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.

Utah Grizzlies: Closely Contested

With the playoff race so close, Allen the team directly ahead of Utah in the standings, and the Tulsa Oilers within one and two points respectively, the two teams squared off on Friday night with a lot on the line.

Allen came out with considerably more jump in their step, but the Grizzlies kept them away from Joel Rumpel, and eventually got the first shot of the night from Ryan Misiak. They took the first penalty of the game as well about four minutes in as James Melindy tangled with J.C. Campagna, but the power play was rapidly negated as Zach Pochiro took a hooking call seven seconds later. Taylor Richart made a diving play to prevent a breakaway, and both teams returned to full strength with no change in score.

At 7:13, Austin Ortega extended his point streak to 12 games, scoring the opening goal from Michael Pelech and Mitch Maxwell at the top of the blue paint.

Misiak got taken down without a call near the 8:30 mark, rightly or wrongly, and the crowd objected. Allen pressured briefly thereafter, but the BAM Line countered with a strong shift of their own.

Ryans Walters and Misiak motored in on a two-on-one with about nine to go, followed almost immediately by a two-on-one with Walters and Brendan Harms, but Walters missed high, and Harms missed wide as the Grizzlies got their feet under them and started to look more cohesive.

However, the Americans kept working, and both teams exchanged chances, Misiak, Richart, and the BAM Line all getting good looks.

Utah turned the puck over at around the 18:10 mark, and Vincent Arseneau scored off of a really nice bit of passing. The tie did not last long at all, though, as Richart scored his 16th of the season on a nice shot from the left wing that beat Jake Paterson top corner. Ortega’s assist gave him yet another multi-point game, and Brad Navin’s secondary assist meant that both he and Richart extended their point streaks to ten.

The Grizzlies took their 2-1 lead to the locker room, out-shooting the Americans 13-8.

The second did not begin well, as Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored just 37 seconds into the frame.

Brendan and the Ryans had a good shift in response, but with the exception of Walters getting thrown in front of the net, nothing came of it.

Allen scored again at 3:18 as Pochiro beat Rumpel on a really nice shot.

The Utah cycle game returned about seven minutes in, as Brendan and the Ryans camped out in the offensive zone, Harms wired a shot towards the net, and Misiak put it past Paterson.

Utah drew a power play at 9:03, but negated it 15 seconds later on a gentle hook from Navin.

Richart had a couple of absolute cannons from the point during the four-on-four, including one that rang the crossbar, and Jake Marchment came really close to giving Utah the lead as the Grizzlies returned to full strength.

The BAM Line backed by Gage Ausmus and Melindy had a really strong shift, Navin got a chance, and then Pelech and Ortega played ping-pong with the puck from behind the net, and on the doorstep. Pelech capitalized at 12:54 from Ortega and Ausmus to give Utah back the lead.

Utah continued to buzz following the goal, but Sam Babintsev got caught retaliating, and was sent off for slashing at 14:21. Despite playing one of the only uninterrupted power plays of the game, Allen wasn’t able to capitalize. Ortega was hit hard, but popped up, and Walters and Misiak nearly had a goal later on the same shift. In the dying seconds, Ortega was taken down again, and once again with no call.

At the end of the second, Utah once again led, 4-3 this time, out-shooting the Americans 26-16.

Ausmus bobbled the puck at the offensive zone blue line, and Arseneau pounced, beating out both flying defensemen to score the tying goal at 6:04.

Melindy took a holding call at 11:26. The Grizzlies killed it off, but immediately returned to the box as Windle took down an Allen player in front of the net. With one minute to go on the penalty kill, Misiak elected to carry the puck out rather than chip it, and drew a tripping call flying into the Allen zone.

During the four-on-four, the Americans put the puck over the glass, but what should have been a delay of game penalty was ruled tipped out.

The end of regulation solved nothing, and neither did OT. The shoot out did not go well for Utah, as Navin was the only player to score for Utah, while all three of Allen’s skaters capitalized.

Ortega and Pelech earned the second and third stars of the game, while Richart and Misiak both had strong games

“I thought we were really good with the puck.” Branham said after the game. “Obviously, any time you score four goals, you should win a hockey game, and any time you keep them to 22 shots you should win a hockey game.

We did not have one full power play today, which I thought was unacceptable, especially in that kind of game. We faced a lot of adversity, found a way to get a point, but it’s a crucial point that we didn’t get.”

In what was essentially a decent game, with a couple of egregious errors off lackadaisical play, Branham said: “I don’t think we need to really work on anything, we just need to make sure everybody comes ready. I felt we had a few guys straggling, those are the guys that made the mistakes. We gotta make sure that if a team is gonna beat us, they’re gonna beat us. We don’t need to be beating ourselves.”

With Richart, Ortega and Navin all extending their point streaks, Branham had nothing but good things to say about them. “All three of those guys, in particular, Ortega and Richart, have been phenomenal. Every single time they’re on the ice, they’re dangerous. Pelech’s line is pretty dangerous, and pretty special, they’ve got some good chemistry going. Richart has really had a break out year. We rely on him a lot, both offensively and defensively, and you can’t say enough about the job that he’s done for the team, that’s for sure. Navin has really come on strong … and he really complements Pelech and Ortega pretty well.”

 

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Pedal to the Metal

In their third game in three nights, the Grizzlies went with the same roster, including Joel Rumpel in net.

The Grizzlies were rolling right off the opening face-off, the BAM line with a strong offensive zone shift, followed by a Ryan Walters point-blank breakaway shot, followed by a rebound that Matt Tomkins snatched up.

Utah took an early delay of game penalty as Walters put the puck over the glass at 3:18, and followed that up with another delay of game penalty, putting the Grizzlies down five-on-three for 50 seconds. However, they once again held off the league leading power play, shots 4-3 for Indy after the penalty kill.

After some confusion on the lines setting up on a face-off, the Grizzlies got another delay of game penalty, and the Indy power play finally showed some signs of life. Utah killed that off as well, even getting a two-on-one short handed from Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

Coming off the penalty kill, Indy looked hot, but the Grizzlies fought on, getting some zone time of their own. The offensive zone possession led to a Utah power play, as Gage Ausmus drew a hooking call at 14:35.

The Grizzlies had really good possession throughout the advantage, most notably from Ortega, and Mann, who rang the cross bar right before Indy returned to full strength.

Utah struck first as Sam Babintsev scored his first for the Grizzlies after looking so good all weekend. Mitch Maxwell got the assist on a great pass on the opener at 18:32.

At the end of 20, Utah led 1-0, and the shots were an even 8-8, Walters having half of them.

Indy came out hot in the second, getting four shots to Utah’s two, and keeping things uncomfortably interesting in the opening four.

Walters’ stick was broken in front of the Utah net at 4:08, but he got called for holding. The Grizzlies killed off all but 19 seconds of the Fuel power play, blocking shots and keeping pucks away from the goal, until Alex Wideman put the puck past a sprawling Rumpel to tie the game.

The tie was not allowed to stand for long, however, as Navin wired a puck at the net, and it took a bounce off Tomkins and in 48 seconds later. The goal extended Brad’s scoring streak to nine straight games.

Indy once again poured it on after Navin’s goal, and Rumpel came up huge as Utah squeaked through a couple of really close calls before catching a breather. Brendan and the Ryans together with Melindy and Richart had a phenomenal shift around the six minute mark, but weren’t able to beat Tomkins.

Utah got another crack at the power play at 15:29, but weren’t able to capitalize, despite some good looks. Navin and Reed Seckel took matching calls at 17:28, and then with 1:06 to go in the period, Maxwell took a retaliatory slash and was sent to the box.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Maxwell’s penalty to start the third. Utah ran into some difficulties early, but Rumpel and the defense kept it 2-1, and Harms continued to have a strong game, pushing the puck just wide yet again with about four gone.

About two minute later, Richart threw a big shot on net which, like Navin’s, went in off Tomkins, extending his scoring streak to nine, and tying him with Nolan Zajac of the Reading Royals for first in the ECHL in goals among defensemen.

The Grizzlies continued to keep their foot on the gas, getting strong shifts from Howe, Misiak, and others. The Fuel once again looked disinterested, and Utah pounced, Maxwell scoring at 9:58 from Marchment. The goal was Maxwell’s first as a pro, and with his earlier assist, he also picked up his first multi-point game.

Utah got hit with another extremely lengthy five-on-three penalty kill at 3:11 with first Jones and then Walters in the box for interference and tripping respectively. Once again, the vaunted Indy power play came up empty. Ortega was taken down at 16:50 with no call, and Pelech took matters into his own hands. As was the trend for this game with interesting calls, he got an extra two tacked on to his rough, while Jaynen Rissling got only two.

In the end, however, it didn’t matter, and at the final buzzer, Utah outworked their way to a 4-1 win.

Maxwell (one goal, one assist), Navin (game winning goal), and Rumpel (23/24 saves) were the three stars of the game, Walters ended the day with eight shots, and Ortega, Navin, and Richart all extended their consecutive point streaks. Harms was all over the place, getting an assist, and all three lines contributed. It was also a another night of firsts, as Maxwell and Babintsev scored their first goals for the team, after both of them had a really excellent weekend.

The Grizzlies and the Oilers are currently tied for the fourth spot in the Mountain Division, trailing Wichita by five points, and ahead of Allen by one. Utah could very much use an Idaho win against Allen on Wednesday and before they face the Americans themselves in what could end up being a season defining two game series at home with spots in the playoffs at stake.

In the meantime, the Grizzlies have put themselves in the best position they can, with seven of a possible eight points on the four game road trip, as well as their 8-0-0-1 record in the last nine.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff

Utah Grizzlies: No Signs of Stopping

Why mess with a winning/point-acquiring lineup? The Grizzlies iced the same group of guys for game one of two in Indianapolis on Saturday, Joel Rumpel getting the start behind the BAM line (Brad Navin, Austin Ortega, and Michael Pelech), Taylor Richart, and James Melindy.

The beginning of the game went far better than Friday’s (though that’s not saying much), despite the first line getting stuck out on the ice for quite a long opening shift.

Both teams got their looks in the first five, including a nice look from Navin at around the five minute mark. However, the Grizzlies got a too many men on the ice call at 5:42, and the best power play in the ECHL went to work. They were unable to capitalize, Utah doing an excellent job running them around the neutral and offensive zones, allowing zero shots.

Utah got a power play of their own at 10:42 when Darian Dziurzynski boarded Richart. He was fine, and the potent, all forward unit of Ortega, Ryan Walters, Ryan Misiak, Brendan Harms, and Jake Marchment made Indy pay, Marchment opening the scoring from Ortega and Walters. The goal was Marchment’s fourth first period, game opening power play goal in eight games, and Ortega’s assist ensured that his now ten consecutive games point streak continued.

Utah continued to press, causing chaos around the Fuel net, and at 15:34 they scored right off the face-off on a blast from Richart. The goal extended Richart’s point streak to eight.

Unfortunately, Indy cut the lead in half at 16:36, as a mix up off a face-off of their own  end left no one but Rumpel between Matt Rupert and the goal. The Grizzlies went right back to work, however, and at the end of the first, shots were 22-15 for Utah, who led 2-1.

The Grizzlies lost no time at all picking up a two goal lead to start the second, as the BAM line charged in off the face-off, eventually leading to Pelech’s fourth goal (and seventh point since his return, Ortega’s seventh straight multi-point game, and Navin’s eighth straight game with a point.

The two goal lead did not last long, once again though, as Matheson Iacopelli made it 3-2 at 1:25. The Fuel got a great deal of the momentum back at that point, but by the five minute mark, Utah had settled down again.

By the half-way mark of the period, the game had gotten pretty loose, as the Grizzlies’ structure caved slightly to the more free-flowing structure of the Fuel’s game. Utah’s first two lines re-established some puck possession, though it was short lived.

At 13:22 Ortega drew a tripping call, and what had been a pretty quiet middle frame (after the opening two minutes) got a little more exciting. The Fuel killed off the power play, and then the Grizzlies found themselves on a kill of their own with 4:30 to go.

Utah’s penalty kill once again got the job done, even getting a couple of looks of their own, including a two-on-one from Marchment and Navin. By and large, the back half of the second period was much better structurally from the Grizzlies, and at the end of forty, Utah still led 3-2, out-shooting the Fuel 34-26.

The Grizzlies didn’t score right out of the gate to start the third, but it wasn’t far off. Walters made it 4-2 at 2:36.

Through the middle of the period, both teams got puck possession time, but the Grizzlies got the best of it, putting up six shots to Indy’s two, and Pelech made it 5-2 at 11:53, setting a new record for consecutive games with five or more goals.

The Grizzlies got hit with another too many men call at 16:26, but the penalty kill remained perfect, allowing no shots, and when the final buzzer sounded, Utah had a convincing 5-2 win under their belts.

The three stars of the game were a clean sweep for the Grizzlies, Pelech (two goals, five shots), Walters (one goal, one assist, seven shots), and Richart (also one goal, one assist). Navin (two assists, five shots), Ortega (three assists), and Marchment (one goal, one assist) also had multi-point nights, while Rumpel stopped 29-31 for his sixth win in eight games with Utah.

So the point streak continues, both for players and the team as a whole–a trend the Grizzlies hope to continue this afternoon before they head home.

 

 

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

Utah Grizzlies: Playing Catch-Up

Looking to pick up their seventh straight win, Utah turned to Sean Maguire in nets, and Mitch Jones returned to the lineup after missing seven straight games. With Jones’ return, Nate Mitton sat out as the Grizzlies returned to ten forwards and six defensemen.

It was not Utah’s best start, as they looked a little wobbly off the face-off, and it cost them, as the Mallards scored 43 seconds into the game on a huge shot. They settled down considerably after that, the third line helping tremendously in that regard.

Sam Babintsev drew a power play about five minutes in, and the Rookie of the Month wasted no time in getting yet another goal. Austin Ortega’s power play marker from Michael Pelech and Taylor Richart tied the game.

Sam Windle took an interference call at 8:28, but the Grizzlies killed it off. However, at 11:27 Kyle Bigos scored off the face-off on a lightning shot to once more give the Mallards the lead. At that point, things certainly looked less than ideal, as they trailed 2-1, and were being out-shot by a count of 15-3.

At 17:59 the Grizzlies pounced on a lose puck in the offensive zone, and Jake Marchment sniped on Ivan Kulbakov to restore the tie.

Ortega took a slashing call with 21 seconds left, but after twenty, the game was tied 2-2, the shots a far more respectable 16-10.

The second didn’t get off to a great start either, as Pelech took a cross-checking call 32 seconds in, putting Utah on a five-on-three for over a minute. The Grizzlies were able to kill off the five-on-three, but Ortega had barely made it out of the box when Tristan King gave the Mallards the 3-2 lead.

The usual scoring suspects went charging into the offensive zone, Kulbakov went on a wild adventure, and before Ortega could pounce on the mistake, the whistle was blown on a supposed hand pass.

The defense lost the puck behind the Utah net, and at 3:29 the Mallards made it 4-2. Joel Rumpel came in at that point for Maguire, who really couldn’t be blamed for the state of the game.

The Grizzlies drew a power play following a brief scrum in front of Rumpel, and just five seconds in, Walters made it 4-3.

Unfortunately, the Mallards pounced immediately, and made it 5-3 abuot a minute later.

After such a fast and furious opening six minutes, the back half of the period was slightly less eventful. The BAM line had a couple of shifts that came painfully close to finding the net, and Rumpel made a number of big saves.

Rob Mann and Brayden Low got into a net-front skirmish, Mann getting a double roughing call, and Low getting just two. However, Utah killed it off.

Despite another strong shift from Ortega, Pelech, and Navin, and a rocket from Richart, the Grizzlies went into the second intermission down 5-3, out-shot 29-24.

The third opened with a bang, Walters scoring unassisted 55 seconds in. On the very next shift, Misiak made it 5-5.

They weren’t allowed to rest on their laurels, however, as Low made it 6-5 a little over a minute later. The action didn’t stop there, as Misiak was sent somersaulting, and Utah got their third power play of the night.

They weren’t able to convert this time, but they followed that up with a couple of strong offensive zone shifts.

Harms dropped the puck off for Richart, who blasted it into the net, but supposedly the net was off, despite no whistle, and they called it off.

With the BAM line once again causing trouble around the Mallards’ net, Ortega drew a tripping call at 9:36. Navin tied it for real on the ensuing power play, extending his scoring streak to seven games with assists from Ortega and Pelech.

Richart took a puck up high shortly afterwards, but got up and remained under the bench, and took his usual shift afterwards.

Quad City kept things interesting, robbing Walters of a hat trick, and then beating Rumpel, but not the post.

The Grizzlies took over the lead in shots 36-34 with three minutes left, but despite a big shift from Misiak, the game went to OT after a big third goal period. Both teams came close, Misiak and Harms especially, but the extra five once again solved nothing. Babinsev and Navin both beat Kulbakov on perfectly placed backhanders, but neither Walters nor Ortega capitalized, and Utah fell 7-6.

So the winning streak is over, but the point streak continues, as do Ortega’s, Navin’s, and Richart’s scoring streaks. Moreover, Walters, who earned second star of the game with two goals one assist, is over a point a game on the season (53 points in 48 games), and has eight points in the last five. Likewise, Misiak has twelve points in the last ten, and Marchment has seven points in the seven games he’s played with the Grizzlies.

The playoff race has become very interesting, as the Oilers, Americans, and Grizzlies are all fighting for the final spot, currently sitting at 59, 58, and 57 points respectively. With fifteen games left in the season, the Grizzlies post season push is bound to be an exciting (if stressful) one.

In a quick turn around, the Grizzlies play the Indy Fuel tonight and tomorrow before returning home for a home stand against Allen.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.