Utah Grizzlies: Home, Sweet Home

After three long, but successful, weeks on the road, the Grizzlies finally returned home, getting reinforcements in the form of Tim McGauley and Ty Lewis. The team wore Batman jerseys with the team’s nicknames (both real and invented) on the back. Martin Ouellette made his 21st start, while the return of both McGauley and Lewis meant that Brandon Saigeon sat out.

The game got off to a great start for the Grizzlies, as Rapid City took two penalties in quick succession, and Yuri Terao made them pay for it on the back-half at 3:27. Mitch Maxwell and Jack Jenkins got the assists.

Ouellette made a big save, and then Eric Williams was sent to the box for interference, followed rapidly by Taylor Richart. Utah killed off the two man disadvantage, and maintained both shot and score superiority.

McGauley leveled Myles McGurty, and drew a crowd, eventually being sent to the box for boarding on a very delayed call.

Utah continued to hold the lead in both shots and goals into the final five of the first. Josh Anderson threw a thunderous hit, and Tanner Karty took exception, dropping the gloves. Both were sent to the room to cool their heels for the final 4:58 of the period.

Griffen Molino had two great attempts in close on Gordie Defiel, but he got taken down, and Defiel made both saves.

Utah continued to pepper the Rush with shots, picking up 12 to Rapid City’s 5 with just over two to go.

Joe Wegwerth got shot number thirteen, and then answered the bell against Brennan Saulnier shortly thereafter.

At the end of a highly eventful first period, Utah retained the 1-0 lead, shots 13-5 in their favor.

The second period began with a fair amount of Rush zone time, but no shots, and Anderson and Karty were released before anything changed.

Utah got the first shot of the period, but in general, their feet kept getting ahead of their hands.

Molino’s hands certainly didn’t get away from him at 8:21, however, as he used his reach to hold on to the puck around a defender, and then swung it over Defiel’s head for his 21st of the year. Lewis got the primary assist, while McGauley got the secondary.

Utah didn’t stop there, extending the shot lead, and getting another goal from Josh Dickinson at 12:58 from Richart and Ryan Wagner.

By the fifteen minute mark, shots were 23-9 for the Grizzlies, and if Ouellette hadn’t made a couple of really nice saves the few times he was tested, it would have been pretty easy to forget that a very good goalie was in the net at all.

Rapid City challenged that a little as time went on, but except for a scuffle between Peter Tischke and Karty after a hit on Lewis, the end of the period maintained the status quo.

Second intermission saw shots 25-13 for the Grizzlies, with 45 seconds left on the offsetting penalties to Tischke and Karty.

The Rush came into the third with more jump than heretofore, but missed the net, or were met by Ouellette or the Utah defense. After that, however, Utah returned the favor in spades.

By the half-way point, the Grizzlies had firmly re-taken control of the game, hitting thirty shots by the 10 minute mark.

Wagner had a glorious offensive zone shift, topped off by a perfect set up, and Maxwell JUST missed spinning the puck into a gaping net.

Chris Leibinger stood Garret Klotz up at the Utah blue line, and was probably fortunate that Klotz didn’t look particularly interested in really dropping the gloves. Both got two minutes at 11:57.

Klotz got a borderline tripping call with under five to go, but the Rush were unable to cleanly complete a pass for almost the entirety of the penalty. With 40 seconds or so to go, the Rush pulled their goalie, and scored on the multiple man advantage.

With two to go, they again pulled their goalie, but were unable to close the gap, giving Utah the 3-1 win, shots 31-23 for the Grizzlies.

Ouellette picked up his 16th win and first star honors, while Terao and Maxwell took second and third.

“You know, I’m really proud of the group right now,” Tim Branham said after the game. “When you bring back McGauley and Lewis — and I know, they’re good players, but we just spent two games without them in a different game plan — they come back in and it’s like they never left, everyone picks up where they left off, other people accept different roles. When you add two high-skilled players like that, two other guys are going to take a back seat, which means it’s gonna be a trickle down effect. We’ve got a great group of guys, guys that accept whatever role they’re put in. They just want to win. Really proud of them for playing a complete game today. That was bigger to me than anything because Rapid City is a tough team. They try to come in and play physical and play hard, and we always have problems with them, have fits, and I think the guys did an excellent job playing between the whistles and playing a good physical, yet skilled, puck possession game.”

While there is certainly no doubt that the level of skill on this team is high, it’s their relentless willingness to work hard that’s set them apart so far.

“Their mindset is different” said Branham, “They have a hard working mindset instead of just a skilled game mindset. You know the old cliche, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. But when you can have talent that works hard, it’s a dangerous thing. We know come playoff time, it’s going to be a tough brand of hockey, so we want to make sure we’re used to playing that style and you throw our skill into the mix and good things happen.”

While the Grizzlies’ speed and high-intensity approach have contributed to their success, they have played a lot of games with a lot of travel lately, and while the travel is decreasing in the coming weeks, the number of games certainly isn’t. So how is the team preparing both for the short term and the big picture?

“We got to be careful here now. We played so much hockey lately, and we’ve been on the road, they’re tired. Even a day off is a travel day, you know, and being able to sustain that energy like they are is huge. So we’re trying to manage that, making sure that we do have enough energy to be able to compete at a high level, and the level that we want to compete at. We’re not measuring ourselves to the other teams, we’re measuring ourselves to ourselves, and we want to be the best team that we can possibly be.” 

It’s a management challenge, for sure, but Dickinson also sees it as good practice for the playoffs.

“Come playoffs you’re playing every other night/every night,” he said, “So I mean, it’s a good warm-up for us and it’s good to see what we’re made of and how we respond to it, and the night-in-night-out games is what is going to take in the playoffs, so it’s it’s good.”

And while long road trips are difficult, even late road trips like this one also allow teams to gel together. “Obviously it’s later in the season here, so you’re already close with the guys,” Dickinson added, “But when you’re on a road trip for a long time you’re spending every hour with the guys so you get to know everyone a lot better–it’s where you really find each other and it makes it easier. You kind of get in a groove and you just know more about each other so it’s nice.”

With both the need to manage energy, and that playoff goal in mind, the fact that the offense is clicking on all cylinders rather than being carried by one line or guy at a time is a big help.

“With any given night, we’ve got a bunch of guys that step up,” Branham said. “Lewis and McGauley and Molino have done a really good job for a long stretch, but now you’ve got Wagner and Dickinson, and Wegwerth is back in the mix, and Maxwell scored, I don’t know how many game winning goals for us over that stretch. Then you’ve got Jenkins who’s just a motor. He’s our motor. He’s the one that does everything right and plays hard and doesn’t get any accolades for it. He is so important to our team.

“Our D are learning to compete in the tough areas because they’ve got a lot of ability,” he continued, “They’ve got a lot of ability to move the pocket and things like that. So we’re starting to come together. We want to learn lessons through success. So far, we’ve been able to do that, and definitely proud of this group for for sticking with it.”

Speaking of defense, while the return of Davis and Anderson has filled out what was once a rookie-heavy blue-line, the rookie defenders no longer look like rookies.

“What can you say,” Branham said of his defensive core, “They stuck with it, definitely, you know, maybe early on some of the goals were going in a little bit too easy, maybe. And you can get down and frustrated, but they stuck with the game plan. We’ve worked with them after practice and video and things of that nature. But the biggest thing is just the attitude. Their attitude is a professional attitude. They want to get better every day, and they want to learn. When you’re at this level, if you’ve gotten to this level, you’ve got something in the toolbox, you’ve got a bunch of tools. When you put on top of it the mix of forwards that they’re playing with, and a great attitude of listening to the coaching staff and they work hard every day — they work harder in practice than they do in games, this whole group, it’s unbelievable — when you’ve got that kind of combination, the sky’s the limit. So you know, hopefully we can continue to play well. I know there’s dips and valleys sometimes, but if we can continue to play well going into playoffs some good things will happen.”

As mentioned before, the schedule does not get any easier, both in number of games and in opponents, but if they can stay healthy and keep their momentum going, they’ll have had plenty of practice for the post-season.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Berry.

Utah Grizzlies: Max-imum Suspense

After Friday’s decisive victory, the roster remained the same, although the lines did see some minor juggling, putting Yuri Terao back on a line with Travis Barron and Mitch Maxwell.

Sasha Larocque gave Utah the first shot of the game less than twenty seconds in, but Tulsa was far better prepared in the early going, not allowing the Grizzlies to run away with the shots (2-2 early), and forcing Ouellette to make a big save.

Utah did eventually find themselves out-shooting the Oilers 5-2, but Adam Pleskach repeated his Friday performance, striking first for Tulsa at 5:09.

Nearly three minutes later, however, the Oilers let Maxwell camp out right on the left side of the paint, and Barron set him up for the perfect shot to tie the game. Barron and Ian McNulty got into a tussle on the ensuing face-off, but the game continued.

The first line showed no signs of stopping, Tim McGauley shooting on Olle Eriksson Ek, and the rebound landing square on the stick of Griffen Molino. Molino showed no mercy, sniping his 13th of the year from McGauley and Ty Lewis.

McGauley took a holding call, and Cam Knight beat Ouellette clean to make it 2-2 with 7:26 to go.

A few minutes later, Josh Anderson made a particularly impressive play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, standing on one skate, while being hauled over. Utah got a power play later in the shift, but though they came close, Tulsa returned to full strength with no change in score.

With three to go, Ty Lewis exchanged jabs with an Oilers player, and Peter Tischke charged in to champion his cause.

Richart made a diving play to put the puck out of the zone on the ensuing penalty kill, and an incredible Molino short-handed one-on-none was broken up when a Tulsa player threw his stick to try to prevent it. Utah got a brief stint of four-on-four time, and then threw everything but the kitchen sink at Eriksson Ek.

When the buzzer sounded, Utah had 12 seconds of PP time to go, and shots were 12-10 in their favor, but the score remained 2-2.

The first period was definitely far less smooth than Friday’s with plenty more whistles and goals.

Though the Grizzlies didn’t do anything with the first 12 seconds, they returned to the power play less than a minute later on a slashing cal to Cam Knight.

Unfortunately, that too suffered the fate of many early power plays, and nothing came of it, the Oilers forcing Utah to chase down the puck repeatedly. Richart got the only shot right into the crest of Eriksson Ek’s jersey.

They might not have gotten anything going on the advantage, but the Grizzlies threw in some big hits along with the offense and defense, getting particularly good shifts from Wegwerth, Richart, and the usual three suspects. Maxwell also came in for some notice, throwing the puck into absolute mayhem.

The Oilers did do a good job getting in the Grizzlies’ way in the offensive zone, but not good enough to keep Utah from picking up the shots.

Zahn took a “cross-checking” call at about the half-way point, which was a bit more of a glorified shove when a whole pile of players ended up on Ouellette.

Following the power play, Utah played very well in their own end, but also spent far too much time in their own end.

Not that it seemed to particularly matter when Molino had an incredible spin around the offensive zone, got knocked down, and picked up an assist when McGauley came barreling in to put the puck over Eriksson Ek.

It was a lead that was not destined to stand, though, as Miles Liberati scored less than a minute later.

A questionable tripping call on Maxwell ended the period, but as the better version of the Grizzlies’ penalty kill came to play.

Once again, Lewis was the cause of a scrum, as he got bumped, and this time Anderson came in to defend him. Thomas and Anderson got offsetting minors. Utah headed into the room still tied 3-3, shots 23-21 for the Oilers.

Utah killed off their penalty, and weathered a Tulsa charge for the first four minutes. Questionable calls continued as Barron slash Thomas, but then Thomas got a call. Wegwerth got shoved, at least as egregiously as Zahn had shoved a Tulsa player earlier, but nothing was called.

Tulsa pressed hard through the middle stages of the third, and though Utah was not without their chances, and turns of blazing speed up the ice (most notably from Tischke), the Oilers either kept Utah chasing in their own zone, or flew in on odd-man rushes.

The defensive zone time cost the Grizzlies, as the defenders got all bunched up on Ouellette’s right, leaving Pleskach all alone to put the puck past Ouellette just over half-way through the third.

They continued to be plagued by turnovers and less-than-crisp play, but they also had moments like one with nearly six left where Jack Jenkins nearly got a beauty following some very good skating.

Things were looking pretty bleak with just over two to go, when Lewis drew a tripping call behind the Oilers’ net, and Ouellette sprinted for the bench.

An absolute muddle of players saw Richart shoot the puck, the rebound spring out to a crowd of sticks, and Lewis put the puck past Eriksson Ek to tie the game.

Regulation wasn’t enough to solve the tie, so guaranteed one point, the Grizzlies went out to try to take the other.

Molino and McGauley nearly had the picture perfect GWG as the Grizzlies’ speed owned the first few minutes of extra time.

There was a scary moment when Jake Clifford put Molino nearly head-first into the boards, and Larocque flew to meet him. Fortunately, Molino appeared alright, and Clifford got two for boarding, as well as a matching roughing call with Larocque.

Eriksson Ek committed grand larceny once again with 1:58 to go, falling backwards into the net, but still stopping Molino’s labeled shot. OT solved nothing, so they headed to the shoot-out.

Maxwell eventually got the game winner, with McGauley and Molino both scoring, as well as a highlight reel stunner from Terao.

It certainly wasn’t the Grizzlies’ prettiest game, but they found a way to make it work.

“I was just telling the guys, I don’t know if we didn’t have it today, they had a LOT of bounces, or they just did a great job of winning battles” Tim Branham said after the game. “That’s what I was harping on, guys, we’ve got to win battles. Every time it was a 50/50 puck, not every time, but a lot of times they were coming up with it, and we’re not used to that. We’re used to winning those battles. We battled, Marty battled for us, big goal at the end there to tie it up, you’re gonna have these games. It was a character win, no one panicked on the bench whatsoever, lots of goals there in the shoot out, it was fun to see.”

The Grizzlies have had a lot of pretty wins lately, but this was certainly not one of them. However, it was good to see them find a way to win in a different style.

“It’s a character group. Can’t say how proud we are of this group, me and Ryan, they’re a family in there, all they want to do is work hard and do well. It’s not always gonna go your night, but we had the crowd behind us tonight, that’s for sure, and we worked hard. It’s tough too with nine forwards, two nights in a row, it’s a lot of ice for those guys. Definitely proud that we’re winning, finding ways to win, cause that’s what it’s gonna take if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you’ve gotta be able to find wins in various ways, so it was a good job.”

“He’s doing really good. He had a really good road-trip last week too, and that kind of got him going. He’s got everything, he’s moving his feet, he’s got a lot of skill, we saw how tough he was on Friday, and the patience for a shoot-out winner. He’s really important to this group, doesn’t get more of a quality person than that, that’s for sure. We’ve got a lot of those guys in the room, but definitely proud of him. He’s battled, in and out of the lineup kind of thing, and he’s an important part of this team.”

“Like you said, not our best game,” Maxwell agreed, “But we’ve kind of been streaking lately, finding ways to win games, so you’ve just got to ride that while you’re hot. Obviously that line of Lu and Mo, and Gals have kind of been helping us out, and Lu scores that big one for us to give us some momentum, and there you go from there and get two points.”

Of his own performance, he added, “It’s always nice to score goals and help out when you can, to have the opportunity to be put in a situation like that where you have the game on your stick, I think we don’t have a guy on our team who wouldn’t want that, so I was just the lucky guy who got called on tonight to have that opportunity.”

So how do they keep the streak going, and go back to those pretty wins?

“We can’t take our foot off the gas, we’ve just got to keep going. Nothing changes in our room, and we just keep doing the same things.”

Monday’s game is the first opportunity to keep the streak alive, and against a Tulsa team that is not going to out of the decade quietly.

 

Photo courtesy of Jon Berry

Utah Grizzlies: Sweet Revenge

Fresh off a spectacular road trip, and a quick holiday season, the Grizzlies returned home to host the Tulsa Oilers. With Patrick McGrath called up to Iowa, only J.C. Brassard, Garrett Klotz, and the goalies Brad Barone and Jeff Smith were not in the lineup.

Having suffered only one loss, 3-1 to this same Tulsa team on the road, Utah hoped to erase it from memory with a good performance, and bring their winning ways back home.

After a very short stint in their own zone, the Grizzlies got hustling, picking up the first five shots of the night. Their shooting and puck management led to Ty Lewis’ tenth of the season, which he made look absolutely effortless against Devin Williams at 3:34. The usual suspects in Tim McGauley and Griffen Molino picked up the assists.

There were a couple of close calls about twelve minutes in, but Martin Ouellette turned aside a wrap-around attempt, and then calmly shut the door after a turnover led to a bit of a scramble.

The Lewis-McGauley-Molino line continued to impress with their puck handling and rebound creation as shots hit 7-4 for the Grizzlies, and the period hit the half-way mark.

With so few stoppages in play, the flow of the game was allowed to continue unimpeded, and certainly showed off the Grizzlies’ speed and skill.

Yao had an especially memorable shift as he first flew in from the bench to cut off what was otherwise a one-on-none, and then later on the same shift swiped a puck away from an open net after Ouellette made the initial save, and then lost the puck in a sea of bodies.

Ouellette also continued to impress throughout, and the Travis Barron, Brandon Saigeon, Mitch Maxwell line closed the period out with a multi-shot shift.

After 20, Utah led 1-0, out-shooting Tulsa 12-8.

The Grizzlies drew the game’s first power play at 1;25, following a bit of nice puck-handling from Saigeon. They only picked up one shot, but it didn’t matter, for scarcely had the man advantage ended than Lewis once again made scoring look easy on a play from McGauley.

Shortly thereafter, Yau made a blue-line play from his knees to get the puck up to Lewis. After that, it surprised no one when Lewis passed the puck to McGauley, who hten passed it off to Molino. Williams made the initial save, but Molino backhanded the puck right over the Tulsa goalie to make it 3-0.

Unfortunately, a turnover from Richart eventually led to the Oilers’ first, and only, goal of the game almost immediately afterwards.

Travis Barron and Danny Moynihan got into a scrap at 7:58, Barron getting the better of the exchange, which never quite developed into a full-fledged fight, and Utah killed off the extra two Barron got for slashing.

Williams got a pair of chances just past the 14 minute mark, the first which squeaked just wide of the net, and the second which landed square on the stick of Joe Wegwerth and into the net.

Ouellette made a couple of big saves in the later stages of the period, and Utah drew another power play with under four to go. Although the Grizzlies didn’t actually capitalize on the advantage, it was hard to see their puck movement and think that it looked a little like they were toying with Tulsa.

Barron continued to get opportunities, but not goals, and at the buzzer, Mike McKee turnstiled McGauley, which led to a scuffle with Sasha Larocque and McKee in the thick of it. McKee was assessed a penalty for roughing. As a result, Utah headed into the third up 4-1, out-shooting Tulsa 21-13, and headed to the man-advantage.

The ensuing special teams were underwhelming on both sides, and included the least threatening start to a one-on-none short-handed breakaway ever.

The lacklustre power play was forgotten, however, when just about a minute later, Yao released a big shot on net, and Wegwerth once again tipped the puck home perfectly to put Utah up 5-1.

The game got a little out of hand after that, Wegwerth getting put into the boards, leading to three separate fights. That was more or less when the refs lost control of the game. The fights were all considered rouging calls, and the initial boarding that started it was never called.

On the next shift or so, Zahn dropped the gloves. Zahn got two for slashing, as well as the four and ten both received. The upshot, however was that Utah had nearly a minute of four-on-three to kill.

On the shift after THAT Cam Knight and Mitch Maxwell dropped the gloves, and Maxwell won decisively in a furious bout that was the only one of the game to actually be called a fight. Both got five and a game,  and Utah killed off the rest of their penalties.

Both teams got back to the business of playing hockey after that, though the Oilers did take a delay-of-game penalty at 13:57.

Joe Wegwerth completed the natural hat trick with just under three to go, and the Grizzlies avenged their only road loss in decisive fashion. The hat trick earned Wegwerth first star honors, while Lewis’ two goals, and McGauley’s three assists gave them second and third stars respectively. Flying much further under the radar though, were Yao’s two assists, and overall strong play.

Needless to say, Tim Branham was pleased with his team’s effort.

“We came out, we had something to prove. Last game we played against these guys, it was the one game we took off in the last 20. We had a statement to make. We played a good game, I thought Marty still made some big saves back there. That one goal, Pleskach can score. That’s a tough play to even defend. Really proud of how the boys stuck up for each other, policed the game when it wasn’t being policed. Overall, it was a really good effort.”

When asked about his white hot first line, he said, “It’s fun to watch those guys, every shift they’re pretty creative, pretty fast, stuff like that. And they play such a big part of the game, not only power play, they penalty kill, they give the other team fits. They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. They play a fast game, and it’s good. It’s what they need to do, what we need them to do, and it’s fun to watch, that’s for sure.”

Yao’s performance also came in for a share of praise. “Very, very good game. Played defense, played forward. He gives you that effort though, he gives you that effort every night. He skates so well, he’s so smart out there. It’s tough. We’ve got a lot of contracted d-men, we’ve got a lot of good defensemen back there, and sometimes rookies gotta bide their time, give you that effort when it’s needed, and he’s done exactly that. He’s been there when we’ve needed that, and he’s a great teammate.”

However, Branham saved most of of his praise for Wegwerth. “He’s doing great.” He said, “We’ve got to understand where he’s coming from. His senior year, last year, his senior year at Notre Dame, I think it was November, December, he broke his leg, and he hasn’t played since then. He comes back out, and breaks his hand when he gets here, then he takes a puck to the mouth, loses teeth six weeks later, and for him to battle the way he has and develop, he’s got a bright future ahead of him, that’s for sure. He’s a big body, he’s tough to handle, he’s tough, he’s got great hand-eye coordination in front of the net, which we saw tonight, and a great human being, so definitely it’s a lot of fun coaching him as well because he’s a sponge out there. He comes from a good program, Jeff Jackson does a good job there at Notre Dame, and Joe’s a byproduct of that.”

The Grizzlies’ offensive game has obviously expanded exponentially recently, but it’s not the only area in which they have improved in the past month or so, something Lewis was quick to point out. “I think our defensive game has come a long way, I feel like we’ve really taken a next step in our d-zone, and our responsibility defensively in the past couple of weeks. Our d-core is really strong, probably one of the most solid d-cores in the league in my opinion, so hopefully we just keep that going.”

“I think everyone is feeling good in the room right now,” he added, when asked about the team’s overall mood, and success. “It’s nice when things go well, and guys are getting the bounces. We’re just trying to take advantage of what we’ve got going here, good mentality in the room, everyone’s prepared to do their job, and things are just working well.”

Wegwerth’s thoughts were similar. “I think it’s a ton of fun. Every night it’s a different guy, it seems like. Everyone is stepping up and doing the little things. It’s not about one person in the room right now, it’s about all of us, and that’s what’s special about it.”

After such a hotly contested game, Saturday’s rematch is certainly going to be one to watch.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard.

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: A Work In Progress

After a strong road game, the Grizzlies iced the same winning lineup, with the exception Mason McDonald starting to give Jeff Smith the rest in the second of three games in as many days.

Yuri Terao got the first shot of the night, but Idaho sent the puck pin-balling around the crease. The goal light went off, but it looked like it might have gone off the iron and out. The uncertainty led to the first video review at the Maverik Center. Unfortunately, it was ruled a good goal, putting Idaho up 1-0 at 2:05.

Less than a minute later, however, Colton Saucerman took a tripping call to send Utah to the power play. The Grizzlies were unable to muster as much as a shot on the advantage. To be fair, both teams were stingy on shots, allowing five between them in the first eight minutes.

Idaho largely kept the puck in the Grizzlies’ zone, or if Utah got in to attack, managed to get a stick in the way of any opportunities. Fortunately for Utah, however, Idaho put the puck over the glass, sending the boys to the power play. It wasn’t going so well when Taylor Richart laid a thunderous hit on and Idaho player. Immediately thereafter, he took an elbow to the face, and Michael Economos took violent exception. He took down Saucerman, and while both got five for the fight, Saucerman got five for elbowing Richart, and a game misconduct.

Utah made them pay immediately, Griffen Molino scoring his fourth of the year from Travis Barron and Ryan Wagner.

Tim McGauley took a penalty to negate most of the rest of the five minute major, but both teams returned to full strength with no change in score.

At the end of 20, shots were 8-6 for the home team in an entertaining 1-1 game.

Utah spent the first four minutes in their own zone, and unsurprisingly, it led to a penalty. Kevin Davis went to the box for high-sticking. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, considering how they’ve played on the PK, the Grizzlies were more aggressive and coordinated on the disadvantage, and killed it off with only one shot allowed.

Although the Grizzlies did not pick up a shot through the first half of the period, they started to control play much ore than they had up until that point, McGauley, Davis, and Terao all creating nice opportunities.

After multiple close calls, the Grizzlies’ drive picked up a power play. Utah kept working hard, and a wicked shot from Richart led to a wild scramble in the goal-mouth. In the mean time, the puck went out to the stick of J.C. Brassard, who had lots of time to beat a beleaguered Tomas Sholl for his first with Utah. Barron and Richart got the assists.

The Grizzlies continued to press, leading to some great looks, including a wrap-around beauty by Ryan Wagner followed up by a shot that was especially memorable. Terao and Brassard also had a two-on-one that Sholl stopped dead.

On the other end of the ice. McDonald made some big saves of his own, perhaps none bigger than those with 30 and then 13 seconds to go in the period. After 40, the Grizzlies trailed in shots 18-14, but led 2-1 where it mattered.

Coming into the third, the Grizzlies faced the challenge of one of the best (if not THE best) come-back teams in the league. Idaho ran the Utah zone for the first couple of minutes, and it payed off. Zack Andrusiak scored with minimal fuss at 5:05.

It appeared to be just the swift kick Utah needed though, as they picked up the pace significantly following the goal. Overall though, the Steelheads managed to keep the play largely (though not exclusively) in the Utah zone.

Economos took a delayed tripping call with just under six to go, and McDonald made a huge series of saves. Once again, the Grizzlies’ kill got the job done.

As time ticked down, and the Steelheads with an offensive zone draw, McDonald made another terrific save, and sprinting the other way, McGauley, Terao, and Molino came close. However, regulation wasn’t enough to break the deadlock.

Unfortunately, Andrusiak got his second of the game, giving Idaho the 3-2 OT win.

At the end of the day, the Grizzlies played well, but made a couple of crucial mistakes that Idaho jumped on.

Andrusiak’s two goals, including the game winner earned him first star honors, while Barron (two assists), and Molino (one goal) took second and third. Wagner didn’t pick up a point, but  continued to impress, as did Terao who continues to always be exactly where he needs to be, and now joins McGauley and Wagner in the point-per-game club.

Idaho best PK team in the league, Utah had two against them. Unfortunately, Idaho is also a brilliant comeback team, and Utah gave them the opportunity to do so.

“Obviously protecting our third period leads haven’t been good.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We didn’t do it yesterday, but we were able to score, and then today again, going into the third with the lead, the first five minutes wasn’t good enough. We generated scoring chances, didn’t generate shots.”

So what do they have to do to remedy that?

“We’ve got to keep things more simple. We talk all the time about managing the puck, and we just have too many turnovers. Too many turnovers in key areas. It’s unacceptable. We’re working on that, just getting it through guys’ heads to keep things simple. And once again, everything that they got, we gave them. We had the puck on our stick, we turned it over, two of the four goals last game were like that too. We gotta make sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot so we can give ourselves a chance. But at the end of the day, that’s a good team over there, it’s a good battle each and every night, it could go either way. Tonight they got a couple of chances in overtime, and it went their way.”

Not all is grim, however, as special teams continue to be a strength. The Grizzlies capitalized twice on the advantage against a strong PK team, but even the penalty kill created momentum — in at least once instance, even more momentum than five-on-five.

“Just like last year, our special teams have been really good all year. Idaho scored two goals on us last game, but a four-on-three, that’s a tough one, then there was another quick strike, not characteristic of our team. Back to work again, the penalty kill was great, our power play got us two, our special teams are always great. Our five-on-five play has got to improve. Like you said, the intensity, we start every period slow. They scored again on the first shot. They scored in the first five minutes last game, even though we were taking it to them. But still, we’ve got to make sure that when we’re playing we’re getting results, and keeping things simple. Hockey is a simple game. When you start to over-complicate it and try things new and out of your skill set, or whatever, bad things happen. You’ve got to play the percentages and good things come your way.”

Despite the loss, McDonald had perhaps his strongest game since preseason, making a couple of especially key saves especially at the end of the second and third periods. It was a marked improvement, but there’s still room for more.

“He played well. He gave us a chance to win” Branham said. “I’m all over our goalies to say it’s not good enough, be the reason we win. I’m still waiting for that, but he had a really strong game after that first shot went in. A great bounce-back game for him, and it’s gonna be good for his confidence. We have good goaltenders, and they need to get better each and every night so that they can grow as well. They need to be the reason we win, not just give us a chance.”

We had a chance to speak to third star Griffen Molino afterwards as well, and his thoughts were similar.

“Obviously they got that one quick one,” He said of the opening Idaho goal, “But I thought we answered back, and then it was pretty even for most of the game. But having that lead going into the third was big, and those are points that you just can’t find a way to lose.”

It was a common theme, but he definitely sees promise in the team.

“It’s a young group of guys, a lot of first year players, and managing the game, especially with a 72 game season, is obviously critical. We’ve seen it a handful of times already, so I think moving forward it’s just the little things, taking care of the puck, getting things out of your own end and into theirs, especially late in the game when you’re holding the lead, it’s pretty important.”

“We’ve got a close group. I think a lot of these guys are working hard to make a name for themselves, and in the early going it’s been tough for our team, but I think that we’re coming together game by game, and getting better and better. Trying to keep things simple, and as far as the power play goes, I think it’s just who you’re playing with, and getting the reps in in practice, and in the game feeling comfortable with guys and building a rapport. As far as that goes, tonight we got a couple of good cracks at them, traffic in front of the net, and so it worked out.”

When asked about his line with McGauley and Terao, which showed flashes of future promise, as well as some immediate results, he thinks it is, again, just a matter of time.

“With Cassels and [Dickinson] being called up, it’s kind of a new line formation, but one that seems to be working kind of early on. But like you guys know, the more you play with someone, or with a group of guys, it’s easier and you figure out tendencies and stuff like that as you said, it felt like we were one or two seconds away, or a pass here or there away from really clicking. I think it’s gonna come.”

The two teams will meet for their third game in as many days, and their second in less than 24 hours on Sunday afternoon.

Goals

  • First Period: Molino (Terao, Barron) (PP)
  • Second Period: Brassard (Barron, Richart) (PP)
  • Third Period: None
  • OT: None

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff.