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: Do Not Go Gentle

Travis Howe has always been better at hockey than he’s generally been given credit for. He’s rarely a liability defensively, and he routinely makes good plays in addition, of course, to being a hard hitting, hard fighting enforcer. All he’s seemed to lack was some offensive finish. That has very much not been the case lately.

The roster was the same as on Friday, though the lines got a shuffle. Mitch Maxwell slotted in with Michael Pelech and Brendan Harms in the starting lineup, while Sam Babintsev centered Kyle Thomas and Ryan Misiak. Jake Marchment centered Howe and Ryan Walters, while Charley Graaskamp became the tenth forward. Taylor Richart and Mitch Jones opened the game on the back end, and Brandon Wildung got the start.

The first period did not get off to an auspicious start. Off the opening face-off the Steelheads had a couple of looks, and Howe got sent off for interference. 44 seconds later, Max French, fresh from his stint in the AHL, opened the scoring.

But the Grizzlies responded, picking up the shot lead on a couple of successive offensive zone shifts. At 8:40, former unlikely hero turned likely hero of late, Howe took a pass from Marchment, and backhanded it past Tomas Sholl to tie up the game. Howe is always quick to pass on any complements to his line mates, but he’s showed some serious finish lately, picking up some serious goal scorers goals in the past couple of games.

Utah ran into some penalty trouble after that, first Thomas taking a cross-checking call at 9:40. The Grizzlies killed it off, but Marchment took an interference call at 14:29, putting Idaho on their third straight power play. Misiak’s stick got caught in an Idaho players stick, and Utah got away with one, as the reffing continued to be spotty.

Pelech, Walters, Richart, and Rob Mann got a good shift short-handed in the offensive zone. Pelech started a scrum in front of the net, and Idaho responded. Somehow, Pelech was the only one to go to the box, but the Grizzlies killed off the six seconds of five-on-three.

Utah killed it off thanks to a combination of good saves, decent defense, and a couple of misplays by Idaho.

Despite getting eight minutes of power play time, it took Idaho until the last minute to tie the shot clock at nine, and after 20 the game was tied 1-1, shots the same.

Utah got all six shots in the opening four, largely controlling play. Pelech drew a power play and a scrum eight minutes into the period. They weren’t able to make anything of it, but finished the advantage with all seven shots so far.

The Grizzlies kept the cycle going, and at 10:26, Howe got his second goal of the night reaching out to poke the puck past Sholl. Windle and Graaskamp got the assists on Howe’s fifth of the year.

Pelech drew another power play at 12:02 when Corbin Baldwin went after him, and he didn’t oblige. Utah wasn’t able to capitalize yet again, but at the end of the advantage, out-shooting the Steelheads 11-2.

Unfortunately, Melindy took a puck to the face with just over five minutes to go, and Idaho tied it up again. Melindy went to the locker room, and at the end of 40, the game was still tied, the Grizzlies out-shooting the Steelheads 14-5 on the frame, and 23-14 overall.

Two games after he was a fight away from a Gordie Howe hat trick, Travis had his sights set on an entirely different kind of hat trick going into the third.

The Grizzlies had some good shifts to start the final frame, including one from Windle, and one from Howe and company.

Howe blocked a shot and limped off, and a couple of shifts later Graaskamp took and gave a high-stick within a few seconds. However, only the one on Graaskamp was called, and he headed off to the box.

A couple of shifts later, Melindy and French tangled in front of Wildung, and were both sent off for roughing.

Both penalties were killed off, but Windle took a slashing call. At 13:44 Ully scored his second, but there was lots of traffic in front of Wildung, and contact was definitely made, but the goal was allowed to stand.

After a fairly inconsistently called game, the refs totally lost control at that point, Jones and Steven McParland both got double roughs and misconducts, while Thomas and Chris Martinet got five and misconducts after Thomas emphatically won the fight, despite giving up seven inches and more than twenty pounds.

Idaho immediately took another penalty, but the Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize. Jefferson Dahl flew in all alone, but rang the post, and then Wildung made another save.

Utah pulled Wildung for the extra attacker, both teams took their time-outs, and Idaho scored into the empty net, effectively killing the Grizzlies’ post season hopes.

As utterly infuriating as the game was, Utah put up a good fight–as they’ve done all season. And though for the first time in a decade there will be no playoff hockey at the Mav, the Grizzlies, led by their enforcer, turned goal-scoring hero, went down swinging.

 

Picture courtesy of Tim Broussard

Utah Grizzlies: Keep Your Friends Close…

With Taylor Richart out, and Chris Leibinger no longer with the team, the Grizzlies went with five defensemen, eleven forwards, and scratched Charley Graaskamp in favor of Nate Mitton. Joel Rumpel got the start behind some very different looking lines.

“I thought that was a fun game.” Tim Branham said after the game. “That was a good hockey game full of lots of mistakes, that’s for sure. Our power play’s hurting us, that’s for sure. But you’ve got to give credit too, they have one of the best kills in the league, so obviously if we could have taken advantage on the power play, or had we not gotten scored on on the power play, either one it’s a different story. But that’s a good hockey club, and I’m proud of the way our boys — I thought we came out really flat, they scored that first goal, it was like we were standing still, then we took it to them hard.”

That first goal came 1:05 in, when the Utah defense failed to pick up Joey Ratelle.

About five minutes four minutes later, Drayson Bowman and Travis Howe both got two for roughing, but the resulting four-on-four saw no change of score, or shots.

At 3:51 Howe and Teigan Zahn squared off at center ice and duked it out in a battle of heavyweights to the great delight of all 7,074 fans in attendance. It was a fairly even fight, but Howe got the last punch. Both got five, and on the very next shift, a sprawling Kyle Thomas poked the puck past Joe Cannata to tie the game.

Brad Navin took a hooking call at 9:06, but Ryan Olsen took an offensive zone slashing call about a minute later, and the teams played four-on-four, before a Utah power play.

Jake Marchment just narrowly missed tipping in a shot from Sam Babintsev, but the Eagles returned to full strength with no change in score, though the Grizzlies had taken over the shot lead.

With 3:08 to go, Ryan Misiak was boarded, and headed straight for the locker room, though he ended up not missing a shift. Ratelle got two for boarding.

With just over two to go, all nine guys tangled after a whistle, resulting not so much in a line brawl as a line tussle. James Melindy and Ben Storm were both sent off to the locker rooms.

However, with 46 seconds to go, and the Eagles back at full strength, the Grizzlies coughed up the puck at Colorado’s blue line, and Ratelle made it 2-1.

At the end of the second, Utah trailed 2-1, despite out-shooting the Eagles 16-7.

The Grizzlies came out hot to start the second, Brendan Harms’ shot whistling just over the cross bar, and then Utah drew a power play at 1:06 as a Utah player was hauled down in front of the Eagles’ net.

They put up six shots on the advantage, including several as Cannata was down, but didn’t have the puck covered.

The third line caused all sorts of chaos around the net at around the four minute mark, and Maxwell got dinged for roughing after he gave Olsen a couple of extra shoves.

Gage Ausmus took a hooking call 25 seconds later, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and Melindy sprang Mitch Maxwell straight from the box to tie the game all alone short-handed.

The chippy game continued, and at with half the period to go, Thomas and Gabriel Verpaelst had to be separated.

Walters was tripped up at 13:08, and Utah went to the power play. They got some zone time, but the biggest play was a short-handed breakaway that Rob Mann just barely got back in time to muddle, and Rumpel made a great save.

The play continued, fairly free flowing and continuous through the end of the period, and with 2:41 to go, the Eagles took a cross-checking minor.

At that point, however, the Eagles went the other way, and Gabriel Verpaelst beat Rumpel glove-side to make it 3-2 short handed.

With a couple of seconds left on the power play, Navin took a tripping call, and the Grizzlies ended the second on the kill, out-shooting the Eagles 33-20, but trailing 3-2.

Utah opened the third with 1:17 of penalty kill time, but they kept the Eagles chasing the puck back into their own zone for most of the whole of the disadvantage.

Michael Pelech took a tripping penalty of his own at 5:21, but the Grizzlies killed that one off too. The most dangerous opportunity went to Olsen, who danced into the offensive zone, was leveled by Melindy, got the puck back, and then had Rumpel calmly glove down his shot.

Unfortunately, Ratelle capped off his hat trick with 9:04 to go. Things looked a little bleak for the next few minutes, but the Grizzlies weren’t done just yet. At 13:25, Harms capitalized on a gorgeous shot, putting the Grizzlies within one, before drawing a power play on the next shift. The advantage accomplished nothing.

Although the teams went four-on-four at 16:44 after Thomas and Brady Shaw got sent off after a tangle by the benches, and Utah went on the four-on-three for a minute before pulling Rumpel for the extra skater, they were unable to tie it up.

Despite the loss, it was a fun game, and the Grizzlies put up another good fight. The difference, once again, being a defensive lapse or two. As per usual, games against the Eagles are never boring.

Thomas got the third star of the game, and he and Harms both led the team with five shots each. Having put up 42 total shots on Cannata (whose .933 SV% leads the league), all but two Grizzlies registered shots.

“The shots were 26-11 at one point,” Branham said. “You can’t play much better than that. We missed a few key opportunities, I mean, they have an NHL goaltender. They have a goaltender that doesn’t belong in this league, they’re lucky, but it is what is. I thought we did a great job, I thought they played a much better third period, first half of the third period, and then we kind of took it to them from then on, but it was a good hockey game, to be honest. We’re a couple of players away from beating a team like that, unfortunately. You’ve got to give them credit, they battled hard for sure.”

And they did it without Richart, who has, over the course of the season, developed into the best defenseman on the team, relied upon in all situations.

“There’s definitely still hope. Definitely losing Taylor in the last two games — he got hurt early last game — really hurts us, as far as power play, match-ups, things of that nature, it is what it is. The team, they still believe. There are six games left, and the teams that we’re chasing have some tough schedules. We’re never going to quit. That’s for sure.”

Getting those two points against the Eagles is a matter of taking care of their own game first.

“They’re a great team,”Brendan Harms said, “So everything you give them they take advantage of. They’re very opportunistic, so I think we’ve just got to shut it down defensively, be a little better in our own zone, take away what we’re giving them.”

Utah will hope to put all that into action on Military Night this Saturday (tonight) when they once again face Colorado for the penultimate time this season.

 

 

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

Utah Grizzlies: Keeping it Close

Another close game, another point collected in Manchester.

The Grizzlies hustled right out of the gates, getting the first shot from Brad Navin, who looked determined to start a new streak. He got two of the team’s first four shots, and at 3:08 the Grizzlies drew the first penalty. The early power play wasn’t able to score, but both lines generated chances, and the second unit of Navin, Michael Pelech, Kyle Thomas, Sam Babintsev, and Chris Leibinger continued to pressure after the Monarchs returned to full strength.

Manchester got their first lengthy possession around the 6:30, both teams got three-on-ones stopped by their goalies, and then Thomas roared in, and made it 1-0 at 8:04 with assists from Leibinger and Navin.

Exactly two minutes later, Kevin Morris tripped Navin in the Utah defensive zone, and the Grizzlies got another crack at the advantage. With eight seconds left in the power play, there was a collision in front of the Utah net, and that left Taylor Richart down on the ice. He went down the tunnel, but came back quickly, and didn’t even miss a shift.

Navin took a hooking call at 13:36, but a good kill, including a short-handed move by Harms, and some nice stops from Joel Rumpel took Utah out of danger.

James Melindy and Matt Schmalz tangled at 19:31 after Schmalz boarded a Utah player. Somehow, the teams ended up four-on-four to end the period, and after the whistle Manchester caused a crowd to gather as the teams headed off the ice.

The second began with about a minute and a half of four-on-four, which expired without event.

Thomas took a slashing call at 4:37, and then Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman ran over Rumpel, putting the teams once more on the four-on-four for 15 seconds, before a Utah power play. To say the power play was disastrous would be an understatement, as Thomas lost an edge trying to take the puck away from Joel Lowry, who pounced and tied it up short-handed.

Jake Marchment and Jake Wood dropped the gloves at 8:37. Marchment went to remove his helmet, but when Wood didn’t reciprocate, he put it back on, and then proceeded to punch Wood’s off. Both got five for fighting.

Unfortunately, one of the best second period teams in the league continued to show why they’ve earned that reputation, scoring again at 13:26.

The Grizzlies handily killed off a delay of game penalty on Gage Ausmus, and the third line once again had a great shift, drawing a power play of their own. Navin nearly missed on a shot from the point, but on the next shift, Richart made no such mistake, blasting one past Evan Cowley for his league leading 17th of the year at 18:47.

Babintsev gave up a turnover in the last couple of seconds of the period, but Rumpel made the save, and after 40, the teams were all tied up 2-2, shots 20-15 for Utah.

Ryan Walters and Brendan Harms had a nice shift to start the third, as did the third line. Manchester counterattacked though, and Navin went to the box again for hooking. Thanks to some good defense from Richart, a good save from Rumpel, and a short-handed attempt from Harms and Thomas, the penalty was killed off.

Both teams brought their full effort in the minutes that followed, the Grizzlies getting another especially great shift from the third line.

There weren’t a whole lot of whistles in the middle of the period, but the Monarchs iced the puck several times in a row around the five minute mark.

The first two lines got a bit of a shuffle down the stretch, Navin skating with Walters and Mitch Maxwell , while Pelech centered Harms and Misiak, but neither team was able to break the deadlock, and Utah headed to OT once more.

Both teams got chances, including a couple from Leibinger and Navin, but with 58 seconds to go, the Monarchs again took the other point in OT.

So Utah takes two points against the best team in the North Division, Harms’ point streak extends to five, Misiak has 15 points in 15 games, and Richart continues to lead all defensemen with 17 goals.

The Grizzlies are now 8-1-2-2 in the last 13, and head next to Worcester, where they’ll face Barry Almeida, T.J. Syner, and the Railers Sunday at 1 PM MT.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: All Good Things…

With Sean Maguire out on injured reserve, and Charley Graaskamp back from injury for the first time in months, there were some lineup changes ahead of Saturday’s game. Out were Travis Howe and Mitch Maxwell, and in were Graaskamp and Mitch Jones.

Joel Rumpel once again got the start, behind the BAM Line, James Melindy, and Taylor Richart.

Allen jumped up to an early lead as Gage Ausmus tied up Vincent Arseneau, but then lost him again just 36 seconds in. Ausmus took the first penalty of the game as well, getting sent off for hooking at 3:15.

The Utah PK wasn’t able to get a clear, but Sam Windle blocked a couple of big shots, and Rumpel made several quick saves before Arseneau beat him on a nice bit of passing.

Kyle Thomas was noticeable early, throwing his weight around, which another large crowd was quick to appreciate.

Ryan Misiak, Brendan Harms, and Sam Babintsev got in three on one, but the Allen defender got his stick down on the pass just past the half-way mark.

At 13:08 Melindy got boarded, and Arseneau tried to take Richart with him to the box, to no avail. Utah got a two minute five-on-three, but it was negated about forty seconds later, as Austin Ortega was sent to the box for slashing.

Utah had a mad scramble around the Allen net right as the penalties expired, but largely had to spend the four-on-three chasing the puck.

Allen scored again at 16:43, putting Utah down 3-0 before the end of the first. When the period ended, Utah was out-shot 13-8, still down by three.

The second period started with absolute chaos. Jake Marchment and Josh Thrower dropped the gloves right off the face-off, then Dalton Thrower took an interference call, then Graaskamp took an interference call, not even 1:30 into the second, and the two teams got ready for some four-on-four.

Michael Pelech broke the shut-out at 1:42, picking up the puck turned over after a big hit on Richart, and beating Paterson. Mike Gunn took an elbowing call at 2:24, but Utah wasn’t able to muster up a shot, just after it looked like the Grizzlies had gotten going, Gunn scored right after leaving the box.

Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored 6:05 in, putting Utah down 5-1. However, after that, though the line blender was in full swing, the pace settled down considerably. Harms took a hooking call at 19:17, and at the end of the period, Utah trailed 5-1, out-shot 26-13.

The third began well; Utah killed off Harms’ penalty, Windle laid a terrific hit near center ice, and Thomas drew a power play at 6:19. But it didn’t go entirely to plan, Alex Guptil scoring short handed 8:00 in.

A minute and thirty seconds later, Thomas pounced on a breakaway, and made it 6-2 unassisted. For reasons unknown, Allen elected to pull Jake Paterson in favor of Stephon Williams after Thomas’ goal. Utah drew another power play at 11:08, and though they didn’t capitalize, the reunited BAM Line was back to their strong play, showing the Maverik Center just what kind of hockey they’d been playing over the winning streak. The momentum continued even after the Americans returned to full strength, and Babintsev cut the lead neatly in half at 14:02, Ryan Walters and Harms picking up the assists.

With improved possession, zone time, passing, and defense, Utah continued to press, and at 18:04 Brad Navin extended his point streak, scoring his 13th of the season from Windle and Ortega, who also extended his point streak. Down 6-4, Utah pulled Rumpel, and called their time out. Unfortunately, the combined efforts of Walters, Ortega, Richart, Navin, Pelech and Thomas were unable to put the team within one, and in the end, Allen put one more into the empty net.

It was a disappointing end to the frankly impressive winning streak, but the end of the third period was one to build on. Thomas, who had a bit of a rocky comeback up until that point, was named third star of the game. Navin extended his point streak to eleven straight games, and has picked up 24 points in the last 22 games, while Ortega extended his to 13, with 45 points in 29 games. Although Richart’s scoring streak came to an end, he now leads all defensemen with 16 goals. Walters put up eight goals and five assists during the streak, while Misiak had five goals, six assists, and Pelech put up 12 points in 11 games.

“First off, I want to say that I’m really proud of this team for going on the run that they just went on. It was really good, we saw what kind of hockey we can play. When you’re the hottest team in the league, teams are going to gun at you. I think we’ve been playing some really good hockey, and this is just a small little hurdle, we’ll get back at it and get on another run here.”

So now, Utah heads to the snow buried East for a series against the Manchester Monarchs and Worcester Railers, where even without Ortega (recalled to the Gulls) they hope to start a new streak that will lead them to the playoffs.

 

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