Utah Grizzlies: Friday Funday

After a disappointing effort on Wednesday night, Utah got some reinforcements on Friday night. Forwards Mitch Hults (assigned by Anaheim to get ice time during the all star break) and Nate Mitton (who attended training camp) both joined the Grizzlies prior to the game, drawing into the lineup in place of Erik Higby and C.J. Eick. Hults, a centerman, slotted in with Ryan Walters and Austin Ortega, while Mitton played with Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

The game got off to a rocky start with a couple of quick penalties. Mitton flew into the Tulsa end looking not at all like a guy adjusting to the altitude, and first drew what looked like an interference call, but then was mysteriously dinged with an embellishment call as well.

Shortly thereafter, James Melindy and Justin Selman went off with “roughing” and tripping calls respectively, and then Travis Howe dropped the gloves with Mike McKee off the face-off at 4:30. Howe got some really huge punches in, and the 6,843 in attendance roared their support.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies coughed the puck up in their own zone, and Tulsa made it 1-0.

It looked, for a moment, like the Grizzlies were doomed to give up a quick second goal as Chris Leibinger lost the puck at the blue line, and the Oilers came in uncontested. However, Taylor Richart flew back from the far side to cut off the attempt.

Cliff Watson drew Utah’s first power play at 6:30. Tulsa got a short-handed shot against, but at the tail end of the advantage, Leibinger skated the puck down behind the Tulsa net, and threw it to Puskar just above the blue paint. Utah’s first shot of the game found the back of the net to tie it up. The assists on Puskar’s eleventh of the year went to Leibinger and Harms.

Utah got yet another crack on the power play less than a minute later, but despite Kyle Thomas’ bet efforts, Tulsa killed that one off. Watson got tripped up without a call, Leibinger stepped in on Ryan Tesink, who was sent sprawling before Dylan Hubbs jumped in on Leibinger. Both players got a couple of good punches in, and when the dust settled, Hubbs got an extra two for instigating.

Sean Maguire made a big save on a short-handed stretch pass that saw an Oilers player alone behind the defense, but after that, the Grizzlies got set up in the offensive zone. Hults got a huge shot off from the point, and Richart’s shot from the blue line flew into a crowd in front of the net. Ryan Misiak got his stick on the rebound, and Ortega scored his fifth power play goal in eleven games.

Mitton got a very nice chance on the ensuing shift, and Mitch Jones also got off a rocket in his return. Howe demonstrated that his hands are good for things besides big punches, making a nice play to keep the puck in the zone as the third line had a very strong shift. Tulsa had a hard time holding onto the puck in front of their own net, and Utah pounced on every opportunity, but were unable to capitalize.

Watson got a great chance at the end of the first, and Utah went into the locker room leading 2-1, and out-shooting Tulsa 13-8, despite having been out-shot 5-0 at one point in the period.


The third line got another really strong shift in a few minutes into the second, Mitton getting a shot off of of a hard-working cycle from Navin.

Tommy Vannelli tripped up Ortega at 2:55, and Ortega got up ready to fight. Vannelli didn’t oblige, but the two went off for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Utah controlled the ensuing four-on-four, and Melindy got a nice spinning shot off. Navin had another strong shift with Puskar, Leibinger, and Sam Windle. Leibinger and Puskar also got a scoring chance off the rush. On the defensive side of things, Jones hounded an Oilers player into the defensive zone to prevent a chance against.

After the teams returned to full strength, the third line had another terrific shift that culminated in a gorgeous goal from Navin, whose first goal since November 1st was a top shelf snipe. Howe got his first point of the year on the primary assist, while Harms got his eleventh with the secondary.

The same line had another big shift, and a couple of minutes later, Melindy took a high-stick, sending Utah to their fourth straight power play at 10:10.

Puskar and Richart both got good looks, and Utah got a lengthy five-on-three at 10:52. The first wave power play of Hults, Ortega, Thomas, Walters, and Watson got some really nice offensive zone pressure going, but weren’t able to capitalize, and Tulsa killed off both penalties.

Howe took a slashing call as the game got a little rough in the corners with 6:13 to go. The penalty kill came up big for Howe, Misak and Puskar orchestrating a couple of clears, as the Grizzlies allowed zero shots.

With less than two minutes to go, Melindy made a big defensive play and was sent off for holding. Maguire made a couple of big saves, and the period came to an end. After 40, Utah led 3-1, out-shooting the Oilers 24-16.

The Grizzlies began the third with just four seconds of Melindy’s penalty on the clock, and about four minutes later, Maguire made a couple of big saves, and Utah cleared the puck out of certain danger.

Watson made it 4-1 at 4:35, as the puck rolled past Hildebrand surprisingly uncontested. Walters got the primary assist, while Hults picked up his first point with the Grizzlies.

Tulsa pushed back, getting a couple of good shifts of their own, but weren’t able to capitalize until past the half-way mark, as the entire roster played hard and blocked shots.

With 8:05 to go, Utah got tied up in their own zone, and Tulsa scored to cut the lead in half.

The Oilers continued to work, but Maguire shut the door when shots made it through, and at 15:36 McKee got a closing hand on the puck penalty.

It took the Grizzlies just six seconds to capitalize. Leibinger held the puck in the zone, passed to Richart, who shot once again from the point. The puck bounced to Harms, who put it past Hildebrand from a tight angle. The goal was his fourth of the year, and his third against Tulsa.

That was pretty much the game, both teams got a couple more shots, but at the final buzzer, the 5-2 lead belonged to Utah, who out-shot the Oilers 31-24.

Utah is now only one point behind Tulsa, and four behind Allen, who own the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division.

In addition to a big two points, the game broke a couple of long time goalless streaks for Harms and Navin, Harms picking up three points and first star of the game, while Navin got his third point in three games. Without a doubt, Utah played a complete sixty, as well as a complete game from the entire roster. Maguire was awarded the second star of the game, while Howe took the third with the fight and assist.

“When we play like we want it, we’re tough to handle.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We’ve got some guys—when you can add Mitch Hults, Austin Ortega—when you’ve got guys who can score goals, it helps. We’ve lost a lot of one goal games. Our power play has been really hot lately, and we’re able to put the puck in the net. When we’re able to score, good things happen.”

“They’re a hard working team,” he added of the Oilers, “And they actually do a good job of getting to the blue line with speed, just putting pucks on net, and being tenacious. We did a much better job of winning our battles, getting the puck up the ice, controlling the play in the offensive zone. Obviously we spent a lot more time in their zone today than the last game, so we’ve gotta play the same way. They’re gonna come out hard, they’re not gonna be happy they lost today, but if we play with that effort, teams can’t stop us. When everybody is pulling the rope in the right direction, good things happen.”

Moreover, if the third line can keep their momentum going, it will be big for the team going forward. “Before last game, we were one of four teams who had three players or more that were a point a game. We lose those one goal games because we don’t have that depth scoring. So when Navin scores, Harms scores, it’s just huge for us, so we need that depth scoring in order to be able to compete and win those one goal games.”

Ortega’s thoughts were in a similar vein. “We’ve been talking about getting in a playoff spot, we haven’t been happy with the way we’ve been playing, especially last game, and we took it to heart. We had a big meeting about our effort, and I think tonight we were a completely different team, we had a tremendous amount of effort and hard work, and it paid off.”

So what do the Grizzlies have to do on Saturday night to keep rolling? “Same thing with effort and hard work, playing the way we’re supposed to be, and at this point, it’s just consistency.”

If Utah wins tonight (Saturday), they will be on point ahead of Tulsa, closing in on the Allen Americans, who have been on a bit of a losing skid. It would be a huge win for the Grizzlies, and they’ll do have to do it in front of what will likely be a nearly sold-out crowd.



Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Road-trip Redemption

For the third game against Rapid City in three games, the Grizzlies more or less kept their roster intact on Sunday, with the exception of Travis Howe drawing in, and Mitch Jones sitting the game out.

Howe made his presence felt at once, dropping the gloves with Anthony Collins at 1:43.

Brad Navin continued to get chances, as the Grizzlies once again dominated play in the first four minutes. Once again, however, Rapid City struck first at 3:52, Daniel Leavens from Peter Sivak and Riley Weselowski.

Jon Puskar took a slashing call at 5:26, but the Grizzlies came on with a vengeance, Brendan Harms scoring short-handed at 6:13.

James Melindy took a cross-checking call, giving Rapid City a decent five-on-three, and though they killed off the five-on-three, Rapid City scored on the power play.

The Grizzlies responded again, Walters on another terrific pass from Navin.

Howe had a couple of nice moves on both sides of the ice, and the Puskar line had a strong shift that ended in Ryan Misiak getting robbed by Christian Frey.

After 20, shots were 11-9 for the Rush, but tied 2-2.

The Grizzlies and Rush both had chances in the first half of the second, Walters, and Mann especially getting looks for Utah.

The pressure paid off, as Kyle Thomas made a beautiful pass to Cliff Watson, who made no mistake, putting Utah up 3-2 at 9:13.

Unfortunately, Rapid City tied it up again with 3:36 to go. On the very next shift, Walters tried to sell a goal, but after the officials gathered, it was called no goal.

At the end of a penalty-less second period (even after the tussle between Weselowski and Walters), they were tied 3-3, shots 19-16 in Rapid City’s favor.

The two teams exchanged chances, but at 5:34 Rapid City took a tripping call, and Ortega pounced. He struck again less than two minutes later, giving Utah their first two-goal lead of the game at 7:34.

Utah maintained the lead, but were unable to extend it on the power play just past the half-way mark of the third.

The Rush pulled Frey with 1:30 to go, and Ortega just missed the empty-net hat trick. Puskar made no mistake on the next shift though, fighting past a Rapid City defender to score his tenth of the year from Walters and Ortega. Leibinger took a slashing call with 17 seconds to go, but Utah killed it off to win the game.

Ortega now has 12 points in nine games with Utah, and was named second star of the game with two goals and an assist, while Watson’s goal and assist earned him second star.

The Grizzlies returned to Utah with three of a possible six points, and thank to loses from teams ahead of them in the standings, are within striking distance of the final playoff spot.



Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

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 play—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. 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 56-28—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

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 Grizzles: From Bad to Worse

From start to finish, it was a bizarre affair.

To begin with, Utah came out sluggishly on Friday night, but still managed to score a trio of goals against Rapid City, the first an excellent jam-in from Jon Puskar, the second from Ryan Olsen, and the third also from Puskar. It wasn’t so much that they played well, as that they were opportunistic, and Adam Vey struggled.

Former Grizz Peter Sivak also scored, but the luck seemed to be tipped entirely in the Grizzlies’ favor.

Then, just when it seemed that the second period was about to get underway, they discovered issues with the ice in front of the Grizzlies’ bench and also behind the net. After a lengthy delay in which they attempted to repair the ice, it was decided that the best course of action was to postpone the end of the game.

So the game was re-scheduled for Sunday, Utah leading 3-1, and outshooting the Rush 13-8.

The second pass at the second period saw Brendan Harms, Ryan Olsen and Rob Mann out for Austin Ortega, James Melindy and Zach Saar.

The team looked decent at the start, Ortega looking more comfortable and making a few nice moves, while Puskar made an early bid for the hat trick.

Unfortunately, Charley Graaskamp went hard into the boards shortly thereafter, had to be helped off the ice, and did not return (he was later placed on injured reserve). That’s more or less when the issues started.

The Grizzlies gave up a number of breakaways on defensive breakdowns, most of which Kevin Carr turned aside until just after the seven-minute mark. Utah gave up an unassisted goal to Tyler Deresky on a bad turn over.

Utah had a few decent shifts afterwards, sparked by a strong one from Puskar, together with Erik Higby and Travis Howe. Their work eventually led to a power play at the half-way mark of the period. However, Michael Pelech took a roughing call a minute or so later, and despite some strong shifts from Utah, and Ryan Misiak especially, the various penalties came to an end.

Despite a strong effort from Garrett Haar, and Mitch Jones, the next goal went to the Rush with five minutes left, followed less than a minute later by the go-ahead goal.

When the second period came to a merciful end, Utah had been utterly out-played their top line an abysmal -3, and a two-goal lead squandered.

The third period did not begin any more auspiciously, Jones taking a penalty less than two minutes in. That was killed off, but then first Saar and then Pelech went to the box, and Rapid City scored on both the five-on-three and five-on-four to give them the 6-3 lead. That was the end of Carr’s night.

His departure seemed to serve as a wake-up call the Grizzlies needed, and their play improved.

It seemed like it was destined to be derailed, however, after Melindy went down to a spear. At first it seemed that Melindy alone was going to go off for unsportsmanlike conduct, but in the end he got two and ten, while Pavel Jenys got five for spearing, and a game misconduct.

Pelech made it 6-4 at 16:10 on the power play, giving Ortega his first point in a Utah jersey, and Ortega followed that up with a power play goal of his own at 18:37 with the net empty, and the Grizzlies playing with the extra skater.

Unfortunately, that’s as close as they got, and Sivak capped off his hat trick into the empty net with ten seconds to spare.

“I think it’s a classic example of not coming ready to play.” Tim Branham said after the game, “Built a 3-1 lead there on Friday, maybe thought, once again, that it was going to be easy, and didn’t have that killer instinct. Too little too late at the end, and gave up too many scoring chances.”

Of the struggles the Grizzlies had in the second, he said, “Your best players have to be your best players. You can’t have that top line be -3, they’re the ones that dug us into that hole, whether it was their fault or not, they were on the ice for it. I think a lot of different guys were at fault for those goals in the second period, but we just, not enough time to get ourselves out of that one. Learn from it, get out on the road here, and have a good road trip.”

So what do they need to work on besides being more prepared? “Our power play needs to improve, we’ve been saying that all season, it’s tough to defend there that five on three. I thought our penalty kill was doing pretty good, the two power play goals that they got, one’s a five-on-three, one’s just a bad, broken play. Our five on five play, it was disappointing that we couldn’t take more advantage of Rapid City five-on-five. I think that was the story of the weekend, and we’ve got a little bit of a tough hill to climb.”


Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming & staff