Utah Grizzlies: Total Domination

After last game, Tim Branham was confident that the Grizzlies would be ready for game two against Alaska, and they absolutely were, turning in what was perhaps their strongest and most complete game of the season against  a very good team – to the great delight of the 6,026 fans in attendance.

Utah came out flying, playing smart with the puck, and working relentlessly to get it back whenever they lost it – just as Branham had discussed the night before.  It took until about the five minute mark for either team to register a shot, but then the Grizzlies got the first four straight as they monopolized possession of the puck.

They rapidly picked up shots five through seven, and the number one line of Michael Pelech, Erik Bradford, and Ralph Cuddemi got their first of the game as Pelech put the puck home at 6:04 after a series of rebounds.

The Grizzlies didn’t take their foot off the pedal after the first five, and Alaska struggled to even gain Utah’s zone. Ten minutes into the period, Alaska had yet to register a shot, Puskar almost got in alone on a breakaway, and the Grizzlies drew the first power play of the night.

Unfortunately Alaska scored twice short handed on the same penalty to put them up 2-1 on three shots. However, the Grizzlies did not let that rattle them, as they came back with a vengeance, going right back to the strong play that had served them well before the first man advantage.

Alaska got called for hooking against Phil Pietroniro, and the Grizzlies’power play got a second chance, just under fifteen minutes into the period.

Cuddemi missed the wide open net, but Alaska put the puck over the boards on the ensuing clearing attempt, sending the Grizzlies to a 5-on-3 for 1:21. The Grizzlies set up strongly, but were unable to muster a shot on the two man advantage.

Tim Daly threw a big shot on net on the  following 5-on-4, and this time, Cuddemi made no mistake, tying it up at 17:23. Daly drew the first of what would eventually be three primary assists, and Cam Reid got the secondary.

The Grizzlies continued to press through to the end of the period, camping out in the Aces’ zone, and trying to capitalize off Daly’s shots from the point. After 20, the Grizzlies outshot Alaska to the tune of 14-5, and had vastly outplayed them.

Less than a minute into the second, Pelech took a holding call, but Utah killed it off, even getting a short-handed attempt from Cuddemi. Alaska held on to the advantage for a few shifts following the power play, but Utah came back, and Bradford got a pair of chances on Carr.

At 4:16 Martin Nemcik laid a big hit, but was sent to the box for tripping. On the ensuing penalty kill, the speedy duo of Cuddemi and Bradford got in again on one end, and Faragher made some strong saves on the other to kill it off.

Alaska looked a little stronger through the rest of the period, but Utah kept skating and working, and Alaska continued to struggle to get shots through swarms of Grizzlies, who also made it difficult for them to maintain the zone.

With roughly five minutes left in the period, Jon Puskar and Taylor Richart both laid glass-rattling hits, Faragher made a great save, and Alaska took a hooking penalty. Utah pressed the man advantage hard, but the Aces escaped.

Shortly thereafter, Pietroniro dropped the gloves with Ben Lake and got the take-down. Both players were sent to the locker room, and a few minutes later, Colin Martin beat Kevin Carr to take the 3-2 lead, with the assists going to Richart and Aubin.

Just moments thereafter, the Grizzlies drew another power play, finishing the period on the man advantage, outshooting Alaska 28-13, and holding a well deserved 3-2 lead.

Like most very short early power plays, the Grizzlies 25 second man advantage didn’t accomplish anything, but through the following two minutes, the Grizzlies carried play, and by the three minute mark, their shot lead increased to 30-15.

C.J. Eick made it a 4-2 game at 3:06 with assists from Navin and Pietroniro.

Alaska took a boarding penalty with 10:11 left in the third as Daniel Moynihan stapled Richart to the boards by the penalty box. Richart was very slow to get up, but remained on the bench, and later returned to the game.

At 9:49, Daniel Moynihan took a boarding penalty against Richart, and on the ensuing power play, Pietroniro’s perfect point shot put the Grizzlies up 5-2, capping off the Gordie Howe hat trick.

Martin and Hunt both took roughing penalties after the Aces mugged Faragher in a net front scrum, and Martin came to his goalie’s defence.

A few minutes later, Pietroniro and Trenz both were sent off with matching slashing calls, but Bradford got in all alone and drew a hooking penalty, and Utah went to a lengthy 4-on-3. A perfect bit of passing eventually put the puck on the stick of Cam Reid, putting the Grizzlies up a convincing 6-2 with just over five minutes left to play.

Eick took a tripping penalty, but the Grizzlies penalty kill kept Alaska scrambling for pucks, and running all the way back to their own zone throughout.

The lethal penalty killing duo of Bradford and Cuddemi kept Alaska on their toes, keeping it a 6-2 game, but with 1:11 left in the game, Alaska made it 6-3. But that was as close as they’d get. The Aces got one last chance on the penalty kill as the clock ticked down, but failed to threaten, and Utah took the win.

If the Grizzlies ever deserved a big win, this was it. Six different players scored, as Pelech, Cuddemi, Martin, Eick, Pietroniro, and Reid all filled the net, and five different players had multiple point games, Reid getting a goal and two assists, Daly getting three assists, Aubin picking up two, and Cuddemi and Pietroniro both picking up a goal and an assist.

Cuddemi’s 18th goal of the season ties him for first in goals among rookies, and Daly’s three points tie him for third in points amongst defensemen.

“We were definitely on it” Pietroniro said of the team’s performance. “We stuck to the game plan from the start, and we never gave up. It shows on the scoreboard, it shows as a win, so it’s a huge confidence boost for us here.”

“We’re very confident” he later added, “We’ve got enough time to move up, and I think teams know we’re on the move. I really think we’re going to get there.”

Of his Gordie Howe hat trick he said: “It’s awesome, it doesn’t happen too often, but I’ll definitely take advantage of it.”

Branham’s thoughts were similar. “I thought we played a really good game” he said, “We talked after the game yesterday, and before the game here how we want to play, the way we need to play in order to have success and climb back in the playoff standings.” He went on to say “It was one of the most complete sixty minutes that we’ve played except for one power play. You gotta tip your hat to the boys, they played a really good game, and they executed our game plan.”

The Grizzlies are still in for an uphill battle in the playoff hunt, but if any team can come roaring up from behind, it’s this one – especially if they keep playing the way they did on Saturday.

Utah will face the Wichita Thunder on Wednesday before squaring off against Danick Paquette and the Tulsa Oilers for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.

Utah Grizzlies: Monday Madness

The Grizzlies began a six game home stand with a Monday afternoon game against the Idaho Steelheads. The lineups saw a little bit of tinkering. Erik Bradford and Ralph Cuddemi, the Grizzlies’ two most potent scorers of late, flanked Cam Reid, while Colin Martin took Bradford’s spot beside Michael Pelech and Mathieu Aubin. Kenton Helgesen remained on defence, where the pairings remained as they had in the previous few games.

The game got off a slow start, with not much happening until about half way through the first period, and then everything happened all at once. Idaho struck first at 8:44, but Jon Puskar responded on the very next shift to tie up the game. Unfortunately, on the next shift after that Idaho scored again to make it a 2-1 game with just about ten minutes to go in the period.

The Grizzlies pressured well following the goal, but unfortunately Idaho got in on a two on one, and Anthony Luciani beat Faragher.

Shortly thereafter, Helgesen took an interference penalty, but the Grizzlies’ aggressive penalty kill neutralized the man advantage effectively, even getting a few forays into the offensive zone.

However, At the end of the first, shots were 9-8 for Idaho who also led 3-1.

The Grizzlies got off to a good start in the second period, drawing a power play as Martin got a scoring chance and was hooked in front of the net. Unfortunately, Utah’s power play struggles continued, as Idaho spent at least as much time in the offensive zone as Utah did, and then scored on a 3-on-1 as their penalized player returned to the ice.

About eight minutes into the second, C.J. Eick nearly tipped in a shot by Cuddemi, before the puck came to Taylor Richart who scored his third of the season to cut the deficit in half.

Half way into the period, Eick was taken into the boards at the Idaho bench by Travis Ewanyk, and Banwell came flying in to his defence. Eick and Ewanyk were sent to the box to cool their heels, Howe and Ewanyk jawing the whole way.

With just under seven minutes to go in the period, Pelech laid a nifty hit in the defensive zone to separate Idaho puck carrier from the puck. The play went the other way, and Puskar scored his second of the night making it a 4-3 game.

In the minutes that followed, Faragher made some big saves, and Puskar drew a high-sticking penalty to send the Grizzlies to the power play with about three minutes to go. Utah’s second go at the power play went much better than their first attempt, but they were still unable to make anything of the man advantage.

Faragher was called upon to make some key saves as the period drew to a close, keeping it a one goal deficit heading into the final frame.

Both teams exchanged a series of power plays through the first ten minutes of the period with Martin and Banwell among others getting chances. However, Faragher was also called on to make a few key saves on short-handed attempts.

At 16:44, the Grizzlies completed the comeback, as Brad Navin scored his fourth of the season with assists from Eick and Puskar, giving the third line their third goal of the game.

However, Utah was not out of the woods just yet as first Banwell, then Pietroniro went down. Banwell remained on the bench, and Pietroniro eventually did return.

Neither team was able to draw ahead in the last few minutes of the game, so the game went to overtime, and right off the opening faceoff, there was a slight delay as one of the refs went down. Once play resumed, Reid, Daly, and Bradford all had chances, and with 20 seconds left, Faragher made a key save to keep the game tied, and the Grizzlies drew a power play. It was not enough to break the tie, so the game went to the shoot out, shots 30-28 for Idaho.

Reid shot first, and was the only goal scorer as Philippe Desrosiers beat Cuddemi, and Faragher stopped all three Idaho shooters to give the Grizzlies the 5-4 victory.

Puskar (2G, 1A), Eick (3A), and Navin (1G, 1A) were named the three stars of the game. After being named first star, Puskar was quick to turn the praise to his teammates: “It was really my line. Both goals I had were my forwards getting in, my linemates getting in there, jumping in on the forecheck, that puck’s coming to me in the middle, I just put the final touch on it. That’s all their effort. I’ve got to tip my cap to the guys on the wings that were down there grinding it out.”

Coach Branham also had good things to say about the play of the third line, Faragher, and the game in general. “Puskar’s line was tremendous tonight, obviously we owe them a lot. Fedzy, big saves when he had to, one second left in regulation, that was a crazy hop, he stuck with that one, then got the job done in the shoot out.

“We’re just trying to keep things simple. We’ve got a simple team, we’ve got a smart team. When we keep things simple,  play solid defence, and out-work the opposition, with and without the puck, good things happen ’cause we have enough skill. So with [Puskar] having two tonight, it definitely helps and takes a lot of pressure of those top two lines when your third line is contributing like that, so definitely proud and [Puskar] deserves it. He’s a good player, heart and soul.”

The Grizzlies have had a number of gutsy come-from-behind performances recently, and both Puskar and Branham weighed in on what allows the team to stick with it and go on these big runs to tie the game.

“They’re calm on the bench, they’re positive with each other, whether we’re down or not, it doesn’t matter” said Branham. “We have a lot of confidence right now. We’ve jut got to keep it going.”

“When we’re down, it doesn’t matter now, we grind back. We’re not going to quit.” Puskar said, and later added, “We’ve got all the confidence in the world, it just comes down to effort and execution at this point.”

The next two games against Alaska are crucial, as Branham pointed out: “We’re nine points back, so words can’t describe how big those games are this next weekend. There are four points on the line, you could be within five points of them. They’ve got a tough road. They play us twice, and then they’ve got Idaho and then they have Colorado. We’ve just gotta worry about what we can do each and every game. Right now we’re trending in the right direction, and that’s what you like to see as a coach.”

Both the Friday and Saturday games against Alaska will be played at the Maverik Center at 7 PM.

Utah Grizzlies: Triumphant Return

After a crazy come-from-behind OT loss last night, the Grizzlies got some reinforcements in the form of Ryan Faragher back from San Diego. There was also a little bit of rejigging to the lineup, as Travis Howe took Kenton Helgesen’s spot at forward, and Helgesen took over Evan Stoflet’s spot on defense.

The Grizzlies gave up a few chances right off the opening faceoff, and proceeded to give up eight shots in the first eight minutes.

However, the they began pushing back after that, and Brad Navin stole the puck from the Rush, and Cam Reid scored to put the Grizzlies up 1-0 with 8:10 left to play in the first.

Rapid City pressured the other way, but the Grizzlies had got their feet under them better by that point, and managed to hold them off.

Michael Pelech took a hooking call at 15:17, and Ryan Misiak scored on the power play just seven seconds later to tie up the game.

With 2:16 left in the period, the Grizzlies drew a power play of their own, but their power play struggles continued. In a desperate attempt to negate a two-on-none Richart took a penalty to send the teams to a brief 4-on-4. The 4-on-4 went much better for the Grizzlies than the power play had, and they got a few more good shots off before the period ended. After 20, the score was still tied 1-1, and the shots were a far more even 12-11 for the Rush.

The Grizzlies’ penalty kill got off to a strong start, getting the first couple of chances of the period, including one of those exciting two-on-one rushes by Erik Bradford and Ralph Cuddemi. Utah established possession returning to full strength, and Mathieu Aubin put the Grizziles up 2-1 on a beautiful shot for his 13th of the year.

Pietroniro and Banwell had a pair of chances from the points with just under ten minutes left to play in the second, and the Rush had a few chances of their own going the other way, but both goalies made the necessary saves. The end of 40 saw Utah up 2-1, though Rapid City held the edge in shots 20-16.

The third period began really well for the Grizzlies, as Cuddemi scored 35 seconds into the period. Unfortunately, the momentum stuttered as Nemcik was sent to the box just seconds later.

Utah looked much better as the third period progressed, getting chances, and drawing a delayed penalty. Cuddemi scored his second of the period on the ensuing power play to give the Grizzlies their biggest lead of the weekend. The goal tied him up with Tyson Spink for first in the rookie goal-scoring race, and Reid’s assist gave him his third point of the night.

At 9:44, Jon Puskar scored his 11th goal of the year, Navin picked up his second assist of the night, and the Grizzlies went up 5-1.

Faragher continued to be magnificent in nets, making a number of great saves, including on a Bradford penalty. Through the second half of the period, the Grizzlies kept skating and getting chances.

Rapid City pressed in the dying minutes of the period, but the Grizzlies closed ranks, and Faragher stood tall.

The Grizzlies are now 5-1-1 against Rapid City this year, and Cuddemi has multiple goals in four out of the last five games.

Utah returns to the Mav for a six game homestand to close out January. They will host Idaho on Monday where the puck drops at 1:30 PM.

Utah Grizzlies: Spinning Tires

Tonight saw the much awaited returns of Colin Martin and Cam Reid, bringing with them some changes to the lineup. With Sam Windle day-to-day with an injury per Adrian Denny, Phil Pietroniro returned to defence, and Martin replaced Travis Howe as the tenth forward.

The first period was nothing if not penalty filled. Erik Bradford took a hooking call 2:22 into the first, Mike Banwell took another at 9:09, and Pelech went to the box for roughing seventeen minutes in. Troy Redmann took a delay of game penalty soon thereafter, giving the Grizzlies a brief 5-on-3.

With that many penalties in the first, it is perhaps not surprising that the Grizzlies did spend quite a bit of time in their own zone, getting outshot 12-6 through the first period.

The second period began a lot better for the Grizzlies. They killed off the remaining 51 seconds of Redmann’s penalty, and then Reid sent the puck past Marek Langhamer to put the Grizzlies up 1-0 at 3:25 for his third of the year.

Utah got their first crack on the power play at 5:41 as Triston Grant got sent off for interference, but Ralph Cuddemi took the Grizzlies’ third hooking call of the night to negate the man advantage.

Rapid City tied the game up at 15:47 as Michael Young beat Redmann on the Rush’s 20th shot of the night.

Evan Stoflet got called for cross-checking at 16:31, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and got a power play of their own to close out the period as Grant went off for high-sticking against Nemcik. Though they established good offensive zone pressure, the period ended before they could make anything of it.

At the end of 40, Rapid City outshot Utah 23-13, and the game was tied at one a piece.

Just seconds into the third, Rapid City took a slashing penalty against Bradford, and the Grizzlies had a very short 5-on-3. The two man advantage was not long enough to set anything up, but Utah had a pretty decent looking power play.

Coming off that power play, the Grizzlies began to pick up the pace a bit, but just when things began to look like they might get rolling, Banwell got called for delay of game. The penalty kill remained perfect, but Rapid City took the 2-1 lead with 10:50 to go.

The Rush took a penalty almost immediately after the goal, but again, though the Grizzlies had some chances, they were unable to capitalize.

The teams traded penalties with less than five to go, ultimately ending with a short Grizzlies’ power play. Again, the Grizzlies established possession, but couldn’t press the man advantage.

With about a minute left to play, Branham pulled Redmann in favour of the extra skater, but Rapid City scored into the empty net with less than 30 seconds left to play.

It was not one of the Grizzlies better outings as they took quite a few penalties, and were never able to really get going. However, the game was also not uniformly awful, as Utah was a perfect 8/8 on the penalty kill, and Redmann made 33 saves.

Utah and Rapid City face off on Friday and again on Saturday to cap off the five game series between these two teams.