Utah Grizzlies: Unacceptable

After a string of overtime and shootout losses, a minor line shake-up, and the return of James Melindy, the whole line-up got shifted around. Out were Brad Navin, C.J. Eick, and Mitch Jones, and in were Charley Graaskamp, Travis Howe, and Melindy. Brendan Harms played with Michael Pelech and Greger Hanson, Graaskamp lined up with Ryan Walters and Ryan Olsen, while Erik Higby centered Howe/Zach Saar and Ryan Misiak. Angus Redmond got the start.

Saying the game did not begin well would be an understatement, as Manchester scored on their second shift. Utah didn’t even have a chance to get any offensive zone time. However, the Grizzlies answered with a couple of really good shifts, the Olsen line making the first foray into the offensive zone. Higby, Howe, and Misiak had a great chance, but Manchester went the other way, and made it 2-0 at 5:15.

Once again, there was a good deal of door slamming on the bench, but the Grizzlies continued to work hard and get chances–most notably from Hanson/Pelech and from Misiak.

At 13:32 Martin Nemcik and Zach Saar dropped the gloves in front of the Manchester net, and both were sent off for five minutes. Shortly thereafter, Hanson passed the puck to Sam Windle on the point, and Watson jumping on the rebound cut the lead in half.

Utah continued to get shots, rebounds, and chances, the defensemen especially shooting everything.

All the hard work eventually paid off, and Taylor Richart drew a power play in the offensive zone with 1:15 left in the period. Harms was tripped up, and the play briefly went the other way. In the end, it didn’t matter. With 31 seconds left in the frame, Watson scored again on a snipe from the bottom of the face-off circle. Pelech got the primary assist on a perfect pass from behind the net, and the game was all tied up.

The Olsen line closed out the period strong, and after twenty, Utah had put up a season high 20 shots, and allowed only 12. It wasn’t the greatest first period, but it seemed unfair to quibble after they scored twice.

Manchester started the second strong yet again, but Redmond and the Grizzlies were able to keep them off the scoreboard early.

Howe was given all sorts of space, and set up a perfect shot for Olsen standing in the blue paint, but Evan Cowley turned it aside. The third line had a good hustling shift, and on the other end of the ice, Redmond made a couple more saves. They did spend a rather uncomfortably large amount of time in the defensive zone, over all though.

Olsen took a high-sticking penalty with 10:45 after failing to clear the zone, and Manchester capitalized.

Misiak came flying in on a breakaway on the next shift, Cowley gave up a rebound, and Nemcik, trying to coral the puck, put it through his five hole. Higby was originally credited with the goal, but it eventually went to Misiak, from Melindy and Redmond.

Harms nearly gave the Grizzlies the lead mere seconds later, but his attempt hit the post, and Cowley dove over to get the glove on it. Harms got in on a two-on-one, and Walters also had a great shift, as that line came out with a will.

Hanson took an offensive zone high-sticking call with under 30 seconds left in the second, and the team went in to the last intermission tied 3-3, shots 25-21 for Manchester.

The third period began even worse than the first, and in looking for the best way to describe it as a whole, the term unmitigated disaster comes to mind.

The Monarchs scored just 26 seconds into the frame. At first, this didn’t seem like that much of a problem, because if nothing else, the Grizzlies have shown in the past couple of weeks (and in this game) that they can dig deep and battle back. The Olsen and Pelech lines responded well with offensive zone shifts after the goal, and getting a couple of shots.

Watson drew a power play at 2:38. Richart had a great shot that Cowley snagged, and the first line had a good shift as well. Watson also made a bid for a hat trick with a great shot. Unfortunately, there were no white jerseys to snag the rebound, and Manchester returned to full strength.

Melindy took a hooking call at 5:14, but Utah got out of it just fine. Redmond made a good save, Walters and Hanson got in on a short-handed two-on-one, Redmond made another couple of big saves, and it was over.

A few shifts later, though, the Grizzlies did have trouble clearing the puck, and after a few rebounds, no one covered Michael Doherty, who made it 5-3. There was still no panic, but at this point, it also became increasingly clear that while there were still a few players hustling, there was going to be no second comeback.

Utah drew another power play at 13:29, but it was largely harmless, despite a good play from Richart. The Monarchs got in alone, and while a furious back-check from Leibinger prevented a shot, it sent Utah to the penalty kill.

Manchester scored their third power play goal of the night as yet another rebound wasn’t cleared from the crease at 17:37. Although there were a couple of good push-back shifts from the Grizzlies, more or less the entire team, goalie included, got outworked all over the ice. Zac Lynch made it 7-3 at 19:24. To add insult to injury, the Monarchs scored with five seconds left.

Howe collared Matt Schmalz on the final face-off, and a disastrous third period came to a merciful end.

Redmond’s play wasn’t great at times, especially early in the first and through the third, but in his defence by the end of the third period, he wasn’t getting a lot of help.

After being one of the four or five best players on the team for a couple weeks running, Olsen had what was probably his worst period in a Grizzlies uniform, between several ill-advised passes, and the penalty that led to a Manchester goal in the second. However, he was by no means the only player who had an off night. The third period was awful pretty much straight across the board.

“Obviously we didn’t get off to a good start, for whatever reason.” Branham said after the game. “We battled back, traded a goal in the second, and then we just got outworked in the third period. They wanted it more than us, and that’s all it comes down to. When you get beat one-on-one, when you get beat driving to the net, when the other team goes to the net and you don’t make them pay a price, it’s just too easy for them. Left their goalie high and dry, and it’s just unacceptable. When all you have to do is win that period and win that game, to come out with that kind of effort, and the penalties, is just unacceptable.”

Watson was the second star of the game with two goals, and a team-leading eight shots.

Utah looks to hold off the sweep tonight in their last game of a seven game home stand, where they have five points in six games, but only one win.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff


Utah Grizzlies: If at First You Don’t Succeed…

…Just try shooting the puck another 43 times. It’s bound to go in eventually…

In game one of a four game road trip, and the first of six regular season meetings against Allen, neither Mathieu Aubin (on IR) nor Greger Hanson (called up to San Diego) were on the ice to face off against their former team.

However, Ryan Walters made his second Grizzlies debut in the starting lineup, drawing in beside Ryan Olsen and Kyle Thomas. Kevin Carr got the start, and Erik Higby returned to the lineup as a forward.

Utah drew a power play just moments into the game. As do so many early power plays, the man advantage came to nothing, as did the Allen power play that followed shortly thereafter.

Except for the parade of penalties, including a four-on-three Allen power play, the game was fairly uneventful until Taylor Richart drew a penalty mere seconds after stepping out of the box. Brad Navin made it 1-0 from Thomas and Walters on the ensuing advantage 12:19 into the first. Despite the fourteen penalties that were assessed over the course of the game, it would be the only special teams goal.

The rest of the period continued in the same vein, as both teams racked up a combined 25 minutes of penalty time, and played a total of 3:11 five-on-five. The most absurd part of a penalty-filled first period is that they could have called even more penalties than they did.

At the end of the first, shots were 12-12, Utah still leading 1-0.

2:14 into the second, Tanner Eberle scored on the breakaway, despite an excellent initial save from Carr.

Utah got in quite a lot of shots and offensive zone time through the middle frame, but Brodeur was definitely the difference maker in only his second pro game, as none of the 23 shots the Grizzlies threw on net made it past him, including what looked like a couple of sure things from Mitch Jones and Erik Higby.

After 40, shots were 36-18 for Utah, but the score remained a frustrating 1-1, thanks to the obnoxiously excellent play of Brodeur.

The Americans came out with far more pep in their step to start the final 20 minutes, but Utah continued to play well, winning their battles, and generally outworking Allen. Finally, on the forty-third shot of the game, it all paid off when Cliff Watson broke the tie. The goal came off a beautiful cycle by Walters, Olsen, and Thomas, Watson coming in at the last minute with a beautiful shot to score.

Watson’s goal held up for the game winner, despite a late Allen power play, Utah closing out the night with a total of 44 shots—their season high this year.

Throughout, the Grizzlies did a terrific job of carrying play, and generating quite a lot of high-danger scoring chances. Ten players got three or more shots, Thomas and Richart both getting six, and Watson close behind with five. Additionally, Walters seemed to fit seamlessly into the lineup, and was instantly a contributor of both scoring chances and points. Mitch Jones also had a strong outing, and though he only had two shots to show for it at the end of the night, he was noticeable everywhere, both offensively and defensively, especially in the first period.

Watson’s game winning goal, and five shots earned him first star, Brodeur took a well earned second star for Allen, while Thomas got the third star with two assists and six shots.

Overall, the work ethic that Tim Branham talked about needing so badly last game was definitely evident, and while there was no return of three or more goals, it certainly wasn’t through a lack of high quality scoring chances.

The Grizzlies will be in Tulsa Friday (11/3) and Saturday (11/4) before heading to Wichita for an afternoon game on Sunday.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming & staff


Utah Grizzlies: The Drought Continues

Still looking for their first win on the road in Idaho, there were a few line-up changes. Travis Howe and Sam Windle drew into the roster on Wednesday, Erik Higby moved back to forward, and Kevin Carr got the start. James Melindy and Cliff Watson wore the A’s.

The Grizzlies got off to an energetic start, though Idaho got five of the first six shots.

Utah drew also the first power play, but were unable to break their abysmal streak on the man advantage, and after Idaho returned to even strength, Jefferson Dahl scored at 12:13. Dahl got his second of the game on a Carr cross-checking penalty about a minute later, as Melindy’s clearing attempt went straight to Dahl’s stick.

The Ryans (Olsen and Misiak) and Higby had a strong shift in the offensive zone, drawing another power play, which also unfortunately came up empty.

However, after breaking the dam on Monday, Greger Hanson scored his second in two games, beating Philippe Desrosiers at 16:43, and cutting the deficit in half with assists from from Kyle Thomas and Mitch Jones. Off the ensuing face-off, Howe and Reid Halabi dropped the gloves for their third fight this year (two of which were in preseason).

The teams traded penalties thereafter, as first the Grizzlies took (and killed off) one, and Higby drew another with 19 seconds left in the first.

Utah opened the second with 1:41 on the power play, and Thomas took an awkward hit from Baldwin along the boards. Thomas went to the room, but only ended up missing one shift.

The Grizzlies drew yet another slashing penalty, but still couldn’t find that elusive first power play goal. Thomas and Baldwin skirmished twice following Baldwin’s hit, and Utah  reversed the tale of the first period, getting five of the first six shots of the frame.

Jon Puskar took a slashing penalty, but Carr made a couple of really great saves (including the one below), and the penalty kill remained sharp. Which was fortunate, because Pelech took another slashing penalty that was also killed off.

The Grizzlies once again ended the period on the power play, shots tied 22-22 with Utah out-shooting Idaho 18-8 in the second.

Unfortunately, Idaho scored 5:04 into the third as Carr just missed the poke-check on Brady Brassart, and to make matters worse, Puskar had to be helped off the ice by Howe, and Head Athletic Trainer Cole Libby after a pileup by the Steelheads’ bench. Windle, Dahl, and Mitch Moroz all went to the box after that, but once more, the power play ended with no change in score.

Utah continued to create chances, but were repeatedly unable to capitalize on a slew of power play opportunities they received throughout the remainder of the third, and dropped their fourth straight game of the season 3-1.

The bright spots remain, however, and are rather numerous, considering that the team has yet to notch a win. One such has been Cliff Watson who, as a rookie, has been a major player on the team in every game so far. Hanson’s goal-scoring has hopefully taken off, and the team seems to be coming together.

While it is frustrating that they continue to struggle to score both on the power play (they were 0/9 on Wednesday) and in general, it is encouraging to note that the offensively gifted players like Hanson, Olson, Thomas, Navin (and others) are still generating plenty of chances (and shots). They have also been phenomenally unlucky in that department.

That being said, there’s no getting around it. One way or another, the Grizzlies are going to need more goal-scoring going forward. And they might have to do it without Jon Puskar.

Utah’s next game is also in Boise, and is the first half of a home-and-home Friday and Saturday against the Steelheads.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and other staff photographers