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.

Utah Grizzlies: Hat Trick Heroics

The first Wednesday night of the season saw the Grizzlies looking for their first win. Jeff Smith got his first start of the season, backed up by Mason McDonald after Hunter Miska got called up to the AHL. Connor Yau and Felix Lauzon returned to the lineup, while Colin Jacobs, Patrick McGrath, Michael Economos, Ryan Black, and Mitch Maxwell all sat.

Wichita was not as hot out of the gate as Idaho, and the Grizzlies picked up the first three shots, as well as a goal from Josh Dickinson that fluttered softly past Mitch Gillam at 2:08. Griffen Molino and Eric Williams got the assists.

Utah continued to get the best of the situation, drawing a power play as Dickinson took a slashing call. The Grizzlies wasted no time capitalizing, Dickinson getting his second of the period from Kevin Davis and Yuri Terao.

Molino was left all alone about half-way through the frame, and easily outmaneuvered Gillam. Barely had the goal been announced when Travis Barron scored his third of the season assisted by Yau and Cole Cassels, and the Grizzlies’ offensive onslaught continued. It wasn’t even so much that they were playing so very well (though they did have a better start than in the previous games against Idaho) than Wichita allowed them to control play, and didn’t challenge them.

Smith didn’t have much to do, but did make a nice positional save on Wichita in the last five minutes of the period on the Thunder’s fourth shot.

The Grizzlies weren’t particularly tidy through the first, but in comparison to Wichita, they looked stellar, and ended the first up 4-0, outshooting the Thunder 14-4.

Utah had a couple of sloppy passes in the opening moments of the period, but the Thunder were unable to make the most of them. Although they did get a point-blank shot at Smith, who turned it aside handily.

Dickinson got the hat trick goal at 2:10 from Tim McGauley, and the Thunder got on the board eleven seconds later. The goal put some life back into Wichita, and they spent a little more time in the zone, picking up a couple more shots.

As the half-way point of the period passed, the Thunder had more chances, but fumbled passes, or were met by the calm presence of Smith.

Utah got a power play with 4:33 to go, and Barron once again made it count, making it 6-1.

Cassels took an interference penalty with 2:09 left in the frame, but Barron took a stick to the face, and the Grizzlies ended with 3:42 of power play time to work with in the third.

They were unable to get anything past Gillam on the power play, but headed right back to the advantage when Riley Weselowski took a tripping penalty just moments after the Thunder returned to full strength. Barron took a boarding penalty as the Wichita penalty expired, but the Grizzlies killed it off without a shot.

Eric Freschi took a helmet violation penalty, and Ryan Wagner took a slashing penalty shortly thereafter, but Joe Wegwerth pounced on a turnover, and capitalized short-handed.

As the final five minutes approached, Wichita started throwing their weight around, which led to a parade of penalties, Freschi and Starrett going off for unsportsmanlike conduct and interference respectively, while Tischke and Barron both followed for for the same.

At final count, shots were 30-14 for Utah, who picked up their first win of the season.

Dickinson’s first pro hat trick and assist earned him first star, while Barron (2G) and Molino (1G, 1A) took second and third star honors. Davis picked up two assists, and Jeff Smith got his first pro win.

Now the team hits the road, where they hope to take their new found chemistry and consistency to Allen this weekend and Rapid City next.

Goals

  • First Period: Dickinson (Molino, Williams), Dickinson (Davis, Terao) (PP), Molino (Davis, Dickinson), Barron (Yau, Cassels) (PP)
  • Second Period: Dickinson (McGauley), Barron (Cassels, Saigeon)
  • Third Period: Wegwerth (SH)

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Slow Start

After a spirited end to Friday’s game, the tilt on Saturday promised to be a a good one, complete with specialty jerseys for Epilepsy night. Mason McDonald got his first regular season start in a Grizzlies’ jersey, while Mike Economos and Teigan Zahn drew in for Connor Yau, Ryan Black, and Colin Jacobs.

Although the Grizzlies looked much more together from the get-go, Idaho struck first, 1:26 into the frame.

However, Utah got right back on their collective horse, and were able to string together several shifts in the offensive zone. Despite the zone time, by the five minute mark, Idaho held the shot lead 5-0 as well as the score lead.

Kevin Davis kept his feet moving, and drew a power play shortly thereafter. Although it wasn’t reflected on either the shot counter or the scoreboard, the team looked more cohesive.

Despite all that, Idaho made it 2-0 before the Grizzlies had hit their third shot on goal.

Economos tried to get something going after Taylor Richart got into a little bit of a shoving match, but Idaho declined, and Economos was sent to the box for roughing.

Utah killed off the penalty off, but Joe Wegwerth took a roughing call in the after-buzzer crowd.

The Grizzlies spent large portions of the kill in and around the offensive zone to start the second, and Travis Barron continued to have a second strong game, earning some cheers following a big hit.

Barron followed that up by drawing a power play, and Utah got a couple of really nifty chances, but were again unable to beat Tomas Sholl. They were able to narrow the shot deficit however, 18-14 after the 16-9 first period.

Just when it looked like the Grizzlies were getting themselves sorted out, and playing some solid hockey, they coughed the puck up right in front of McDonald, and Spencer Naas made it 3-0.

Zahn took a boarding call with four to go, and Barron continued to be the Grizzles’ most standout all-around player going into second intermission.

Less than a minute into the second period, Barron drew another power play, and then ruined Sholl’s shut out by banking the puck off an Idaho defenseman and in.

The Grizzlies drew another power play at 7:06, and took over the shot lead shortly thereafter.

The players had a couple of great ideas in the minutes that followed, but shot just wide, or were just out of reach. Tischke took a cross-checking penalty with about six minutes left and the cantankerous spirit escalating.

Utah pulled McDonald with 1:30 to go, but they were unable to draw within one, falling 3-1 regulation.

Barron was, once again, one of the more noticeable Utah players, drawing power plays, laying hits, and driving play throughout the game.

Overall, it was a better start than Friday, and once again improved greatly in the second and third periods, but the slow start and the second period turnover proved costly.

“Same script as last night, except I thought we played better.” Tim Branham said after the game. “Not the first period. First period was terrible. Second period was fabulous until we had one turnover, one shot, goal. And that’s what happens. That’s what happens when you think…I don’t know if you think it’s gonna be easy, but the way you play you think it’s gonna be easy. This league will kick you in the butt. And that’s a good team over there. That’s a goalie that’s always one of the best in the league every single year, and he proved that this weekend for sure. He was their number one star. But you’ve got to find ways, you’ve got to take his eyes away, be more tenacious. I thought we did a lot of good things in the second and third period, we had that fire in our gut, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got that fire in our gut from the drop of the puck.”

Travis Barron continues to impress, and came in for some high praise from his coach.

“He’s really stepped it up, that’s for sure. I thought both games he was our best player. We’re challenging him to be our best player every single night, and that’s what it’s gonna take to move up. He’s done really well, from penalty killing to power play to the physical aspect of the game, making plays, great attitude, leading on the bench, leading in the dressing room, he has done a really good job so far.”

Barron stood head and shoulders above the rest, but he wasn’t the only one who has shown flashes. One such player is Cole Cassels, who has two assists, and Griffen Molino. Another has been Yuri Terao, who isn’t always the most noticeable player, but always seems to appear exactly where he needs to be.

“Yuri competes. He’s a good player. For a language barrier, it’s tough sometimes, and he does a really good job. A lot of good things out there. He’s got good cut backs, good skill, and I think he’s just gonna get better the more he gets used to this North American style.”

As has already been said, the pieces are all there, and they’re starting to come together, but there’s still work to be done. Fortunately, it’s only game two, so there’s still plenty of time yet to sort it all out.

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff