Utah Grizzlies: Pedal to the Metal

In their third game in three nights, the Grizzlies went with the same roster, including Joel Rumpel in net.

The Grizzlies were rolling right off the opening face-off, the BAM line with a strong offensive zone shift, followed by a Ryan Walters point-blank breakaway shot, followed by a rebound that Matt Tomkins snatched up.

Utah took an early delay of game penalty as Walters put the puck over the glass at 3:18, and followed that up with another delay of game penalty, putting the Grizzlies down five-on-three for 50 seconds. However, they once again held off the league leading power play, shots 4-3 for Indy after the penalty kill.

After some confusion on the lines setting up on a face-off, the Grizzlies got another delay of game penalty, and the Indy power play finally showed some signs of life. Utah killed that off as well, even getting a two-on-one short handed from Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

Coming off the penalty kill, Indy looked hot, but the Grizzlies fought on, getting some zone time of their own. The offensive zone possession led to a Utah power play, as Gage Ausmus drew a hooking call at 14:35.

The Grizzlies had really good possession throughout the advantage, most notably from Ortega, and Mann, who rang the cross bar right before Indy returned to full strength.

Utah struck first as Sam Babintsev scored his first for the Grizzlies after looking so good all weekend. Mitch Maxwell got the assist on a great pass on the opener at 18:32.

At the end of 20, Utah led 1-0, and the shots were an even 8-8, Walters having half of them.

Indy came out hot in the second, getting four shots to Utah’s two, and keeping things uncomfortably interesting in the opening four.

Walters’ stick was broken in front of the Utah net at 4:08, but he got called for holding. The Grizzlies killed off all but 19 seconds of the Fuel power play, blocking shots and keeping pucks away from the goal, until Alex Wideman put the puck past a sprawling Rumpel to tie the game.

The tie was not allowed to stand for long, however, as Navin wired a puck at the net, and it took a bounce off Tomkins and in 48 seconds later. The goal extended Brad’s scoring streak to nine straight games.

Indy once again poured it on after Navin’s goal, and Rumpel came up huge as Utah squeaked through a couple of really close calls before catching a breather. Brendan and the Ryans together with Melindy and Richart had a phenomenal shift around the six minute mark, but weren’t able to beat Tomkins.

Utah got another crack at the power play at 15:29, but weren’t able to capitalize, despite some good looks. Navin and Reed Seckel took matching calls at 17:28, and then with 1:06 to go in the period, Maxwell took a retaliatory slash and was sent to the box.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Maxwell’s penalty to start the third. Utah ran into some difficulties early, but Rumpel and the defense kept it 2-1, and Harms continued to have a strong game, pushing the puck just wide yet again with about four gone.

About two minute later, Richart threw a big shot on net which, like Navin’s, went in off Tomkins, extending his scoring streak to nine, and tying him with Nolan Zajac of the Reading Royals for first in the ECHL in goals among defensemen.

The Grizzlies continued to keep their foot on the gas, getting strong shifts from Howe, Misiak, and others. The Fuel once again looked disinterested, and Utah pounced, Maxwell scoring at 9:58 from Marchment. The goal was Maxwell’s first as a pro, and with his earlier assist, he also picked up his first multi-point game.

Utah got hit with another extremely lengthy five-on-three penalty kill at 3:11 with first Jones and then Walters in the box for interference and tripping respectively. Once again, the vaunted Indy power play came up empty. Ortega was taken down at 16:50 with no call, and Pelech took matters into his own hands. As was the trend for this game with interesting calls, he got an extra two tacked on to his rough, whileย Jaynen Rissling got only two.

In the end, however, it didn’t matter, and at the final buzzer, Utah outworked their way to a 4-1 win.

Maxwell (one goal, one assist), Navin (game winning goal), and Rumpel (23/24 saves) were the three stars of the game, Walters ended the day with eight shots, and Ortega, Navin, and Richart all extended their consecutive point streaks. Harms was all over the place, getting an assist, and all three lines contributed. It was also a another night of firsts, as Maxwell and Babintsev scored their first goals for the team, after both of them had a really excellent weekend.

The Grizzlies and the Oilers are currently tied for the fourth spot in the Mountain Division, trailing Wichita by five points, and ahead of Allen by one. Utah could very much use an Idaho win against Allen on Wednesday and before they face the Americans themselves in what could end up being a season defining two game series at home with spots in the playoffs at stake.

In the meantime, the Grizzlies have put themselves in the best position they can, with seven of a possible eight points on the four game road trip, as well as their 8-0-0-1 record in the last nine.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Weathering the Storm

In Utah’s return to the Maverik center, Chris Leibinger drew back into the lineup in place of Mitch Jones, while Nate Mitton (who was signed again to a standard player contract this morning) also returned. Joel Rumpel once again got the start, while Brendan and Ryans Misak and Walters took opening face-off backed by Taylor Richart and Sam Windle.

Shots were even through the first three minutes, 3-3, but despite that, Idaho kept the puck in the Utah zone for the majority of the of the time.

Rob Mann took a delay of game penalty at 4:16, and Idaho went to the power play. However, the Grizzlies’ defense, and Joel Rumpel gave the home crowd something to cheer for, stopping everything thrown at him.

Idaho continued to keep the Grizzlies in their own end, but that’s not to say that Utah didn’t play hard, earning cheers , and eventually returning play to the Idaho zone for a shift or two.

Cole Ully rang iron, and Walters put a blast over the net, and with nine minutes to go, the score was still 0-0, shots 9-8 for Idaho.

Utah gained momentum, and at 11:38, Brad Navin led a three-on-two rush up ice, and drop-passed to a late charging Leibinger. Leibinger passed to a wide open Austin Ortega, who wired it past Carmine Guerriero to give Utah the 1-0 lead.

Rumpel absolutely stood on his head towards the end of the period, somehow keeping the puck out of the net in an absolutely wild net-front scramble, and after the first period, Utah led 1-0, despite being out-shot 18-9.

The second period was far more even in terms of zone time, but Utah was not quite fast enough to jump on a rebound, and Max French made it 1-1 at 2:04

The tie did not last long though. Michael Pelech gave Utah back the lead at 3:42 from Navin and Ortega. Utah wasn’t done then either. Navin carried the puck into the zone, spun, passed to Richart, and he gave Utah the 3-1 lead.

Misiak was high-sticked at 6:43, and with the power play running down, Walters got the puck at the goal line, and slipped it past Guerriero. The goal spelled the end of his afternoon, and Philippe Desrosiers came on in relief.

Idaho cut the lead in half, however, less than two minutes later, Utah again coughed the puck up in front of Rumpel, and French scored exactly the same goal as he had earlier.

At 16:18 Connor Chatham slashed Rumpel, Walters took exception, and both went to the box, Walters for roughing, and Chatham for slashing.

With a minute to go, Misiak was hooked on a hard drive to the net, and Utah went to the power play. The Grizzlies kept possession of the puck, got a couple of good shots, and Utah went to the locker room up 4-2.

Utah began the third with 1:03 of power play time, but the advantage didn’t register a shot on it’s second half.

Pelech took a cross-checking penalty 1:30 into the third, but thanks to a good kill, and some big saves from Rumpel, it was killed off.

The Grizzlies had another bounce go their way with about five gone in the third, as the puck bounced around the crease, came to rest perilously close to the line, with Rumpel out of position. A Utah player swiped it just far enough out of harm’s way that he was able to get back into position in a massive crowd, and the danger was averted.

Idaho spent a lot of the third in the Grizzlies’ end, but Utah also made them work really hard along the wall and in the corners for the puck, and Rumpel remained a rock-solid last line of defense.

Will Merchant and Leibinger got tied up in the Grizzlies zone at 13:23, and both went to the box, Leibinger for playing without a helmet, and Merchant for holding the stick.

Both teams returned to full strength with no change in score, but with 2:34 to go, a bad bobble at the Idaho blue line led to a two-on-one, and the Steelheads drew within one.

However, despite Idaho pulling Desrosiers for the extra attacker and calling their time out, Utah hung on through the final minutes of the frame to extend their winning streak to three.

After stopping 46/49 shots, Rumpel was the well-deserved first star of the game, and showed all 6,092 fans in attendance just the calibre of goalie he is. Ortega’s goal and two assists got him second star of the game, while Navin’s three assists saw him earn third.

Quite a number of players picked up points in all three games over the weekend. Pelech had two goals and an assist, Navin had two goals and three assists, Misiakย  four assists, Ortega two goals, four assists, Richart a goal and two assists, and James Melindy with assists in each of the three games. Not only has the team stepped it up offensively, but the defense has also improved vastly in that span, something Rumpel was quick to point out.

“[The puck] looked a little bigger today, that’s for sure,” he said after the game. “But the guys really helped out front, let me see it. I don’t think there were that many screens or rebounds that I had to make, so that was nice.”

“I remember playing against you guys quite a bit, I was always like, ‘this would be a pretty good spot to play’, so I’m excited that I got the opportunity.”

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for Rumpel, who is looking forward to the opportunity the homestand will provide to allow him to get settled in: “Feels like I haven’t really had a chance to sit down at all, or get to get to see the city at all, so it’ll be nice to get to know each other here this week, get a few home games in, and get to know everybody a little better.”

When asked about the first star performance of his new goaltender, Tim Branham had nothing but praise. “He’s definitely the reason we won today. I mean, we scored enough goals, but he kept us in there. I thought Idaho brought everything they had. They were tenacious, they won the majority of the battles tonight. We found a way to score goals, we were good on the power play, good on the penalty kill, and our goalie won us the game. We’ve been waiting for that all year, so I’ll take that any time.”

It’s been three games now since Mitch Maxwell, Jake Marchment, Gage Ausmus, and Sam Babintsev joined the club, and they’re moves that have led to immediate results.

“When something bad happens on the bench, we’re confident enough to work through it.” Branham said. “The players that we brought in have done an amazing job of coming in and doing what they’re capable of. The guys that have been here are a little bit on edge. They know that the pressure is on and they need to perform. These last three games have been a world of difference. It’s everything that we’ve been striving for all season. Unfortunately it took a few changes to get there, but I’ll take it.”

But it’s not just the new guys who have stepped up and really gotten going. “Navin’s been great. I don’t know how many points he has in the last fifteen games, but it’s a lot (7 goals, 6 assists, 13 points). Same with Brendan Harms (5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points). Navin’s just playing with a lot of confidence, and good things are happening for him. For both those players, Harms and Navin, it was a struggle early on, but they kept with it, they battled hard, they stayed focused, and right now they’re being rewarded for it.

Ortega’s been good ever since he’s been here. He’s a player who’s pretty special. He has good hands and he competes, he wants to win, so those guys have really carried the load offensively for us.”

Utah looks to extend their winning streak to four against Rumpel’s former team when Jon Puskar and the Wichita Thunder roll into town on Friday night for the first game of Grizzlies Fight Cancer weekend.

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Two for Two

After a strong game on Friday, Saturday’s roster was unchanged, with one exception. Utah played five defencemen with Mitch Jones out after getting banged up in the game before.

The game got off to an eventful start, Zach Saar got hit close after the opening face-off, but the Allen player bounced off him, Brad Navin got hit, Allen was sent off for charging, and Jake Marchment made it 1-0 on the power play less than two minutes in. Michael Pelech took an interference call at 2:36, but the Grizzlies killed it off comfortably.

Allen had quite a push after the power play, but Utah pushed back before things got rather sloppy in Utah’s own end. They did pull themselves together again with around seven minutes to go.

Richart took a slashing call, and the Americans tied it up on a scramble in which Casey Pierro-Zabotel poked the puck into the net past a lunging Joel Rumpel.

Saar drew the ire of the Allen players running into Stephon Williams, and got sent off together with Gage Ausmus, and Colby McAuley who got unsportsmanlikes each.

The Americans negated their power play when David Makowski tripped up Ryan Walters, and the Grizzlies made no mistake. Austin Ortega fed Brad Navin for their second goal and assist combo in two games, while Taylor Richart got the secondary assist.

So after three combined power play goals, Utah went into the first intermission leading 2-1, shots 13-13.

Utah drew an early power play a couple of minutes in, but though they had some good possession for the majority of the advantage, they were unable to capitalize against Jeremy Brodeur, who took over in nets for the second and third periods.

Ryan Misiak took a tripping call at 7:28, which was frustrating, as they had picked up four shots to Allen’s one, and had looked like the much more engaged team. That continued to be the theme, as the penalty kill avoided danger. Richart got called for interference at 11:21, but between a good kill, and a lethargic power play from Allen, the score remained 2-1.

Allen once again woke up briefly after their power play, but Rumpel made the necessary saves, and Utah pulled themselves together again, thanks in part to a great shift by Brendan and the Ryans.

With 10 seconds to go in the frame, Sam Windle got boarded, and the period ended on a Utah power play, shots 23-22 for the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies ran into issues getting set up, but then Navin got in one-on-one against Brodeur, and Utah got a decent amount of time five-on-three, then five-on-four, but weren’t able to capitalize.

They played better through the middle of the frame, and with around eleven to go, Allen wasn’t able to get the puck out of their own end, and the rebound from a Melindy blast went straight to Ortega’s stick. All alone in front of Brodeur, Ortega made no mistake to give the Grizzlies the 3-1 lead.

Allen pressured again after the goal, but Rumpel again held down the fort, and despite the Americans pulling Brodeur and the Grizzlies taking a late slashing call, Navin’s 2-1 goal held up for the game winner, and the Grizzlies swept the weekend in Texas.

Navin, Marchment, and Rumpel were named the three stars of the game, and were certainly deserving. But they were by no means the only ones who played well. Ortega picked up a goal and an assist, and is one of seven players who had points in both games (one of three with multiple points in the series). Maxwell hasn’t got his first point with Utah yet, but he’s been great for the Grizzlies, going hard into corners, retrieving pucks, and gaining fans with his grin and chat approach to scrums. Ausmus and Marchment continue to add stability and strength up and down the roster, as well as offensive flair, and Rumpel has definitely given Utah the saves they’ve needed. Really, the whole team played well, especially guys like Melindy, Pelech, Mann, Richart, and Misiak who were all rewarded with points.

It is much to be hoped that with two really strong wins under their belt, the team has turned a corner, and can continue to pick up wins (or barring that, honest losses) starting with the matinee today against Idaho.

 

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