Utah Grizzlies: Howe Sweet is Victory

When your fighter is a fight away from a Gordie Howe hat trick and doesn’t get it because he’s too busy being a scoring forward, you know it was an extraordinary night.

“I am proud to be their coach” Tim Branham said after the game. “It was a little worrisome there in the first five minutes, but I thought everyone settled in and held in the five shots in the first, seven in the second. I mean, that team can play, so they’re going to get some scoring chances there in the third. I thought we played extremely well five on five the entire weekend. Thought we deserved a better fate on Wednesday. Friday could have went either way, it is what it is. Power to the boys, battled back hard, in front of an awesome crowd, obviously our fans are the best in the league. We deserved this. We got some help around the league as well, so four points out, we just gotta keep it going.”

While the night ended with a certain feeling of triumph, it certainly did not start that way.

The first couple of shifts were promising. Utah got off the mark strong, and in the second shift or so, Mitch Jones threw the puck at the net almost from the goal line, and Ryan Misiak nearly put it past Lukas Hafner. Travis Howe drew a tripping call behind the Eagles’ net, but Ryan Olsen flew in, and even though Mitch Maxwell got back in time, Olsen made it 1-0 short-handed.

Things continued to look pretty bleak for a while after that as well. When the Eagles returned to full strength, Ryan Siiro beat Brandon Wildung on a cross crease pass from Jake Marto. 2-0 at 4:40, and it looked like the game was teetering on the verge of a blow out.

But whatever the Grizzlies issues may be, or have been, this season, they have never given up easily.

Misiak got boarded at 8:16, and the Grizzlies drew another power play. This one ended without mishap as the team got their feet under them.

At 12:52 Maxwell made it 2-1, freezing Hafner, and roofing it for his second goal in as many nights from Howe and Jake Marchment, cutting the lead in half. Utah then killed off a Michael Pelech tripping called a minute later.

The third line continued to absolutely shine, and at 17:49, Maxwell shot the puck on net. Marchment collared the rebound on the edge of the blue paint, and sent it cross-crease to Howe who scored his third of the season to tie it up.

Jones and Brady Shaw took matching minors for cross-checking and embellishment respectively at 19:02, and at the end of 20 the Grizzlies headed into the room tied 2-2, shots 13-5 in their favor. They never looked back.

The second opened with what should have been about a minute of four-on-four, but instead was twenty seconds of four-on-four before Pelech took a tripping call to put the Grizzlies down four-on-three. The team fought hard though, allowing only two shots on the short-handed situation. Misiak flew in with a short-handed look during that time, but continued to be plagued by bad luck, and Hafner turned it aside.

Utah drew another power play as Marchment got roughed, and after the whistle, a crowed gathered, which resulted in Jones and Joey Ratelle both getting five for fighting as well.

Brendan and the Ryans continued to be outrageously snakebitten, as all three converged on Hafner, but were unable to beat him. Howe also got a glorious opportunity for a second goal, but was denied as well.

With 13:53 to go, Drayson Bowman got two for slashing, and Utah went to yet another power play. Utah continued to put together their best period of hockey this weekend. Pelech spun and fired a great shot on Hafner, and so did Mitton, But the Eagles returned to full strength with no change in score, and Howe leveled Ben Storm right as the Eagles were whistled off side.

The Grizzlies continued to roll with a vengeance, playing stellar defense, getting sticks down in lanes, crowding puck-carriers off the puck, and spending long shifts in the offensive zone. Nate Mitton flew around absolutely fearlessly laying hits on Matt Register and Teigan Zahn, and then helping generate scoring chances left right and center.

With just eight seconds to go, Ryan Walters took a tripping call, but after 40, the Grizzlies had out worked and out-shot Colorado to the tune of 24-12.

Utah killed off the Walters penalty, allowing only one shot on the opening advantage. Colorado played for several minutes in the offensive zone, before the Grizzlies got on their horse, and responded with a couple of great shifts from some newish lines, one centered by Brad Navin with Misiak and Pelech, the other by Walters with Harms and Thomas.

It was the later line that put the crowning touch on the game. Brendan Harms electrified the 9,288 fans in attendance by making it 3-2 at 9:54 finally capitalizing on some lengthy Utah dominance.

Neal Goff took a roughing call against Thomas 11:36 into the third, and Hafner had to be helped off the ice after his skate blade broke. He came back a couple of shifts later, however, and the Eagles killed off the penalty.

Colorado bore down, but the Grizzlies fought them off, forcing players like Olsen to rush back and play defense against former line-mates in Walters and Harms.

With 1:30 to go, the Eagles pulled Hafner for the extra skater. The Grizzlies twice grazed the outer netting of the empty net, and when the final buzzer went, they were the victors.

Harms’ five shots led the team, and his goal stood up as the game winner. He was named a well deserved first star of the game,  Wildung got second star, and Howe the third with his second professional multi-point night in the last six games. Maxwell easily could have been a star as well, like Howe netting a goal and an assist, and picking up his third point in the last two games.

“We battled hard this weekend. That’s a good team right there, that team works hard.” Branham said of Colorado. “There is a reason why they are defending champs, and doing so well the way that they are. We are going to take a couple days and rest, spend some time with the Booster Club tomorrow. Rest up for a couple days and get back out there on Tuesday, prepare for Idaho. We play well against Idaho, we play well in Idaho. Can’t take that for granted, we have to make sure that we come ready to play. They’re a good team as well.”

Unsurprisingly, he had nothing but praise for Howe. “He’s been amazing. Absolutely amazing. Played a regular shift tonight. The way he’s blocking shots, and getting pucks out, and playing defence, and producing. I don’t know how many points he has recently, it’s a lot. It’s great. He’s got a lot of space out there because no one wants to go around him. But, he’s using it to his advantage. He’s an unbelievable force in our dressing room as well, as well as in the community. Really happy for him. He’s come a long way, and I’m really, really happy for him.”

Howe himself was just happy to have helped the team, and quick with praise for his line-mates. “Really realistically, anything I can do to help the team out, and tonight I just happened to get put in a situation where I was able to put up a couple of points…and playing with Marchment, Maxwell those are unbelievable hockey players, so it just makes the game so much easier. I haven’t got a Gordie yet and I was hoping to get one tonight but as long as you got the win that’s really all that matters.”

Thanks to regulation losses by Allen and Tulsa, Utah trails the former by four points, and the later by two in the push for the final spot.

“Yeah, I mean, the other teams lose it’s huge.” Howe said of the outcome of those games, “But at the same time, we’re just focusing on us right now. Chipping away, trying to win every game, get as many points as we can to climb the ladder, and hopefully we get that last playoff spot.”

There isn’t a lot of time left, but as every sports fan knows, it ain’t over till it’s over, and as every Grizzlies’ fan knows, this team isn’t going down without a fight.

 

 

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

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: Pedal to the Metal

In their third game in three nights, the Grizzlies went with the same roster, including Joel Rumpel in net.

The Grizzlies were rolling right off the opening face-off, the BAM line with a strong offensive zone shift, followed by a Ryan Walters point-blank breakaway shot, followed by a rebound that Matt Tomkins snatched up.

Utah took an early delay of game penalty as Walters put the puck over the glass at 3:18, and followed that up with another delay of game penalty, putting the Grizzlies down five-on-three for 50 seconds. However, they once again held off the league leading power play, shots 4-3 for Indy after the penalty kill.

After some confusion on the lines setting up on a face-off, the Grizzlies got another delay of game penalty, and the Indy power play finally showed some signs of life. Utah killed that off as well, even getting a two-on-one short handed from Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

Coming off the penalty kill, Indy looked hot, but the Grizzlies fought on, getting some zone time of their own. The offensive zone possession led to a Utah power play, as Gage Ausmus drew a hooking call at 14:35.

The Grizzlies had really good possession throughout the advantage, most notably from Ortega, and Mann, who rang the cross bar right before Indy returned to full strength.

Utah struck first as Sam Babintsev scored his first for the Grizzlies after looking so good all weekend. Mitch Maxwell got the assist on a great pass on the opener at 18:32.

At the end of 20, Utah led 1-0, and the shots were an even 8-8, Walters having half of them.

Indy came out hot in the second, getting four shots to Utah’s two, and keeping things uncomfortably interesting in the opening four.

Walters’ stick was broken in front of the Utah net at 4:08, but he got called for holding. The Grizzlies killed off all but 19 seconds of the Fuel power play, blocking shots and keeping pucks away from the goal, until Alex Wideman put the puck past a sprawling Rumpel to tie the game.

The tie was not allowed to stand for long, however, as Navin wired a puck at the net, and it took a bounce off Tomkins and in 48 seconds later. The goal extended Brad’s scoring streak to nine straight games.

Indy once again poured it on after Navin’s goal, and Rumpel came up huge as Utah squeaked through a couple of really close calls before catching a breather. Brendan and the Ryans together with Melindy and Richart had a phenomenal shift around the six minute mark, but weren’t able to beat Tomkins.

Utah got another crack at the power play at 15:29, but weren’t able to capitalize, despite some good looks. Navin and Reed Seckel took matching calls at 17:28, and then with 1:06 to go in the period, Maxwell took a retaliatory slash and was sent to the box.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Maxwell’s penalty to start the third. Utah ran into some difficulties early, but Rumpel and the defense kept it 2-1, and Harms continued to have a strong game, pushing the puck just wide yet again with about four gone.

About two minute later, Richart threw a big shot on net which, like Navin’s, went in off Tomkins, extending his scoring streak to nine, and tying him with Nolan Zajac of the Reading Royals for first in the ECHL in goals among defensemen.

The Grizzlies continued to keep their foot on the gas, getting strong shifts from Howe, Misiak, and others. The Fuel once again looked disinterested, and Utah pounced, Maxwell scoring at 9:58 from Marchment. The goal was Maxwell’s first as a pro, and with his earlier assist, he also picked up his first multi-point game.

Utah got hit with another extremely lengthy five-on-three penalty kill at 3:11 with first Jones and then Walters in the box for interference and tripping respectively. Once again, the vaunted Indy power play came up empty. Ortega was taken down at 16:50 with no call, and Pelech took matters into his own hands. As was the trend for this game with interesting calls, he got an extra two tacked on to his rough, while Jaynen Rissling got only two.

In the end, however, it didn’t matter, and at the final buzzer, Utah outworked their way to a 4-1 win.

Maxwell (one goal, one assist), Navin (game winning goal), and Rumpel (23/24 saves) were the three stars of the game, Walters ended the day with eight shots, and Ortega, Navin, and Richart all extended their consecutive point streaks. Harms was all over the place, getting an assist, and all three lines contributed. It was also a another night of firsts, as Maxwell and Babintsev scored their first goals for the team, after both of them had a really excellent weekend.

The Grizzlies and the Oilers are currently tied for the fourth spot in the Mountain Division, trailing Wichita by five points, and ahead of Allen by one. Utah could very much use an Idaho win against Allen on Wednesday and before they face the Americans themselves in what could end up being a season defining two game series at home with spots in the playoffs at stake.

In the meantime, the Grizzlies have put themselves in the best position they can, with seven of a possible eight points on the four game road trip, as well as their 8-0-0-1 record in the last nine.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff