Utah Grizzlies: Penalties Kill

After a penalty filled game three that saw the Grizzlies play pretty well, but surrender yet another third period lead, Utah looked to correct the issue.

Cam Reid returned to the lineup, while Phil Pietroniro was placed on reserve earlier in the day, and Marc-André Lévesque drew back into the line-up in his stead. Kevin Boyle once again manned the net, and the Grizzlies’ electric third line of C.J. Eick, Jon Puskar, and Austen Brassard took the opening face off.

Through the first five minutes, both teams picked up two shots, and neither appeared to hold the advantage.

Puskar took a cross-checking penalty with just about ten minutes to go, but between a desperation play by Haar, and some excellent penalty killing, including short-handed chances by Brassard, Eick, and Erik Higby, the Grizzlies killed off the minor.

With 4:36 to go in the first, the Grizzlies went flying up the ice, and in his first game back, Cam Reid made it 1-0 from Brassard and Colin Martin.

Gabriel Verpaelst laid a quartet of thunderous hits throughout the first, to the delight of the crowd, and Eick’s speed got him a one-on-one chance with Gill with 2:02 left to go that he unfortunately was unable to bury.

After 20 the shots favored Allen 15-8, but Utah held the 1-0 lead.

The Grizzlies generated a few good looking chances to start the second, and at 3:58 Daly drew a cross-checking penalty. Utah maintained excellent possession, and puck movement throughout, but despite some scramble-y moments from Gill, they were unable to capitalize.

Ralph Cuddemi also had the chance of a one-on-one with Gill, and also was unable to cash in, and the Americans looked increasingly dangerous in the offensive zone.

Utah had the chance to grab back the momentum when Alex Krushelnyski took a hooking call at 16:47, but to no avail, and at the end of two periods, the score remained 1-0 for the Grizzlies, with Allen holding a 25-17 edge in shots.

After getting only one penalty in forty minutes, the third period did not get off to a very good start as the first shot on net led to a scrum around Boyle. Verpaelst and Josh Brittain were sent to cool their tempers just six seconds into the frame.

To make matters worse, Erik Bradford took a high-sticking penalty less than a minute later to put Utah on the wrong side of a 4-on-3 for 1:30. Boyle and penalty killers were able to fight off the 4-on-3, only for Allen to score with 11 seconds left on the Bradford call.

With 15:13 to go, Brassard was sent to the box on a questionable hooking call, and Allen struck on the power play once again, and the wheels came well and truly off the bus.

Allen added goals at 9:01 and 12:57 on a 2-on-1, and with 4:10 to go in the period, Boyle was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. Allen missed the empty net three times, but with 1:08 remaining, Krushelnyski scored his first goal of the series into the empty cage.

When the buzzer finally sounded, Utah found themselves down 5-1, and on the brink of elimination, out shot 35-30, and out scored 11-0 in the third periods this series.

Reid’s lone Utah goal, and team leading five shots on net earned him third star of the game.

“I don’t have an explanation for it,” Coach Branham said after the game of the rapid deterioration of discipline in the third. “That’s all we talked about in between periods, buying in, and staying disciplined, and then we decide to get tough after a whistle. And then you take two penalties 200 feet from your net. The second one was a horrible call, the hook on Brassard was [an] absolutely ludicrous call, but the high-stick on Bradford, 100% it’s a high-stick. Once again, it’s discipline.

You’ve got to go through it to really understand, so for those guys that have never been deep in playoffs, or never won a championship, they don’t truly understand, and if they don’t listen to what you’re saying, they don’t get it. Taking punches to the head, just that disciplined stuff. You’ve got to play between the whistles, and if you don’t, you roll the dice. We could have had four goals going into the third period, and it wouldn’t have mattered, but that’s not the game. It was 1-0, you’ve gotta be disciplined, and when you go on your own page, bad things happen.”

When asked about whether it has been frustrating to surrender three third period leads, he replied, “Yeah. But at the same token, the discipline is what’s frustrating. It’s not the fact that we’ve had the lead, it’s why you’re losing those leads, it’s through lack of discipline. And you don’t learn from it in game one, game two I thought the referees did a really good job, and then here, we kind of had to battle the referees a little in that period, you can’t give them a reason to call a penalty. And unfortunately, it’s been the same thing in every third period. Discipline. It’s gotta be clear to the guys, and that’s on me for putting the wrong guys in the lineup.”

Saturday’s game is an elimination game, but as Coach was quick to point out, “Anything is possible. By no means are we down and out. If you learn from your mistakes, you’re going to win. Simple as that. I told the boys from the beginning, this series is about us. We’ve had a lead going into every third period. When you’re disciplined, you win. When you’re not, you lose. It’s not that hard to take a punch to the head.”


Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming

Utah Grizzlies: Death by Special Teams II

The Grizzlies got off to a very good start in their final home game against Colorado on Monday night, as Cam Reid opened the scoring at 1:42 with assists from C.J. Eick and Phil Pietroniro. Unfortunately, however, the advantage they’d established evaporated as they ran into some penalty trouble.

Martin Nemcik took a holding call at 7:08, but Garrett Haar’s hard work behind the Grizzlies’ net drew a penalty and evened out the play. However about four minutes later, Michael Sdao was tripped up and flew into Faragher. Faragher wasn’t entertained, and laid into him, which resulted in two Utah penalties, one to Nemcik for hooking, and one to Faragher for roughing. Matt Register got off three big shots from the point on the five-on-three before the next one finally beat Faragher to tie the game.

Erik Higby took a double minor for high-sticking at 13:09, and Register scored yet again on the 5-on-3. The Grizzlies were able to kill off the remainder of the penalty, thanks in large part to Haar’s excellent play, and Colorado took a penalty of their own with 22 seconds left in the period.

After 20 minutes, the game was tied 1-1, and Utah outshot them 11-9.

The Grizzlies got off to another great start in the second, as Michael Pelech made it 2-1 24 seconds into the frame with assists from Marc-André Lévesque and Mathieu Aubin.

Austen Brassard got a beautiful breakaway all alone from off the bench, but was tied up, and no call was made. Faragher and Haar continued to impress, Faragher made some terrific saves, and Haar also had a nice scoring chance. Register took a slashing penalty with 13:18 to go. Utah was unable to generate anything on the man advantage, and Faragher had to make an incredible pair of saves as the Eagles pounced on some egregious turn overs.


However, just when it looked like Colorado was prepared to take the bit in their mouth and run off with the game, Pelech scored his second of the period from Tim Daly. Haar got the secondary assist, his first for Utah, and a nice touch to a great game.

Pelech took a tripping call with 4:34 to go, but C.J. Eick, who had looked terrific so far, got a glorious short-handed breakaway, but unfortunately his shot went wide. However, they killed off the remainder of the penalty, and at the end of 40, Utah led 3-2, and the shots were tied 22-22.

The third period did not get off to an altogether auspicious start, as the Eagles kept the Grizzlies playing in their own end, and Utah iced the puck. However, they averted danger, and Daly drew a tripping penalty behind the Utah net.

The Grizzlies struggles on the power play continued against the Eagles, however, as Darryl Bootland made it 3-3 with 1:03 to go on the Utah man advantage.

The special teams issues continued for the Grizzlies, as they took a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct at 9:51, and despite two terrific saves from Faragher, the puck continued to pinball, and Jackson Houck made it 4-3 about a minute later.

Faragher and Haar continued to have strong games, Faragher turned aside a breakaway, and shortly thereafter, Haar made a perfect sliding play to prevent a shot on the 2-on-1.

Utah tried to make a game of it, but despite a power play in the final two minutes of the game, and pulling Faragher for the extra attacker, Colorado scored a short handed empty netter for the dagger with 37 seconds to go.

When the buzzer sounded, the Grizzlies found themselves the losers of three straight, outshot 33-31. They definitely did not play badly, but special teams cost them. Every single one of Colorado’s goals was scored either on the power play, or the penalty kill, and the Grizzlies’ power play – though they did score one on the man advantage – really hurt them as the Eagles’ penalty kill jumped on any mistake or hesitation.

“I thought we definitely played well enough to win.” Said Branham after the game, “Special teams was a huge part of the last two games, and they’re pretty good on special teams, so we’ve got to make sure we tighten up in that area.”

“We’ve got to play that same way. Be a little more disciplined, stay out of the penalty box a little bit. I didn’t think some of those penalties were warranted. I thought we were on the wrong end of quite a few of them, to be honest, but that’s the way it goes, and you’ve got to battle through it.”

He had good things to say of Eick and Haar as well:

“[Eick’s] full of energy. He’s a guy that works hard each and every shift, and his speed is tough to defend, so we like getting him out there on the open ice, he brings it every game. It’s great for a coach when you know what you’re going to get out of a player every night. You definitely know what you’re going to get out of him each and every night.”

He added that he thought the contest was the second in which Haar was theGrizzlies best defenseman.

With their loss, they find themselves one point behind Missouri, and five behind Alaska. They’ve got eight games left, so the playoffs are certainly not out of the question, but (as they have all year) they face a very stiff uphill battle.

Then again, it remains unwise to count them out entirely.

They play tonight in Colorado, where they hope to return to their early season success against the 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.

Utah Grizzlies: Swagger

Saturday night’s game was likely the last to ever be played between the Alaska Aces and the Utah Grizzlies, and it did not disappoint.

Ryan Faragher got the start for the third straight game, and the only roster change saw Sean Robertson draw in in place of Zac Larraza.

Utah came out flying in the opening minutes of the period, and Jon Puskar scored his 19th of the year at 3:37, making it 1-0 on a beautiful shot. Ralph Cuddemi drew the only assist.

About a minute later, Phil Pietroniro put the puck over the glass, and was sent to the box for delay of game. There were some tense moments to follow, as C.J. Eick joined him shortly after for interference, drawing a crowd of ticked off Aces players. Between some beautiful saves from Faragher, and the Grizzlies’ excellent penalty kill, however, the 5-on-3, and subsequent 5-on-4 were both killed off.

Both teams collected chances in the following few minutes, but it would be Utah who capitalized. At 10:45, The Grizzlies came flying into the Aces’ zone, and Colin Martin made it 2-0 on Pietroniro’s rebound.

Martin took a penalty at 13:02, and though Utah did an excellent job of killing it off, Alaska cut the Grizzlies lead in half mere seconds after it expired.

Both teams got good chances in the last four or so minutes, but Utah decidedly carried the play, throwing a flurry of shots on net in the last three seconds, and the period came to an end with Utah up 2-1, outshooting Alaska 9-7.

The Grizzlies continued to buzz right out of the gate in the second, as Erik Bradford rang the post mere moments into the frame.

Brad Navin took a goaltender interference penalty at 2:34, and the Grizzlies got a few chances early, but Alaska also got two breakaways. Ultimately, however, Martin made Alaska pay, scoring his second of the night at 3:49 after absolute mayhem around the net. Cam Reid and Marc-André Lévesque drew the assists, and Utah reclaimed their two goal lead.

Despite being up by two goals, the Grizzlies stayed hungry, continuing to skate hard and get chances. Alas,, that’s when the questionable penalty troubles began. Mathieu Aubin was pulled down in the defensive zone at 9:22, yet it was Pietroniro who was sent to the box for tripping.

Unfortunately, Nolan Descoteaux scored on the suspect penalty, and the game was made 3-2. Alaska put the pedal to the metal after their goal, and with 8:31 left to go, they tied it up.

The Aces continued to press, but Faragher made a pair of big saves, and the momentum slowly began to shift back in Utah’s favor.

Mitch Jones tried to goad Ralph Cuddemi into a retaliatory penalty, but with no luck after the Grizzlies continued to crash the net.

The crease crashing paid off as the Grizzlies went to the net hard, and Martin’s wrap-around slipped past Kevin Carr for the hat trick. Martin’s hat trick makes him the third Utah player this year to put up a three goal game, joining Cuddemi and Puskar. Reid picked up his third assist of the night – all three coming on Martin’s goals.

The missed calls continued to pile up, as Erik Higby was taken down with no call. A few minutes later, Brassard was sent into the back of the net at 16:45, and took justice into his own hands, dropping the gloves with Mitch Jones. Brassard won the bout emphatically, Jones got an extra two for roughing, and Utah went to the power play.

The Grizzlies’ power play generated some chances, including two from Martin, but the most dangerous attempt of the play went to Alaska who jumped on a bad line change, and got a 2-on-0 on Faragher. Faragher made a phenomenal save, and the Grizzlies went into second intermission up 4-3.

Alaska got a big scoring chance eighteen seconds into the third on their sixteenth shot of the night, but Faragher shut the door.

Puskar took a shot up high along the boards with no call with 14:31 to go, and Reid took a holding call moments afterwards. Once again, Descoeaux scored on the power play, to tie the game at 6:02.

The Grizzlies responded emphatically as Bradford, Aubin, and Michael Pelech capped off a terrific shift with a goal from the Rocket at 9:08.

Alaska countered, but the Grizzlies did a terrific job blocking out shots, and responding with offensive zone shifts of their own. With roughly five minutes to go, Alaska twice got away with blatant calls against Tim Daly, but Utah continued to battle

The Aces finally took a penalty as Stephen Perfetto all but hitched a ride on Daly through the neutral zone with 2:18 left in regulation. The power play was not so much a power play as a time killer, Utah playing keep-away in the offensive zone as much as possible.

When the final horn sounded, Utah had outshot Alaska 28-24 en route to the 5-4 victory, while Martin, Reid, and Faragher were the well-deserving three stars of the game.

“This whole series, I don’t think we put together a full 60 minutes until tonight.” Martin said after the game. “We took it to them from puck drop right to the last buzzer there. That’s what we need to do every night. It’s playoff hockey, starting now, and it’s time to go.”

Coach Branham had similar thoughts on the team’s game. “Definitely proud of the effort. I’m sure it was exciting for the fans, but we would have liked to keep the puck out of our net a few more times, but I thought we did a pretty good job. We did a good job of answering every time. Alaska did a good job of responding, and then we would respond back. It was just great. No matter what got thrown at us — we were talking on the bench — no matter what gets thrown at us, we’re not losing this game. I thought we could have had quite a few calls there at the end, that weren’t called. I don’t know what was going on there. But we did get the one at the end, and we were able to seal the deal.”

“Our destiny is in our hands” Branham continued. “We’ve gotta just win. Win games, and we’ve got a tough stretch here, but so do they. Missouri lost again tonight, so we’re two points up on them, and they make up a game in hand tomorrow, so we’ll be watching the scoreboards, but at the end of the day we’ve gotta just worry about what we gotta do, and focus on continuing to win hockey games.”

“It’s pretty crazy” Martin said, reflecting on the future of the Aces, “Every time you think about this league, one of the teams you obviously think about is the Alaska Aces. It’s sad. I feel sorry for the guys down there, but at the same time, it’s hockey. Stuff happens, and you’ve just gotta do what you can.”

As much as Martin may sympathise with their fate, he, and the Grizzlies, are focused on their own play, and the task ahead. “We’re confident. That’s what we need. We need confidence, we need guys going to the net, we need guys scoring goals, that all comes with confidence. I think we have that right now, we’ve got some swagger, and it’s time to go to Florida and get six points.”

Confidence and swagger were the watchwords of the day as Branham echoed Martin’s words:”It’s all about confidence and swagger. It’s a confident group in there, so we’ve just gotta build on that, and keep that rolling.”

With the win, Utah improves to 9-0-0-1 when they score first, and a staggering 13-1-1-2 when Puskar scores.

They’ll look to take their winning ways to Florida in the coming week, where they will face the Florida Everblades, and the Orlando Solar Bears, both of whom have been hot as of late.

Photo courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

Utah Grizzlies: A Real Nail-Biter

February is a big month for the Grizzlies. They play twelve games exclusively against the teams they’re chasing for a playoff spot, and all but three of the games are on the road. In this first of three games against the Idaho Steelheads Mathieu Aubin drew back into the lineup, as did Kenton Helgesen, replacing C.J. Eick and Carlos Amestoy.

Neither team dominated through the opening minutes, athough Idaho did have a slight edge in attempts until about the five minute mark. To no one’s surprise, the Grizzlies’ best shift of the early period came from the Brad Navin-Jon Puskar-Austen Brassard line, who was excellent throughout.

Idaho struck first at 8:39 as Utah was unable to clear the zone, and Jefferson Dahl beat Ryan Faragher.

However, the Grizzlies tied up the game at 12:29 when Cam Reid tipped Phil Pietroniro’s point shot past Brenden Komm. Just over two minutes later, the Grizzlies repeated the play, though this time Reid got Pietroniro’s shot to Erik Bradford, who scored his tenth of the season.

Unfortunately, Michael Pelech took a penalty for charging the goaltender in the crease, and Idaho capitalized on the ensuing power play at 17:10.

After 20, the teams were tied at two,  shots were 12-9, and Reid, Bradford and Pietroniro found themselves with a pair of points a piece.

Chances continued to pile up for Brassard, who got his fifth shot of the game with 15:55 to go in the second, and Utah drew a power play as Idaho got dinged for delay of game.

Things did not go at all to plan, though, as the Grizzlies gave up a short-handed breakaway, and Andre Bouvet-Morrissette put Idaho up 3-2.

Utah responded with a terrific shift in the offensive zone, which Taylor Richart capped off with a goal, and just a few minutes later, Colin Martin got his fifth goal in as many games on the power play.

Idaho pressured after Martin’s goal, but Bradford and Pelech got in two-on-one with under four minutes left in the period, and Pelech put Utah up 5-3.

Utah finished the period on the power play, outshooting Idaho 28-19, and still leading by two.

The first half of the third period was pretty even, both teams getting chances and working hard, but Idaho made interesting as Bouvet-Morrissette made it 5-4 on his second of the night, and Pelech took a tripping call at 14:15.

With 1:41 left, Puskar and Joe Bassaraba were sent off with coincidental minors, and Idaho elected to pull their goalie. However, Richart scored into the empty net with eight seconds to go, giving Utah the 6-4 win.

There are not many nights where you can point at a Grizzlies’defenseman and say “He had a better night than Tim Daly,” but tonight may just have been such a night.  Pietroniro was terrific on both sides of the ice, serving as a catalyst for several excellent Utah chances, and making a number of good defensive plays in addition to the two first period points.

It was a good night for multi-point games in general; Richart’s empty netter gave him his first multi-goal game as a pro, Reid got a goal and an assist, and Bradford’s four point night won him second star of the game.

Also fun to note, Brassard had 10 shots, and Faragher picked up his third assist of the season on Richart’s first goal.

This was a huge game for Utah in their hunt for a playoff spot, especially since Alaska also lost 5-2 against Colorado. Utah now trails Alaska by six points, though the Aces do have two games in hand.

The two teams will face off again on Friday and Saturday in Boise, where Utah hopes to continue their push for the playoffs.


Photo courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies