Utah Grizzlies: Cloudy Skies

The Grizzlies continued their Florida road trip with their first game in Orlando. Ryan Faragher got the start against the Solar Bears, Garrett Haar made his debut, and Erik Higby returned to his natural position at forward.

Utah began well, maintaining some good possession, but it would the Solar Bears who struck first 3:01 into the period. After the goal, the Grizzlies struggled to play crisp hockey, while Orlando hemmed them in their own zone.

The Solar Bears made it 2-0 at 6:47 as they established a strong cycle game, and then put a rebound past Faragher.

The Grizzlies responded well, though, with Erik Bradford having a terrific shift, followed by another strong shift by Cam Reid, Ralph Cuddemi, and Colin Martin. However, momentum ended with Reid taking a slashing call. The penalty kill proved to be up to the task, Austen Brassard even getting a scoring chance, and Orlando negated the final 30 seconds or so of their man advantage.

Utah looked far better after their power play, especially in the dying minutes of the period, getting a few really good shots on Ryan Massa. At the end of 20, the Grizzlies had made up ground, tying up the shots at 11, but Orlando still led 2-0.

The Grizzlies got the first two shots of the second, as they got 10 of the last 14 shots, but the Solar Bears came back and forced yet another great save from Faragher.

As the period progressed, Orlando dominated zone time, but the Grizzlies did a good job keeping shots away from Faragher, shots 14-11 with 12:08 to go. The Solar Bears’ strength was especially evident as they efficiently took away time and space from the Grizzlies.Utah had some trouble completing passes as a consequence.

The game opened up a bit in the second half of the period, as Orlando negated another power play, and the teams played 4-on-4. Cuddemi and Phil Pietroniro gave the Grizzlies a good chance, but with 4:29 left in the period, the score was still 2-0. Orlando also led in shots 19-17.

Ty Stanton high-sticked Daly at 15:55, sending the Grizzlies to their first power play of the game. Although Utah took a 21-20 lead in shots, they were unable to capitalize, and Pietroniro took a tripping call with 1:05 to go.

After 40, shots were 21-20 for Utah, but the Solar Bears remained up 2-0.

Utah killed off the tail end of the penalty kill, and got a terrific shift from Cuddemi and Jon Puskar, as the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to throw shots on Massa.

The first six minutes belonged emphatically to Utah, as they racked up seven of the first nine shots. They continued to win battles and get shots all through the third, but were unable to get past Massa.

Haar took a penalty with 6:34 to go, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked terrific, Cuddemi and Bradford both getting shots, followed by a short-handed breakaway from Higby. Higby drew a penalty at 14:46. Pietroniro got a pair of shots off from the point on the 4-on-4, as the Grizzlies came agonizing inches away from beating Massa.

Unfortunately, Eric Faille made it 3-0 at 15:13, and though the Grizzlies continued to buzz, none of their shots got past Massa.

Despite their valiant effort, the final buzzer saw Utah shutout 3-0, despite outshooting Orlando 42-26.

Unsurprisingly, the Grizzlies defense had some tentativeness to work out early with so many new bodies, however, as they game wore on, they looked far more comfortable.

Offensively, Cuddemi (seven shots) and Pelech (five shots) had very strong nights, despite the lack of goals, while the Puskar line also generated a number of grade A scoring chances. In fact, every single player on the Grizzlies recorded at least a shot, and all but three of them recorded two or more.

The loss was by no means due to a lack of effort.

Utah is off tomorrow, before playing their final game in Orlando at 11:30 on Sunday morning.


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: Goat Rodeo

After playing two pretty good games, but only coming up with one point to show for it, Utah looked to keep the goals coming, and do a better job of keeping the puck of out of their own net. Troy Redmann got the start for Utah, while Kenton Helgesen drew back into the lineup.

Things did not exactly go as planned.

Luke Salazar scored just 50 seconds into the first. Although the Grizzlies had a few good chances, Colorado outshot them through the first half of the period 8-2. Michael Sdao and Martin Nemcik were both sent to the box with 9:17 to go, Nemcik getting two, and Sdao getting four, which gave Utah the first power play of the game.

The man-advantage continued to look shaky for the Grizzlies, and with 7:48 to go, Erik Higby took Teigan Zahn into the boards behind the Eagles’ net. Sean Zimmerman took exception to it, and both Higby and Zimmerman went to the box for roughing.

Unfortunately, Travis Howe took a delay of game penalty shortly after they returned to full strength, and just moments after that, Nemcik went to the box for slashing, putting Utah on the wrong side of a 5-on-3 for 1:52. Colorado scored just over 30 seconds into the power play, and the Grizzlies found themselves down 2-0.

Helgesen drew a power play as he was hit and then slashed by Darryl Bootland, but the Grizzlies found themselves fighting off a 2-on-1 shorthanded. Fortunately, Redmann made the save, and Zac Larraza got a bit chance in the dying seconds of the power play, but that was all.

At the end of 20, Utah found themselves down 2-0, outshot 12-5.

Just 17 seconds into the second, the Grizzlies drew a power play as they continued to do a good job of not retaliating. Unfortunately, just as they began to get going, Austen Brassard took a tripping penalty.

The momentum changed a bit after that, as the Grizzlies kept their cool, and didn’t retaliate as Colorado pulled down Brassard. When the dust cleared, there were three Eagles in the box, and on the ensuing power play, Colorado took yet another penalty. The Grizzlies kept possession well, but were unable to get the puck through the Colorado defence. They got yet another crack at the 5-on-3, as the Eagles continued to pick up penalties.

Colin Martin cut the deficit in half at 8:55, scoring his fifteenth of the year from Marc-André Lévesque, who picked up his third point in three games. Colorado established some pressure after they returned to full strength after 5:32 on the penalty kill.

Colorado went up 3-1 with 4:48, restoring their two goal lead, and then things got a little crazy. Jon Puskar bumped an Eagles player by the bench, and absolute mayhem ensued. Zahn tried to goad Lévesque into a fight, Howe threw some punches from the bench, and there was a general pile up. Howe got a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct, while Nemcik got five for fighting, and Puskar got two for boarding. Bootland also got two for roughing and five for fighting.

The first half of the penalty kill for Utah went quite well, but Alex Belzile scored with 1:24 left in the period, and the Grizzlies found the game slipping further out of their reach.

After 4o, the Grizzlies trailed 4-1, and had been outshot to the tune of 20-16. It would take a huge third period to pull off the comeback, but it wasn’t entirely out of the question – especially considering that Ralph Cuddemi once scored two goals in thirty seconds.

The opening four minutes or so of the third saw a number of strong shifts from Utah, but then things went a bit further south. Pelech took an elbowing penalty at 4:24, but the Grizzlies killed it off, forcing Saunders to rob first Cuddemi and then Larraza on short-handed breakaways. However, no sooner had the Eagles returned to full strength than they made it 5-1, capitalizing on a defencive scramble that ensued after Helgesen took a puck to the face.

Any dying thoughts of a comeback were thoroughly squashed just under three minutes later when Jackson Houck’s shot trickled agonizingly through Redmann and into the net. Moments later, an alert play by Pelech kept the puck from crossing the line as another shot rolled through the blue paint, but shortly thereafter Colorado got the seventh goal anyway.

It was a miserable end to what had otherwise been a well played – if highly frustrating – road trip.  It didn’t seem so much that there was a lack of will to win, as that when they went to kick the comeback into gear, the engine sputtered on an empty tank instead of coming to life as it had previously.

Standings wise, fortunately for Utah, both Alaska and Missouri lost as well, so the Grizzlies remain four points behind the former, and one behind the latter. Certainly well within striking distance, provided that they rest and regroup, and are able to pick up some vital wins against tough competition in the coming weeks.

The Grizzlies are back home Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday against the Alaska Aces in what could be some of the most important games of the season.

Utah Grizzlies: War of Attrition

The Grizzlies came into this contest looking to take the third game of the series down Erik Bradford, Tim Daly, and Evan Stoflet, while Kevin Boyle got the start for the second straight night. These absences meant that Utah only dressed four defencemen and ten forwards.

Utah  got an early power play, as Ben Lake boarded Brad Navin 1:45 into the first. Utah got a few chances, but Alaska killed off the penalty.

Colin Martin, Erik Higby, and Michael Pelech all got big scoring chances, but it would be Navin who gave the Grizzlies the 1-0 lead at 9:35.

Utah killed off a holding penalty to Higby, and they continued to swarm, in no way looking like a short-handed team playing their third game in as many nights.

Cam Reid took a late penalty with less than a minute to go, but the Grizzlies headed to the locker room holding the 1-0 lead, outshooting Alaska 17-5.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Reid’s penalty handily, getting the only shot on the Aces’ man advantage, and generally looking like the better rested and hungrier team.

Higby, Cuddemi, and Martin crashed the Aces’ crease, and Martin collared Higby’s rebound, beating Michael Garteig for his twelfth of the year at 3:56.

Half way through the frame, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, and after the longest staredown ever, Howe got the edge in the fight, landing quite a number of punches before they were separated.

With just under five minutes left to play, the Grizzlies capitalized on an Aces’ bobble at their blue line. Cuddemi made a spectacular pass, sending the puck behind Garteig to Martin who scored his second of the night into the wide open net.

Utah closed out the second with some great chances, and the period ended in absolute chaos, Tim Wallace tangling with Nemcik and Pietroniro at the buzzer before both teams came flying in.

As the mayhem continued, Pelech and Marc-Andre Levesque dropped the gloves, and it was all the officials could do to break up the fight and get everyone off the ice. Utah went to the room up 3-0, and outshooting the Aces 24-19, but that’s when the tables turned.

As the dust settled, it became clear that despite the 3-0 lead, getting through the third period was going to take a Herculean effort from the Grizzlies. Pelech and Levesque both got five for fighting and a game misconduct, while Nemcik and Laplante were assessed a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct each. Wallace, who started the whole mess, also got two for roughing.

Alaska, who got three fresh players back for the game, could shrug off the loss of two players. Utah, already down their leading goalscorer and two defenders, would now have to play with only three defencemen for all but six minutes of the third without yet another top six forward.

It didn’t get any better from there.

In the early stages of the third, Cuddemi scared Grizzlies fans everywhere, when he left the ice looking uncomfortable. Fortunately, he appeared to be alright, but that was only the beginning.

A few minutes later, Richart was sent head over heels by a pair of Aces players, and went to the bench before taking a few tentative spins during the break. It appeared that Utah had dodged yet another bullet when he returned to play, only for Pietroniro to take a tripping penalty at 5:46. Unfortunately, Tyler Shattock scored just ten seconds later to make it 3-1.

Although the Aces manhandled Helgesen in the middle of the frame, it was Puskar who went to the box with 11:08. A mere six seconds later, Wallace took a healthy swing at Pietroniro off the faceoff. Pietroniro went down to the ice, and Wallace joined Puskar in the box.

With both Pietroniro and Richart banged up, Nemcik still in the box, and Helgesen the sole healthy defenceman on the bench, the Grizzlies struggled, and at 9:07, Nolan Descoteaux put the Aces within one.

At 10:33 Shattock took a charging penalty on Helgesen, Martin took exception to the hit, and both got two for roughing. Navin also tangled with an Alaska player, but neither were given penalties. Thanks to these infractions, Utah had a brief 5-on-3 situation, before a returning to a 5-on-4 power play.

Each team returned to full strength with no change in score, but Utah got a few really excellent chances on the man advantage. Alaska got a power play of their own as Navin took a slashing call with 5:37 to go in the period. Austen Brassard had a great chance short-handed, and the Grizzlies got Nemcik and Navin back. However, the Aces tied up the game with less than four minutes left to go.

Utah and Alaska both pressed in the remaining minutes, but Boyle and Garteig made some big saves to send the game to overtime.

Just fifteen seconds into OT, Cuddemi was sent to the sin bin for hooking, but the Grizzlies killed the penalty off, even getting a 2-on-1 chance from Helgesen and Nemcik.

In the dying seconds of OT, Martin made a bid for a hat trick and the win with an incredible shift, but it was not to be, and the game went to the shoot out.

Boyle — who has received far too little praise in the recap for being instrumental in helping get Utah this far — allowed a lone goal in the shoot out. Reid and Aubin scored for the Grizzlies, and Utah took the extra point.

Martin and Cuddemi earned the first two stars, but there were no passengers in this game. The performances of Pietroniro, Richart, Helgesen, and Boyle especially were also essential in earning the win.

This was a huge game for the Grizzlies, not only because they won despite being down three to five players for significant stretches of the game, but also because the two points they earned put them three points behind both Alaska and Idaho.

At the end of the day, they’re well within striking distance of a playoff spot, and they have a whole week to recover from what was unquestionably their gutsiest performance of the season.

The Grizzlies are next in action in a three-game home-stand against the Steelheads, where they will hope to take possession of a playoff spot.

Utah Grizzlies: Take Two

After a disappointing loss last time out, the Grizzlies returned to action ready to put Wednesday night’s game behind them. Kevin Boyle got the start, Tim Daly returned to the lineup, while Erik Bradford sat this one out.

Utah looked much better throughout the game than they had in the previous match-up, in that when Alaska came at them, they were not as thoroughly overwhelmed, and counterattacked far more quickly.

Just moments into the period, the Grizzlies tangled with the Aces behind the Alaska net, and as a result, Austen Brassard and Mackenze Stewart were sent off for roughing. Utah picked up the first three shots of the game on the power play, and Stewart and Brassard dropped the gloves properly mere seconds after they returned to the ice. In the ensuing scrap, Brassard decidedly got the best of the exchange, and they were both sent back to the box.

Seconds later, Nolan Descoteaux took a tripping penalty against Travis Howe, and the Grizzlies went to work on their first power play of the night.

At 7:52, Brad Navin took a tripping penalty, but Alaska negated their man advantage as goalie Kevin Carr took an interference penalty. Both teams took two more penalties, first Richart and Puskar, then Tyler Ruegsegger and Tim Coffman, before the period drew to a close. Utah had the 9-7 advantage in shots, and the score remained tied at zero.

The Grizzlies had a brief power play to begin the period, as Coffman’s penalty carried over, and the Aces took yet another penalty, giving the Grizzlies a 19 second 5-on-3.

Though they were unable to capitalize, the Grizzlies’ power play looked pretty good. Phil Pietroniro had a couple of alert plays to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and then a few more on the other end to keep the puck out of the Utah net as the penalty expired.

There was a bit of a scare at 13:25, when Ben Lake went barreling into Kevin Boyle, but he appeared to be no worse for wear.

Colin Martin broke the deadlock at 7:45, picking up the puck, and dancing in all alone to put the puck past Carr to give the Grizzlies the 1-o lead on his eleventh of the year.

Mere moments later, Taylor Richart picked up his seventh goal of the season, and sixth point in the last five games to give the Grizzlies the 2-0 lead. Boyle, in his turn, made some great saves as Alaska fought to get something going.

Alaska took yet another penalty with 8:09 to play, but Utah was unable to capitalize, and Travis Howe took a tripping penalty. The Grizzlies killed off the minor, but no sooner had they done so than the Aces scored with just 2:55 left to go in the second. The Aces pressed back hard after their goal, but the Grizzlies were able to fight them off.

The Grizzlies escaped to the locker room after 40, still holding the 2-1 lead, with Alaska holding the lead in shots by only the slimmest of margins.

The Navin-Puskar-Brassard line continued their strong play to start the period, causing trouble for the Aces in their own end, and less than two minutes in, Howe fought Dax Lauwers after the later laid a big hit on Ralph Cuddemi. Howe got an extra two for instigating, but Alaska quickly negated their power play when Stephen Perfetto tripped up Puskar.

Through the rest of the game, the teams traded chances, the Grizzlies fighting tooth and nail to keep their lead, while Alaska pressed for the tying goal. Carr robbed Cuddemi, and the Grizzlies narrowly missed several other chances to get an insurance goal on the last power play of the game. On the other end, Boyle shut the door with help the really excellent play of Richart, Pietroniro and Nemcik.

With one minute remaining, Idaho pulled their goalie, but the Grizzlies escaped, giving Boyle his second win since returning to the Grizzlies. His 33/34 save performance earned him second star of the game, and Richart – who scored what ended up being the game winning goal – was named third star.

Boyle has saved 74 of the 77 shots he’s seen in the two games since his return from San Diego, which gives him an incredible .962 Save Percentage, and an equally impressive 1.49 GAA. Per Adrian Denny, he will start in tonight’s game as well.

Though Daly returned to the lineup, he played very limited minutes, meaning that once again, Richart, Pietroniro and, to a lesser extent, Nemcik shouldered the lion’s share of the minutes. All three have flourish with the extra ice time, which has allowed the Grizzlies to not only survive but to succeed, in the absence of their best defenceman.

The two teams square off tonight for the third time in as many games, where the Grizzlies will hope to draw within two points of the Aces’ much coveted playoff spot.


Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies