Utah Grizzlies: A Game to Be Thankful For

On the day before a snowy Thanksgiving, with yet another Florida team in town, the Grizzlies got reinforcements from Colorado in the form of Tim McGauley. With Hunter Miska back with the Eagles, Mason McDonald got the start, backed up by Brad Barone.

From their very first shift, Griffen Molino and Tim McGauley made things happen. Taking that into consideration, it was perhaps not surprising that a strong defensive zone shift about four minutes into the game led to an up-ice charge, and Molino’s fifth of the year.

That line continued to be dangerous, creating another chance on a rebound from Sasha Larocque several minutes later.

With 11:59 to go in the first, Utah drew a power play, and Eric Williams continued his scoring ways with a snipe just ten seconds into the advantage.

Unfortunately, less than ten seconds after that, Michael Huntebrinker shot the puck straight through a crowd to put the Everblades within one on their second shot of the game.

The cantankerousness between Utah and teams from Florida continued, and about 12 minutes in, Garrett Klotz dropped the gloves with Kyle Neuber behind Florida’s net. It was a lengthy bout, and shortly thereafter, Utah drew yet another power play.

The Grizzlies didn’t capitalize on the advantage, and at 15:39, they were unable to break up the perfect tick-tack-toe goal. While McDonald probably would have wanted that one back, he turned right around and made a huge, if somewhat unorthodox save one-on-one against an Everblades player on the next shift. Unfortunately, Patrick McGrath took a cross-checking call immediately thereafter. Though Florida briefly took the shot lead, they were unable to capitalize on the advantage, and the period ended 2-2, shots 9-9.

Utah got an early power play when at 1:35, John McCarron got Taylor Richart with an elbow to the face. Though the Grizzlies were able to pick up a couple of shots, they were unable to beat Ken Appleby.

Utah had a couple of good shifts, following the man advantage, but Florida got two skaters behind the Utah defense, and a clean shot beat McDonald to make it 3-2.

Molino continued to get great chances that, for one reason or another, just managed to stay out of the net, both on the breakaway, and in close quarters at the goal mouth, and the home crowd showed their appreciation for both McGauley and Yuri Terao, roaring in anticipation any time either of them led the up-ice rush in possession of the puck.

With 1:12 to go in the second, Feliz Lauzon went bar down from the edge of the blue paint, tying up the game once more. Richart got the assist, and after 40, Utah out-shot Florida 22-18.

Utah jumped into the defensive zone early, and with Mike Economos battling behind the net with an Everblades player, Garrett Klotz snuck around the net, and slipped the puck between Appleby and the post to make it 4-3 just 22 seconds in. Lauzon got his third point of the game, and Economos got the second assist.

Florida counterattacked, and drew a power play at 3:36, but the Utah penalty killers were well up to the task.

However, while they were up for the PK, they were unable to fend off a nearly identical Florida goal scored on yet another cross-crease pass.

The Everblades continued to control the play, getting the lion’s share of offensive zone time through the third period, and tying the shots up.

With under 1:30 to go, Florida rang iron, then Kyle Neuber high-sticked Yuri Terao, which drew a crowd. Teigan Zahn dropped the gloves with Neuber, and then Jack Nevins fought him immediately after. Zahn and Neuber both got two and five, for unsportsmanlike conduct and high-sticking respectively, and Nevins got five and a game for continuing the altercation. The kerfuffle led to a five minute Utah power play, 3:37 of which carried over to OT.

The Grizzlies didn’t need that long. Just 22 seconds into the extra frame, Joe Wegwerth put the puck past Appleby for the game winner.

Wegwerth’s game winner earned him first star honors. “I thought we had a really good start,” he said. “That’s been one of our objectives lately to come out of the gates quick every period. Obviously we had some lulls there in the first and second period, but I thought we battled through it. We’re gonna have some adversity. Not every game is going to be perfect, but we found a way, and when you start to put a streak together, that’s what you have to do, you have to find a way, and that’s what I thought we did.”

Having found success even without their top scorers, the answer to how they’ve got there is simplicity.

“I think we had a lot of success when we kept it simple, chipped pucks by people, I think when we try to skate pucks out of our own end or do too much, that’s when we get in trouble, so I think just simplifying our game, having everyone commit to chipping the pucks out, being hard on the forecheck, finishing checks, I think that’s what really gave us success tonight.”

“Obviously with the way things have been going down here, with guys getting called up, we needed different guys to step up.” Wegwerth continued. “Obviously [Williams] has been doing that right now, and ever since [Klotz] has been here he’s been performing, and being a leader and a big presence for us. It’s great to have guys like that, and obviously [Zahn], he’s a great captain, just a great guy. We’re lucky he’s on our team, he makes guys feel safe out there, that’s for sure.”

While there were moments that left something to be desired, overall Tim Branham was pleased with his team’s effort. “I thought we did a good job to get that good start, and then we kind of got complacent” said Branham. “We didn’t have the same hate on as we did for Orlando. I thought we really let our guard down and didn’t dictate the pace, didn’t dictate play. That first period they didn’t get a shot until eight minutes into the period. Second period, same thing though, and then the flood gates kind of opened. We’ve got to make sure that we’re able to control the game a little bit better. Our game plan was obviously play hard, play physical, but play that puck possession game because they have so many dangerous weapons over there that can score. So we want to make sure that we play that puck possession game. And I thought we did to start the first two periods. You know what, at the end of the day, our power play was great, our penalty kill was great, we were able to get the two points. It was a character win, we learned a lesson — you can’t let your guard down, you’ve got to make sure you play hard. Especially the team we have now. We have a blue collar, hard working team, and we saw that when we play that way against a good team like Orlando with great goaltending, we’re able to have success. We didn’t quite play that full 60 minutes tonight, but we still found a way to get the two points, and good teams do that.”

With two unfamiliar, and talented teams in town recently, every player on the team has stepped up. “Depth scoring, whether it’s from the back end or the forwards, we’re doing a really good job with that. I thought our D carried the play last weekend, tonight our forwards chipped in and scored some goals for us. It’s a fun group to coach. They want to do well, they have each other’s backs, and we’re finding ways to have success. That’s what it’s all about.”

It hasn’t just been the goaltending either. After Terao got taken down and Zahn stood up for him, the team made sure to get the win done on the power play he earned. “We wanted to make sure we had [Zahn’s] back there with the power play, and getting the game winner. When he does stuff like that it gets everyone going, and we want to make sure we repay him for doing that. It’s a tough job, [Klotz], it’s a tough job, but they’re used to doing it, they wouldn’t want it any other way, they’d do it all over again to get another win. This one feels good. That’s a good team over there, that’s a really good team, and we found a way to get two points. We’ve got to enjoy it, enjoy tomorrow with our families and our friends, and regroup again for Friday.”

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard

 

 

 

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: Fast and Furious

Back at home again, but still down Travis Barron, Cole Cassels, Josh Dickinson, Ryan Wagner,  Ty Lewis, and now Tim McGauley, the Grizzlies’ roster looked pretty different from the last time the home crowd saw them. In were Garrett Klotz, Jack Jenkins, and Jake Jackson, while Joe Wegwerth, Mason McDonald, and Hunter Miska all returned to the lineup. Teigan Zahn drew in as the tenth forward, and Misika, hot off a highly successful AHL stint, got the start.

Both teams came out flying, Utah looking especially quick and heavy hitting, creating all kinds of mayhem (but also having to defend against it as well). Into the first four minutes, Utah had decidedly the greater zone time, but had only put up two shots to Orlando’s one.

Yuri Terao especially had some fire in his step, while Garrett Klotz made sure everyone was wide awake with a big hit in the opening minutes. The Grizzlies drew the first power play of the night with Cody Donaghey heading to the box for slashing. Taylor Richart got a couple of big shots from both points, and then Eric Williams beat Clint Windsor with a backhand shot to give Utah the 1-0 lead.

On the next shift, Peter Tischke took a cross-checking call, and the Utah PK got to work half-way through the first, and killed it off. The play that followed wasn’t the cleanest Utah’s shown this season, but it got the job done.

At 7:15, Teigan Zahn and Jake Coughler dropped the gloves at the offensive zone blue line, Zahn got the take-down, and both were sent to cool their heels in the box.

Neither goalie saw much work through the first period, but Miska was where he needed to be when he needed to be, especially as Orlando began to pressure in earnest at the end of the first. The Solar Bears’ hard work paid off, as they took over the shot lead, and with 2:22 to go in the first, made it 1-1.

Utah had a little bit of push-back at the end, and at the buzzer, Mike Economos took the butt end of a stick to the gut, causing a crowd to gather.

After 20, Orlando out-shot the Grizzlies 8-5, but the score remained 1-1.

Griffen Molino had two prime looks to start the second, and Utah headed to the power play, thanks to a delay of game penalty from Chris LeBlanc.

The Grizzlies pressed hard on the advantage, and took the shot lead again before the power play came to an end.

Patrick McGrath took a roughing call about five into the second, but Miska and the penalty killers got the job done once again. J.C. Brassard had a stand out moment of his own shortly thereafter, managing to stall at the blue line long enough for his teammates to tag up while retaining possession of the puck.

The Grizzlies got another power play just past the half-way mark of the second. However, they only really got a couple of looks from the center of the ice before Orlando returned to full strength.

Leblanc found himself back in the box for the third time in the period after slashing Zahn’s stick out of his hands, but though Utah set Richart up perfectly several times, and moved the puck well, the best PK in the league held them at bay.

Orlando got a chance on the power play towards the end of the period when McGrath took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Miska once again showed the moves that earned him a shut out in the AHL, and the Grizzlies killed off the penalty.

The second period came to an end in the midst of a lengthy rugby scrum, shots 20-20, and the score still 1-1.

The third period got off to a choppy start, and both teams fought through the neutral zone for possession. Peter Tischke and Tayler Thompson got matching roughing calls, and Miska remained stellar.

As the period progressed, both teams found themselves in their respective offensive zones for prolonged periods of time. Utah took a delay of game penalty at 8:03, but were able to kill it off fairly smoothly.

As the game entered the final ten minutes of regulation, Miska continued to coolly hold down the fort, and another delay of game penalty sent Utah back to the man advantage.

Once again, the Grizzlies created some nice chances, and made some really nice plays, but were unable to finish on the man advantage.

As the final seconds raced by, Molino whistled the puck at the net, and only just missed giving Utah the regulation win. Utah earned the point, and headed into OT.

Terao got two grade A looks in the first 30 seconds, but was thwarted first by the bar, and second by Windsor.

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, their defense keeps stepping up to fill the scoring void, and Brassard ended OT with his second of the year.

Hunter Miska was easily the best player on the ice for most of the game, but Brassard’s OT GWG earned him first star while Miska took second star, and Williams was named third. Terao and Molino were on fire the entire night, and while they didn’t capitalize, their play led to some really terrific scoring chances.

“Stellar goal-tending, same with theirs, their goal-tending was stellar as well, really proud of the way that our group played” said head coach Tim Branham in his post game comments. “A lot of the things that we worked on in practice this week we implemented. We played a full 60 minutes. I couldn’t be more proud of them. And then the way that they played, the way that they battled, they played a full 63 minutes, whatever it was, can’t say much more other than how proud I am of the way they played.”

Things have been challenging lately, but though they’ve struggled, the Grizzlies haven’t backed down. “We’ve got six forwards in the American league right now, on one team or another. Kudos to these guys who have stepped in and filled those rolls. We knew that we’re not gonna score ten goals a game, or seven goals a game. It is what it is. Our challenge is to play well defensively, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight. Special teams was good again, and it’s a work in progress. Right now this group wants it. They want it really bad, and they’re doing a great job.”

“We know that our record isn’t exactly what we want at this moment,” JC Brassard said of the team’s season so far, “But we’ve been working really hard in practice, doing all the right things, working hard in games, we just didn’t get bounces until tonight, and I think everyone is happy it paid off, and all the hard work is coming together.”

It was obvious that Miska’s return from the AHL helped as well. “When you have a goalie in net who you can trust, and you know is gonna clean up your mistakes, it makes playing a whole lot easier” Brassard added. “You play more relaxed, and you’re a lot more focused on the game as opposed to someone else’s job, so it helped a lot to have him here, and we’re really glad he’s back down.”

Despite having so much movement in the roster, the team seems to have gelled really well. “We’re all working together, we were all clicking today” Brassard said. “We got in a practice together with all the new guys. The coaches have been doing a really good job, and they get everyone informed before the game, and get everyone on the same page.”

The Grizzlies hope to bring the same mindset and execution to tonight’s rematch.

Goals

  • First Period: Williams (Lauzon, Wegwerth) (PP)
  • Second Period: None
  • Third Period: None
  • OT: Brassard (Jenkins)

PP: 1/5
PK: 4/4

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff