Utah Grizzlies: Bring on the Thunder

With three disappointing losses under their belts, Utah came into Wichita looking to bounce back, especially on the defensive end of things. With Travis Howe out with a two game suspension, and James Melindy scratched with a day-to-day injury, Utah went back to ten forwards but played only and five defensemen, Mitch Jones drawing back in on the blue line. Kevin Carr once more got the start.

The first line of Ryan Walters, Jon Puskar, and Kyle Thomas started for the Grizzlies, and were followed by a strong shift from Brendan Harms, and the other two Ryans, who got the first shot of the game.

Misiak, Olsen, Zach Saar, and Sam Windle had a great shift, crashing the Thunder net, and Saar dropped the gloves with Cory Melkert at 3:21. Five minutes into an 0-0 game, shots were 8-2 for the Grizzlies.

Wichita had a brief stretch of possession shortly thereafter, but Utah responded well, and the Thunder took a delay of game penalty with 13:09 to go. They didn’t capitalize, but they held possession for nearly the entire advantage.

The Grizzlies’ strong, structured play continued through the first half of the period, out-shooting Wichita 11-4.

The defensive woes of the Pelech and Ortega line continued, and after a strong shift from the Thunder in the offensive zone, Evan Polei roofed it on Carr to give them the 1-0 lead, despite the 12-6 shot advantage for Utah.

It looked like Wichita had scored again moments later, but the linesmen went racing in, and after a brief conference, the goal was waived off with 5:13 to go.

Olsen made a couple of good plays, which ultimately culminated in a pass to Misiak through some bodies. Misiak pulled it around Shane Starrett, and into the net to tie the game up at 17:42. Ortega got the secondary assist.

After 20, Utah out-shout Wichita 20-8, goals one apiece.

The Grizzlies came out buzzing to start the second, getting the first three shots of the frame. Windle got a nice shot 16 seconds in, and then Brendan and the Ryans had a strong shift.

It eventually payed off. Olsen dished to Higby, and Higby batted it past Starrett, giving Utah the 2-1 lead.

Wichita then took two penalties in quick succession, and Puskar made it 3-1 from Ortega and Walters on the two-man advantage. Carr kept it a two goal lead, shutting down a one-on-none with roughly eight minutes gone, and Utah drew yet another power play.

They were unable to capitalize, and Chris Leibinger just missed scoring a gorgeous goal, as he flew in, and sniped on Starrett. Unfortunately for Utah, though he beat Starrett, the puck hit the post, and rolled to the wrong side.

Misiak took an offensive zone penalty with 3:15 to go, and after lengthy offensive zone possession, Wichita drew within one.

Brendan, the Ryans, and Cliff Watson buzzed around Starrett after he goal, but after 40, Utah headed out with a 3-2 lead, and a 38-18 shot lead.

Wichita took a face-off violation just 17 seconds into the period, but Utah was unable to beat the determined kill, and the Thunder returned to full strength.

Momentum swayed back and forth, first Colin Martin and the Thunder varying play, then Higby and Pelech, then the Thunder again through the first ten, as Wichita pressured, and Utah’s structured play briefly fell apart under it.

Jones took an elbowing call at 8:19, but Utah gave up relatively few looks, Walters got in on a short-handed breakaway, and Carr made a save right as the kill expired.

Another unforced error from the Thunder (too many men this time) led to another Utah power play, but the Grizzlies struggled again, Olsen and Harms having to hustle back to break up a good  Wichita short-handed look.

With 5:49 to go, Jones took another penalty, but fortunately, the penalty kill looked far more dangerous than their power play had in its last two outings, and Carr held down the fort.

With less than two minutes to go, Starrett went to the bench, but the Grizzlies controlled play in the offensive zone, holding the puck for almost fifteen seconds. The Thunder got a little too excited and got caught with seven men on the ice with 46 seconds to go.

Wichita once more pulled their goalie to skate five on five, and held possession of the puck, but for the second time that night, Walters pounced on the puck at the Utah blue line, and despite the best efforts of Jeremy Beaudry, pulled away, and scored into the empty net with ten seconds to go. Olsen got his third assist of the night

It was a fitting end to a pretty strong game, in which Utah out-shot Wichita 42-27 to halt the skid at three.

Olsen appeared to be more engaged than he had been for several games past, shooting more in the first period than he had in the four previous games combined. It certainly payed off, as he got three primary assists, and made some big moves on both ends of the ice, as well as playing a role on the power play and penalty kill.

The play of Misiak and Olsen earned them both stars, Misiak picking up the first star, while Olsen received the third.

The same two teams square off tonight before Utah returns home for their Monday afternoon match against Rapid City.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: A Tale of Two Ryans

On the heels of a Cliff Watson call-up, a Jon Puskar suspension, and the absence of Brendan Harms (probably a result of the big hit he took in Colorado), the lineup saw yet another minor change. Ryans Misiak and Olsen skated with Brad Navin, while Zach Saar drew in on the third line with Erik Higby and C.J. Eick. Rob Mann returned to the lineup for the first time since November 10th, and Travis Howe was the tenth forward.

Ryan Walters and Taylor Richart wore the As, and Kevin Carr once again got the start.

The Olsen line got the first shot of the game, but the Grizzlies took the first penalty when Michael Pelech went off for slashing at 3:07. The penalty kill remained strong, even getting an up-ice rush or two of their own.

Idaho took an answering penalty just a few moments before the kill expired, and Utah went to the man advantage. It took the Grizzlies a while to set up in the offensive zone, and they ultimately came up empty.

As Idaho returned to full strength, the Grizzlies survived the first of several mad scrambles that occurred in front of the Utah net.

Goals off the face-off continue to be an ongoing problem for Utah, as Olsen got thrown out of the circle, Misiak lost the draw, and Shane Hanna scored on a nice shot at 11:03. The Olsen line, which had, up until that point, been having a strong night, followed up the bad face-off shift with a number of strong ones in the minutes that followed.

Good hustle from Eick drew a power play at 13:32 but though the Grizzlies maintained possession for a large majority of the five-on-four, with the exception of a chance from Walters in the blue paint that rang iron, and a lovely pass from Hanson to Misiak in the slot, they were largely unable to get the puck out of the perimeter.

With about three minutes to go, Idaho a two-on-one on a bad bounce, but shortly thereafter Navin laid a hit at the Idaho bench which forced a turnover, and Misiak hit a flying Olsen with the perfect cross-seam pass. Olsen’s fourth tied the game with 2:46 to go.

Richart got taken down with 35 seconds left in the period, and Utah went into the first intermission tied 1-1, shots 11-10.

The early power play went the way of so many others, even with Philippe Desrosiers missing his stick for a substantial stretch on one shift. Navin had a couple of good attempts, and Saar got off a good shot, but Idaho returned to full strength with no change in score.

Idaho came back three on two, and while Leibinger and Richart hand their hands full with the other two Steelheads, a wide open Hanna scored his second of the game and third of the year at 3:09.

Walters was hit up high with 14:35 left in the frame, but though he went down, and took a moment to get up, but he skated off, and didn’t miss a shift. No penalty was awarded on the play.

An Idaho turnover directly onto Olsen’s stick nearly sprang 13 on the breakaway, but the puck bounced, and Utah somehow ended up with a power play a moment later. Windle and Mitch Moroz jawed at each-other for a moment, and the Grizlies went to work. With the exception of the first 30 seconds or so, it was once again a strong possession power play, and Olsen got off a big shot, but it was blocked in front of Desrosiers, and Utah was not credited with a single shot.

There was another scramble around the Grizzlies net, and then the second line carried the puck up the ice, and Olsen got another grade A scoring chance.

Higby took a hooking minor half-way through the frame, but Idaho was similarly unable to muster any shots.

The two teams exchanged offensive zone time in the final couple of minutes of the game, Utah looking a little sloppy in their own zone, and Carr making an uncharacteristically bad play with the puck. However, luck went the Grizzlies’ way for a change, and a turnover by Alexander Dahl saw the puck go straight to the stick of Walters. He made no mistake, slinging the puck past Desrosiers for his fifth of the season, and third in as many games, with 1:26 left in the period.

The teams traded zone time to start the third again, while Branham alternated almost exclusively between the first and second lines, but Walters ran into Desrosiers driving hard to the net, and took a penalty. Pelech made one of those defensive plays that make him so valuable to the team, and Utah once again got lucky in yet another scramble around the net.

The Grizzlies had a couple of egregious turnovers in the defensive zone with just a bit over twelve minutes left, but Idaho was unable to sort themselves out enough to take advantage of them. Meanwhile, the Misiak-Olsen-Navin line continued to turn in a really strong performance, eventually putting up ten of the Grizzlies’ 23 shots.

Idaho’s Austin Fyten was assessed a ten minute unsportsmanlike conduct during a time out with 4:46 left to go. Idaho pressured in the final minutes of the game, but with 5.4 seconds left in the period, they iced the puck, and the Grizzlies took their timeout to get organized.

Olsen won the draw, and Hanson got off a shot, but at the end of 60, they were still deadlocked at two.

Utah played their league-leading 10th OT in a very controlled and conservative manner, getting only one shot to Idaho’s three, but carrying the puck for the vast majority of the time. In the end, OT wasn’t enough to break the tie either, and the game went to the shoot-out. It ended in all to familiar fashion. Carr let in a single goal on a crazy fake-out, and none of the Grizzlies answered.

“Tonight, I didn’t think we got the chances like we normally have.”Tim Branham said when asked about the team’s 23-shot performance. “Normally we create a lot more chances than that. But I still think you’re right. Structurally, we’re playing fine. Some guys, I think we had a few guys that maybe could have done a little bit more, but I thought for the most part we played some pretty good hockey. Would have been nice to have gotten two points against a depleted lineup there in Idaho, but I thought their goalie made some good saves, we hit the crossbar on a wide open net again. That’s been the story of our season so far, not scoring enough goals. I thought today was an anomaly though, we didn’t generate the chances like we normally do, but yet we still were in the game, and had power plays we could have scored on, and hit a crossbar on the power play on a wide open net. It is what it is. We’ve got to keep on playing the same way. We can’t deviate from the way that we’re playing, we’ve just got to try that much harder.”

One player who did do a little bit more was Ryan Olsen. The jump that has been missing from his game of late was back with a vengeance, and it wasn’t just him. After not making the trip to Colorado, Navin looked really sold. He was making plays look easy that he wouldn’t even have tried a few weeks back, while Ryan Misiak, who was on a four point roll before last weekend, led the team with four shots, as well as being instrumental in the first goal.

“I thought he did good tonight. I thought he stepped up.” Branham said of Olsen’s game. “Obviously scoring a goal early gets his confidence going. He’s very effective when he’s skating, and putting pucks on net, cause he’s very fast at this level, a big body, and he’s very good on draws. So when he sticks to what he’s good at, he’s very effective.”

Speaking of effective players, Chris Leibinger is neither flashy, nor a particularly prolific point producer, but he turns in a quietly consistent performance night in and night out. In fact, barring two middling games when he first arrived, he’s been terrific for the team. Likewise, Mitch Jones tends to fly under the radar, unnoticeable in the way good defencemen often are, before grabbing your attention with a great defensive play, or wicked shot.

 

When asked about the power play, which carried and possessed the puck well, but generated almost no shots, Branham said, “Against a PK unit like Idaho, they’re very aggressive, so passing it along the perimeter is good to settle them down, but then at some point, you’ve got to funnel pucks to the net, and I think we missed a couple opportunities to do that. I think that if we can kind of hone in on those small little opportunities—we worked on it a lot, showed a lot of video on it, we had quite a few plays in mind—it was jut one thing here, one thing there that messed it up. But we did a good job of gaining the zone, we did a job of possessing it, now it’s a matter of making sure we take that shot with traffic, and do a better job on those rebounds, of getting to those loose pucks so we get that puck back and we shoot. I thought you were right, we did possess the puck well we’ve just gotta do a better job of funneling the puck to the net.”

Kevin Carr was a little shaky at times, and it was nice to see the Grizzlies working hard to help him out around the net, when he’s been the one doing the rescuing on most nights this season. He was excellent in the shoot out, allowing only that one crazy fake-out goal. If anyone on this team deserves some wins, it’s him.

Speaking of wins (or a distressing lack thereof), last year at this time the Grizzlies were in the middle of a nine game losing streak, with an abysmal 7-13-1-1 record on December 4th. They then proceeded on their more-or-less annual post-Christmas tear, which saw them go 29-16-3-1 after that stretch. Meanwhile, this year’s team is 6-9-5-2, with standings points in 13 of 22 games. Highly frustrating, to be sure, but certainly better than it could be.

“They’re doing ok. Tonight was frustrating, because I thought we deserved better for the way we’ve been playing lately, but we’re collecting points. These are going to be huge later on down the road. We’re collecting points, we’re not getting losses, we’re collecting those points. We’ve got a lot of games within our division coming up still. This group is never out of it, my teams are never out of it. We’ve gotta fix a couple things, and we’ll be just fine.”

Utah plays the second of six games against Idaho tonight (Wednesday) at the Mav before heading out to Idaho for the weekend.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: For Want of a Goal…

After Friday’s travesty of a third period, there was a shake up in the lineup once more. Brad Navin, C.J. Eick, and Mitch Jones all drew in for Ryan Olsen, Zach Saar, and Garrett Haar. Kevin Carr got the start as the Grizzlies looked for redemption.

The first seven minutes were all Utah, as the Grizzlies shot the puck from everywhere, Chris Leibinger, and Greger Hanson having especially memorable blasts from the point, and Utah put up eight of the first ten shots.

The Grizzlies’ pressure paid off, and they drew the first man advantage of the game at 8:39. It was one of Utah’s better showings on the power play, as they got all kinds of chances, making the defenders move, and creating traffic in front of the net. Unfortunately, Charles Williams was sharp, and Manchester returned to full strength.

Manchester got rolling after the power play, but not unobstructed, as Utah kept working hard. The Monarchs got a couple of good shifts in the Grizzlies’ zone, but the weren’t able to accomplish much by way of shots, and were largely kept around the perimeter.

At the end of twenty, shots were 15-6 for the Grizzlies, Richart leading with three.

Leibinger got his first of the season on a rebound, making it 1-0 20 seconds into the second. The assists went to Windle and Misiak. It was great to see Leibinger score, as he’d looked dangerous throughout the first period.

Pelech took two penalties one right after the other at 1:33 and 3:43, but the Grizzlies’ kill, generally pretty good, was especially excellent.

Misiak drew a power play for Utah at 5:51, but the puck jumped over Watson’s stick on the point, and Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman beat Carr short-handed.

The power play came to an end, Utah pressured, but Manchester went the other way, and scored again, this time from Matt Schmalz at 8:18.

Utah kept working hard, and got some good shifts in following the goal, and they drew another power play in the offensive zone at 13:01. Harms was crosschecked in the offensive zone, but there was no call, and Manchester went the other way.

The play went back and forth, but Utah got a majority of the zone time in the final minutes of the period, getting great shifts from Hanson, Pelech, Harms, Navin, and the indomitable engine that is C.J. Eick. After 40, shots were 27-19, though Manchester led 2-1.

Manchester kept the puck in the offensive zone in the first five minutes of the third, but the Grizzlies did a great job of stealing pucks, and keeping a lot of the more dangerous chances away from Carr. What did get through, Carr smothered with calm authority.

Leibinger took a tripping call at 5:27, but the penalty kill once again had a pair of shifts in which Manchester was forced to chase them around their own end, and got a couple of really good saves from Carr.

The Pelech line had a good shift about half-way through the period, Hanson, Harms, Leibinger, and Windle especially looking good. They followed that up with another fast shift from the Navin line.

Hanson had a beautiful shift, but the puck ended up on Joel Lowry’s stick, and neither Watson nor Windle were able to take the shot away.  So the Grizzlies found themselves down 3-1 with just over seven left.

Richart was hit hard up high with about five minutes to go in the period, but he appeared to shake it off, remaining in the game.

Zac Lynch deked out Jones and Melindy at 15:26, and though Carr got the initial save, the puck squeaked through for the 4-1 goal.

Utah got a late power play with 46 seconds left in the game, and they pulled Carr for the extra skater. It was not to be, however, and Utah fell 4-1, despite putting up 37 shots.

Unlike Friday’s game, where the goals in the third period were the the result of a complete lack of any kind of effort from the Grizzlies, Saturday saw good effort for a full 60. However, while the work ethic was there, the execution wasn’t always, and Manchester capitalized on all the little breakdowns. It didn’t help either that there has been very little Utah goal-scoring.

“It’s been the same script for, I dunno, six-seven games now.” Tim Branham said. “Not getting the goal scoring when you need it, and I mean, when you put up forty shots, you expect to get a different result. In the three games here, our forwards had two goals, so that just tells you right there what the story is. Back to the drawing board here, either we learn to score goals, or bring people in that can score goals, we’ll figure that out here next week.”

While mistakes ultimately cost the Grizzlies on Saturday, Branham was far more concerned with the bigger issue.

“On the turnovers, the offensive blue-line turnovers, we gotta limit those. But to be honest, I thought we played a really good game, I thought we out played them. I mean, there were spurts there in the third period where they kind of took it to us a bit, but you could say we took it to them for the majority of the game, we just didn’t score any goals, and you win by scoring goals.”

“Even Wednesday, we lost in the shoot-out. It was 1-1” he added. “We scored one goal again tonight. You’re not going to win a lot of games when you’re scoring one goal a game.”

“But again,” he reiterated later, “I thought as a group, we played really well. We’ve got a lot of role guys that are playing with a lot of energy, playing the right way, being aggressive. We’re not getting those hard working goals, as many as we should be, so we’ve gotta find ways to score goals, or bring people in.”

After hitting his stride with Ryan Olsen and Ryan Misiak, Brendan Harms has continued to play really well on every line he’s joined. He hasn’t produced much in the last few games, but he’s regularly one of the hardest working guys on the ice. He and Eick are undoubtedly among the role guys mentioned by Branham.

A couple of mistakes aside, the Grizzlies defence once again stepped up in a pretty big way on Saturday night, as Leibinger put in another strong performance, and got the team’s only goal.

“Our defence are great. They’re shouldering the offensive load right now, and he’s another one of those guys.” Branham said of the blue-line. “It was a great pass by Windle to him on the back door. Again, that’s a D-man to a D-man. I mean, our system, we have a system in place where our D-men are very active in the O-zone, which is probably one of the reasons why our D are scoring so much. I think our D have done an amazing job. They’ve played really well. I know one of our guys got walked there on the fourth goal, or third goal, but on a whole, I think our D are doing really well.”

While Leibinger would have preferred to get his first Grizzlies goal in a win, he added, “It is good to get the monkey off your back. I’ve played a few games, and I’ve been close, but to finally see one go in was nice.”

Hopefully a few other players will join him on the stat sheet as the Grizzlies head out to Colorado and Idaho in the next few weeks.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Another Point, Another Loss

On the night before Thanksgiving, the lineup got a bit of a shakeup ahead of the game between the ECHL affiliates of the Ducks and the Kings.

In terms of personnel, Erik Higby drew in for Travis Howe, and Kevin Carr, sporting his new Grizz coloured gear, once again got the start. In terms of lineup, Ryan Olsen started the game on the wing with Greger Hanson, and Michael Pelech, Higby centered Brendan Harms and Ryan Misiak, while Zach Saar lined up with Brad Navin and C.J. Eick, and Ryan Walters took shifts on a number of different lines.

Olsen and Hanson led the charge shortly off the face-off, and Olsen drew a power play 35 seconds into the game. Utah did eventually get set up, but got no shots on the advantage. Misiak took a tripping call to head off an uncontested breakaway at 3:04 but the Monarchs were also unable to capitalize, thanks to a couple great saves from Carr.

Carr continued to be essential to keeping the game scoreless, as Manchester out-shot Utah 4-2 through the middle of the frame.

Towards the final five minutes in the first, Pelech got what looked like an absolute gimmie into an empty net, but somehow Charles Williams snagged the puck, leaving Pelech incredulous.

On the very next shift, Manchester came back and scored at 15:14, and the Monarchs won the possession game in the final five minutes of the period. At the end of 20, Utah led in shots 13-8, but trailed 1-0 where it counted.

The Grizzlies came out more aggressively in the second, throwing their weight around, and skating hard.

Pelech made a great pass to Olsen about four minutes in, but once again Williams was there to make the save. Carr continued to match Williams, save for save in his own end.

Hanson carried on his power play drawing ways, and Utah went to the advantage at 5:40. Navin was boarded on the power play, and the Grizzlies had a very brief five-on-three, and then another power play. Walters made a great defensive play on his own end, and the Higby, Harms, Misiak line got a good look, but Utah couldn’t capitalize.

The Monarchs had a lengthy stretch in the offensive zone, thereafter, leading to a Grizzlies penalty. The penalty kill was sharp though, and kept Manchester chasing the puck back down the ice. Walters even got a short-handed chance.

Colton Saucerman went into Carr at 13:32, so the teams played four-on-four for six seconds, and then Utah went to the power play. The first shifts of the advantage went well, and then the Grizzlies had to chase the puck around. Just when it looked like yet another power play would die with no change in score, Higby got his first of the year on a Harms rebound. Misiak got the secondary assist on the tying goal.

The shifts that followed the goal saw the Grizzlies flying around the Monarchs’ zone, but Misiak went to the box with less than four minutes left in the period. Harms clanged the post on a short-handed two-on-one, and the Grizzlies killed the rest of the penalty off.

Pelech got a high-sticking penalty shortly after the return to full strength, and the penalty killers went to work. Olsen and Higby started the kill well, and Utah got three clears in less than a minute, ending the period tied 1-1.

The Grizzlies had 1:08 of penalty kill time to start the third, and benefited from the Monarchs’ inability to capitalize on what looked like a couple of sure goals. Fortunately for Utah, these occurrences ended up being something of a recurring theme.

Jones was boarded at 1:41, and the first unit power play of Walters, Hanson, and Olsen created some nice chances, before Manchester flew into the Utah end. Higby got another look short side, but despite some good zone time, they spent much of the power play on the perimeter.

As the game progressed, the lines started to see some blending. Olsen was shifted back to the middle of the ice with Harms and Misiak, Walters taking his spot with Hanson and Pelech.

Manchester got one of those dangerous chances on the face-off after a time out with just about ten minutes left in the period, but the Grizzlies were better prepared than they have been in similar situations. Hanson made a heads up play to create a turnover, and Walters just barely missed the net on Pelech’s pass.

Haar had a good shot block, and Pelech had an even better play, being the only player who didn’t lose sight of the puck as it deflected high into the air in front of the net.

The Grizzlies dodged a major bullet when the Monarchs got in four-on-one but flubbed the pass with just over five minutes to go. Harms and Watson had a terrific shift, as Utah answered with a strong offensive zone push of their own.

The end of the period saw the Grizzlies tied once again, and once again headed to overtime.

Carr was phenomenal in OT as Manchester dominated the extra minutes. He made a huge save about one minute in, and then thirty seconds later, Manchester clanged the post. The Monarchs got a two-on-none, but Carr turned that aside as well, and then got help from another post. Watson took the puck away, and the next shift, Carr made another save as a Manchester player went into the net behind him.

The Monarchs got another two-on-none when a Grizzlies’ player blew a tire at the blue line, but once again Carr was there to take away the chance. Olsen pushed the puck just wide on a spin-o-rama in front of the net and the Grizzlies pressed furiously in the dying seconds, but the game went to a shoot out for the first time this season.

Carr was sharp in the shoot out, but Williams was sharper, and Utah fell 2-1.

Carr’s spectacular 25 save game earned him second star of the night, and the Grizzlies picked up yet another standings point in the loss.

“I thought Kevin Carr was phenomenal.” Tim Branham said of Carr’s outing. “He was just tremendous. Has been all year, and we’re lucky we have him. I thought Erik Higby was excellent today,” he added, “I thought our D-core played really well, and I thought C.J. Eick had a really good game.”

Navin was also very involved, as were Olsen and Harms. The team effort was there, once again, but the execution just wasn’t quite up to par.

Utah now have points in eleven of their last thirteen games and after their abysmal 0-4 start, they are 6-2-4-1. It would, however, be nice to come out on the winning side of these OT games.

What do the Grizzlies have to do to come away with the win in the next games against Manchester? Unsurprisingly, Branham says it all boils down to getting goals.

“We got a lot of scoring chances that we didn’t capitalize on. Guys gotta start putting the puck in the net, it’s a simple as that. I thought we were not very good structurally, I thought this was one of our worst games, structurally, that we’ve played this year, and we still hung around the game and had chances to win it, and didn’t put the puck in. That’s a good thing going forward, we’ve just got to focus a little more, and make sure that we bear down on our scoring chances.”

The three-game series against the Monarchs continues Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.

 

 

Picture courtesy of Tim Broussard and Jess Fleming

 

 

 

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: Branham’s 12

In the second weekend series of a lengthy November home stand, Greger Hanson returned from San Diego for Friday night’s game against Colorado. As a result, the Grizzlies shuffled the lines a little, keeping Brendan and the Ryans together, but with Hanson taking Charley Graaskamp’s spot on Michael Pelech and Ryan Walters’ other wing. Erik Higby and Zach Saar were the scratches, while Jon Puskar and Rob Mann remained on reserve. Cliff Watson and Taylor Richart wore the As, and Angus Redmond got the start.

Utah played well early, picking up six shots to Colorado’s three, all the later of which were stopped in authoritative fashion by Redmond. Brendan and the Ryans, and C.J. Eick had some especially good shifts early on.

There were not many whistles, but one of the first signaled a Utah power play, drawn by Hanson at 8:30. Mere moments later, Teigan Zahn laid a huge hit on Ryan Olsen, which drew another Utah power play, giving them 1:38 on the five-on-three.

The Grizzlies were able to get set up, but were unable to capitalize, and Michael Pelech went to the box after a net-front scuffle. All the penalties were killed off, and the score remained 0-0, thanks to some really positionally solid saves from Redmond.

The two teams traded chances through the remainder of the period, but Hanson drew yet another power play, as Gabriel Verpaelst took a interference call with 3:43 to go.

Though the Grizzlies didn’t capitalize on the power play, Hanson scored the game’s first goal, unassisted at 19:14 off a turn-over.

Things got crazy after the buzzer, as Ben Storm laid a huge hit on Chris Leibinger. Mitch Jones jumped in in defence, and then Leibinger and Verpaelst dropped the gloves and had a lengthy bout. Verpaelst got the best of it, and when the dust settled, the two had gotten five for fighting, and Travis Howe got a ten minute misconduct.

It was an excellent first period from more or less the entire roster, as each line had multiple stand-out moments in the period. Utah led in shots, 15-8, as well as on the score board, thanks to Hanson’s goal. While the first two lines continued to be solid as usual, Eick and Navin played one of their best periods of the season.

The second period saw a couple of good shifts for Colorado in a row, Redmond very much held Utah in it as they struggled defensively. A speedy Eick got the Grizzlies’ first shot of the second about two minutes in, and it began a shift in momentum.

The Grizzlies began to absolutely fly around shortly thereafter, as first Hanson got in ahead of the Eagles, but had the puck stolen at the last moment. Then Graaskamp, Eick, and Navin charged in three-on-two, and just missed an opportunity there as well.

Unfortunately Joey Ratelle made it 1-1 at 6:09, yet again, just off a face-off on a great shot from the point. Navin took a holding penalty shortly thereafter which Utah killed off.

Olsen rang the crossbar on a nice up-ice shift from Brendan and the Ryans, but Colorado went the other way and took the 2-1 lead.

The Grizzlies responded with a couple of strong shifts from the Navin and Pelech lines.

Utah drew a power play at 14:28, and Hanson scored his second on the power play to tie the game with 4:14 left in the period.

After 40, shots were 26-23 for Utah, and the game was, once again, tied.

The Grizzlies and the Eagles traded chances through the first half of the third, but both teams played some pretty sloppy hockey throughout the period.

Utah pulled it together a bit towards the middle of the frame, and the Pelech, Hanson, Walters line got a couple of good shifts. As a result of their work, the line drew a power play at 11:19. Although they didn’t score, Hanson got a couple more looks.

The back half of the third was much the same as the first half, both teams having chances, but regulation time wasn’t enough to break the deadlock.

As they had in regulation, both teams exchanged opportunities, but Verpaelst got the win two-on-one. Utah took one point with the 3-2 OT loss, shots 34-32.

“That’s extremely frustrating for me.” Tim Branham said of yet another goal off the face-off. “I felt that we played one period of hockey, and had we outworked that team you could completely dominate them.”

“When you get scored on off face-offs, you’re just not ready.” He added. “The overtime goal? Just not ready to go. I thought Redmond was pretty good, I thought he made some good saves, I thought their goalie made some good saves. We need to make sure that we can sustain our work ethic for a full 60 minutes plus, ’cause we only played one period tonight.”

With three penalties drawn, two goals, and three shots, Greger Hanson was the game’s first star, like Ryan Walters, scoring two in his return from the AHL.

While Utah struggled at times throughout the second and third, there were still some bright spots.

Brad Navin, C.J. Eick, and Travis Howe all had good shifts, playing well on both sides of the puck. Navin and Howe both set up nice scoring chances, and Eick’s speed, as always, helped shift momentum several times during the game.

Angus Redmond had possibly one of his best games in the Grizzlies uniform, holding the team in it at several points throughout the game, and making some solid saves.

The Grizzlies and the Eagles will face off again tonight (Saturday) at the Mav. The Grizzlies will be wearing their Mighty Ducks/Angel’s Hands jerseys, which will be auctioned off after the game, and it’s also Pooch on the Pond night!

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard & Jess Fleming