Utah Grizzlies: Game One

The fight to make the circus is over, and now the battle begins in earnest. Sixteen teams, four rounds, one prize. Garrett Haar returned to the lineup for the Grizzlies, while Cam Reid and Colin Martin remained sidelined, and Kevin Boyle made his seventh straight start.

Which did not exactly begin well, as Allen scored two minutes into the first period.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Austen Brassard drew the first penalty of the game, as Mike Gunn took an interference call at 5:36, and just moments later, Riley Gill put the puck over the glass, sending Utah to the 5-on-3.

The Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize on the power play, but Erik Higby made it 1-0 just after it expired, and Marc-André Lévesque struck again for good measure at 9:09 to make it 2-1. Ralph Cuddemi and Mathieu Aubin got the assists on Higby’s goal, while Lévesque’s was unassisted.

Gill took a roughing penalty against Michael Pelech, and Utah went back to the power play. Allen killed off the penalty, and Pelech took a tripping call of his own at 12:00.

Utah kept the Americans scoreless, and the Grizzlies went the other way. A shot from Jon Puskar hit Gill up high, and he left the game replaced by Jamie Murray. Pelech took another penalty with 3:57 to go.

Utah killed that penalty off as well, and Larraza and Brassard caused havoc around the Allen net.

After 20, Utah led 2-1, and outshot the Americans 11-6.

The second period began in a much more sloppy fashion, and with 15:19, Puskar and Brian Moore got into a shoving match after the whistle. No penalties were called, and Allen began to put some pressure on the Grizzlies. Fortunately, Boyle stood tall.

At 7:17, Puskar threw a shot on net, and a huge rebound came right to the stick of C.J. Eick, who made it 3-1. Unfortunately, the Americans came the other way, and made it 3-2. Allen continued to pressure, and Martin Nemcik took a holding call at 11:20.

Utah’s penalty kill remained perfect, on the penalty kill, thanks in large part to Boyle. Phil Pietroniro took a hooking call and a stick full in the face with 1:15 to go, and Travis Howe served the penalty, while Pietroniro went to the room for repairs.

At the end of forty, the Grizzlies still held the 3-2 lead, but the Americans had taken over most of the momentum and a 16-15 edge in shots.

Utah killed off the remainder of the penalty to start the third, but Allen carried most of the momentum, and at 7:28, Wade MacLeod tied the game. Howe had a terrific chance with just under eleven to go, but the Grizzlies were unable to tie it up.

Gabriel Verpaelst got involved in a scuffle with 4:29 to go, and Joel Chouinard made it 4-3.

About a minute later, Tim Daly and Alex Krushelnyski got tangled behind the Utah net, and Boyle came to Daly’s defense. Marc-André Lévesque fought Bryan Moore in the resulting chaos, and once the refs sorted everything out, Boyle got two for roughing, Krushelnyski got two for slashing, and two for cross-checking, while Lévesque and Moore got five for fighting.

With a minute to go in the game, Utah pulled Boyle, but despite a valiant effort from the Grizzlies on the 6-on-4, including one especially heartbreakingly close chance from Ralph Cuddemi, they weren’t able to tie it up. Allen seemingly scored into the empty net, but it was called off.

So Utah dropped Game 1 4-3 after relinquishing a lead, which is certainly very frustrating, but one thing we did find out. The Grizzlies have what it takes to skate with the Americans.

Higby was named third star of the night, Cuddemi had two assists on the night, and Utah looks to tie up the series on Friday.

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard.

Utah Grizzlies: Coming in Hot

(The recap from Wednesday night’s game is coming soon! Apologies for the delay! Life caught up with me there…)

The Utah Grizzlies have returned from their most recent road, and come into the final three games of the season a perfect 5-0.

After beating Colorado twice in their own barn, and picking up a win in the first of three games against Rapid City, Utah continued to pick up steam.

Kevin Boyle once more manned the net on Friday night, and Tim Daly returned to the roster after a two game stint in the AHL.

Gabriel Verpaelst scored the game’s opening goal at 1:55 in the first for his first goal with the Grizzlies, and then Boyle held the fort as Utah struggled a little on the defensive side of things. Mathieu Aubin drew the first power play of the game with 4:37 to go in the frame as Mike Monfredo put him into the boards by the benches and was sent off for roughing. The power play was unable to capitalize, however, and after 20 minutes, Utah led 1-0 despite being outshot 8-6.

Scarcely had the second period begun than Boyle was called upon to make a pair of huge saves, but Rapid City would eventually tie it up as Ryan Walters capitalized on some more slightly sketchy defense at 5:53. However, the tie did not last very long. Michael Pelech scored his 19th of the season at 9:26, with assists from Aubin and Austen Brassard.

Pelech took a high-sticking minor about a minute later, but Terrence Wallin high-sticked Daly less than a minute after that, to negate the power play. The Grizzlies didn’t score on the four-on-four, or the ensuing (and brief) power play that followed, though Daly came painfully close.

In the end, though, it didn’t much matter, as Pelech scored his 20th from an incredibly tight angle from Pietroniro and Aubin to give Utah the 3-1 lead. With Pelech’s second goal of the night marked the third time in five games that he has picked up at least two points, and the Grizzlies now have four players who have hit the 20 goal mark.

Zac Larraza got a beautiful chance later in the period, but was robbed blind by Adam Morrison. With just 34 seconds to go in the period, Pelech got involved in a scuffle with Hunter Fejes, and they both received two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct as the second came to an end.

After two periods, the shots were 19-18 for the Rush, and Utah held a fairly comfortable 3-1 lead.

Martin Nemcik took a penalty in the early stages of the third, and Boyle made an absolutely gorgeous windmill save on the ensuing penalty kill, but nothing much of note occurred until about the halfway point. Brassard and Pelech tangled with Riley Weselowski, and all three players were sent to cool their heels for two minutes.

The Grizzlies killed off the penalty, and at 14:54, Larraza made it 4-1 with assists from Daly and Garrett Haar. The goal was Larraza’s 6th of the season, and his thirteenth point in eleven games.

Unfortunately, with 2:06 to go, Triston Grant made it 4-2 in a wild scramble in front of the net, but when the Rush pulled their goalie, Aubin scored into the empty net to ice away the game.

Pelech and Larraza were named the well-deserved first and third stars of the game, and Boyle made 31/33 saves in his second straight start.

 

Saturday’s game was a wild one right out of the gate as Travis Howe and Anthony Collins dropped the gloves less than two minutes into the first. Barely a minute later, Verpaelst and Weslowski dropped the gloves, and a little over a minute after that, C.J. Eick made it 1-0 with assists from Haar and Brassard.

Colin Martin took a cross-checking penalty at 9:14, but the Grizzlies penalty kill took care of it, thanks in large part to some terrific saves by Boyle.

But the shenanigans weren’t nearly over yet.

Collins and Verpaelst dropped the gloves at 12:28, both earning their second fights of the night.

Unfortunately, Ryan Walters scored on the ensuing 4-on-4 to tie the game up at one. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and with 5:56 to go, a pileup occurred along the boards. Once the dust settled,  Howe and Monfredo were in the box for fighting, joined by Pietroniro for roughing, and Grant for roughing and crosschecking.

Utah wasn’t able to capitalise on the power play, but right as it ended, Erik Bradford made it 2-1 for Utah with assists from Jon Puskar and Colin Martin.

 

Barely a minute later, Puskar was taken off a breakaway, and got a penalty shot, but was unable to beat Luke Siemens.

After 20 shots were 9-8 for Utah, who led 2-1.

Bradford nearly made it 3-1 with 17:54 to go, and a lovely play by Howe to slow the game down led to Puskar drawing a penalty shortly thereafter. Larraza scored his fifth goal in four games at 4:31, while Martin and Bradford drew the assists.

Despite holding a two goal advantage, the lead never exactly felt safe, and with 5:51 to go in the second, the Rush made it 3-2. Martin nearly picked up his second point of the game on a wrap-around attempt in the dying moments of the period, but after 40 the score remained 3-2.

Martin Nemcik began the third playing shifts at forward in place of Travis Howe, who played little (or not at all) through the remainder of the game. The Grizzlies played a much better game in the third — perhaps their best of the entire series against Rapid City, allowing not a single shot through the first 13 or so minutes of the period, including on the penalty kill.

Haar took the only other penalty of the game at 14:58, but Utah killed it off, and with just under a minute left in the game, Martin scored his 22nd of the year into the empty net.

Martin and Bradford were named first and second stars of the game, each with a goal and two assists, and Larraza could well have joined them, as he had a multi-point night, picking up a goal and an assist as well.

The win put the Grizzlies in sole possession of the final playoff spot in the mountain division, and saw them close out one of their most successful road trips to date.

Utah will close out the season against the Missouri Maveriks, and they hold their playoff destiny in their own hands.

Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

Utah Grizzlies: Goat Rodeo

After playing two pretty good games, but only coming up with one point to show for it, Utah looked to keep the goals coming, and do a better job of keeping the puck of out of their own net. Troy Redmann got the start for Utah, while Kenton Helgesen drew back into the lineup.

Things did not exactly go as planned.

Luke Salazar scored just 50 seconds into the first. Although the Grizzlies had a few good chances, Colorado outshot them through the first half of the period 8-2. Michael Sdao and Martin Nemcik were both sent to the box with 9:17 to go, Nemcik getting two, and Sdao getting four, which gave Utah the first power play of the game.

The man-advantage continued to look shaky for the Grizzlies, and with 7:48 to go, Erik Higby took Teigan Zahn into the boards behind the Eagles’ net. Sean Zimmerman took exception to it, and both Higby and Zimmerman went to the box for roughing.

Unfortunately, Travis Howe took a delay of game penalty shortly after they returned to full strength, and just moments after that, Nemcik went to the box for slashing, putting Utah on the wrong side of a 5-on-3 for 1:52. Colorado scored just over 30 seconds into the power play, and the Grizzlies found themselves down 2-0.

Helgesen drew a power play as he was hit and then slashed by Darryl Bootland, but the Grizzlies found themselves fighting off a 2-on-1 shorthanded. Fortunately, Redmann made the save, and Zac Larraza got a bit chance in the dying seconds of the power play, but that was all.

At the end of 20, Utah found themselves down 2-0, outshot 12-5.

Just 17 seconds into the second, the Grizzlies drew a power play as they continued to do a good job of not retaliating. Unfortunately, just as they began to get going, Austen Brassard took a tripping penalty.

The momentum changed a bit after that, as the Grizzlies kept their cool, and didn’t retaliate as Colorado pulled down Brassard. When the dust cleared, there were three Eagles in the box, and on the ensuing power play, Colorado took yet another penalty. The Grizzlies kept possession well, but were unable to get the puck through the Colorado defence. They got yet another crack at the 5-on-3, as the Eagles continued to pick up penalties.

Colin Martin cut the deficit in half at 8:55, scoring his fifteenth of the year from Marc-André Lévesque, who picked up his third point in three games. Colorado established some pressure after they returned to full strength after 5:32 on the penalty kill.

Colorado went up 3-1 with 4:48, restoring their two goal lead, and then things got a little crazy. Jon Puskar bumped an Eagles player by the bench, and absolute mayhem ensued. Zahn tried to goad Lévesque into a fight, Howe threw some punches from the bench, and there was a general pile up. Howe got a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct, while Nemcik got five for fighting, and Puskar got two for boarding. Bootland also got two for roughing and five for fighting.

The first half of the penalty kill for Utah went quite well, but Alex Belzile scored with 1:24 left in the period, and the Grizzlies found the game slipping further out of their reach.

After 4o, the Grizzlies trailed 4-1, and had been outshot to the tune of 20-16. It would take a huge third period to pull off the comeback, but it wasn’t entirely out of the question – especially considering that Ralph Cuddemi once scored two goals in thirty seconds.

The opening four minutes or so of the third saw a number of strong shifts from Utah, but then things went a bit further south. Pelech took an elbowing penalty at 4:24, but the Grizzlies killed it off, forcing Saunders to rob first Cuddemi and then Larraza on short-handed breakaways. However, no sooner had the Eagles returned to full strength than they made it 5-1, capitalizing on a defencive scramble that ensued after Helgesen took a puck to the face.

Any dying thoughts of a comeback were thoroughly squashed just under three minutes later when Jackson Houck’s shot trickled agonizingly through Redmann and into the net. Moments later, an alert play by Pelech kept the puck from crossing the line as another shot rolled through the blue paint, but shortly thereafter Colorado got the seventh goal anyway.

It was a miserable end to what had otherwise been a well played – if highly frustrating – road trip.  It didn’t seem so much that there was a lack of will to win, as that when they went to kick the comeback into gear, the engine sputtered on an empty tank instead of coming to life as it had previously.

Standings wise, fortunately for Utah, both Alaska and Missouri lost as well, so the Grizzlies remain four points behind the former, and one behind the latter. Certainly well within striking distance, provided that they rest and regroup, and are able to pick up some vital wins against tough competition in the coming weeks.

The Grizzlies are back home Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday against the Alaska Aces in what could be some of the most important games of the season.

Utah Grizzlies: Death by Special Teams

After Wednesday’s close contest which saw them fall in overtime, the Grizzlies looked to keep the offense going. Carlos Amestoy drew into the lineup as they elected to play eleven forwards and five defencemen. Kenton Helgesen and C.J. Eick were both scratches as a result.

Utah got the game’s first two shots, but Jake Marto opened the game as he’d ended the previous contest, scoring at 3:01 as Utah was unable to shut down a three-on-two.

The Grizzlies continued to collect some good chances though, including a breakaway as Phil Pietroniro sprang Erik Bradford all alone. Lukas Hafner shut the door, and Faragher was called upon to make a couple saves in a row.

Martin Nemcik had a good chance on the doorstep, which led to some sustained offensive zone pressure through the middle portion of the first frame.

Utah drew the first power play of the game as Matt Register put the puck over the glass at 12:17. They had a very good first shift from Larraza and Brassard. The second shift had it’s moments, setting up Pietroniro’s shot from the point, before running into some trouble in their own end.

Jon Puskar was tripped up by Register with 1:55 left in the first, and it looked like Colin Martin had scored his 15th of the year 33 seconds later, but despite the initial call being a good goal, it was eventually overturned. The Grizzlies went right back to work, but were unable to capitalise despite a few good looks as the period came to an end.

Although the very brief man advantage to start the second wasn’t enough to get Utah going, their subsequent shifts continued to be quite good.

At 4:57, Larraza was boarded by Matt Garbowsky, Puskar and Brassard took exception, and the officials were obliged to break them up. Puskar and Garbowsky both got two for roughing, while Garbowsky got an additional two for boarding.

And this is where all the special teams struggles began. Bradford lost control of the puck at the blue line on the ensuing power play, and Casey Pierro-Zabotel beat both Pietroniro and Faragher to make it 2-0 short handed.

Utah did not let that stop them though, as Cuddemi cut the deficit in half at 14:05, and Higby tied it up less than a minute later.

Things seemed to be looking up for Utah as they avoided what probably should have been a penalty, and then drew a power play of their own at 12:59, but it was not to be.

Jackson Houck got in on a short-handed break away, and was tied up by Higby in a desperate bid to negate the breakaway. Houck was awarded a penalty shot, and beat Faragher to put Colorado up 3-2. The remaining power play got some really good chances, but was unable to erase the deficit.

Colorado got dinged for too many men with just over four minutes in the period, but in the midst of a strong shift, Pelech took a hooking penalty. Colorado scored 4-on-4 to make it 4-2 with less than two minutes left.

Puskar took an interference call with 18 seconds to go, and at the end of a wild second period, shots were 22-20 for Utah, but they trailed by two.

The opening moments of the third period saw a handful of key saves from Faragher, and some big clears from Pietroniro as the Grizzlies killed off the rest of Puskar’s penalty.

Utah got another crack at the man-advantage as Aubin was sent to the ice at 4:04. Martin got a good look, but Faragher was also forced to turn aside yet another short-handed breakaway before all was said and done.

Pietroniro took a retaliatory penalty at 8:21, and Colorado made it 5-2, and more or less continued to carry the play through the rest of the period.

Higby scored his second of the game with just under two minutes to go, but though the Grizzlies pulled Faragher for the extra attacker, they were unable to draw any closer, ultimately falling 5-3.

Special teams definitely hurt Utah in this game, as they allowed two short handed goals, one power play goal, and one four-on-four, and were only able to convert on one of their seven opportunities. They played quite well through large stretches of the first two periods, but the Eagles made them pay for every little break in concentration.

This game was doubly unfortunate, as the Missouri Mavericks beat Idaho, and now are ahead of Utah by one point, as the fight for the last playoff spot intensifies. However, they are by no means out of contention, remaining well within striking distance of Alaska.

Moreover, special teams aside, there were definitely some positives. The new-look lines of Larraza-Reid-Brassard, and Cuddemi-Pelech-Bradford looked excellent. Cuddemi picked up his 25th goal of the season, and his fourth point in the last two games, while Pelech had a two assist performance.

Likewise, the Utah defence has stabilized considerably now that they’ve had time to adjust. Higby especially has been impressive as a defenceman, picking up two more goals tonight, while Pietroniro continues to eat up big minutes on the blue line, and has looked especially good quarterbacking the power play. Marc-André Lévesque also picked up his first point in a Grizzlies’ uniform, and appears to be fitting in well.

Utah is back in action tomorrow against the Eagles, where they look to pick up two all important points and come home with the series split.

 

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: A Point Taken

In the first of Utah’s three games in Colorado, the lineup saw a little bit of a change up, as Zac Larraza returned to the Grizzlies after having spent most of the season thus far with the San Diego Gulls. Marc-André Lévesque also made his debut in a Grizzlies’ jersey, and Ryan Faragher got the start.

Erik Higby got the Grizzlies on the board first at 3:58, on a gorgeous shot from the right circle, with assists from Austen Brassard and Larraza.

Unfortunately, Utah had no time to rest on their laurels. The Eagles answered with two goals in 61 seconds less than a minute later, and the Grizzlies found themselves in desperate need of some more offense. The first goal was off a wild scramble and repeated rebounds that eventually beat Faragher, and the second off a takeaway and a big shot from Sam Jardine.

Colorado continued to press after their two goals, but Faragher turned aside multiple two-on-ones, and other chances, while the Grizzlies scrambled to get their bearings.

Matt Garbowsky made it 3-0 with a wrap-around at 11:08, and Faragher narrowly prevented a 4-0 deficit immediately after. Martin Nemcik and Sean Zimmerman took a penalty after the ensuing scramble. Colin Martin took a tripping minor a few minutes later, but Utah killed off their first short-handed situation of the game, silencing the best power play in the league.

The Eagles got a second go on the man advantage after a slashing call on Travis Howe at the very tail end of the period. Erik Bradford nearly capitalized on a turnover all alone in front of the Eagles’ net, but Clarke Saunders dove out of  to make the save

At the end of twenty, Colorado led 3-1, and the shots were tied at 11 a piece.

Despite starting the second on the penalty kill, Ralph Cuddemi had a spectacular chance by himself as the Eagles’man-advantage ended, and Larraza, Brassard, and Cam Reid had a shift that started a brief stretch of Utah possession at about the seven minute mark. On the other end, Faragher continued to turn aside some dangerous Eagles’ opportunities.

Cuddemi made it 3-2 as the puck hit Saunders on the 2-on-1, and then bounced into the net at 10:28. With 7:33 left in the period, Utah was outshooting Colorado 21-15.

Despite drawing their first power play of the game with 3:06 left in the frame, Utah was unable to capitalize, and Martin took a high-sticking penalty with less than two left to go, sending the teams to a brief 4-on-4, and then an Eagles’power play.

Aubin and Higby both had chances on the penalty kill, but it would be Bradford who tied the game short-handed on a beautiful buzzer beater. Utah outshot Colorado 15-5 in the frame, and 26-16 overall after forty.

Utah killed off the remainder of the Eagles’ power play to start the third, and then they had to weather some Colorado pressure. Faragher made a couple of key saves, and the Grizzlies pushed back, getting a very nice shot off a Cuddemi drop-pass to the trailing Pietroniro. There was another very close call when the puck trickled through Saunders in the blue paint, but Teigan Zahn narrowly beat Pietroniro to the puck and swept it out of danger.

Colorado pressed for large portions, but the Grizzlies got a few counter-punches that forced Saunders to make a few good saves. At 9:01, Brassard and Zahn got sent off with matching cross-checking penalties, and Utah drew a 4-on-3 when Bootland tripped up Larraza by the Eagles’ net.

Casey Pierro-Zabotel got away with a couple of crosschecks on Pietroniro by the goal mouth, but just moments later, Cuddemi scored his second of the game with assists from Bradford and Lévesque.

The pace kicked up a couple of notches in the final six or seven minutes or so, and with just 2:20 left in the third, Alex Belzile tied the game up again. Despite a good response from the Grizzlies, the game went into overtime.

Unfortunately for Utah, after a fast paced 55 seconds, the Eagles got in on a two-on-one, and Jake Marto scored the game winner.

It was not the Grizzlies’ finest performance, though it certainly wasn’t one of their worst either, and the point is a valuable one in the playoff push.

Larraza and Lévesque seemed to fit in fairly seamlessly, which is a major benefit, especially for the defence.

Utah plays tonight (Friday) and Saturday against Colorado, and it is to be hoped that a renaissance in goal-scoring together with more familiarity on defence will lead to a better result.