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

 

Utah Grizzlies: Weekend Winnings

This weekend, the Grizzlies continued to pick up very much needed points, as they completed the three game sweep of the Steelheads in Boise. The games on Friday and Saturday were both very close contests, each decided by one goal, Saturday’s in overtime.

Friday night’s game was a high-scoring, penalty-filled affair that saw both sides dissatisfied with the calls – or in some cases, the lack of calls – throughout. Troy Redmann got the start, backed by Ryan Faragher, and had a very strong outing overall, while C.J. Eick had the night off in favour of a full complement of defencemen.

Erik Bradford opened the scoring 6:17 into the first, as the Grizzlies crashed the net and the assists went to Tim Daly and Cam Reid, the later of whom picked up his first of what would eventually be three assists.

The rest of the period was more or less a wash, thanks to the ten penalties that were assessed in total, an uncharacteristic three of them on Daly., The teams went to their dressing-rooms with Idaho out-shooting Utah by the slim margin of 9-8.

Bradford scored his second of the game less than five minutes into the second to put the Grizzlies up 2-0, and mere moments later, Phil Pietroniro dropped the gloves with Anthony Luciani. The bout was a spirited one, and both combatants got in several really excellent punches before they were separated and sent to the box. The fight was Pietroniro’s fifth of the season, and third in the last six games.

At 7:13, Daly erased any memory of the three penalty first period with an absolutely gorgeous rocket from the high slot, giving Utah the 3-0 lead. The Grizzlies ran into some penalty trouble in the second half of the period, allowing two power play goals, despite a couple of unbelievable saves from Redmann. However, they responded well both times, and closed out the period still leading 3-2.

The third period did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, despite an Idaho penalty, as Kyle Jean got behind the Grizzlies defence, and tied it up on a short-handed breakaway just under 4:30 into the frame.

However, the game did not stay tied for long, as Colin Martin tipped in Pietroniro’s shot from the blue line. It was not a lead Utah was destined to hold for long, with Corbin Baldwin beating Redmann a few minutes later.

The two teams traded chances and penalties through the later part of the period, with Martin Nemcik and Jefferson Dahl going off for roughing at 16:08.

With just over five minutes to go, the Grizzlies got the upper hand once more, as Kenton Helgesen scored his third of the season with assists from Taylor Richart and Jon Puskar. The Steelheads were irate, feeling that the officials missed a tripping call in the play immediately proceeding the goal, but they argued their case to no avail.

Austen Brassard and Brandon Anselmini took matching roughing calls with two minutes to go, and Utah held on to win 5-4.

Bradford’s two goals earned him third star of the game, extending his point streak to eight games, while Redmann stopped 31 out of 35 shots.

Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Daly was hit hard along the boards part way through the third period, and played little, if at all after that point, while Idaho ran into troubles of their own when coach Neil Graham, and defenceman Travis Walsh were both given game misconducts at the end of the game. As a result, Walsh was fined, and Graham was suspended for a game, while Daly did not start on Saturday.

 

On Saturday, Kevin Boyle returned to the Grizzlies’ lineup after a lengthy – and largely successful – stint in San Diego, getting the start for Utah. C.J. Eick also suited up for the Grizzlies, as Daly’s absence freed up a spot. Consequently, Utah played eleven forwards and five defencemen, while Faragher backed up Boyle.

The first period was fairly uneventful, though by no means boring, both teams playing well, and fairly evenly. Boyle looked strong early, and Utah had the slight edge in special teams. Travis Howe and Jefferson Dahl went off with matching minors at 7:39, and about thirty seconds later, Brandon Anselmini went off after tripping up Cam Reid. After 20, shots were 12-11 for Idaho, and there was no change in score.

The second period saw a great deal more action, much of it not at all in the Grizzlies’ favour. Michael Pelech took a penalty 3:40 into the frame, and no sooner had Utah killed off that minor, then Erik Bradford also found himself in the box. Boyle made some terrific saves, but it was Idaho that scored first just past the half-way mark.

Utah came back strong, drawing a power play of their own a minute later, but nothing came of it. Shortly thereafter, Howe and Baldwin were sent off, and Travis Ewanyk made it 2-0 with under five minutes to go.

Things continued to go badly for the Grizzlies as Phil Pietroniro was shoved into the boards by Connor Chatham. He was sent to the locker room for repairs, while the ice crew cleaned up the blood, and the officials assessed Chatham five minutes for boarding and a game misconduct. Utah closed off the period on the man advantage, but after 40, they remained down 2-0, outshot  24-23, and missing a defenceman.

Unlike so many early period power plays, the remainder of the Grizzlies’ five minute power play proved lethal. Bradford extended his point streak to nine games, when Cuddemi took his feed from behind the Steelheads’ net and made it 1-o a mere 45 seconds in.

Pietroniro returned to the bench a few minutes later, and took the best kind of revenge, scoring the second goal on the Chatham penalty at 2:01 to tie the game.

Austen Brassard took the only other penalty of the third period at 5:26. Nothing came of it, nor of the nastiness that had been developing all game between Martin Nemcik and various Idaho players. Nor, unfortunately, did anything come of Eick’s glorious up-ice rush that saw him make two Steelheads appear as though they were standing still.

60 minutes was not enough to decide the contest, so the game went to over time. Utah dominated the extra frame, putting up five shots to Idaho’s zero, and Cuddemi gave the Grizzlies the win 1:13 into the extra frame.

In the absence of Daly, both Pietroniro and Richart stepped up in a big way, and were the two defencemen Branham relied upon in OT. Each picked up their third point in as many games, ensuring that Utah did not suffer from the loss of Daly’s production or defencive prowess.

Boyle, who had some struggles earlier in the year, looked very sharp, making 31 of 33 saves, as all three Grizzlies goalies picked up a win in Boise.

Cuddemi continues to display the prolific scoring touch that saw him named rookie of the month, picking up goals 21 and 22 to remain the leader in rookie goal-scoring. His two goal performance earned him third star of the contest. Bradford remains the Grizzlies’ leading scorer with 41 points in 33 games for Utah and 43 points in 38 games overall.

In taking all six points against Idaho, Utah is now only four points back of Alaska (though the Aces still have two games in hand), and five behind Idaho as the quest for a playoff spot continues. Moreover, their seven game win streak is currently the longest active winning streak in the league.

The Grizzlies very much need to keep the goals and wins coming as they travel to Alaska to play three straight against the team directly in front of them in the standings.

Utah Grizzlies: Routed on the Road

 

The Utah Grizzlies did not get off to an auspicious start in their first away game of the season, battled back to a tie at the end of the second, and then had the wheels came well and truly off in the third.

After being badly beaten in the two opening games, the Steelheads came out strong in their home opener. Just 2:19 into the first, the Grizzlies’ defence left Caleb Herbert all alone in front of Kevin Boyle, and he made no mistake, scoring the first goal of the game on the first shot. Very shortly thereafter, they scored again as Phil Pietroniro lost his footing and Travis Ewanyk scored on the second shot.

Tim Daly put the Grizzlies within one, first drawing a penalty in the Grizzlies’ end, and then on the delayed penalty, carrying the puck up the ice himself to score his first goal of the season in style.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were a little lackadaisical coming back to their own zone, and Idaho scored. The Grizzlies responded well to the setback, and upped their play a notch. With 4:01 left in the first, Shane Walsh, Colin Martin and Brandon McNally crashed the Steelheads’ net, and McNally banged the puck home, making it 3-2 Idaho. The Grizzlies seemed to get their feet under them after that, and looked much better in the last few minutes of the period.

The Grizzlies came out in the second and continued to improve on their play, though nothing came of it until Jordan Samuels-Thomas scored on an absolute cannon of a shot, tying up the game at 11:49. The Steelheads looked a bit shaky for a stretch, and the Grizzlies upped the intensity. Larraza and Samuels-Thomas swarmed the net, and the Steelheads’ goalie looked a little harried, but smothered the puck.

At 19:34, Jon Puskar took a holding penalty behind his own net, but the penalty kill was very short lived. Idaho’s Rob Linsmayer took a high-sticking penalty with 12 seconds left in the period. After forty, the game was tied at three, and the shots were also tied at 20.

In the opening minutes of the third, it looked like the Grizzlies had a chance to make a game of it – deserved or not. However, that was not to be. Following a post face-off scramble, Kellan Lain put the puck right through Boyle for the Steelheads’ fourth goal at 5:14.

Unfortunately, that goal turned out to be the death knell of the comeback, as Utah ran into some penalty trouble, and the Steelheads scored their fifth goal on the power play. Boyle was clearly not happy with himself, slamming his stick on the crossbar in the aftermath.

The Grizzlies had another chance to close the gap when the Steelheads took two penalties, and Utah pulled Boyle for an extra attacker. Colin Martin scored his first pro goal, putting Utah drew within one again, and it looked like the rookie had waited for just the opportune moment to make an impact. The goal was eventually given to Samuels-Thomas, and less than a minute later, Linsmayer scored on a turn over. At that point, it was all well and truly over. Kyle Jean scored on the empty net with less than thirty seconds left, and David Glen put the final nail in the coffin with just four seconds to go. The final count was 8-4 for Idaho, and the shots 33-24, also in Idaho’s favour.

After battling so hard to tie the game up at the end of the second, it was disheartening to lose by such a wide margin, but the Grizzlies clearly weren’t on their game all night. They had issues in transition, and their defensive coverage – such a strength in the first two games of the year – was weak, most especially in the first period, but also throughout the game in general. As a result, their rookie net-minder was often left to fend for himself, and he struggled mightily.

Fortunately, Utah can go back to the drawing board and try again tomorrow, as the same two teams face off again in Idaho at 7:10 MST.