Utah Grizzlies: Never a Dull Moment

Sometime in the third period, Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” boomed out over the Maverik Center ice. It was appropriate. This game had it all: fights (there were five), power play goals, short handed goals, even strength goals, saves, and general bad blood. Something about familiarity breeding contempt, and all that.

“I think we loved how we played both games,”Kevin Davis said when asked about the team’s play. “It was great how everyone stuck up for each other too, shows what kind of character we have in that room.”

After a successful home opener, the goal was to keep the momentum going, and boy did they ever.

The game didn’t get off to the most successful start, as Austin Carroll took a tripping call a mere 13 seconds in. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, Rapid City took a high-sticking penalty of their own just 40 seconds later, and that was just the beginning of what seemed like an endless parade of players to the box.

Utah got a lengthy 6-on-5 on a delayed penalty after Carroll took yet another high-stick. The fans were treated to a beautiful moment of déjà vu when Davis and Caleb Herbert set up Josh Winquist for his second opening goal in two nights.

Ryan Misiak drew another penalty at 7:28, and the game got a bit chippy after that. Teigan Zahn and Andrew Radjenovic got into it at center ice, followed on the next shift by a scuffle around Joe Cannata that rapidly turned into a full fledged fight between Ryan Walters and Josh Elmes.

Both Zahn and Radjenovic returned to the ice with no change in score, and the Grizzlies caused some mayhem in the offensive zone with about five to go in the period.

The mayhem continued as, with six seconds left in the first, Zahn and Shaquille Merasty dropped the gloves. Zahn got the best of the fight, and the period ended with another crowd.

Winquist got a couple of looks on the first shift of the second, and though he missed, Davis did not, scoring his first of the season just 42 seconds into the frame.

Unfortunately, after that the Grizzlies ran into penalty trouble as first Gage Ausmus and then Herbert got sent to the box one right after the other. However, the Utah kept them cycling the puck, and Ausmus returned to the ice. Rapid City capitalized on the tail end of Herbert’s penalty, but the Grizzlies immediately went back to the advantage.

Cole Ully boarded Chris Leibinger at 12:22, sending the Utah to the kill. Leibinger looked a little shaken up, but returned to the ice part way through the advantage, which the Grizzlies killed off with style.

In the final minutes of the period, Taylor Richart, Willem Nong-Lambert, Turner Ottinger, and a whole crowd of Rush players tangled, and both Richart and Nong-Lambert went to the box. With just about 40 seconds left, Davis put a shot on net, and Matt Berry tipped it home to make it 4-1.

The rough stuff continued in the third with Merasty once again dropping the gloves, this time with Ausmus at center ice. Both got five, and Merasty got the extra two for instigation.

Scarcely had the game settled down after that than things got crazy all over again. Brendan Harms was plastered to the boards, Davis took exception, and he and Cedric Montminy both got sent off for the fourth fight of the game, Davis completing the Gordie Howe hat trick. Mason McCarty also went off for high-sticking.

Unfortunately, the Rush scored short-handed to cut the lead in half at 8:02. In the immortal words of Bob Cole, everything was happening.

And the Grizzlies were by no means done. When Rapid City took two consecutive penalties, the Grizzlies capitalized both five-on-three, and five-on-four, with goals from Herbert and Berry at 10:06 and 10:51 respectively. Richart and Ully picked up the assists on Herbert’s tally, while Misiak and Austin Carroll got the helpers on Berry’s.

In case anyone was in danger of getting bored in the few minutes of slightly less frantic action that followed, Carroll, who had once again been noticeable all game, dropped the gloves with Blake Heinrich at 14:02 in the fifth and final fight of the night.

Ully rang iron at shortly thereafter, and no sooner had the Rush returned to full strength than they went right back to the sin bin for slashing. Utah took one final penalty in the last two minutes of the game, and then it was all over.

The teams combined for a whopping 90 minutes of penalties, five of which went to Davis who, according to hockeyfights.com, has only ever fought twice before in his career. “Man, I’ve never had one.” Davis said of the Gordie Howe hat trick that earned him first star honors, “I don’t know, it kind of just happened. It was funny!”

Josh Winquist came in for his share of the accolades, after opening scoring once again, and picking up another assist for his fourth point in two games, while Matt Berry was awarded third star with two goals and five shots.

“It’s the start that we wanted to get off to,” Tim Branham said of the team’s winning effort this weekend, “We know we’ve got a good team, still missing a few pieces, but we’ve got a great team. We wanted to be firing on all cylinders here, and I thought offensively we were really good. I thought today we cleaned up a few things defensively, they had a couple of breaks there, they scored a power play and they scored a short-handed goal, it is what it is. I thought our power play is clicking again, and it’s pretty clear we’ve got a lot of fire power, so we just have to make sure we bring that work ethic each and every day, and this weekend we did.”

He was also quick to praise the exceptional work Joe Cannata, who didn’t get a star in the game, but who was a rock for the team, once again making 26 of 28 saves, including some big ones at crucial moments.

“Can’t tell [you] how good of a job Cannata has done. He made some big stops, stopped that breakaway early, he’s just so calm back there, and no one’s panicking on the bench when he’s in net. We’ve known for a long time what kind of goaltender he is. Every press conference I’ve had after every game I’ve said he doesn’t belong in this league, but it’s nice to have him on our team now. He did an amazing job for us, allowed us to get going there.”

With a highly successful opening weekend under their belts, the Grizzlies look ahead to next weekend where they will play the Idaho Steelheads on Friday and Saturday in Boise.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff

 

Utah Grizzlies: Worth Fighting For

With the exception of Sean Maguire in for Joel Rumpel, the winning lineup remained unchanged on the second and final night of Grizzlies Fight Cancer weekend. On the other end of the ice, after his Utah related struggles, Wichita didn’t go with Shane Starrett, instead starting Nick Riopel. As everyone knows, familiarity breeds contempt, and there was a great deal more chippiness in the last game of the season between the Thunder and the Grizzlies.

The game did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, as Utah lost control of the puck, and the Thunder got the first couple of shots of the night.

However, the Grizzlies drew the first power play of the game at 2:41, and their special teams success continued, as Jake Marchment made it 1-0 at 3:38. Sam Windle took a tripping call almost immediately afterwards, as the previous game’s trend of a tightly called match continued. The kill was strong though, and they returned to full strength.

Brad Navin and Austin Ortega got in on a two-on-one at about the eight minute mark, but Riopel calmly gloved Ortega’s shot.

The chances continued to go both ways, but Utah eventually took over the shots, going from down 5-1 on the shot counter, to up 6-5 by the half-way mark.

Gage Ausmus took a bit of a bump behind the Grizzlies net at 11:06, and dropped the gloves with Travis Ewanyk. He hauled him down emphatically to the great delight of the home crowd. Both got sent off for five minutes to cool their heels.

A mere couple of minutes later, Travis Howe and Etienne Boutet got tangled up between the benches, and dropped the gloves, eventually joining their teammates in the box with 5:28 to go.

Unfortunately, it was the Thunder who struck next, as the puck skipped over Maguire’s glove and in at 15:29. The goal came off a pretty lengthy shift in their own end for the Grizzlies.

However, the game did not stay tied for long. Ralph Cuddemi went to the box for slashing, and Ortega beat Riopel on a perfectly placed laser of a shot from Taylor Richart and Sam Babintsev.

Wichita pressed hard in the final moments of the first, but after 20, shots were 12-9 for Utah, who led 2-1.

Mitton took a high-sticking call at 4:16 in the second, but Jon Puskar negated it moments afterwards on the trip. The Thunder tied it up as Jeremy Beaudry capitalized on a defensive lapse, swept around a swarm of players, and put the puck past Maguire.

Brendan Harms had a lovely look on the four second power play that followed, beating the Wichita defenseman, but Riopel was unphased. Rob Mann and Puskar got into a bit of a jousting match, but separated before anything was called.

Navin got a good shot off, and Michael Pelech tangled with Kevin Patterson at 7:42. Pelech got two for cross-checking, two for roughing, while Patterson got two for high-sticking and two for roughing.

Cuddemi came flying in alone on the next shift, and tried to slip one past Maguire five-hole, but he shut the door. For all that, though the Grizzlies were by no means hemmed in their own zone, the Thunder continued to roll along in a concerning fashion.

Ortega got hauled down on what should have been a clean breakaway, and though it could have been a penalty shot, it did result in a power play. The advantage got a couple of good looks, but ultimately came up empty.

There was a bit of a lull in the pace of the game, as it entered the back half of the frame, and in that lull, Wichita pounced on a breakdown, and took the lead. As the period ran out, the mood was grim, despite only being down a goal. It didn’t improve when Mann went to the box for tripping at 17:50. Utah killed it off, however, but after two periods, they trailed going into intermission for the first time during the winning streak.

Utah looked a little flat to start the third, though Harms and Richart teamed up for an exciting moment, as Harms pounced on a turnover by Riopel behind the net. Riopel tripped him up, but there was no call, and the puck did eventually get out of danger.

Gage Ausmus made a gorgeous stick-lifting play to keep Cuddemi from getting a shot on the breakaway, but unfortunately, Utah got a too-many-men penalty at 4:24. They killed it off, and Utah started showing signs of life in the minutes that followed. Ortega woke the crowd with an up ice rush, and when Richart buried it, the 8,594 fans in attendance erupted. Navin got the secondary assist, getting his eighth point in five games.

Ortega got sent off for interference at 9:40, but once again, Utah killed it off, and built on the momentum. Maguire was especially instrumental short-handed, making an eye-catching save early, and holding down the fort. On the very next shift, the Grizzlies took the lead as Navin set up Mann for his first pro goal, and his first multi-point game. Ortega was again in on the action with Navin, getting the secondary assist as that line once more got the puck to a defenseman for the goal.

Maguire stood tall after that, but with 1:44 to go, Wichita pulled Riopel, and Pelech took a cross-checking call 33 seconds later. The Thunder called their time-out, and the penalty kill gave up their first of the game with a crushing nine seconds left.

Pelech drew a power play at the very end of regulation, and the Grizzlies started overtime on the power play. 3-on-3 OT. Because there was no whistle for quite a while after Wichita returned to full strength, very little of OT was actually played 3-on-3. Regardless, OT solved nothing, and the game went to the shoot out.

Babintsev scored the only goal in the shoot-out, as Maguire calmly stoned all three of the Thunder’s skaters, and the second largest crowd of the season went wild. Utah extended their winning streak to five with their second shoot-out win of the year.

Maguire got the the third star of the game, Ortega’s goal and two assists got the second star, and with his first pro goal, and first multi-point game, Mann was named first star of the night.

“I thought they played with more energy and passion than us for the majority of that first forty minutes, or say fifty minutes,” Tim Branham said after the game, “But at the end of the day we’ve been on a roll here, and good teams find a way to win. Everybody is pulling the rope—today it was Maguire, big in the shoot out, Ortega getting us going on that one, Rob Mann, what a time to get your first goal—at the end of the day, you find ways to win. That’s what good teams do.”

Ortega (three goals, seven assists), Navin (two goals, six assists), and Richart (two goals, five assists) all picked up points in each of the five games, while Pelech (four goals, one assist), Mann (one goal, four assists), Misiak (two goals, five assists), and Marchment (three goals, two assists) have also racked up points over the course of the winning streak.

The auction of the beautiful cancer night jerseys raised over $21,000 for charity, and the Grizzlies look to close out February on a winning note tonight in Quad City.

 

Cover photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.