortunately for the playoff race, Alaska beat Colorado, so instead of moving within one of the last spot, the Grizzlies remain three back.

Marc-André Lévesque remains a point-a-game with the Grizzlies, while Bradford’s multi-point game ties him with Ralph Cuddemi for the team lead with 13 multiple-point games this season. Bradford and Reid were named the first and third stars of the game, and while Faragher was not, he very well could have been as well after that performance.

Utah moves on to Orlando next where they will take on the Solar Bears on Friday and Sunday.