Utah Grizzlies: A Costly Lack of Discipline

It’s playoff time at the Mav, and the Grizzlies returned home with a series split to find reinforcements waiting. Taylor Richart made his return to the lineup for the first time since February 17th. With his return, Tim Branham shuffled his defense, Rob Mann remained in the lineup with Tim Daly, Garret Haar, Phil Pietroniro, and Gabriel Verpaelst, while Marc-André Lévesque and Martin Nemcik sat. Cam Reid also did not dress for Utah, while Kevin Boyle once again made the start.

The Grizzlies got an early power play, as Josh Brittain took a boarding call against Mathieu Aubin just moments into the first period, but Allen largely kept the Grizzlies chasing the puck down the ice. Utah got a second crack at the man advantage just moments later as Mike Gunn went off for elbowing at 2:34, but once again, the Grizzlies’ power play was unable to make a difference.

Verpalest took a holding penalty 7:11 into the first, and the Allen power play looked dangerous, but Utah killed it off. The Americans spent a great deal of time in the Grizzlies’ end, but with 6:50 to go, shots were 4-3 for Utah.

Verpaelst yet took another penalty, tripping this time, with 3:45 to go in the first, and the Grizzlies headed back to the penalty kill. Unfortunately, the penalty would prove costly, as the Americans scored with 34 seconds left on the man advantage.

Utah got a big chance on the power play to end the period as Jon Puskar drew a holding call with less than a minute to go in the first, but they were unable to make anything happen before the frame drew to a close.

Utah was outshot 10-6, and trailed 1-0 after 20, but would start the second with 1:15 on the power play.

Utah was only able to get one shot on the power play to open the second, and C.J. Eick took a holding call at 3:04. Fortunately for Utah, Chad Costello took a high-sticking call about thirty seconds into the penalty kill, and the teams played 4-on-4 for 1:32.

With 58 seconds left in the 4-on-4 situation, Austen Brassard struck decisively, tying it up with 15:53 to go. Haar and Erik Bradford drew the assists on Brassard’s second of the playoffs.

Daly took a high-sticking penalty at 7:05, but the Grizzlies pressed well, and had a number of up ice rushes, Eick and Erik Higby both getting especially nice chances.

Brittain hauled Haar down in the defensive zone with 9:14 to go, and the Grizzlies returned to the power play. However, Utah had difficulties maintaining the zone, and Allen returned to full strength with no change in score.

Puskar was repeatedly cross-checked in the offensive zone before the refs finally called it with 4:34 to play, and Travis Howe and Mathieu Aubin were less than amused with the delay in the call.

Brassard got a nice shot on net, and then a crowd gathered as Colin Martin and Dyson Stevenson tangled, both getting two for roughing with 3:42 to go in the period.

The Grizzlies got a 37 second 5-on-3 with 3:11 to go, as Travis Brown put Daly into the boards. Daly appeared to be just fine, and gave Utah the 2-1 lead at 17:31 with assists from from Aubin and Higby.

Richart took a delay of game penalty with 1:55 to go, but at the end of the second, Utah led 2-1.

Unfortunately, Allen made it 2-2 just 2:53 into the frame as Zach Hall beat Boyle. To make matters worse, Daly got a questionable five and a game for spearing at 7:05, and the Grizzlies had to finish the game (and a five minute penalty) without their best defenseman, and primary penalty killer.

The Grizzlies were unable to clear the zone, and Allen made it 3-2 part way through the five minute major. Utah killed off the remainder of the penalty, even getting a chance or two of their own, and with 7:27 to go, they returned to full strength.

Richart laid a couple of big hits, and Higby and Ralph Cuddemi had some nice attempts as the Grizzlies tried to tie up the game, but to no avail.

Pietroniro had a rough go of it through the end of the game, taking abuse from Tyler Barnes and Brittain along the boards with about three minutes left as they battled for the puck. Pietroniro laid a huge hit on Brittain shortly thereafter before being tomahawked by Bryan Moore in retaliation. Moore received a match penalty for cross-checking, and Utah went on to a ten minute power play with 1:20 left, down Daly and Pietroniro. (Moore would later be fined and suspended for four games as a result.)

Utah pulled Boyle with 1:20 left, to go 6-on-4, but they were unable to even up the score, and despite a terrific defensive effort from Richart, Allen eventually scored into the empty net.

Erik Higby was named third star of the game with an assist, three shots, and as the generator of a number of the most dangerous plays in the game. Boyle also continued to have a very strong series, making 28/31 saves, while two of the three goals he allowed were on Allen power plays.

Penalties, and special teams were a big theme after the game. When asked about the Grizzlies’ third period struggles against Allen, Brassard answered:

“I think a big thing is penalties, I mentioned that earlier. They’re so skilled we can’t give them opportunities on the power play, because they will finish. It’s just about keeping on them and sticking with our game plan, just getting it in their zone, keeping on the offense and burning some time down there.”

Coach Branham was emphatic on the subject. “Undisciplined play has cost us game one and game three. We completely shot ourselves in the foot with undisciplined play, and we’ve been talking about it, how that’s going to be the key to this series. If you want to take a punch, if you want to continue to do retaliatory penalties, it’s going to cost us. Champions suck it up. Champions bite the bullet and do what it takes to win. We took way too many penalties tonight. I thought the referee got duped a little in the five minute major. That wasn’t a five minute spearing penalty, that’s for sure, but you put yourself in that position, for them to call it. You’ve gotta be disciplined, and tonight too many penalties cost us.

“No adjustments need to be made,” he said later, regarding the system the Grizzlies played. “Guys just need to have more discipline. Need to stop taking penalties, dumb penalties. I wouldn’t say stop taking penalties if they were good ones. if it’s to keep a goal going in your net, or whatever. But we took five or six penalties from our d-core tonight, and all but one were really dumb. So we gotta to make sure that we have a lot more discipline in the next game.”

When asked about the team’s power play performance, he added, “I thought we generated some good looks. Early on we didn’t, so then we made a couple of adjustments and were able to get some good looks. We missed a lot of plays coming up the ice on the break out, pucks rolling of our stick and what not. Our execution level was not quite there. Obviously we didn’t score more than one, so I’m not as happy as I could be, but at the end of the day I thought we were doing the right things, we just didn’t execute well enough.”

Execution and discipline might have been lacking, but Richart’s return to the lineup, and the continued performance of the Grizzlies’ third line were both bright spots.


“It’s really nice to have Richie back. He plays with heart, he plays with character, he skates really well, and he competes. That’s what I want out of all of our d-men. Where you get in trouble as a d-man, where you stop competing, you stop moving. We saw that on three of their goals here tonight. That third line you’re talking about with Puskar, Eick and Brassard, right now they’re our heart and soul. They’re leading by example, and they’re having success because they’re playing the system, they’re playing the game plan that we’re trying to implement. So everyone else has to follow suit.”

“We’re just keeping it simple” Brassard said of his line’s performance. “We have a fast line, so we’re just getting after them, trying to keep it simple, and stick to our strengths.” Their strengths have seen them pick up ten points in three games.

The Grizzlies are down 2-1 in the series now, but they remain undeterred. After all, a bit of adversity is nothing new.

“We’re pretty confident. We’ve had the lead in all the games, so it’s just about not getting too down. We’re pretty confident with how we can do against this team, so turn the page, and come ready to go next game.” Brassard’s statement has an entire season of proof to back him up.

Utah looks to once again tie up the series tonight (Friday) in what is bound to be an eventful game.


Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming.


Utah Grizzlies: All Tied Up

After having lost game one in a disappointing fashion, the Grizzlies looked to even up the series in game two against Allen. Kevin Boyle once again got the start, Colin Martin returned to the lineup, and Rob Mann drew in for Martin Nemcik. The Grizzlies were also without Zac Larraza who was called up to play for San Diego.

The early minutes of the first period were a fairly back and forth affair, with only three shots total through the first five minutes. It became evident quite early on that the C.J. Eick-Jon Puskar-Austen Brassard line had come to play, getting several of the Grizzlies’ best chances.

Marc-André Lévesque got shoved into Boyle with 13:19 to go, and took exception to it, starting a scrum that sent him to the box together with Greger Hanson.

Brassard and Eick had a terrific shift on the four-on-four, Brassard out-muscling the Allen defense, and Eick just narrowly missing a chance on the net. Boyle made a nice save on the other end, and both teams returned to full strength with no change in score. Lévesque got a one-on-one chance right out of the box, but Riley Gill made the save.

Spencer Asuchak took a roughing minor with 11:04 to play, but though the Grizzlies retained possession for almost the entire two minutes, and got a few shots, nothing substantial came of it.

Brassard and Eick made yet another a lovely play with 4:56 left in the first, but Gill again shut the door, shots 8-6 in Utah’s favor, while the refs largely left their whistles in their pockets.

Boyle, Gabriel Verpaelst and an Allen player all collided with 4:17 to go, and there was some concern for Grizz fans as Boyle remained down for a long moment, requiring assistance to stand up. However, after taking a spin, he remained in net, and fortunately appeared none the worse for wear.

Puskar got a shot right off the draw, and Brassard beat Allen to the rebound, making it 1-0 Utah at 17:17.

With just 8 seconds to go, Erik Bradford had an absolutely terrific chance, but Gill jumped on it. The Grizzlies definitely looked sharp throughout the first frame, picking up 15 shots to Allen’s eight and once again taking a lead into intermission, clearly outworking the reigning Kelly Cup champions.

Utah began the second period well, nearly capitalizing on an Allen miscue in the early going. The Americans struggled a little, icing the puck several times in a row, and looking a little tentative for the division leader playing the team that squeaked in to the playoffs in the eleventh hour.

The Puskar line remained the most obviously dangerous throughout, but the Grizzlies in general continued to control the game. Bradford got a nice chance, as did Tim Daly on the same shift with about thirteen minutes to go in the second.

Just moments later, Puskar sprang a flying Eick, and Eick once again deked out the goalie, making it 2-0 on a gorgeous play at 7:28. Daly was boarded about a minute later, and Utah went to the power play.

Allen got one of the better chances on the Grizzlies’ man advantage, and the Americans returned to full strength with no change in score.

With just over eight minutes to go, the Americans thought they’d scored, but the puck had glanced off the post crossbar, the refs waived it off, and play continued.

Puskar forced Gill to make a big save on one end, and Boyle answered on the other, robbing Alex Krushelnyski at 5:43.

The Martin-Cuddemi-Bradford line had a number of really good chances as the period drew to a close, but it was Puskar who scored on a rebound at 17:54 from Eick and Brassard.

Less than a minute later, Josh Brittain boarded Phil Pietroniro, and Pelech made it 4-0 on a pretty passing play with 31 seconds left in the period.

After 40, Utah held a commanding 4-0 lead, and was outshooting Allen 25-20.

Allen played a much better third period, and at 5:49 Martin took a hooking call against Krushelnyski. The Americans responded by pulling Gill to play six-on-four with an empty net.

Though the Grizzlies spent nearly the whole kill in their own zone, they did a terrific job of frustrating Allen. Pietroniro blocked a big chance, Higby took another, and Boyle turned aside or smothered all the others, including an absolutely spectacular stick save in the dying seconds of the kill.

Unfortunately, after killing off the penalty, Brittain scored with 11:11 to go. However, that would be the only goal Boyle allowed, and the Grizzlies were not at all deterred, despite the Americans finally waking up.

Brittain took an interference call against Cuddemi with 5:19 remaining, and Utah once more went to the power play. The Grizzlies didn’t so much try to get another goal as to keep the puck as far away from the Americans as possible. Allen had a short-handed chance, but otherwise, time continued to tick away.

Verpaelst took a holding call with 3:22 left, and Allen once again pulled Gill for the extra attacker. Once again, though, the Grizzlies’ penalty kill came up huge, and Boyle was absolutely rock solid. Allen kept Gill pulled after the penalty to Utah expired, but they remained unable to solve Boyle, and David Makowski got an elbowing call against Brassard to end the game.

Boyle was named first star of the game with 36 out of 37 saves, while Eick got second star with the game winning goal and an assist, and Puskar was named third star with a goal and two assists of his own.

The Puskar line, as mentioned previously, was spectacular throughout, picking up ten of the team’s 30 shots, while Cuddemi had five all on his own. It was, in general, a really strong effort from Utah top to bottom. The power play, which struggled mightily at times throughout the regular season, made a contribution, while the penalty kill continued its run of excellence.

Utah comes back home with the series split 1-1, having kept up with – or even out played – Allen for large parts of two games in enemy territory. The Grizzlies will definitely look to continue that momentum through the home stand.


Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming

Utah Grizzlies: Die Haar-d

After a terrific road trip, the Grizzlies opened their final home stand of the regular season against the Missouri Mavericks. Kevin Boyle made his fourth straight start, while Ralph Cuddemi returned to the lineup after serving his four game suspension. Erik Higby and Cam Reid remained sidelined.

Missouri started well to begin, but Utah got the first four shots of the game as the Grizzlies peppered Josh Robinson early and often.

After that, Utah did an excellent job of keeping the puck in the Mavs’ end drawing their ire on a number of occasions, but even so, Boyle was called upon to make a number of saves as well.

Dan Correale high-sticked Colin Martin with 8:39 to go in the period, drawing blood, and sending Martin to the room for repairs. Though Utah picked up a few good chances on the lengthy man advantage, the score remained unchanged. Martin also returned part way through the power play, and played a shift or two, looking none the worse for wear.

The Grizzlies accumulated 20 shots through the first 20 minutes, but when the period drew to a close the game was still scoreless.

C.J. Eick took a holding call 3:17 into the second, but the penalty kill allowed zero shots, while Zac Larraza and Erik Bradford had a pair of chances of their own.

With 8:44 left in the second, and the Grizzlies already up in shots 30-9, Gabriel Verpaelst took an interference call, but Utah killed it off, and he got a breakaway chance out of the box, which unfortunately went wide.

Jon Puskar was taken down with just over four minutes left with no call, much to the disgust of the 5,268 fans in attendance. The Mavs did eventually take a delay of game penalty at 16:17. However, the Grizzlies were unable to capitalize on the power play, and Boyle had to make a flurry of saves as it expired to keep the game tied at zero.

In the dying seconds of the second, Puskar made a beautiful intersection to prevent a breakaway,  and after 40, the score remained unchanged, shots 31-14 in the Grizzlies’ favour.

Missouri spent much of the first few minutes in the offensive zone, but at 4:00, the Mavs took a roughing call, and Utah went to the power play.

Garret Haar unleashed a cannon of a shot that beat Robinson to finally break the deadlock at 4:24. Bradford and Puskar got the assists, and the crowd erupted.

Alas, the Mavs answered about two minutes later, and just like that the game was back to square one.

With 5:16 to go, Austen Brassard was put into the Missouri bench, and both teams came flying in. In the end Brassard was extracted, seeming none the worse for his misadventure, and Martin Nemcik and Jacob Doty were both sent to the box for roughing. Nothing came of the ensuing 4-on-4, and with one minute left, Puskar was taken down yet again. However, this time, Radoslav Illo was sent to the box for crosschecking.

The Grizzlies were not able to capitalize on the power play, and a scrum ensued following the buzzer, which saw Larraza and Benjamin Dieude-Fauvel kicked out of the game with two minute minors and a game misconduct each.

Utah got a number of chances on the 4-on-3, including quite a few from Cuddemi, but the penalty expired with no change in score.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as Haar wired the puck past Robinson 2:07 into OT to give the Grizzlies the 2-1 win.

Haar was named first star of the night, while Boyle’s 19/20 saves earned him second star, and Michael Pelech’s assist saw him named one of the stars of the game for the second time in three games.

“Obviously it’s huge, right? It’s do or die right now, and we control our own destiny.” Haar said of the victory. “To get that win obviously, couldn’t ask for anything better. We just need to have a good practice tomorrow and move on to Friday.”

“We have so much skill that when we work hard along with our skill it’s kind of hard to stop us.” He continued, when asked about the team’s recent success. “That’s what we were doing tonight, we were hounding pucks and what not, but we just need to maybe tighten up our d-zone in transition a little bit and I think we’ll be alright.”

Coach Branham had nothing but praise for his defenseman, and for his team. “Garrett Haar has been tremendous since we got him. What a pick-up that was for us. He’s playing with confidence, he’s playing big minutes, those two goals were the biggest of the year so far, so props to him.

“We’ve got guys who have been here before. They know what’s at stake, they know how to play, they know what it takes to win, to have success. It’s their team right now. They want it. They want to win, they have all year. We faced so much adversity, through injuries and call ups and stuff like that, we’re finally getting a somewhat consistent lineup, and we’re getting rewarded for it.”

A Grizzlies’ win tonight (Friday), or an Aces’ loss will clinch Utah’s playoff spot. So, what do the Grizzlies have to do to keep the wins coming? “Play the same game, don’t change anything. We can’t change anything, we gotta keep the foot on the gas, and you wanna go on to playoffs winning. We just gotta make sure we take care of business on Friday, we have something to play for, that’s for sure. We don’t wanna change anything.”



Image courtesy of Tim Boussard

Utah Grizzlies: Death by Special Teams II

The Grizzlies got off to a very good start in their final home game against Colorado on Monday night, as Cam Reid opened the scoring at 1:42 with assists from C.J. Eick and Phil Pietroniro. Unfortunately, however, the advantage they’d established evaporated as they ran into some penalty trouble.

Martin Nemcik took a holding call at 7:08, but Garrett Haar’s hard work behind the Grizzlies’ net drew a penalty and evened out the play. However about four minutes later, Michael Sdao was tripped up and flew into Faragher. Faragher wasn’t entertained, and laid into him, which resulted in two Utah penalties, one to Nemcik for hooking, and one to Faragher for roughing. Matt Register got off three big shots from the point on the five-on-three before the next one finally beat Faragher to tie the game.

Erik Higby took a double minor for high-sticking at 13:09, and Register scored yet again on the 5-on-3. The Grizzlies were able to kill off the remainder of the penalty, thanks in large part to Haar’s excellent play, and Colorado took a penalty of their own with 22 seconds left in the period.

After 20 minutes, the game was tied 1-1, and Utah outshot them 11-9.

The Grizzlies got off to another great start in the second, as Michael Pelech made it 2-1 24 seconds into the frame with assists from Marc-André Lévesque and Mathieu Aubin.

Austen Brassard got a beautiful breakaway all alone from off the bench, but was tied up, and no call was made. Faragher and Haar continued to impress, Faragher made some terrific saves, and Haar also had a nice scoring chance. Register took a slashing penalty with 13:18 to go. Utah was unable to generate anything on the man advantage, and Faragher had to make an incredible pair of saves as the Eagles pounced on some egregious turn overs.


However, just when it looked like Colorado was prepared to take the bit in their mouth and run off with the game, Pelech scored his second of the period from Tim Daly. Haar got the secondary assist, his first for Utah, and a nice touch to a great game.

Pelech took a tripping call with 4:34 to go, but C.J. Eick, who had looked terrific so far, got a glorious short-handed breakaway, but unfortunately his shot went wide. However, they killed off the remainder of the penalty, and at the end of 40, Utah led 3-2, and the shots were tied 22-22.

The third period did not get off to an altogether auspicious start, as the Eagles kept the Grizzlies playing in their own end, and Utah iced the puck. However, they averted danger, and Daly drew a tripping penalty behind the Utah net.

The Grizzlies struggles on the power play continued against the Eagles, however, as Darryl Bootland made it 3-3 with 1:03 to go on the Utah man advantage.

The special teams issues continued for the Grizzlies, as they took a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct at 9:51, and despite two terrific saves from Faragher, the puck continued to pinball, and Jackson Houck made it 4-3 about a minute later.

Faragher and Haar continued to have strong games, Faragher turned aside a breakaway, and shortly thereafter, Haar made a perfect sliding play to prevent a shot on the 2-on-1.

Utah tried to make a game of it, but despite a power play in the final two minutes of the game, and pulling Faragher for the extra attacker, Colorado scored a short handed empty netter for the dagger with 37 seconds to go.

When the buzzer sounded, the Grizzlies found themselves the losers of three straight, outshot 33-31. They definitely did not play badly, but special teams cost them. Every single one of Colorado’s goals was scored either on the power play, or the penalty kill, and the Grizzlies’ power play – though they did score one on the man advantage – really hurt them as the Eagles’ penalty kill jumped on any mistake or hesitation.

“I thought we definitely played well enough to win.” Said Branham after the game, “Special teams was a huge part of the last two games, and they’re pretty good on special teams, so we’ve got to make sure we tighten up in that area.”

“We’ve got to play that same way. Be a little more disciplined, stay out of the penalty box a little bit. I didn’t think some of those penalties were warranted. I thought we were on the wrong end of quite a few of them, to be honest, but that’s the way it goes, and you’ve got to battle through it.”

He had good things to say of Eick and Haar as well:

“[Eick’s] full of energy. He’s a guy that works hard each and every shift, and his speed is tough to defend, so we like getting him out there on the open ice, he brings it every game. It’s great for a coach when you know what you’re going to get out of a player every night. You definitely know what you’re going to get out of him each and every night.”

He added that he thought the contest was the second in which Haar was theGrizzlies best defenseman.

With their loss, they find themselves one point behind Missouri, and five behind Alaska. They’ve got eight games left, so the playoffs are certainly not out of the question, but (as they have all year) they face a very stiff uphill battle.

Then again, it remains unwise to count them out entirely.

They play tonight in Colorado, where they hope to return to their early season success against the Eagles.