Utah Grizzlies: Tick Tack Terao

In the last game of the decade, if you’ll pardon the use of a very tired phrase, the Grizzlies made only one roster change, activating Brad Barone to back up Martin Ouellette.

The Tulsa Oilers got the first shot of the game just over two minutes in, but the Grizzlies got the first serious attempt.

Overall, though, the speed and tenacity that characterized the Grizzlies’ first match against Tulsa, and which waned a bit in Saturday’s game, was once again lacking, and the Oilers struck first at 3:53 after an extended sequence in the defensive zone.

Despite not looking terribly sharp overall, there were still early flashes. One such instance involved Peter Tischke losing his footing, still got a pass away, and then muscling his way into the offensive zone where Utah drew a power play at 8:37.

Unfortunately, the power play struggled, as the Grizzlies continued to have trouble handling the puck cleanly and finishing passes, but between Ouellette and a defenseman, they muddled through without giving up a short-handed goal.

Yuri Terao took a hooking call at 9:15, and perhaps not surprisingly, that’s when the Grizzlies showed signs of waking up.

Griffen Molino and Tim McGauley got their traditional two-on-one short-handed chance, and Travis Barron chased the Oilers around their own zone. Likewise, Joe Wegwerth, aided and abetted by Ty Lewis, saw the Grizzlies have their best shifts of the game so far.

Utah sunk back down into lethargy again after the penalty kill until about the 15 minute mark, when a strong shift from Terao, Wegwerth, and Jack Jenkins,  created a spark of life. Brandon Saigeon followed that up with a nice move that didn’t result in a shot on goal, but also didn’t miss the empty top of the net by much at all.

The Grizzlies still resembled a team skating through molasses in the final couple minutes of the first, but did still manage to spend more time in the offensive zone.

After 20, despite the slow start, they only trailed 1-0, despite being out-shot 14-8.

The Grizzlies had far more life in the second period, skating better, if nothing else, but misfortune struck rapidly as, with 18:18 to go, Teigan Zahn went awkwardly into the boards, and had to be helped off the ice.

On the next shift, Richart got checked, pushed back, and another full line scrum broke out. Peter Tischke and Joe Wegwerth were the only real combatants for Utah, and both found themselves in the box, together with Jake Clifford and Miles Liberati for Tulsa. Liberati got an extra two for cross-checking, while Clifford and Wegwerth both got an additional ten for continuing the altercation.

The Grizzlies got going in earnest after that, however, and the shots began to even up to 16-13 for Tulsa. Terao continued to work absolute magic with a spin-o-rama chance that led to a power play when he got hauled down.

He continued to electrify the crowd by scoring the equalizer in the dying seconds of the advantage, and just a few moments later, the Grizzlies had seized the shot lead 19-16, absolutely pouring it on as the game hit the half-way point.

Utah was the first team to hit 20 shots, and then somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net as certain disaster seemed imminent with Tulsa pin-balling the puck through a veritable sea of legs and sticks.

Josh Anderson took a cross-checking penalty later on the same shift, but Terao and Maxwell had the most serious chances of the special teams time.

By the time Wegwerth and Clifford were freed with just under three to go, shots were 21-19 for the Grizzlies.

A questionable call on Jenkins saw Utah down a man in the final minute of the period, and a clock issue dragged it on even longer. Thankfully, a huge effort from Tischke and Ouellette kept the game tied as they headed into the locker room. After 40, shots were 23-22 for Utah, and 15-8 in their favor in the second.

The Grizzlies killed off the remaining 22 seconds of Jenkins’ penalty, but Tischke headed to the box at 1:02 to put them right back on the kill.

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they got on an up-ice rush, and Maxwell was tripped up, leading to a brief 4-on-4 and then to a Utah power play.

Flying out of the penalty box, Tischke set up a perfect pass, but both Molino and Williams were unable to beat Devin Williams. Not that it mattered much. At 3:42, McGauley chipped the puck over Williams and in for his 12th of the season unassisted.

And the Grizzlies weren’t done. About 20 seconds later, Josh Anderson rocketed one past the Tulsa goalie for his first of the season from Maxwell and Barron.

Not to be outdone, Tischke didn’t give anyone a chance to think, scoring just ten seconds later to make it 4-1 from Saigeon and Yao. Three goals in less than a minute, and by the nine minute mark, shots were 30-26 in their favor.

Tulsa rallied, but Utah didn’t back done, Barron and Saigeon especially harrying the Oilers into their own zone, and Ouellette calmly turning aside pucks on the other end of the ice.

With 11:22 to go, Piccinich boarded Richart, a crowd gathered, and Utah headed to the advantage. Molino showed off his blistering speed, but wasn’t able to elevate a back-hander over the sprawling Williams.

Just 16 seconds from killing off the penalty, the Oilers took a roughing call, sending Utah to a brief 5-on-3, and a longer 5-on-4. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do a whole lot with it.

In the end, it didn’t much matter, as the Grizzlies held the 4-1 lead until the end, amassing 36 shots to Tulsa’s 29, and completing the series sweep in decisive fashion.

It was especially impressive, as prior to the series, the Oilers averaged 38 shots a night, and the Grizzlies held them to less than 30 every game.

Moreover, after getting so much scoring from the same couple of guys, the Grizzlies mixed it up in a big way, getting contributions from two defensemen, and two forwards, of whom only McGauley was on the usual suspect list. Ouellette, Anderson, and Terao were named the three stars of the game, respectively.

“That team worked hard.” Tim Branham said following the game, “That’s a hard working team over there, and it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row in these series. But I thought we stuck with the process. It was a really slow first, first couple shifts were pretty good, we still had four or five scoring chances — if we’d have hit the net we would have scored in the first period — but not good enough by our standards, that’s for sure. Second period we took it to them. What can we say, power play came up big, penalty kill was good, Martin Oullette, he’s a rock back there. He allowed us to battle through some things and eventually put some pucks in the net. All around, really proud of this group, really proud of the way they battled, and go into the new year on a high.”

Getting contributions from defense first guys like Tischke and Anderson was also a big plus. “I thought they played a really solid game. To be able to step up and provide scoring like they did, that’s huge. We don’t look for it from them, but I think that’s them getting rewarded for playing well, and playing hard. We ask a lot of them, sometimes it’s not a glamorous job going out there and grinding it out, sticking up for your teammates like Tischke does, over all, really proud of the way Josh played, really proud of the way he played, and Tischke has been really solidi for a while now, so kudos to them.”

But Branham saved some of his highest praise for Terao. “He’s got a really high skill level, that’s for sure. A great person, works really hard out there on the ice. It was good for him to get that goal, he needed that one for his confidence, some things weren’t going his way, but what a great human being. I wish some fans would be able to get to know him better, he’s just an amazing person. Really proud of him. If we can get him going, get that depth scoring that we’ve been, obviously that top line has done really well, but get some depth scoring, which we did tonight, then we’re a dangerous team.”

Despite speaking only some English, Terao agreed to do a post game interview. When asked about his time with the Grizzlies, especially during this winning streak, he said, “I’m so happy because [we have a] good coach, and good players, and good fans. I’m so happy now.”

About the slow first period he said, “I think everybody was a little bit tired here,” and of his own play he added, “I needed a mind change, keep things simple, simple, simple, and then shoot, shoot, shoot, you know what I mean? Hockey is simple. Go to the net!”

Go to the net the Grizzlies certainly did, ultimately out-shooting Tulsa 36-29 to close out the year.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard

Utah Grizzlies: Sweet Revenge

Fresh off a spectacular road trip, and a quick holiday season, the Grizzlies returned home to host the Tulsa Oilers. With Patrick McGrath called up to Iowa, only J.C. Brassard, Garrett Klotz, and the goalies Brad Barone and Jeff Smith were not in the lineup.

Having suffered only one loss, 3-1 to this same Tulsa team on the road, Utah hoped to erase it from memory with a good performance, and bring their winning ways back home.

After a very short stint in their own zone, the Grizzlies got hustling, picking up the first five shots of the night. Their shooting and puck management led to Ty Lewis’ tenth of the season, which he made look absolutely effortless against Devin Williams at 3:34. The usual suspects in Tim McGauley and Griffen Molino picked up the assists.

There were a couple of close calls about twelve minutes in, but Martin Ouellette turned aside a wrap-around attempt, and then calmly shut the door after a turnover led to a bit of a scramble.

The Lewis-McGauley-Molino line continued to impress with their puck handling and rebound creation as shots hit 7-4 for the Grizzlies, and the period hit the half-way mark.

With so few stoppages in play, the flow of the game was allowed to continue unimpeded, and certainly showed off the Grizzlies’ speed and skill.

Yao had an especially memorable shift as he first flew in from the bench to cut off what was otherwise a one-on-none, and then later on the same shift swiped a puck away from an open net after Ouellette made the initial save, and then lost the puck in a sea of bodies.

Ouellette also continued to impress throughout, and the Travis Barron, Brandon Saigeon, Mitch Maxwell line closed the period out with a multi-shot shift.

After 20, Utah led 1-0, out-shooting Tulsa 12-8.

The Grizzlies drew the game’s first power play at 1;25, following a bit of nice puck-handling from Saigeon. They only picked up one shot, but it didn’t matter, for scarcely had the man advantage ended than Lewis once again made scoring look easy on a play from McGauley.

Shortly thereafter, Yau made a blue-line play from his knees to get the puck up to Lewis. After that, it surprised no one when Lewis passed the puck to McGauley, who hten passed it off to Molino. Williams made the initial save, but Molino backhanded the puck right over the Tulsa goalie to make it 3-0.

Unfortunately, a turnover from Richart eventually led to the Oilers’ first, and only, goal of the game almost immediately afterwards.

Travis Barron and Danny Moynihan got into a scrap at 7:58, Barron getting the better of the exchange, which never quite developed into a full-fledged fight, and Utah killed off the extra two Barron got for slashing.

Williams got a pair of chances just past the 14 minute mark, the first which squeaked just wide of the net, and the second which landed square on the stick of Joe Wegwerth and into the net.

Ouellette made a couple of big saves in the later stages of the period, and Utah drew another power play with under four to go. Although the Grizzlies didn’t actually capitalize on the advantage, it was hard to see their puck movement and think that it looked a little like they were toying with Tulsa.

Barron continued to get opportunities, but not goals, and at the buzzer, Mike McKee turnstiled McGauley, which led to a scuffle with Sasha Larocque and McKee in the thick of it. McKee was assessed a penalty for roughing. As a result, Utah headed into the third up 4-1, out-shooting Tulsa 21-13, and headed to the man-advantage.

The ensuing special teams were underwhelming on both sides, and included the least threatening start to a one-on-none short-handed breakaway ever.

The lacklustre power play was forgotten, however, when just about a minute later, Yao released a big shot on net, and Wegwerth once again tipped the puck home perfectly to put Utah up 5-1.

The game got a little out of hand after that, Wegwerth getting put into the boards, leading to three separate fights. That was more or less when the refs lost control of the game. The fights were all considered rouging calls, and the initial boarding that started it was never called.

On the next shift or so, Zahn dropped the gloves. Zahn got two for slashing, as well as the four and ten both received. The upshot, however was that Utah had nearly a minute of four-on-three to kill.

On the shift after THAT Cam Knight and Mitch Maxwell dropped the gloves, and Maxwell won decisively in a furious bout that was the only one of the game to actually be called a fight. Both got five and a game,  and Utah killed off the rest of their penalties.

Both teams got back to the business of playing hockey after that, though the Oilers did take a delay-of-game penalty at 13:57.

Joe Wegwerth completed the natural hat trick with just under three to go, and the Grizzlies avenged their only road loss in decisive fashion. The hat trick earned Wegwerth first star honors, while Lewis’ two goals, and McGauley’s three assists gave them second and third stars respectively. Flying much further under the radar though, were Yao’s two assists, and overall strong play.

Needless to say, Tim Branham was pleased with his team’s effort.

“We came out, we had something to prove. Last game we played against these guys, it was the one game we took off in the last 20. We had a statement to make. We played a good game, I thought Marty still made some big saves back there. That one goal, Pleskach can score. That’s a tough play to even defend. Really proud of how the boys stuck up for each other, policed the game when it wasn’t being policed. Overall, it was a really good effort.”

When asked about his white hot first line, he said, “It’s fun to watch those guys, every shift they’re pretty creative, pretty fast, stuff like that. And they play such a big part of the game, not only power play, they penalty kill, they give the other team fits. They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. They play a fast game, and it’s good. It’s what they need to do, what we need them to do, and it’s fun to watch, that’s for sure.”

Yao’s performance also came in for a share of praise. “Very, very good game. Played defense, played forward. He gives you that effort though, he gives you that effort every night. He skates so well, he’s so smart out there. It’s tough. We’ve got a lot of contracted d-men, we’ve got a lot of good defensemen back there, and sometimes rookies gotta bide their time, give you that effort when it’s needed, and he’s done exactly that. He’s been there when we’ve needed that, and he’s a great teammate.”

However, Branham saved most of of his praise for Wegwerth. “He’s doing great.” He said, “We’ve got to understand where he’s coming from. His senior year, last year, his senior year at Notre Dame, I think it was November, December, he broke his leg, and he hasn’t played since then. He comes back out, and breaks his hand when he gets here, then he takes a puck to the mouth, loses teeth six weeks later, and for him to battle the way he has and develop, he’s got a bright future ahead of him, that’s for sure. He’s a big body, he’s tough to handle, he’s tough, he’s got great hand-eye coordination in front of the net, which we saw tonight, and a great human being, so definitely it’s a lot of fun coaching him as well because he’s a sponge out there. He comes from a good program, Jeff Jackson does a good job there at Notre Dame, and Joe’s a byproduct of that.”

The Grizzlies’ offensive game has obviously expanded exponentially recently, but it’s not the only area in which they have improved in the past month or so, something Lewis was quick to point out. “I think our defensive game has come a long way, I feel like we’ve really taken a next step in our d-zone, and our responsibility defensively in the past couple of weeks. Our d-core is really strong, probably one of the most solid d-cores in the league in my opinion, so hopefully we just keep that going.”

“I think everyone is feeling good in the room right now,” he added, when asked about the team’s overall mood, and success. “It’s nice when things go well, and guys are getting the bounces. We’re just trying to take advantage of what we’ve got going here, good mentality in the room, everyone’s prepared to do their job, and things are just working well.”

Wegwerth’s thoughts were similar. “I think it’s a ton of fun. Every night it’s a different guy, it seems like. Everyone is stepping up and doing the little things. It’s not about one person in the room right now, it’s about all of us, and that’s what’s special about it.”

After such a hotly contested game, Saturday’s rematch is certainly going to be one to watch.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard.