Utah Grizzlies: The Best Is Yet To Come

Coming off a 6-3 win, Utah looked to build off their performance, and end the year on a high note. With the exception of Charley Graaskamp drawing in for Zach Saar, and Angus Redmond getting the start, the lineup remained unchanged.

The first period started with a bang, literally, as Jon Puskar and Justin Parizek dropped the gloves just 21 seconds in. Puskar got the take-down, and both players were sent to the box to cool their heels.

Once again, Idaho had good possession, getting five shots to Utah’s one, and then striking first at 3:08 once again from Jefferson Dahl.

With Puskar in the box, Graaskamp centred the first line, to some effect, and Greger Hanson rang iron. Unfortunately, Idaho came the other way on the next shift and made it 2-0 at 6:49.

Utah got a couple shots thereafter, but half of them went into the crest on Ryan Faragher’s jersey, and he had clear sight-lines on them all.

Michael Pelech took a charging minor at 10:15, and Kyle Thomas played hero on the penalty kill, blocking a hard shot and going down. He got up slowly, and immediately blocked another shot before making it off the ice.

It paid off, as the Grizzlies went the other way, Taylor Richart got off a big shot, and Graaskamp banged the rebound past Faragher from the doorstep.

Graaskamp took a tripping call with five minutes left in the first, but Utah got to the intermission still 2-1, despite being out-shot 15-11.

The second got off to a good start, as Puskar drew a penalty just 53 seconds into the period, as Dodero was a little too enthusiastic in his crosschecking in front of the Idaho net.

Unfortunately, it went down-hill from there. Jefferson Dahl hit Ryan Olsen hard along the boards at 1:33 and Olsen was very slow to get up. He got himself in trouble on the way back to the bench, jawing at Dahl, and was sent to the box, negating the power play. As soon as he left the box, he took a surprisingly ill-judged roughing call on Dahl again, and went straight back to the box. Steven McParland scored at 5:24, and Olsen found himself benched for the remainder of the game.

Idaho iced the puck a couple of times after their goal, but with 9:27 to go, Utah had spent a lot of time fighting off Idaho possession in their own zone. All three lines had a few good shifts, but then Pelech took a tripping call. Idaho promptly capitalized once more, and Redmond’s night was over.

Baldwin got his stick between Thomas’ legs, tripping him up, and when no call was forthcoming, the 5385 fans in attendance were riotous in their disapproval. Utah drew a power play at 14:42, and then drew another one at 15:13, giving them a 90 second five-on-three. The Grizzlies got some looks, but the Idaho kill closed ranks, and a golden opportunity was squandered.

Though Utah did not capitalize on the power play, the final two minutes of the second were much better, getting some great chances around Faragher, including a breakaway from Puskar. After 40, shots were 26-22, and the score 4-1 after some uncharacteristically ill-advised penalties led directly to goals.

Down 4-1, faced with the task of putting four past Faragher, things looked grim. But of course, it’s the Grizzlies, and when they’re rolling, it’s not wise to count them out before a game (or a season) is over.

Utah came out flying to start the third, and never really looked back. Mitch Jones continued his outstanding play, throwing a huge shot through traffic, and Ryan Walters tipped it home to cut the lead in half 3:30 into the third.

Cody Corbett took a hooking call on the next shift, and Utah made Idaho pay. With 23 seconds left in the advantage, Thomas dished to Pelech behind the net, Pelech tossed it to Puskar in the slot, and he made no mistake. And so it was 4-3 with over thirteen minutes to go, an amped up crowd, and a buzzing team.

Graaskamp electrified the fans, tying the game at 9:29, for his first career two goal game on with a phenomenal effort and assist by Chris Leibinger.

Carr was terrific in relief, making a couple of big saves to keep the game tied.

Thomas looked like he’d scored the game winner with 5:35 to go, but the refs called off the goal on supposed goaltender interference. Though that drew some ire from the Grizzlies, they kept their foot on the accelerator, and their eyes on the finish line.

Puskar and Chatham got matching penalties, Puskar for cross-checking, Chatham for embellishment at 16:15, and then Pelech and Corbett immediately followed them on the next shift getting matching roughs 12 seconds later. Lost in all that was a crazy dipsy-doodle from Leibinger to keep the puck alive.

Carr and Jones made some big saves and blocks as the game entered the last two minutes of the period, and the Grizzlies fought their way through a strong Idaho push.

At the buzzer, Brendan Harms took on Corbin Baldwin, despite giving up a good five inches, and forty pounds, and though Baldwin decidedly got the best of it, it was a spirited finish to an excellent period.

OT saw both teams getting good chances, including a rocket from Richart on a ridiculous play from Hanson. Leibinger also had a big chance, and Carr and the defense answered on the other end of the ice. At the end of overtime, there was no change in score, and Utah went to the shoot-out.

With the spectre of three shoot-out losses, and zero shoot-out goals looming large over the Maverik Center, Graaskamp put up another first, scoring his first career shoot-out goal, and the Grizzlies’ first of the year. Carr let in one Idaho goal, and Faragher stoned Puskar. With the game once again on his stick, the Captain delivered, capping off an incredible comeback, and giving the Grizzlies their first shoot-out win of the season in the last game of the year.

“Well, I didn’t like the fact that we gave up 15 shots in the first period.” Tim Branham said of the game. “You knew they were going to come out hard, but you’ve gotta be ready for them. We put ourselves in a hole, getting down early, and then taking a couple of dumb penalties. We haven’t had too many discipline issues this year, and so it wasn’t good to see that. So we put ourselves in a deep hole there going into the third period, but I mean, this group has come back so many times in the third period. We just did it again, and found a way, and it feels good. We needed it. Obviously, that’s a tough opponent there, we gained three points on them in the standings, and we just got to keep it going.”

He also reiterated how much Thomas’ return means to the Grizzlies’ depth, and how good their record is with him in the lineup (it’s 10-4-2-1), and pointed out again that the Grizzlies are still missing what had been their top pairing in Cliff Watson and James Melindy.

After being benched for four straight games, Graaskamp came out swinging, picking up two goals, and one in the shoot out, en rout to being named the first star of the game. Branham was nothing but complementary about his performance, and also shed some light on why he hasn’t been a more consistent member of the lineup.

“He was a veteran player tonight, right from Puskar getting in that fight early, it got Charley into the game early, and some confidence. He’s a good player. He’s a project for me, he’s a young kid coming out of major juniors. He’s got a lot of talent, and a lot of skill and I’m really itching to see how he is at the end of the year, and how he develops. You look at his points, and it’s like ‘how is a guy like that not in the lineup consistently?’ and, well, it’s the play without the puck, and tonight he was a veteran player. He was all over the ice, obviously scoring goals, tenacious, finishing checks, playing a game like that should only build his confidence. It’s great to see.”

“He’s just an awesome kid, obviously from Wisconsin,” he added with a grin, “But no. Honestly, he’s just an awesome kid, and I’m so glad to see he’s doing well.”

He’s not the only one doing well. It seems that after an anemic start, and a few false spikes, the Grizzlies’ goal-scoring is on a real upward trajectory, as they have scoring four or more in five of the last seven. Moreover, looking to the new year, if the records in three of the last four years are any kind of precedent, the Grizzlies’ post-Christmas record should be much improved.

Last year in the first 25 games, Utah went 9-14-1-1 before going 29-15-4-1. This year, though they have fewer wins, Utah has picked up more points, going 7-11-5-2, and the up-swing may already be underway, as they’ve gone 4-1-1-0 in the last five games.

Regardless of what the rest of this season holds, this game was an exciting cap to 2017, and we can look forward to 2018 with anticipation.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Holiday Cheer

Coming back from a brief Christmas break, the Grizzlies looked to erase the memory of a tough OT loss against Colorado on the 23rd. With Brendan Harms and Ryan Olsen back in the lineup, C.J. Eick, and Brad Navin went on reserve, while Howe served the second to last of his nine game suspension, and Kevin Carr got the start.

The whole evening did not begin well, what with the anthem singer momentarily forgetting the words, and the zamboni having to come out after the ceremonial puck drops to repair some ice behind the Grizzlies’ net.

Then, once the game started, a bad second shift allowed Jefferson Dahl to wheel around the net uncontested to make it 1-0 on a wrap-around :58 seconds into the game. Considering how bad the Grizzlies’ record is when the other team scores first, how the last home game against Idaho went (5-2 for the Steelheads), and how dominant Idaho looked early, there were definitely some causes for concern.

The weirdness didn’t stop there, as Idaho held possession through the first four minutes, and a hard shot got the head referee right in the head. Fortunately, he appeared to be none-the-worse for wear.

Utah had a few good shifts, but largely struggled to establish possession in the zone. There were signs of life though, from Leibinger, and the Ryan Line most noticably, but from the rest of the line-up as well.

However, off another long stretch in the defensive zone, Michael Pelech took an unforced delay of game penalty, putting the puck over the far glass at 9:14. The penalty kill got the job done, and the score remained unchanged.

Kyle Thomas and Corbin Baldwin got into a scuffle with just over five minutes to go, following a strong shift from the first line, but nothing came of it. That was about the time, however, that the Grizzlies came alive.

At 15:16 Ryan Olsen chipped the puck up to Ryan Misiak, Misiak fed Ryan Walters the perfect pass, and he converted to tie the game. Olsen got the secondary assist.

57 seconds later, Leibinger wired the puck from the point to give Utah the lead from Hanson and Thomas.

Idaho made a push to answer, and Harms took a penalty with 1:59 to go, as the third line continued to have a rough first period. Richart got tripped up with 1:13 to go, and the teams played four-on-four.

Thomas just missed Hanson on a two-on-one, and the Steelheads were likewise unable to tie it up in the final moments of a weird first period. Although Utah led 2-1, shots were 12-9 for the Steelheads.

 

The Grizzlies got off to a decent start in the next frame, following the 46 seconds of power play time. Leibinger almost got his second of the night on a beautiful move, and Carr flashed the leather on the other end. Unfortunately, Idaho tied it up right off the next face-off at 1:29.

The Grizzlies dodged a major bullet shortly thereafter as Carr made a huge save, and was out of position for the rebound. Fortunately, the Utah defensemen stopped the puck in the blue paint, and the Grizzlies got a chance of their own on the other end.

In the end, it was another rocket from a defenceman that gave Utah back the lead, as Sam Windle scored from center ice at 4:24 with assists from Leibinger and Erik Higby.

The third line had a great shift with around twelve minutes to go, but on the next shift, Misiak went down at the blue line. Already mysteriously down Zach Saar (later revealed  to be an apparent illness according to the broadcast), and with Misiak gone, Idaho scored on the shift after that. The good news was that despite being helped off the ice, Misiak was back in short order, and Baldwin’s illegal contact to the head penalty at 11:30 on Higby sent Utah to the power play.

The second half of the period (and indeed the game) was far more characteristic of the Grizzlies and Steelheads, playing a much more structured, and less sloppy game.

Olsen gave up a bad turnover at the offensive zone blue line, but got it back before the puck crossed the Grizzlies’ blue line, and set up Hanson on a breakaway. Unfortunately, Philippe Desrosiers shut the door with about 4:30 to go in the frame.

The second ended with the Ryan Line buzzing, and after 40, shots were 23-18 for Idaho, tied 3-3.

“Just win the third” said Sam Windle in the intermission interview, and boy did the Grizzlies ever. Though, not so much in the first three minutes.

Utah got into gear after that though, and with 11:53 to go, Leibinger sprang Puskar on a gorgeous breakaway. That was the game breaker, and less than two minutes later, Higby forced a turnover, and Pelech scored off the cross-bar and in.

Taylor Richart put the cap on the night with another big shot from the blue line, giving the Grizzlies the 6-3 lead at 13:45, and breaking a goalless streak dating back to November 18th.

 

Puskar went to the box at 14:25, and again with 1:18 left in the third, but other than a net-front scuffle around Carr after a whistle, and another breakaway chance for Thomas and Hanson, they were both fairly uneventful.

With less than 30 seconds on the clock, Richart and Charlie Dodero tangled at center ice, and Mitch Jones and Corey Durocher dropped the gloves. Both got five for fighting, Dodero got two for roughing, and Utah closed out the night with their fifth win in the last eight.

After a rough first period, the third line really got going in the second, and in the third, scored (or were involved in) two of the Grizzlies’ goals three goals in the frame. Moreover, Leibinger was terrific all over the ice, throwing hits, blocking shots, making plays, getting chances, and of course, scoring a goal, and two assists. He was named third star of the game.

“He skates really well, he reads the play really well” Tim Branham said of Leibinger. “He trusts himself, he can make plays, that’s why he was really effective today. I thought he played really well defensively, had a good stick on puck, had a good gap all night, obviously made plays offensively, which we need, get some production from our back-end there. I though he was excellent tonight. We gotta follow that up with another good one though.

The Grizzlies got goals from every line, three from forwards, and three from defensemen. So what do they have to do to keep the offense rolling?

“This game is all about confidence. And you could tell. Once the score got 6-3, we started making some plays that we never would really make normally, and you could just tell that they were making them with confidence. This game is funny. That’s what it’s all about, hopefully this gives us the confidence to get going.

Leibinger thought the Christmas break also did the team some good. “We had some time away from the rink, sometimes that’s good for a team,” he said, “Especially if you’re struggling a little bit. You feel rejuvenated when you come back, see all the guys again, even if it’s just a couple of days”

“Carrying it forward,” he added, “I think we put a lot of effort in tonight, played hard, so I think if we do that every night, we have the talent to make plays, so I think it’s just all work ethic.”

Hard work and confidence. Those sound like good things to build success on going into the new year.

Utah Grizzlies: Captain Clutch

With goaltender Joe Cannata called up, as well as goal scorer Michael Joly, and defenseman Nicolas Meloche, Colorado was even more short-handed on Friday night than they were on Wednesday.

The Grizzlies, on the other hand, were not. They brought back Jon Puskar in place of Brad Navin, and once more sent out Kevin Carr to face Sam Brittain. Utah’s main objective? Get some goals for Carr.

Greger Hanson, Michael Pelech, and Kyle Thomas started the game off, but the Eagles scored on their first shot of the night, on a defensive misscommunication.

The Grizzlies responded well though, the Ryan Line and the Puskar line (the later especially) having good shifts afterward. Olsen centered the puck for Misiak, but Misiak was hauled down, and Utah went to the power play.

It took them only 37 seconds to capitalize. Carr sent the puck to Garrett Haar, who made a terrific pass to Hanson to make it a 1-1 game.

The penalty kill went to work 2:33 later, as Zach Saar went off for interference, and they kept the Eagles off the board. Chris Leibinger was terrific on the kill, continuing to be a shot blocking machine.

Just moments after the Grizzlies returned to full strength, Colorado the puck hit the post behind Carr, rolled along the line, and out. The call on the ice was a goal, but after some consultation, it was overturned.

Almost immediately afterwards, Colorado put the puck over the glass for delay of game, and Utah went back to the power play. They had some good puck movement on the advantage, but were unable to capitalize this time around.

C.J. Eick and Leibinger got a two-on-one with just over seven minutes to go, but Brittain turned it aside.

Colorado held Utah in their own end for a number of consecutive shifts, as the Grizzlies struggled to make clean plays in their own end. Fortunately, Carr was well up to the challenge, and the Ryan Line finally got the puck out.

The Eagles pressure continued, however, and eventually led to a Utah penalty with less than 30 seconds left. The Grizzlies were very fortunate to escape to the locker room with a tie game.

Utah’s PK made quick work of the 1:37 of penalty time to start the second. Hanson and Pelech got a two-on-one short-handed, but Pelech’s pass missed Hanson.

Missed passes continued to haunt the Grizzlies, as Walters’ pass to Olsen went into his skates as he was all alone in front of Brittain after Utah returned to full strength. Likewise, the first line were unable to connect on the next shift.

Utah had some more issues keeping Colorado out of their own end, but in the end, the sloppy play ended up going in Utah’s favor.

Olsen and Hanson converged in the offensive zone, which apparently distracted the Eagles so much that Walters sneaked in uncontested to give the Grizzlies their first lead of the night. Olsen and Hanson got the assist on Walters’ eighth of the year.

On the very next shift, Thomas was called for slashing, and then got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct for some mild protesting. Utah responded well though, getting a glorious up-ice rush that put a rebound just wide. Colorado never got properly set up, and the Grizzlies killed off all four minutes.

It looked an awful lot like Colorado got away with a call when Hanson was hauled down, and with too many men, but they eventually took a penalty with 7:43 to go.

Unfortunately, the power play was sloppy in their own end, and Matt Garbowsky scored short-handed all alone in front of Carr. Utah responded well with a good shift, but were unable to take the lead back on the advantage.

Puskar took a tripping penalty with 2:23 to go, but once again, the Grizzlies’ penalty kill was up to the task, getting a breakaway chance from Mitch Jones, and a two-on-one from Misiak and Walters.

After 40, Utah was being out-shot 23-12, but the game remained tied, 2-2 this time.

Utah came out hot in the third, Olsen went hard into the boards, but though he was a little slow to get up, he remained on the ice. Walters and Olsen both ended up down on the ice shortly afterwards, and the Grizzlies went to the power play.

The bad news was that the power play was unable to capitalize, but the good news was that Olsen and Walters both took their usual second unite power play time. Misiak got fouled up twice on one shift, but no second penalty was called.

The lack of finish on the power play ended up costing them, as Utah got stuck in their own end, and Carr gave up an uncharacteristic goal at 5:19.

The lines went into the blender with about half the period to go, and Utah found themselves hemmed into their own zone.

The line blender worked out to the Grizzlies’ advantage, as Higby, Olsen, and Thomas went over the boards, and Thomas tied the game with his fifth of the year.

Puskar took a penalty with just over ten to go in the period, but they killed off the minor, and Puskar made it 4-3 from Misiak and Hanson.

With 3:16 to go, Colorado scored again, Carr immediately protested, and though the official never signaled goal it did, in fact, count.

Utah got a late power play, thanks to Hanson’s speed and tenacity on the puck, but there was no last second power play goal, and the game went to OT.

The Grizzlies carried 30 seconds of power play time into OT, and then Colin Bowman took an ill-advised roughing call against Thomas in front of the Eagles’ net, and Utah went back to the advantage.

They got strong possession, passing the puck carefully and deliberately, getting off a couple of shots, but no goal. Pelech was crosschecked to the ice after the Eagles returned to full strength, and despite it being bad enough to bring the athletic trainer Cole Libby out onto the ice, there was no call. It was the latest in a litany of questionable non-calls, so a few shifts later, when the Eagles fans were in uproar over yet another perceived missed call, it felt like poetic justice that Walters came flying down the ice on yet another a two-on-one with Misiak, and scored the OT winner.

The eagle celly was definitely a dig at Colorado, but it was also appropriate for a goal that threw the OT monkey off the Grizzlies’ collective back, and gave them their first win against the Eagles after eight meetings, seven of which were lost by one goal, and five of which were lost in OT or the shoot out.

“I figured I’d take it and win it” the Captain said, of his decisive game winner.

The Grizzlies got on a bus immediately after the game to return home where they face Colorado again tonight where they hope to hit .500 before the Christmas break.

 

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming & staff

It All Begins Tonight

It’s a new season, and a new look Grizzlies.

Well, not altogether new. C.J. Eick, Brad Navin, Taylor Richart, Erik Higby, Michael Pelech, Travis Howe, Garrett Haar, Sam Windle, Rob Mann, Ryan Misiak (who played with the team during the 2015-16 season), and Jon Puskar have all returned for the 2017-18 campaign.

Among the most notable newcomers are Greger Hanson (Allen Americans), Peter Sivak (Alaska Aces), Kyle Thomas (Fort Wayne Komets), Mitch Jones (Alaska Aces), and Kevin Carr (also Alaska Aces) for some potent offensive flair, and strength at all positions. Zach Saar, Kyle Thomas, Angus Redmond, and Cliff Watson all come to the team via the San Diego Gulls this preseason (though only Redmond is a Ducks prospect).

The rest of the team are no slouches either, with the potential for some impressive firepower, and it should be fun getting to know this new group over the course of the season.

Garrett Haar will begin the season on the injured reserve, Sam Windle and Travis Howe are currently on reserve, while Redmond, Brendan Harms, and Charley Graaskamp were all scratches tonight.

In case you missed it, Eick was named the Grizzlies’ captain this summer, while Navin, Richart, and Higby all wore As during the preseason. Tim Branham remains at the helm as Head Coach and GM as the Grizzlies set their sights on an 11th Kelly Cup appearance, and the trophy that awaits the winner.

The Grizzlies got a good long look at the Cup in Colorado as the Eagles raised their 2016-17 championship banner before the game.

The Grizzlies got off to a decent start, getting the first two shots of the period. Puskar and Misiak got a 2-on-1 about five minutes in, drew a power play, and Melindy fought Joey Ratelle less than five minutes in.

Utah struggled to establish offensive zone time on the advantage, and Colorado scored on a breakaway just two seconds after their penalty expired.

The back half of the period saw the Grizzlies pick up a number of good looks, and their work paid off, as Drayson Bowman went to the box for slashing with 5:04 to go. The second man advantage looked far more commanding than the first, but did not capitalize. However, 22 seconds after the power play expired, Navin threw the puck on net, and the Captain put it past Lukas Hafner. Eick’s first of the year was, once again the opening goal of the Grizzlies’ season, and it sent Utah to the locker room with a 1-1 tie.

The Eagles and Grizzlies traded penalties to start the second, and Utah had a very strong penalty kill, but just four seconds after they returned to full strength, Colorado scored. All three goals of the game, up until this point, being scored 30 seconds or less after a penalty expired

Utah didn’t back off, though, getting a 17-10 edge in shots.

The two teams traded zone time though the later stages of the second, but it would be the Eagles who scored the next goal after a prolonged Utah offensive zone shift with less than two minutes to go in the frame. After 40, Utah trailed 3-1, holding the 28-20 edge in shots.

Four minutes into a somewhat lackadaisical third, Puskar came flying down the wing, cut to the middle, and put a back hand through traffic, making it 3-2, with assists from Taylor Richart, and Ryan Misiak.

Despite amassing 13 more shots over the course of the period, some of them on really good scoring chances, Utah couldn’t find the back of the net.

With four minutes left in the game, Saar and Teigan Zahn dropped the gloves, and though Zahn wound up getting the best of the scuffle, he also took an extra two for instigating, and the Grizzlies went to a big power play. They were, unfortunately, unable to tie the game up.

Coach Branham pulled Carr with less than a minute to go, but Utah took a penalty, and despite a last ditch attempt from Richart 5-on-5 with an empty net, they were unable to score the equalizer.

The loss was disappointing, but it wasn’t a bad first game. Puskar showed every bit of the offensive flair and foot speed that he displayed last season, while players like Thomas (6 shots), Olsen, Jones, Melindy (5 shots each), Saar and Misiak (both with 4) all had good chances throughout the game. Hanson and Watson also had some pretty good moments. Saar impressed in other areas as well, with a fight, and a +2 on the night.

In his post-game show comments to Tyson Whiting, Branham expressed some concern over the Grizzlies’ lack of goal scoring—a problem with which they struggled in the preseason. However, he also reiterated the fact that this is an offensively proven group of players, and that he liked how they played for the most part.

After all, it’s only the first game of the season, and many of these guys have never had the chance to play together before. It might take some tinkering, but the scoring combinations and chemistry are in there somewhere.

The Grizzlies and the Eagles are headed to the Maverik Center for Utah’s home opener tomorrow at 7PM.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and other staff photographers

Utah Grizzlies: All Tied Up

After having lost game one in a disappointing fashion, the Grizzlies looked to even up the series in game two against Allen. Kevin Boyle once again got the start, Colin Martin returned to the lineup, and Rob Mann drew in for Martin Nemcik. The Grizzlies were also without Zac Larraza who was called up to play for San Diego.

The early minutes of the first period were a fairly back and forth affair, with only three shots total through the first five minutes. It became evident quite early on that the C.J. Eick-Jon Puskar-Austen Brassard line had come to play, getting several of the Grizzlies’ best chances.

Marc-André Lévesque got shoved into Boyle with 13:19 to go, and took exception to it, starting a scrum that sent him to the box together with Greger Hanson.

Brassard and Eick had a terrific shift on the four-on-four, Brassard out-muscling the Allen defense, and Eick just narrowly missing a chance on the net. Boyle made a nice save on the other end, and both teams returned to full strength with no change in score. Lévesque got a one-on-one chance right out of the box, but Riley Gill made the save.

Spencer Asuchak took a roughing minor with 11:04 to play, but though the Grizzlies retained possession for almost the entire two minutes, and got a few shots, nothing substantial came of it.

Brassard and Eick made yet another a lovely play with 4:56 left in the first, but Gill again shut the door, shots 8-6 in Utah’s favor, while the refs largely left their whistles in their pockets.

Boyle, Gabriel Verpaelst and an Allen player all collided with 4:17 to go, and there was some concern for Grizz fans as Boyle remained down for a long moment, requiring assistance to stand up. However, after taking a spin, he remained in net, and fortunately appeared none the worse for wear.

Puskar got a shot right off the draw, and Brassard beat Allen to the rebound, making it 1-0 Utah at 17:17.

With just 8 seconds to go, Erik Bradford had an absolutely terrific chance, but Gill jumped on it. The Grizzlies definitely looked sharp throughout the first frame, picking up 15 shots to Allen’s eight and once again taking a lead into intermission, clearly outworking the reigning Kelly Cup champions.

Utah began the second period well, nearly capitalizing on an Allen miscue in the early going. The Americans struggled a little, icing the puck several times in a row, and looking a little tentative for the division leader playing the team that squeaked in to the playoffs in the eleventh hour.

The Puskar line remained the most obviously dangerous throughout, but the Grizzlies in general continued to control the game. Bradford got a nice chance, as did Tim Daly on the same shift with about thirteen minutes to go in the second.

Just moments later, Puskar sprang a flying Eick, and Eick once again deked out the goalie, making it 2-0 on a gorgeous play at 7:28. Daly was boarded about a minute later, and Utah went to the power play.

Allen got one of the better chances on the Grizzlies’ man advantage, and the Americans returned to full strength with no change in score.

With just over eight minutes to go, the Americans thought they’d scored, but the puck had glanced off the post crossbar, the refs waived it off, and play continued.

Puskar forced Gill to make a big save on one end, and Boyle answered on the other, robbing Alex Krushelnyski at 5:43.

The Martin-Cuddemi-Bradford line had a number of really good chances as the period drew to a close, but it was Puskar who scored on a rebound at 17:54 from Eick and Brassard.

Less than a minute later, Josh Brittain boarded Phil Pietroniro, and Pelech made it 4-0 on a pretty passing play with 31 seconds left in the period.

After 40, Utah held a commanding 4-0 lead, and was outshooting Allen 25-20.

Allen played a much better third period, and at 5:49 Martin took a hooking call against Krushelnyski. The Americans responded by pulling Gill to play six-on-four with an empty net.

Though the Grizzlies spent nearly the whole kill in their own zone, they did a terrific job of frustrating Allen. Pietroniro blocked a big chance, Higby took another, and Boyle turned aside or smothered all the others, including an absolutely spectacular stick save in the dying seconds of the kill.

Unfortunately, after killing off the penalty, Brittain scored with 11:11 to go. However, that would be the only goal Boyle allowed, and the Grizzlies were not at all deterred, despite the Americans finally waking up.

Brittain took an interference call against Cuddemi with 5:19 remaining, and Utah once more went to the power play. The Grizzlies didn’t so much try to get another goal as to keep the puck as far away from the Americans as possible. Allen had a short-handed chance, but otherwise, time continued to tick away.

Verpaelst took a holding call with 3:22 left, and Allen once again pulled Gill for the extra attacker. Once again, though, the Grizzlies’ penalty kill came up huge, and Boyle was absolutely rock solid. Allen kept Gill pulled after the penalty to Utah expired, but they remained unable to solve Boyle, and David Makowski got an elbowing call against Brassard to end the game.

Boyle was named first star of the game with 36 out of 37 saves, while Eick got second star with the game winning goal and an assist, and Puskar was named third star with a goal and two assists of his own.

The Puskar line, as mentioned previously, was spectacular throughout, picking up ten of the team’s 30 shots, while Cuddemi had five all on his own. It was, in general, a really strong effort from Utah top to bottom. The power play, which struggled mightily at times throughout the regular season, made a contribution, while the penalty kill continued its run of excellence.

Utah comes back home with the series split 1-1, having kept up with – or even out played – Allen for large parts of two games in enemy territory. The Grizzlies will definitely look to continue that momentum through the home stand.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming