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: Routed on the Road


The Utah Grizzlies did not get off to an auspicious start in their first away game of the season, battled back to a tie at the end of the second, and then had the wheels came well and truly off in the third.

After being badly beaten in the two opening games, the Steelheads came out strong in their home opener. Just 2:19 into the first, the Grizzlies’ defence left Caleb Herbert all alone in front of Kevin Boyle, and he made no mistake, scoring the first goal of the game on the first shot. Very shortly thereafter, they scored again as Phil Pietroniro lost his footing and Travis Ewanyk scored on the second shot.

Tim Daly put the Grizzlies within one, first drawing a penalty in the Grizzlies’ end, and then on the delayed penalty, carrying the puck up the ice himself to score his first goal of the season in style.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were a little lackadaisical coming back to their own zone, and Idaho scored. The Grizzlies responded well to the setback, and upped their play a notch. With 4:01 left in the first, Shane Walsh, Colin Martin and Brandon McNally crashed the Steelheads’ net, and McNally banged the puck home, making it 3-2 Idaho. The Grizzlies seemed to get their feet under them after that, and looked much better in the last few minutes of the period.

The Grizzlies came out in the second and continued to improve on their play, though nothing came of it until Jordan Samuels-Thomas scored on an absolute cannon of a shot, tying up the game at 11:49. The Steelheads looked a bit shaky for a stretch, and the Grizzlies upped the intensity. Larraza and Samuels-Thomas swarmed the net, and the Steelheads’ goalie looked a little harried, but smothered the puck.

At 19:34, Jon Puskar took a holding penalty behind his own net, but the penalty kill was very short lived. Idaho’s Rob Linsmayer took a high-sticking penalty with 12 seconds left in the period. After forty, the game was tied at three, and the shots were also tied at 20.

In the opening minutes of the third, it looked like the Grizzlies had a chance to make a game of it – deserved or not. However, that was not to be. Following a post face-off scramble, Kellan Lain put the puck right through Boyle for the Steelheads’ fourth goal at 5:14.

Unfortunately, that goal turned out to be the death knell of the comeback, as Utah ran into some penalty trouble, and the Steelheads scored their fifth goal on the power play. Boyle was clearly not happy with himself, slamming his stick on the crossbar in the aftermath.

The Grizzlies had another chance to close the gap when the Steelheads took two penalties, and Utah pulled Boyle for an extra attacker. Colin Martin scored his first pro goal, putting Utah drew within one again, and it looked like the rookie had waited for just the opportune moment to make an impact. The goal was eventually given to Samuels-Thomas, and less than a minute later, Linsmayer scored on a turn over. At that point, it was all well and truly over. Kyle Jean scored on the empty net with less than thirty seconds left, and David Glen put the final nail in the coffin with just four seconds to go. The final count was 8-4 for Idaho, and the shots 33-24, also in Idaho’s favour.

After battling so hard to tie the game up at the end of the second, it was disheartening to lose by such a wide margin, but the Grizzlies clearly weren’t on their game all night. They had issues in transition, and their defensive coverage – such a strength in the first two games of the year – was weak, most especially in the first period, but also throughout the game in general. As a result, their rookie net-minder was often left to fend for himself, and he struggled mightily.

Fortunately, Utah can go back to the drawing board and try again tomorrow, as the same two teams face off again in Idaho at 7:10 MST.

Utah Grizzlies: So it Begins

Some of you may remember that the Utah Grizzlies were my first real hockey love. A lot of you also probably know that it’s been a dream of mine to work in hockey in some regard. Well, that dream has partly come true.

This season, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive credentials from the Utah Grizzlies to cover the team, and last night was the first game of the season.

The Game

The first period was fairly uneventful, though the Grizzlies managed to put up 13 shots to the Steelheads’ 7. No goals were scored, and each team took a penalty, but not a whole lot of note occurred. That all changed in the second period. The Grizzlies took control of the game as first C.J. Eick and then Jon Puskar scored less than three minutes apart, and things got a little chippy. Utah came out very much on top, with two penalties to Idaho’s three, and ten shots to Idaho’s five in addition to the two goals.

Then the Steelheads made things interesting.

Idaho began the third with far more energy than they had shown in the two previous periods, pressuring the Grizzlies, and eventually scoring on the power play at 3:16. Thanks largely to the play of Kevin Boyle, Utah was able to weather the storm, until Eick put away his second of the night with an authoritative shot from the slot. Ducks prospect Kenton Helgeson picked up a secondary assist on the tally. With less than five minutes left to play, newcomer Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who was noticeable on nearly every shift, put the finishing touch on the game.

The game felt far closer than the 4-1 score suggested, and the Steelheads out-shot the Grizzlies in the third to the tune of 18-11.

The power play (1/6 on the evening) looked a bit lackadaisical at times early on, as the Grizzlies had a little bit of trouble gaining or holding the zone, but it tightened up considerably as the game progressed. The penalty kill (1/5), on the other hand, looked very good throughout. Really, the defensive play overall was especially noticeable.

In addition to the goal-scorers Eick (named second star of the game), Puskar, and the aforementioned Samuels-Thomas, a number of other players stood out.

Brandon McNally, formerly of the Brampton Beast/St. John’s IceCaps (ECHL and AHL affiliates of the Montreal Canadiens) was noteworthy, primarily for his defensive skills, as the Grizzlies took quite a number of penalties, and he was a staple on the penalty kill.

Shane Walsh had four shots and an assist, Erik Higby five shots and an assist, and defenceman Mike Banwell had six shots and two assists.

The star of the game, however, was undoubtedly goaltender Kevin Boyle. In his first pro game, he was as cool as the proverbial cucumber. Despite going long stretches in the early going without seeing a shot, he never looked surprised or unprepared when they did come his way. In the third, he held down the fort until Eick added a little cushion to the lead. To see him, you would never have guessed that it was his first pro game.

“He makes some big saves, that’s for sure” said head coach Tim Branham after the game, “but he makes every save look easy. He’s one of those goaltenders that moves really well, controls his rebounds really well. The next time he plays, watch him, how many pucks that come off of him and go into the netting. He does a great job with it. He’s calm and cool, no matter what he’s doing.”

He added that as Boyle came off the ice after being named first star, he jokingly asked him if his heart rate had gone above 90 yet. If the outward signs were anything to go by, the answer could well have been no. “He’s pretty special,” Branham added, and given the evidence so far, it’s hard to disagree.

The Goalies

At the beginning of the season, for better or worse, there are always storylines surrounding a team. For the Habs, for instance, it is the P.K. Subban/Shea Weber trade. For the Grizzlies, it is clearly goaltending. Utah has had excellent starting goalies for quite a number of years now. If it wasn’t Aaron Dell (now backup for the San Jose Sharks) or Igor Bobkov, it was Ryan Faragher. This year, however, the goaltending depth is extraordinary. As Coach Branham said, he could pick any of their numbers out of a hat, and the team would be in good shape. So just who, exactly, are these stalwarts in net?

Faragher (26), returns for a third season, much to the delight of the Grizzlies faithful. In 41 games last year, he posted a .917 save percentage (Sv%), with 2.33 goals-against average (GAA), ending the season with a 24-13-4 record. He was sorely missed whenever he was called up to the AHL. Coach Branham once called him “the backbone of our team,” and his return alone would have put the Grizzlies in a good spot.

Ryan McKay (24) comes to the Grizzlies from Miami University Ohio, where his NCAA accomplishments include CCHA Regular Season Champion (2012-2013) and NCHC Champion (2014-15). In the Grizzlies’ second preseason game, he stopped 33 of the 34 shots he faced.

Last, but not least, is Boyle himself. Signed by Anaheim in March to a one-year contract, Boyle (also 24) spent half of his college career with UMass-Amherst, and the other half with UMass-Lowell. His 2015-16 season with UMass-Lowell was nothing short of spectacular. Going 24-10-5, his GAA was a dazzling 1.83, and his Sv% a very impressive .934. He was named NCAA (Hockey East) Goalie of the Year for his performance, and won (or was nominated for) quite a few other honours.

He played preseason games with Anaheim, San Diego and Utah, and attributed his surprising lack of nerves in his first pro game to these appearances, as well as to the fact that the team in front of him allowed him to ease into the swing of things by only allowing 12 shots in the first two periods. His mindset, he said, is “always just to win.” And that’s what he did.

Idaho and Utah will face off again tonight at the Maverik Center, and you can bet that fans and players alike will be at ease, no matter who gets the start.