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: Coming in Hot

(The recap from Wednesday night’s game is coming soon! Apologies for the delay! Life caught up with me there…)

The Utah Grizzlies have returned from their most recent road, and come into the final three games of the season a perfect 5-0.

After beating Colorado twice in their own barn, and picking up a win in the first of three games against Rapid City, Utah continued to pick up steam.

Kevin Boyle once more manned the net on Friday night, and Tim Daly returned to the roster after a two game stint in the AHL.

Gabriel Verpaelst scored the game’s opening goal at 1:55 in the first for his first goal with the Grizzlies, and then Boyle held the fort as Utah struggled a little on the defensive side of things. Mathieu Aubin drew the first power play of the game with 4:37 to go in the frame as Mike Monfredo put him into the boards by the benches and was sent off for roughing. The power play was unable to capitalize, however, and after 20 minutes, Utah led 1-0 despite being outshot 8-6.

Scarcely had the second period begun than Boyle was called upon to make a pair of huge saves, but Rapid City would eventually tie it up as Ryan Walters capitalized on some more slightly sketchy defense at 5:53. However, the tie did not last very long. Michael Pelech scored his 19th of the season at 9:26, with assists from Aubin and Austen Brassard.

Pelech took a high-sticking minor about a minute later, but Terrence Wallin high-sticked Daly less than a minute after that, to negate the power play. The Grizzlies didn’t score on the four-on-four, or the ensuing (and brief) power play that followed, though Daly came painfully close.

In the end, though, it didn’t much matter, as Pelech scored his 20th from an incredibly tight angle from Pietroniro and Aubin to give Utah the 3-1 lead. With Pelech’s second goal of the night marked the third time in five games that he has picked up at least two points, and the Grizzlies now have four players who have hit the 20 goal mark.

Zac Larraza got a beautiful chance later in the period, but was robbed blind by Adam Morrison. With just 34 seconds to go in the period, Pelech got involved in a scuffle with Hunter Fejes, and they both received two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct as the second came to an end.

After two periods, the shots were 19-18 for the Rush, and Utah held a fairly comfortable 3-1 lead.

Martin Nemcik took a penalty in the early stages of the third, and Boyle made an absolutely gorgeous windmill save on the ensuing penalty kill, but nothing much of note occurred until about the halfway point. Brassard and Pelech tangled with Riley Weselowski, and all three players were sent to cool their heels for two minutes.

The Grizzlies killed off the penalty, and at 14:54, Larraza made it 4-1 with assists from Daly and Garrett Haar. The goal was Larraza’s 6th of the season, and his thirteenth point in eleven games.

Unfortunately, with 2:06 to go, Triston Grant made it 4-2 in a wild scramble in front of the net, but when the Rush pulled their goalie, Aubin scored into the empty net to ice away the game.

Pelech and Larraza were named the well-deserved first and third stars of the game, and Boyle made 31/33 saves in his second straight start.


Saturday’s game was a wild one right out of the gate as Travis Howe and Anthony Collins dropped the gloves less than two minutes into the first. Barely a minute later, Verpaelst and Weslowski dropped the gloves, and a little over a minute after that, C.J. Eick made it 1-0 with assists from Haar and Brassard.

Colin Martin took a cross-checking penalty at 9:14, but the Grizzlies penalty kill took care of it, thanks in large part to some terrific saves by Boyle.

But the shenanigans weren’t nearly over yet.

Collins and Verpaelst dropped the gloves at 12:28, both earning their second fights of the night.

Unfortunately, Ryan Walters scored on the ensuing 4-on-4 to tie the game up at one. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and with 5:56 to go, a pileup occurred along the boards. Once the dust settled,  Howe and Monfredo were in the box for fighting, joined by Pietroniro for roughing, and Grant for roughing and crosschecking.

Utah wasn’t able to capitalise on the power play, but right as it ended, Erik Bradford made it 2-1 for Utah with assists from Jon Puskar and Colin Martin.


Barely a minute later, Puskar was taken off a breakaway, and got a penalty shot, but was unable to beat Luke Siemens.

After 20 shots were 9-8 for Utah, who led 2-1.

Bradford nearly made it 3-1 with 17:54 to go, and a lovely play by Howe to slow the game down led to Puskar drawing a penalty shortly thereafter. Larraza scored his fifth goal in four games at 4:31, while Martin and Bradford drew the assists.

Despite holding a two goal advantage, the lead never exactly felt safe, and with 5:51 to go in the second, the Rush made it 3-2. Martin nearly picked up his second point of the game on a wrap-around attempt in the dying moments of the period, but after 40 the score remained 3-2.

Martin Nemcik began the third playing shifts at forward in place of Travis Howe, who played little (or not at all) through the remainder of the game. The Grizzlies played a much better game in the third — perhaps their best of the entire series against Rapid City, allowing not a single shot through the first 13 or so minutes of the period, including on the penalty kill.

Haar took the only other penalty of the game at 14:58, but Utah killed it off, and with just under a minute left in the game, Martin scored his 22nd of the year into the empty net.

Martin and Bradford were named first and second stars of the game, each with a goal and two assists, and Larraza could well have joined them, as he had a multi-point night, picking up a goal and an assist as well.

The win put the Grizzlies in sole possession of the final playoff spot in the mountain division, and saw them close out one of their most successful road trips to date.

Utah will close out the season against the Missouri Maveriks, and they hold their playoff destiny in their own hands.

Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

Utah Grizzlies: Heart and Soul

The Grizzlies continued their five game road trip with their first of three games against the Rapid City Rush. Garrett Haar made his first start against one of his former teams, and Jon Puskar returned to the lineup for the first time since his injury. Kevin Boyle started in nets after returning from the AHL with a 10-5-4-1 record, and Ralph Cuddemi sat out for his second of a four game suspension.

With both Alaska and Missouri in action, and all three teams within three points of each other, there was a lot riding on this game.

Rapid City came out flying, but it would be Puskar who scored on his first shift and the Grizzlies’ first shot of the game. Because of course he did.

Unfortunately, after that, things fell apart a little for Utah. Erik Bradford took a hooking penalty, and Rapid City scored, as the puck bounced off the glass and straight onto the waiting stick of Mike Monfredo. Just 27 seconds later, Ryan Misiak made it 2-1 on a defensive breakdown off the faceoff.

Utah got a few chances, including a good one by Zac Larraza from Phil Pietroniro, but after 20, the Grizzlies had been out shot 15-8, and trailed 2-1.

The second period began in much the same fashion as the first, as the Rush jumped out of the gate first, before relinquishing a goal. Zac Larraza continued to be white hot for Utah, making it 2-2 at 1:10 from Bradford.

Utah kept their foot on the pedal after that, and Puskar nearly tipped in what began as a Pietroniro point shot, before getting a second chance, and then finally his second goal of the game at 6:32.

With 10:54 to go, Larraza got a gorgeous breakaway and was pulled off the play. He was awarded a penalty shot with a chance for his second of the game and a 4-1 lead, but unfortunately he missed the net.

Michael Pelech took a hooking call with 10:17 left in the frame, but the Grizzlies killed the penalty off, even getting a few chances of their own from Larraza and Austen Brassard.

There was a tense moment when Erik Higby went down in the offensive zone, but though he appeared to be in some discomfort when he went off, he returned to the game not long afterward.

Utah continued to press, getting terrific shifts from the Pelech and Puskar lines, and after 40, shots were a far closer 24-23, while Utah held onto the 3-2 lead.

Boyle came up huge just seconds into the third to preserve the advantage, and Pietroniro dropped the gloves with Terrence Wallin at 2:35. The Grizzlies got some really good chances on the ensuing 4-on-4, controlling play through out most of the matching majors.

At 10:38, Marc-André Lévesque led the charge on the Rush net, and Colin Martin collared the eventual rebound for a big insurance goal.

The Grizzlies continued to play well through the second half of the third, surpassing Rapid City in shots, and with 2:12 to go, the Rush pulled their goalie.

Gabriel Verpaelst drew a crosschecking call in front of Boyle with 1:28 to play, and Utah got their first power play to close off the game. Rapid City pulled their goalie again to even it out, but Utah held on to win 4-2.

Puskar was, without a doubt, the first star of the game, picking up his 20th and 21st goals of the season,  while Boyle saw his ECHL season high 39 shots, and turned aside 37 of them for second star. Larraza continued to roll, collecting yet another multiple point game with a goal and an assist, earning third star honors.

The Grizzlies goalscorers have heated up at just the right time, given both the playoff race and the lack of Cuddemi. Puskar and Martin now both have 21 goals on the year, giving Utah three 20+ goal scorers, while Bradford continues to be the points leader picking up his 55th point in 52 games with the Grizzlies. Larraza put up his second multi-point game in a row, and has 12 points in 10 games played this season, while C.J. Eick has points in three of the last four games.

There was good news on the playoff front as well.

Fort Wayne coasted to a 5-2 win over Alaska, while Allen routed Missouri 7-2 in Allen, so as it currently stands, Utah leapfrogs Missouri to draw within one point of Alaska and the final playoff spot. Missouri still has a game in hand on both Alaska and Utah, and plays that game on Thursday.

The Grizzlies are next in action against the Rush on Friday at 7 PM.




Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies


Utah Grizzlies: Ex-Zac-tly what the Doctor Ordered

With Jon Puskar and Cam Reid out with injuries, Ralph Cuddemi suspended, and Tim Daly up in the AHL, the Grizzlies came into tonight’s game with nine forwards and five defensemen – a situation they had not found themselves in since the infamous game against Alaska in February. When asked what it would take to replicate a win, Tim Branham answered, “heart.” Fortunately, that’s something the Grizzlies have in spades.

The game started much more tentatively for the Grizzlies than Friday’s contest, but Faragher made some terrific saves to keep the game 0-0 as Colorado got the first six shots of the night.

Utah took the first penalty when Michael Pelech took a roughing call with 11:39 to go. They were able to kill off the disadvantage, thanks to an excellent penalty kill, and to a terrific save or two from Faragher.

After that, the Grizzlies improved, getting some chances of their own, and doing a much better job of keeping Colorado in check.

Mathieu Aubin made it 1-0 at 15:13 as Pelech, Aubin, and Zac Larraza capped off a strong offensive zone shift.

Unfortunately with 20 seconds to go in the period, Luke Salazar made it 1-1, and after 20, the shots were 15-7 for the Eagles.

Erik Bradford drew a power play at 2:19, and Larraza scored on an absolutely gorgeous snipe just over a minute later.

Utah continued to largely control play through the middle of the frame, but Pelech took a slashing call with 8:29 to go, and Colorado went to the man advantage. However, the Grizzlies got short handed chances from Higby and Bradford, and killed off the penalty.

Utah got a power play of their own at 14:18, but though they got a few looks, they spent most of the man advantage chasing the puck back to their own end. They got a second chance on the power play with 2:42 left as Colin Martin drew a hooking call, and then made Colorado pay, scoring his 20th of the year with assists from Bradford and Larraza.

There were some extracurriculars as the buzzer sounded, and Utah headed to the locker room up 3-1, having closed the shot gap to 24-22.

The Grizzlies began the third well, keeping Colorado shotless for the first three minutes or so, Garrett Haar drawing a hooking call at 3:25. Utah was unable to capitalize, but Bradford’s speed drew another power play with 13:43 to go, but were unable to make it 4-1. However, they also did not allow any dangerous short handed chances, which after their previous struggles, was certainly a good thing.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as Larraza made it 4-1 at 9:48 with assists from Bradford and Gabriel Verpaelst.

The Eagles pressed hard with just about five minutes to play, but Faragher and the Grizzlies stood their ground. Phil Pietroniro and Jackson Hauk took matching roughing penalties with 5:05 to go, and Nemcik followed soon after, putting the Grizzlies on a 4-on-3 penalty kill for a minute, and the Eagles pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. the Eagles scored shortly afterward, but the goal was scored on a high-stick and immediately called back.

Colorado pulled their goalie once more with 1:54 to go, but the Grizzlies held on to win 4-1, and closed out the season series against one of the best teams in the league on a high note.

Larraza had a breakout night, and had a hand in every single Utah goal, picking up assists on the goals by Aubin and Martin. He also picked up two goals of his own, and was named first star. Bradford and Larraza continued right where they’d left off on Friday night, and Bradford had a multi-point game of his own with two assists, earning second star of the game. Faragher was also incredible, making 41 of 42 saves, and holding the fort early before the Grizzlies really got going, and was named the third star.

With Missouri wining against Wichita, and Alaska losing to Rapid City, the race for the final playoff position has become incredibly close. The Mavericks and Aces both have a game in hand, and are tied with 70 points, while Utah trails them by just one.

The Grizzlies continue their road trip in Rapid City, where they will play Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday before returning home for a final, all important home stand against the Mavericks.

Utah Grizzlies: Turning the Tables

After falling 3-0 on Friday despite amassing 42 shots, and playing pretty well, the Grizzlies were highly motivated coming into the matinee rematch.

Coach Branham elected to go with eleven forwards, scratching defenseman Garrett Haar in favor of Travis Howe – a decision which ended up paying off in spades. Ryan Faragher got the start again, facing down Ryan Massa, who looked to extend his 12o minute shut-out streak.

The Grizzlies came out of the gate with speed, and Travis Howe made it 1-0 at 1:29, breaking the shut-out streak, and picking up his second goal of the year on a nice shot. Austen Brassard and C.J. Eick drew the assists.

Utah continued to press hard after Howe’s goal, getting a number of chances, including a beautiful, point-blank shot from Higby. Faragher was also called upon to make some saves of his own, which he did with alacrity.

Utah picked up an 8-5 shot advantage through the first four minutes, as the Grizzlies continued to drive the play. Utah drew the first power play of the night, but though they got a few looks, they were unable to capitalize.

The Grizzlies negated their power play at 11:16, but they played well on the ensuing 4-on-4, and killed off the ensuing 5-on-4 thanks both to the penalty kill and some excellent play from Faragher.

No sooner had Orlando returned to full strength, than the speed of Pietroniro and Erik Bradford drew yet another penalty, sending the teams back to 4-on-4 before a Utah power play.

The Grizzlies drew two more penalties toward the end of the first, including one right at the buzzer.

After 20 the Grizzlies maintained the 1-0 lead, and had outshot the Solar Bears 14-11.

Utah began the second period with a lengthy 5-on-3. They were unable to capitalize on the two-man advantage, despite a number of strong shifts. However, Colin Martin scored on a nifty little spin-o-rama just as the first penalty expired. Cam Reid got his 20th assist of the year, and Pietroniro picked up the secondary for his 13th.

Orlando pushed back after the goal, but the Eick-Puskar-Howe line pushed right back, and the teams continued to trade chances, Faragher and Massa both making some excellent saves.

Michael Pelech took an interference call at 8:04, but the Grizzlies killed it off. Gabriel Verpaelst and Martin Nemcik got involved in a slight scuffle around Faragher with the Solar Bears forwards, and Verpaelst got jumped by Taylor Doherty as the teams returned to the bench. Both got four for roughing, though Doherty more or less grabbed Verpaelst and pummeled him without much resistance.

Off the very next faceoff, Howe and Daniel Maggio dropped the gloves. Maggio got the take down after a spirited bout, and both were sent to cool their heels in the box just past the half-way point.

Austen Brassard took a slashing minor with 5:38 to go. The Bears got some pretty good looks, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill remained strong. At the end of 40, the Grizzlies remained up 2-0, but had been outshot 26-20.

Orlando came out with some jump in their step in the third period, but Faragher stood strong.

Puskar drew a power play with 11:16 left to go, but though the Grizzlies maintained possession and zone time for the majority of the man advantage, they were unable to beat the penalty killers.

Utah ran into some penalty problems of their own, as Reid took a slashing call at 11:12, and Verpaelst joined him at 11:25 for boarding. However, the penalty kill was so good that Faragher hardly saw any shots.

With 4:42 to go, Pelech drew an interference call, sending the Grizzlies to a power play of their own, and the officials were quick to break up Pietroniro and Chris Crane before more than words could be exchanged. The Grizzlies were unable to generate much on the man advantage.

Orlando pulled their goalie with just over a minute to go, but they took a penalty with 1:52 left to go. Utah finished the game on the power play, but were more or less content to kill time as the clock wound down.

When the final buzzer sounded, Faragher collected his second shut out of the season with 39 saves, and was named first star of the game. Howe and Martin were named the second and third stars of the game respectively, and the Grizzlies headed back to Utah with four of six points.

Utah is off until Friday, when they play the first of five straight games against the Colorado Eagles.