Utah Grizzlies: RicHart and Soul

With the NHL looking ahead to the trade deadline on the 26th, the Grizzlies made a bunch of moves of their own. Cliff Watson and Ryan Olsen went to Colorado, while forward Jake Marchment and defenceman Gage Ausmus. Mitch Maxwell was signed to a contract, as was Sam Babintsev, while C.J. Eick was sent to Kansas City for futures, and Nate Mitton was returned to his SPHL team. Michael Pelech and Zach Saar also made their returns to the lineup.

Pelech took an early penalty, going off at 3:35 for high-sticking. The Grizzlies’ penalty kill went to work, however, and killed off the disadvantage, and Joel Rumpel made a couple of good saves.

James Melindy and Bryan Moore got into a fight at 8:21, both getting five and ten for continuing the altercation, but Utah got a power play, as a tripping call had been assessed to Allen prior to their fight.

Utah wasn’t able to capitalize, but they picked up in momentum following the power play, and took the lead in shots 10-8 after a great shift from Marchment, Babintsev, Ausmus, Austin Ortega and Taylor Richart.

Some good defensive hustle from Rob Mann and Sam Windle drew a power play with 6:33 to go, to the disgruntlement of the Americans fans. Utah ran into some trouble in their own end, leading to a save by Rumpel, before they went the other way, and Marchment scored his first goal for the Grizzlies from Brendan Harms and Ryan Misiak.

Marchment took a penalty about a minute later, but Utah killed it off in an authoritative fashion, and after 20, the 1-0 lead held, shots 15-10 in their favor.

Allen was strong in the offensive zone through the first two minutes, but didn’t register an official shot on goal through that time, and Utah followed that up with some hard-working offensive zone shifts of their own.

The hard work paid off, as Utah continued to crash the net, and create opportunities. Saar scored at 3:57 from Mitch Jones and Mann.

Maxwell got a tripping call at 4:46, but Allen negated it very shortly afterwards, putting the teams on more than a minute of four-on-four. Unfortunately, the Americans scored at 6:32 though, cutting the lead in half.

Harms got a look on a two-on-one on the next shift, but was slashed, sending the Grizzlies to the power play. They weren’t able to capitalize, but did generate some really good traffic and movement in front of Jeremy Brodeur.

Towards the end of the period, Allen continued to bear down, playing really long stretches in Utah’s end. However, the Grizzlies did a really good job of keeping pucks away from Rumpel.

Ryan Walters took a hooking call at 19:08, but the Grizzlies won the draw, Pelech and Richart rushed in, Taylor shot, and Pelech put the puck in the net. The short-handed goal gave Utah back the lead.

There was some chaos in the final seconds of the period, as Brad Navin was crosschecked to the ice, and the two teams tangled. Ausmus, Alex Guptill, and Zach Pochiro all went to the box, the first two for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Pochiro for boarding.

Maxwell let loose a big shot in the final second, and Utah went to the room leading 3-2, and despite Allen’s dominance in the second, out-shooting them 14-8 in the frame.

Richart started the third absolutely flying, getting his team leading seventh shot, coming out of nowhere to break up a four-on-one, and generally being the most noticeable player in the first three minutes.

Utah got a two-on-one with about five gone in the third, Ortega made a really nice pass, and Navin scored his eighth goal, picking up his tenth point in twelve games.

The Grizzlies were able to capitalize on another Allen breakdown at 7:35, making it 5-2 on a gorgeous tick-tack-toe goal by Walters from Harms and Misiak. Allen came back on the very next shift though, beating Rumpel to make it 5-3.

Richart was boarded with 7:49 to go, sending Casey Pierro-Zabotel to the box for two minutes. Richart was ok, if his later play was anything to judge by, but the Grizzlies weren’t able to get their three-goal lead back.

Allen was able to come within a goal after pulling Brodeur with 40 seconds to go, but that is as far as it got, Walters’ goal standing for the game winner.

All in all it was a really strong game, Utah looked good on both sides of the ice. Babintsev, Maxwell, Marchment, and Ausmus all fit right in, and added a great deal of stability to the roster. Likewise, the return of Pelech and Saar to the lineup gave them a strong, and much needed net-front presence. Only five players didn’t get on the board, while Misiak and Harms both had two assists, and Marchment got a goal and an assist. He was named third star of the game, while Walters got the first star. Navin and Harms continued their point streak, and Richart had his best game in a long time. He was prominent on the rush, prominent on defense, and led the team with seven shots.

After a series of disappointing losses, this was a much needed win against a strong opponent. Whether they can keep it going and establish some consistency remains to be seen.

 

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

 

 

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Utah Grizzlies: Defensive Disaster

In a rare morning game (something that hasn’t happened since Assistant Coach Ryan Kinasewich was on the bench instead of behind it). The roster remained the same as it had on Saturday, with the exception of Nate Mitton, who drew in after Mitch Hults was called back up to San Diego.

The Grizzlies began the game with a lot of buzz, and even when Rapid City got their skates under them, the first five minutes went to Utah, who outshot them 4-0.

So of course, the Rush scored first on their second shot from a tight angle. They were not allowed to rest on their lead very long, however, as Taylor Richart tied it up less than two minutes later on a big shot from the point at 10:30.

Austin Ortega drew the first call of the game at 11:50, but though Utah got a couple of shots, they were unable to get a second one past Adam Vay. Instead, Kenton Miller capitalized on a number of breakdowns in front of the Utah net for their second of the game with about five to go.

That’s more or less where the first period derailed. Kyle Thomas was high-sticked with two minutes left, and Alex Kromm pulled a clearly reluctant James Melindy into a fight.

Somehow, after all that, Melindy got two for instigating, negating the power play. The Grizzlies bench continued to protest, and were eventually called for a bench minor. Fortunately, Ryan Walters drew a slashing call at 18:40 to put the teams back four-on-four.

After 20, Utah trailed 2-1, outshooting the Rush 8-6.

Walters tied the game up at 1:39 from Ortega to once more tie it up. Rapid City got some zone time of their own after the goal, and Walters followed that up with a delay of game penalty at 4:41.

At 6:12, Mitch Jones and Daniel Leavens got tied up on the neutral zone, gloves went everywhere, and both got four for roughing. Jones went to the room, rather than the box, but returned shortly after the penalty expired. Both teams returned to full strength with no change of score. Unfortunately, however, a defensive turnover led directly to Miller’s 3-2 goal soon after returning to full strength.

Walters drew another slashing call at 10:40, but despite getting a couple of good looks, including a point-blank chance from the Captain, Rapid City drew a power play of their own with seven to go.

Walters got a good shot off on the kill, and he and Jones chased the Rush around their own zone. Rapid City maintained really strong possession of the puck coming off the power play, but Maguire dove to smother the puck, effectively putting an end to the onslaught.

Ortega took a holding call at 16:42, but Cliff Watson was high-sticked under a minute later, and left bleeding pretty heavily. It gave Utah a brief four-on-four, and then a considerable advantage that carried over into the third.

After getting patched up during the intermission, Watson returned to start the third, the power play fell flat, but Brad Navin threw a shot on goal, and as everyone looked around, Brendan Harms jumped on the puck, and tied the game.

The Ryans followed the goal up with a very nice shift, and at 4:52 they drew a power play. Brief, and averted defensive disaster aside, the power play moved the puck well, and got the chances they wanted, but didn’t convert. The defense continued to struggle though, and at 8:18, Miller capitalized once more on a mistake in front of the net for the hat trick.

Thomas took a slashing call half-way through the period, but Utah killed it off, though not without another skirmish by the Grizzlies’ net.

Jones went off to the room again shortly thereafter, and to make bad worse, yet another disastrous defensive turnover led to the Rush’s first two-goal lead of the afternoon at 17:19.

Utah pulled Maguire for the extra skater, and what had been such a close game for so much of the game ended 6-3 on an empty netter, shots 27-26 for Utah.

So, once again, turnovers by Utah’s top defense, and Rapid City capitalizing on every mistake killed what had otherwise been a close (if not particularly strong) game.

Once again, Utah wins one and loses one, and is still seeking consistencyβ€”especially from the defense. At least, with three goals, the offense is still showing signs of life, even with Vay giving Grizzlies fans a creeping feeling of deja vu.

So Utah will have to try again to pick up a win against the Rush on Friday.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff.

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: Saturday Night’s Alright

The lineups saw a bit of a shuffle again on Saturday, Brendan and the Ryans getting a new lease on life with Brendan Harms, Ryan Walters, and Ryan Misiak. Todd Skirving centered Austin Ortega and Alex Dostie, while Brad Navin and Kyle Thomas were joined by Mitch Hults. C.J. Eick also drew in for Travis Howe, and Sean Maguire got the start.

The Grizzlies came out skating and shooting hard, jumping out to a 3-1 shot count, but Thomas was a little too overzealous, and took a cross-checking call at 1:33. The penalty trouble continued when Navin took a high-sticking call at 3:52, but Utah killed off both five-on-three and five-on-four. Brendan and the Ryans came flying in on a three-on-one, Ryan Faragher stopped it, and unfortunately, the Steelheads went the other way and scored one of their own.

Skirving was the next Grizz player to head to the box at 11:51, but Utah only allowed one shot, and got one of their own before it was killed off. Dostie and Ortega had a good chance, but they weren’t able to connect cleanly, and with five to go, shots were 9-8 for Idaho, who led 1-0.

Brendan and the Ryans did what they do best, running Idaho around their own zone, and getting shots, but were unable to convert.

Utah drew a penalty, as Hults was hauled down in the defensive zone, and then they got a second with 1:04 to go. Despite getting a couple of chances from Hults right before the buzzer, after 20, Utah still trailed 1-0, though now out-shooting the Steelheads 12-9.

The Grizzlies began the second with 43 seconds of five-on-three power play time, but if suffered that all-too-familiar fate of many early power plays. Although they didn’t capitalize, they picked up the first three shots of the frame, buzzing in the offensive zone after the power play.

They carried that momentum through, and at 2:28, Navin got his sixth of the year from Sam Windle and Hults to tie the game. James Melindy powered around Idaho’s net on the next shift, but took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a crowd gathered around Faragher.

Utah killed it off, and then Thomas got tied up and hauled down, giving Utah the power play. They got three shots, Ortega’s especially being a good one. After all that momentum, it was particularly frustrating that the Steelheads got the next goal. Max French shot the puck through a couple of Grizzlies to take the lead. It did not last long though. Windle threw a shot hard onto the net, and Ortega tipped it in to tie the game.

Melindy’s hard work around the net eventually paid off as well, as he made it 3-2 at 15:03 unassisted.

Utah ran into penalty trouble again later in the period, Ortega taking a slashing call at 16:22, and Eick getting a tripping call at 18:09 putting Idaho on the five-on-three for 14 seconds. Utah killed off the five-on-three, and took a 3-2 lead to the locker room.

Thomas and Jefferson Dahl tangled after the whistle, but when the teams came out for the third, there were no additional penalties. The Grizzlies killed off the final nine seconds of Eick’s penalty, but they looked shaky in their own zone. Fortunately for them, Connor Chatham went into Maguire and took a penalty, but less fortunately, Dahl got in short-handed, hounded by Ortega. Maguire got a pad on it, but Ortega went to the box for slashing. Both penalties expired with no change in score, Utah out-shooting Idaho 27-22.

The defensive issues re-surfaced however, as a clearing attempt didn’t make it all the way out, and Idaho pounced on the rebound to make it 3-3.

The animosity amped up a couple of levels as Ully and Jones got into it behind the Utah net, and then all hell broke lose. All the skaters on both sides piled in. When the dust settled, Jones, Hults, and Thomas went to the box for Utah, while Ully, Dahl, and Baldwin went for Idaho.

The chippiness continued, and Melindy drew another penalty. This one finally paid off, as Dostie wired it past Faragher’s glove. Rob Mann took an interference call at 12:34, but Utah’s penalty kill remained perfect, and they returned to full strength.

Idaho pressed hard in the final couple of minutes of the game, as Utah struggled to keep them out of their own zone, which was compounded when they pulled Faragher for the extra attacker.

However, with 1:33 to go, Joe Faust put the puck over the glass, and Utah went to a late power-play. The advantage almost backfired horribly when Maguire went to play the puck behind his own net, and bounced it over and directly in front of the empty cage. Somehow, he managed to get around the net, and stop the speeding Steelhead, and Brendan Harms sent the puck down the length of the ice, straight into the empty net.

Idaho once again pulled Faragher with 50 seconds left, but the two-goal cushion saw the Grizzlies to the end of the game.

Hults was the only Utah player to earn a star, first, with his two assists, but plenty of other players had terrific games as well. Dostie and Ortega, of course, continued to be forces to be reckoned with, but Melindy also had a particularly strong game. Richart and Navin led the team with six shots a piece, Navin picking up his fourth goal in five games. Windle also had two assists, and Maguire stopped 37/40 shots, while the penalty kill went a perfect 8/8.

Hopefully, the next step now will be consistency, and that they can bring the kind of game we saw on Saturday into their three game series against Rapid City.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard

 

Utah Grizzlies: Friday Funday

After a disappointing effort on Wednesday night, Utah got some reinforcements on Friday night. Forwards Mitch Hults (assigned by Anaheim to get ice time during the all star break) and Nate Mitton (who attended training camp) both joined the Grizzlies prior to the game, drawing into the lineup in place of Erik Higby and C.J. Eick. Hults, a centerman, slotted in with Ryan Walters and Austin Ortega, while Mitton played with Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

The game got off to a rocky start with a couple of quick penalties. Mitton flew into the Tulsa end looking not at all like a guy adjusting to the altitude, and first drew what looked like an interference call, but then was mysteriously dinged with an embellishment call as well.

Shortly thereafter, James Melindy and Justin Selman went off with “roughing” and tripping calls respectively, and then Travis Howe dropped the gloves with Mike McKee off the face-off at 4:30. Howe got some really huge punches in, and the 6,843 in attendance roared their support.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies coughed the puck up in their own zone, and Tulsa made it 1-0.

It looked, for a moment, like the Grizzlies were doomed to give up a quick second goal as Chris Leibinger lost the puck at the blue line, and the Oilers came in uncontested. However, Taylor Richart flew back from the far side to cut off the attempt.

Cliff Watson drew Utah’s first power play at 6:30. Tulsa got a short-handed shot against, but at the tail end of the advantage, Leibinger skated the puck down behind the Tulsa net, and threw it to Puskar just above the blue paint. Utah’s first shot of the game found the back of the net to tie it up. The assists on Puskar’s eleventh of the year went to Leibinger and Harms.

Utah got yet another crack on the power play less than a minute later, but despite Kyle Thomas’ bet efforts, Tulsa killed that one off. Watson got tripped up without a call, Leibinger stepped in on Ryan Tesink, who was sent sprawling before Dylan Hubbs jumped in on Leibinger. Both players got a couple of good punches in, and when the dust settled, Hubbs got an extra two for instigating.

Sean Maguire made a big save on a short-handed stretch pass that saw an Oilers player alone behind the defense, but after that, the Grizzlies got set up in the offensive zone. Hults got a huge shot off from the point, and Richart’s shot from the blue line flew into a crowd in front of the net. Ryan Misiak got his stick on the rebound, and Ortega scored his fifth power play goal in eleven games.

Mitton got a very nice chance on the ensuing shift, and Mitch Jones also got off a rocket in his return. Howe demonstrated that his hands are good for things besides big punches, making a nice play to keep the puck in the zone as the third line had a very strong shift. Tulsa had a hard time holding onto the puck in front of their own net, and Utah pounced on every opportunity, but were unable to capitalize.

Watson got a great chance at the end of the first, and Utah went into the locker room leading 2-1, and out-shooting Tulsa 13-8, despite having been out-shot 5-0 at one point in the period.

 

The third line got another really strong shift in a few minutes into the second, Mitton getting a shot off of of a hard-working cycle from Navin.

Tommy Vannelli tripped up Ortega at 2:55, and Ortega got up ready to fight. Vannelli didn’t oblige, but the two went off for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Utah controlled the ensuing four-on-four, and Melindy got a nice spinning shot off. Navin had another strong shift with Puskar, Leibinger, and Sam Windle. Leibinger and Puskar also got a scoring chance off the rush. On the defensive side of things, Jones hounded an Oilers player into the defensive zone to prevent a chance against.

After the teams returned to full strength, the third line had another terrific shift that culminated in a gorgeous goal from Navin, whose first goal since November 1st was a top shelf snipe. Howe got his first point of the year on the primary assist, while Harms got his eleventh with the secondary.

The same line had another big shift, and a couple of minutes later, Melindy took a high-stick, sending Utah to their fourth straight power play at 10:10.

Puskar and Richart both got good looks, and Utah got a lengthy five-on-three at 10:52. The first wave power play of Hults, Ortega, Thomas, Walters, and Watson got some really nice offensive zone pressure going, but weren’t able to capitalize, and Tulsa killed off both penalties.

Howe took a slashing call as the game got a little rough in the corners with 6:13 to go. The penalty kill came up big for Howe, Misak and Puskar orchestrating a couple of clears, as the Grizzlies allowed zero shots.

With less than two minutes to go, Melindy made a big defensive play and was sent off for holding. Maguire made a couple of big saves, and the period came to an end. After 40, Utah led 3-1, out-shooting the Oilers 24-16.

The Grizzlies began the third with just four seconds of Melindy’s penalty on the clock, and about four minutes later, Maguire made a couple of big saves, and Utah cleared the puck out of certain danger.

Watson made it 4-1 at 4:35, as the puck rolled past Hildebrand surprisingly uncontested. Walters got the primary assist, while Hults picked up his first point with the Grizzlies.

Tulsa pushed back, getting a couple of good shifts of their own, but weren’t able to capitalize until past the half-way mark, as the entire roster played hard and blocked shots.

With 8:05 to go, Utah got tied up in their own zone, and Tulsa scored to cut the lead in half.

The Oilers continued to work, but Maguire shut the door when shots made it through, and at 15:36 McKee got a closing hand on the puck penalty.

It took the Grizzlies just six seconds to capitalize. Leibinger held the puck in the zone, passed to Richart, who shot once again from the point. The puck bounced to Harms, who put it past Hildebrand from a tight angle. The goal was his fourth of the year, and his third against Tulsa.

That was pretty much the game, both teams got a couple more shots, but at the final buzzer, the 5-2 lead belonged to Utah, who out-shot the Oilers 31-24.

Utah is now only one point behind Tulsa, and four behind Allen, who own the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division.

In addition to a big two points, the game broke a couple of long time goalless streaks for Harms and Navin, Harms picking up three points and first star of the game, while Navin got his third point in three games. Without a doubt, Utah played a complete sixty, as well as a complete game from the entire roster. Maguire was awarded the second star of the game, while Howe took the third with the fight and assist.

“When we play like we want it, we’re tough to handle.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We’ve got some guysβ€”when you can add Mitch Hults, Austin Ortegaβ€”when you’ve got guys who can score goals, it helps. We’ve lost a lot of one goal games. Our power play has been really hot lately, and we’re able to put the puck in the net. When we’re able to score, good things happen.”

“They’re a hard working team,” he added of the Oilers, “And they actually do a good job of getting to the blue line with speed, just putting pucks on net, and being tenacious. We did a much better job of winning our battles, getting the puck up the ice, controlling the play in the offensive zone. Obviously we spent a lot more time in their zone today than the last game, so we’ve gotta play the same way. They’re gonna come out hard, they’re not gonna be happy they lost today, but if we play with that effort, teams can’t stop us. When everybody is pulling the rope in the right direction, good things happen.”

Moreover, if the third line can keep their momentum going, it will be big for the team going forward. “Before last game, we were one of four teams who had three players or more that were a point a game. We lose those one goal games because we don’t have that depth scoring. So when Navin scores, Harms scores, it’s just huge for us, so we need that depth scoring in order to be able to compete and win those one goal games.”

Ortega’s thoughts were in a similar vein. “We’ve been talking about getting in a playoff spot, we haven’t been happy with the way we’ve been playing, especially last game, and we took it to heart. We had a big meeting about our effort, and I think tonight we were a completely different team, we had a tremendous amount of effort and hard work, and it paid off.”

So what do the Grizzlies have to do on Saturday night to keep rolling? “Same thing with effort and hard work, playing the way we’re supposed to be, and at this point, it’s just consistency.”

If Utah wins tonight (Saturday), they will be on point ahead of Tulsa, closing in on the Allen Americans, who have been on a bit of a losing skid. It would be a huge win for the Grizzlies, and they’ll do have to do it in front of what will likely be a nearly sold-out crowd.

 

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Road-trip Redemption

For the third game against Rapid City in three games, the Grizzlies more or less kept their roster intact on Sunday, with the exception of Travis Howe drawing in, and Mitch Jones sitting the game out.

Howe made his presence felt at once, dropping the gloves with Anthony Collins at 1:43.

Brad Navin continued to get chances, as the Grizzlies once again dominated play in the first four minutes. Once again, however, Rapid City struck first at 3:52, Daniel Leavens from Peter Sivak and Riley Weselowski.

Jon Puskar took a slashing call at 5:26, but the Grizzlies came on with a vengeance, Brendan Harms scoring short-handed at 6:13.

James Melindy took a cross-checking call, giving Rapid City a decent five-on-three, and though they killed off the five-on-three, Rapid City scored on the power play.

The Grizzlies responded again, Walters on another terrific pass from Navin.

Howe had a couple of nice moves on both sides of the ice, and the Puskar line had a strong shift that ended in Ryan Misiak getting robbed by Christian Frey.

After 20, shots were 11-9 for the Rush, but tied 2-2.

The Grizzlies and Rush both had chances in the first half of the second, Walters, and Mann especially getting looks for Utah.

The pressure paid off, as Kyle Thomas made a beautiful pass to Cliff Watson, who made no mistake, putting Utah up 3-2 at 9:13.

Unfortunately, Rapid City tied it up again with 3:36 to go. On the very next shift, Walters tried to sell a goal, but after the officials gathered, it was called no goal.

At the end of a penalty-less second period (even after the tussle between Weselowski and Walters), they were tied 3-3, shots 19-16 in Rapid City’s favor.

The two teams exchanged chances, but at 5:34 Rapid City took a tripping call, and Ortega pounced. He struck again less than two minutes later, giving Utah their first two-goal lead of the game at 7:34.

Utah maintained the lead, but were unable to extend it on the power play just past the half-way mark of the third.

The Rush pulled Frey with 1:30 to go, and Ortega just missed the empty-net hat trick. Puskar made no mistake on the next shift though, fighting past a Rapid City defender to score his tenth of the year from Walters and Ortega. Leibinger took a slashing call with 17 seconds to go, but Utah killed it off to win the game.

Ortega now has 12 points in nine games with Utah, and was named second star of the game with two goals and an assist, while Watson’s goal and assist earned him second star.

The Grizzlies returned to Utah with three of a possible six points, and thank to loses from teams ahead of them in the standings, are within striking distance of the final playoff spot.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff