Utah Grizzlies: Goals Return at Season’s End

On the first night of the last home-stand, the Grizzlies faced the Kansas City Mavericks, for the first time this season. It was a bit of a preview of what will be a Mountain Division match up next year. At the beginning of the night, the Mavericks were chasing a playoff spot, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from their early play.

“I think for the most part, I thought we played pretty well.” Tim Branham said of the game, “For the most part, I thought we’ve controlled the last bunch of games, except the one Idaho game. But I thought the boys played well. We have a problem keeping the puck out of our net. I thought we’ve controlled the play for the majority of this last month, we’ve just got to keep that up. It’s tough for these guys, I know they’re professionals and whatnot, but they’re pretty disappointed that they’re not in the playoff hunt, so for them to go out there and play the way they did, against Colorado, the fights that they had, and to come out here and find a win in front of this unbelievable crowd, you’ve gotta give them props.”

Through the first two periods, Utah out-worked, out-shot, out-hustled, and generally out-played the Mavericks, who also struggled to complete passes all game.

Brendan Harms got the game’s first shot at 1:24, and the Grizzlies proceeded to get the next five shots as well, as they more or less had their way in the offensive zone.

Joel Rumpel was left alone in the Utah end, making his first save 3:19 into the period. That’s the only one he saw until 8:14. There were no penalties, and very few whistles through the first half.

Ryan Walters rang the cross bar with eight minutes to go, and on the next shift, a really fast whistle robbed Sam Babintsev of what would probably have been a grade A chance.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as Kyle Thomas wired one past Parsons at 13:08 from Michael Pelech and Travis Howe.

Unfortunately, despite all that zone time, and all the dominant game the Grizzlies played, the Mavericks tied it up at 18:44 with the primary assist going to C.J. Eick after a turn over, and a good bit of Kansas City passing.

Utah went right back to work, but the score remained tied at one after 20, shots 16-6 for the Grizzlies.

Utah drew a power play 19 seconds into the second, but a shot from Thomas was the best chance they got on the advantage.

Pelech took an elbowing call at 2:42, but they killed it off, allowing only one shot.

However, despite continuing to look like the better team, Kansas City scored at 6:18 to take the lead as Utah couldn’t clear the zone. Once more, the Grizzlies went back to work.

Walters was hauled down about half-way through the period with no call, and Thomas racked up another couple of chances.

At 15:40, those chances paid off, and Thomas scored another on an absolutely sick backhand. Barely fifteen seconds later, on the very next shift, Matt Robertson beat Rumpel clean for their third goal.

With 56 seconds left in the second, Mitch Jones wired the puck at the net and missed, but James Melindy picked the puck up, and put it into the far corner past Tyler Parsons to tie it up again. So the teams went into the room tied once more, shots 23-16 for Utah.

The third got of to a wild start. Just 33 seconds in, Jake Marchment flew in, and scored his 17th of the year from Mitch Maxwell and Gage Ausmus. On the next shift, one of the Kansas City players put the puck into their own bench, hitting captain Tyler Elbrecht in the collarbone area. Fortunately, he ended up being ok. At 1:28 Brendan Harms blasted one in off the face-off. There was a little bit of a scare on that one too, as the puck went in off the throat or chest of Troy Donnay.

The goals kept coming, and Kansas City scored about a minute later, 5-4 Utah, and not even five minutes in. Utah got lucky a couple of times, as the Mavericks continued to have trouble completing passes.

The game calmed down a little after that, Maxwell taking a tripping penalty at 5:09, but thanks to big clears from Ausmus and James Melindy, the Grizzlies killed that one off without any change in score.

The Ryans got in two-on-one, but Parsons continued to make saves, making another one on the same two a few moments later, and then anther couple on Harms and Marchment.

At the half way mark, Rumpel went on a bit of an adventure, but made it back to the net in time to make a big save, which led to a two-on-one going the other way from Thomas and Pelech. Thomas went for the hat trick, but once again Parsons stopped it calmly.

Utah got a couple more chances on Parsons, but once again, it was Kansas City who scored, tying it up at 14:01. The goal came after an extended period of Mavericks pressure, who had woken up and finally seemed to remember that they were playing for their playoff lives. Eick got his second assist of the night on the marker.

Harms had a great shift, starting with a defensive play, and then ending with another scoring chance in the final five, and in true Grizzlies fashion, the game went to overtime for the 22nd time this season.

Unlike so many others, however, the Captain sealed the deal for Utah, and the 8,035 fans in attendance.

“I wouldn’t say a little scoring slump,” said Walters of his 12 game goal drought, “I’d say a pretty big one, probably the most in my career, actually, but it was a great win. It felt really nice to get that monkey off the back and score a goal for the team. We just want to play as hard as we can for the rest of the year. We’ve still got a job to do, and hopefully I can bring the same intensity tomorrow.”

When asked about the last game of the year, he said, “Like I said, we’ve still got a job to do, we’re still getting paid. Our fans have supported us all year, so we don’t want to come out and just throw an egg on the ice. We want to play hard for them, and give them a good farewell for the season.”

Branham’s thoughts were the same. “I just want them to be professionals. Come out, play hard, we owe it to these fans. We didn’t have the greatest record here at home, and that’s been pretty disappointing, because they’ve come out and supported us. We just want to go out and make sure we give it all we got until they tell us we can’t anymore. That’s the only thing I’m looking for. If every one of my guys gives it their all, we’re going to win. So I just want to focus on that.”

Utah took all three stars of the game, Thomas with two goals and two assists, and Marchment and Melindy with a goal and an assist each. Their win eliminated the Mavericks from post-season contention, and they hope to end the regular season in style tonight.

 

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

Utah Grizzlies: Saturday Night’s Alright

The lineups saw a bit of a shuffle again on Saturday, Brendan and the Ryans getting a new lease on life with Brendan Harms, Ryan Walters, and Ryan Misiak. Todd Skirving centered Austin Ortega and Alex Dostie, while Brad Navin and Kyle Thomas were joined by Mitch Hults. C.J. Eick also drew in for Travis Howe, and Sean Maguire got the start.

The Grizzlies came out skating and shooting hard, jumping out to a 3-1 shot count, but Thomas was a little too overzealous, and took a cross-checking call at 1:33. The penalty trouble continued when Navin took a high-sticking call at 3:52, but Utah killed off both five-on-three and five-on-four. Brendan and the Ryans came flying in on a three-on-one, Ryan Faragher stopped it, and unfortunately, the Steelheads went the other way and scored one of their own.

Skirving was the next Grizz player to head to the box at 11:51, but Utah only allowed one shot, and got one of their own before it was killed off. Dostie and Ortega had a good chance, but they weren’t able to connect cleanly, and with five to go, shots were 9-8 for Idaho, who led 1-0.

Brendan and the Ryans did what they do best, running Idaho around their own zone, and getting shots, but were unable to convert.

Utah drew a penalty, as Hults was hauled down in the defensive zone, and then they got a second with 1:04 to go. Despite getting a couple of chances from Hults right before the buzzer, after 20, Utah still trailed 1-0, though now out-shooting the Steelheads 12-9.

The Grizzlies began the second with 43 seconds of five-on-three power play time, but if suffered that all-too-familiar fate of many early power plays. Although they didn’t capitalize, they picked up the first three shots of the frame, buzzing in the offensive zone after the power play.

They carried that momentum through, and at 2:28, Navin got his sixth of the year from Sam Windle and Hults to tie the game. James Melindy powered around Idaho’s net on the next shift, but took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a crowd gathered around Faragher.

Utah killed it off, and then Thomas got tied up and hauled down, giving Utah the power play. They got three shots, Ortega’s especially being a good one. After all that momentum, it was particularly frustrating that the Steelheads got the next goal. Max French shot the puck through a couple of Grizzlies to take the lead. It did not last long though. Windle threw a shot hard onto the net, and Ortega tipped it in to tie the game.

Melindy’s hard work around the net eventually paid off as well, as he made it 3-2 at 15:03 unassisted.

Utah ran into penalty trouble again later in the period, Ortega taking a slashing call at 16:22, and Eick getting a tripping call at 18:09 putting Idaho on the five-on-three for 14 seconds. Utah killed off the five-on-three, and took a 3-2 lead to the locker room.

Thomas and Jefferson Dahl tangled after the whistle, but when the teams came out for the third, there were no additional penalties. The Grizzlies killed off the final nine seconds of Eick’s penalty, but they looked shaky in their own zone. Fortunately for them, Connor Chatham went into Maguire and took a penalty, but less fortunately, Dahl got in short-handed, hounded by Ortega. Maguire got a pad on it, but Ortega went to the box for slashing. Both penalties expired with no change in score, Utah out-shooting Idaho 27-22.

The defensive issues re-surfaced however, as a clearing attempt didn’t make it all the way out, and Idaho pounced on the rebound to make it 3-3.

The animosity amped up a couple of levels as Ully and Jones got into it behind the Utah net, and then all hell broke lose. All the skaters on both sides piled in. When the dust settled, Jones, Hults, and Thomas went to the box for Utah, while Ully, Dahl, and Baldwin went for Idaho.

The chippiness continued, and Melindy drew another penalty. This one finally paid off, as Dostie wired it past Faragher’s glove. Rob Mann took an interference call at 12:34, but Utah’s penalty kill remained perfect, and they returned to full strength.

Idaho pressed hard in the final couple of minutes of the game, as Utah struggled to keep them out of their own zone, which was compounded when they pulled Faragher for the extra attacker.

However, with 1:33 to go, Joe Faust put the puck over the glass, and Utah went to a late power-play. The advantage almost backfired horribly when Maguire went to play the puck behind his own net, and bounced it over and directly in front of the empty cage. Somehow, he managed to get around the net, and stop the speeding Steelhead, and Brendan Harms sent the puck down the length of the ice, straight into the empty net.

Idaho once again pulled Faragher with 50 seconds left, but the two-goal cushion saw the Grizzlies to the end of the game.

Hults was the only Utah player to earn a star, first, with his two assists, but plenty of other players had terrific games as well. Dostie and Ortega, of course, continued to be forces to be reckoned with, but Melindy also had a particularly strong game. Richart and Navin led the team with six shots a piece, Navin picking up his fourth goal in five games. Windle also had two assists, and Maguire stopped 37/40 shots, while the penalty kill went a perfect 8/8.

Hopefully, the next step now will be consistency, and that they can bring the kind of game we saw on Saturday into their three game series against Rapid City.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard

 

Utah Grizzlies: Snowed Under

With snow falling, and the weather finally chilly in Utah, the Grizzlies found themselves buried by and avalanche of goals in Rapid City.

The roster was more or less the same, with the exception of Rob Mann in on defense in place of Travis Howe, while Chris Leibinger moved to forward

Utah got the first four shots of the night, holding possession almost without break through the first four minutes. Though it was not quite so one-sided thereafter, the Grizzlies continued to out-shoot Rapid City.

So of course, once again, the Rush struck first, Dante Salituro from Peter Sivak and Daniel Leavens. The game started feeling awfully familiar, as Riley Weselowski took a penalty at 7:30, and Utah went to the game’s first power playโ€”just as they had on Friday.

The momentum of the game decidedly evened out after the middle of the first, Leibinger took a hooking call, but Utah killed it off.

Things continued to go badly, as Kenton Miller scored on the breakaway, and Angus Redmond came in to relieve Sean Maguire.

At the end of the first, shots were 16-8 for Utah, who trailed 3-0.

Utah came out working hard, and still shooting everything, but the bounces continued to go against them. They killed off a Brendan Harms slashing penalty, but Tyler Deresky and Jack Walker scored in less than two minutes, at 6:56 and 8:38.

Things didn’t go any better after that either, as Erik Higby took a hooking call. Shortly afterwards Josh Elmes and Kyle Thomas dropped the gloves at 13:59. The minor to Higby was killed off, but Alex Komm made it 6-0.

With 58 seconds left in the period, Ryan FWalters and Anthony Collins got sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, and with just .6 seconds left in the period, Jon Puskar made it 6-1 from Taylor Richart and Thomas.

Maguire took the net back over to start the third, but 33 seconds in, Salituro got the seventh goal of the game.

The Grizzlies answered right back though, James Melindy making it 7-2 on a sweet, sweet backhander at 1:56.ย Utah continued to play hard, getting chances all over the place, Melindy and Mann especially, looking strong

Higby and Leavens took matching slashing calls at 6:19, then Weselowski took a cross-checking call, but Salituro put the finishing touch on his hat trick at 8:30 short-handed.

Utah kept fighting, getting opportunities five-on-three, five-on-four, then four-on-four and four-on-three as well, but though the Grizzlies climbed over 50 shots in that time, Adam Vay still shut the door.

Austin Ortega made it 8-3, putting up his eighth point in eight games, and except for Brad Navin, of all people, losing his cool and taking a roughing call in the final minute, that was the game.

Losing 8-3, but out-shooting Rapid City 56-28โ€”certainly a frustrating outcome. Looking at the score, you’d think that the Rush had run the Grizzlies around all over the ice. This was very much not the case. While it certainly wasn’t their best game, Utah played decently. On the other hand Rapid City scored on just about every chance they got, once again, capitalizing on every single mistake.

The most encouraging takeaway, from an otherwise thoroughly demoralizing evening, is that the Grizzlies never once stopped playing, which they well could have done down as many goals as they were.

Utah has one last chance to redeem the road trip this afternoon at 3 PM before returning home.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff