Utah Grizzlies: Don’t Stop Believing

What a ride it’s been.

What a roller coaster of standings points and emotions, of injuries and triumphs this season has been. For every year, and every team, there’s always a narrative. Every regular season has a story. For the 2016-17 Utah Grizzlies, the narrative was confidence.

“We’re very confident.” Phil Pietroniro said in mid January. “We’ve got enough time to move up, and I think teams know we’re on the move. I really think we’re going to get there,” and he was just one voice among many with the same message.

Confidence in the face of adversity. Confidence in the face of one long grind of a season, punctuated with bright stretches of terrific winning streaks and dazzling performances, bracketed by bad bounces, tough losses, and an endless litany of injuries.

There was never any bravado, just a calm certainty that they had what it would take to fight their way into a playoff spot.

From the coach on out, even in the deepest, darkest depths of an awful November and a patchy December, this team believed. Even when it got bad.

And boy did it ever get bad. The Grizzlies went 9-16-1-1 before Christmas, including a nine-game losing streak between November 18th and December 4th that saw them nosedive from atop the Mountain Division to well out of the playoffs.

There were games where they played well, and couldn’t buy a bounce or a goal, games where the hockey gods seemed to mock them as opposing goalies made impossible save after impossible save. Of course, there was the occasional game where the entire team was terrible, but every team has those, and despite everything, those games remained the exception rather than the rule.

On January 6th, the Grizzlies were 14 points out of a playoff spot with key pieces like Erik Higby and Colin Martin out of the lineup with injuries. But they still hadn’t given up.

That’s when the season turned around, though things certainly didn’t get any easier.

On January 21st Utah was at the front end of a seven-game winning streak, only to have their blue line decimated by injury. By mid February, they were only three points out, but had only three healthy defensemen in the lineup. Yet they never packed it in, despite some overwhelming adversity. Forwards played defense, defenders played forward, and Tim Branham rebuilt nearly all of his blue line, and parts of his forward group on the fly.

In March they’d clawed back to within five of Alaska, only to be seemingly derailed by a brutal home stand against Colorado. But they pulled themselves together, and proceeded to win six of the next seven games.

Whether it was in individual games – like the one in Rapid City where Ralph Cuddemi scored two goals in less than a minute to force overtime in January, the brutal short-handed victory in Alaska in February, or their crazy four goal comeback also against Alaska in March – or in the season as a whole, the Grizzlies showed their resilience and their fortitude.

And now here they stand, having gone 22-12-3-1 since January. It may have taken them until the eleventh hour to secure their playoff berth, but they’re here. For the tenth straight season, the Grizzlies are in the hunt for the Kelly Cup.

Against all odds, they made it.

Technically, there may have been nothing at stake in Saturday’s game, with Utah’s playoff spot clinched, and the Mavericks eliminated from contention days earlier, but neither team packed it in.

Garrett Haar sat this one out, as did Colin Martin, after going rib first into the goal post on Friday. Erik Higby remained sidelined while Travis Howe drew back in, and Cam Reid made his return to the lineup for the first time since February 24th.

Utah got two of the first three shots, and Kevin Boyle was sharp in his sixth straight start. There were very few whistles, and the puck bounced quite a bit. One of those bounces found its way from the stick of Dane Fox and into the back of the net at 6:10. Just moments later, Boyle made an absolutely phenomenal save along the goal line to keep the score 1-0 as the Grizzlies seemed to ease off the gas briefly through the middle of the frame.

Boyle continued to be the Grizzlies’ best player early, but gradually Utah got their skates under them. Jon Puskar just narrowly missed tying the game up with just about six minutes to go, off a terrific shift with Travis Howe and C.J. Eick.

With about four minutes to go, things got exciting. Howe and Jacob Doty dropped the gloves right off the faceoff. After a lengthy tilt, Howe eventually went down, and both combatants got two for removing their helmets in addition to their five for fighting.

Ralph Cuddemi got a beautiful wrap around attempt followed up by a net crashing effort by Eick and Puskar, but Missouri’s Josh Robinson continued to hold the fort.

After a pretty disjointed first period, Utah led in shots 16-12, but Missouri held the 1-0 lead.

The Grizzlies picked up right where they left off to start the second, Puskar making it 1-1 from Cuddemi and Gabriel Verpaelst at 1:36. On the other end, Boyle continued to answer the call. Cuddemi and Eick got a nice two-on-one, as that line, backed by Tim Daly and Phil Pietroniro, had a strong shift in the offensive zone.

With about fifteen minutes left, Verpaelst was hit up high, went down in distress, and in the aftermath of the hit, the Mavs went up 2-1.

With 14:37 to go, Pietroniro made a nice pass to Puskar, who passed to Eick, who threw the puck on net. The goal horn went off, and the Grizzlies celebrated, but it was ruled no goal. Needless to say, the 8,874 fans in attendance were less than pleased.

On the very next shift, Erik Bradford scored for real at 5:40, tipping in Rob Mann’s point shot, making it 2-2, and giving Mann his first pro point. Brassard got the secondary assist, giving him four points in the last five games, and the crowd went absolutely wild.

Just about a minute later, Cuddemi sprang Eick, and C.J. beat out the Missouri defensemen, driving across the crease to go five hole for his ninth of the year. Cuddemi got his second assist of the night, while Pietroniro, who started the play, got the other helper.

Immediately after that, Howe and Doty dropped the gloves again, and had yet another marathon bout. Both got another two and five for fighting and removing their helmets. Boyle was called upon to make another phenomenal save two-on-one on the shift after that, much to the frustration of the Mavericks.

Utah began to really get going after the half-way mark, turning the offensive zone into a shooting gallery as they kept the puck in the zone through multiple successive shifts.

The Grizzlies drew the first power play of the night with at 14:35, but scarcely had the power play commenced than Daly was assessed a holding the stick penalty, evening play up at four a side.

Michael Pelech took a roughing call and then a ten-minute misconduct immediately afterwards, putting the Grizzlies down 4-on-3 for 1:23, then a brief 5-on-3. However, Utah’s penalty kill handled the situation, and escaped unscathed, thanks in part to Missouri clinging to the periphery, and to the efforts of Boyle and the defenders.

At the end of an eventful second period, Utah led 3-2, and held the narrow 24-23 advantage in shots as well.

The third period did not get off to an auspicious start, as Conner Bleackley scored a grand total of 58 seconds into the frame to tie it up.

Fortunately, the Grizzlies responded.

At about the nine minute mark, Pietroniro led a beautiful up-ice rush, fired a shot on net, and Eick batted the rebound in past Robinson for his tenth of the year. Puskar got the secondary assist, giving all three players multiple point games.

Utah continued to manage the puck well through the frame, and were rewarded with 6:16 left to go when Larraza’s point shot went to Bradford, and Daly put away the rebound. The goal was Daly’s 10th of the season, and Bradford’s assist gave him a multi-point game as well.

When the final buzzer of the regular season sounded, Utah led 5-3, and outshot Missouri 37-26.

On the second of two fan appreciation nights, the game was nothing if not a crowd-pleaser. It might not have been the best from a pure hockey stand point, but it had something of everything. There were good goals, bad goals, called off goals, fights, huge saves, some nifty, nifty plays, an absolutely electric crowd, and multi-point games from five different players. Puskar and Bradford both had a goal and an assist, Pietroniro and Cuddemi picked up two assists each, while C.J. Eick closed the regular season as he opened it, with two goals. And, of course, Boyle continued to be a difference maker in net, turning aside 23 out of 26 shots.

Travis Howe was named first star of the game, earning a deafening ovation from the crowd, while Eick and Puskar were the well deserving second and third stars.

It was a fitting end to a remarkable season.

“It’s one of those games that’s kind of tough,” C.J. Eick said after the game. “because you want to go into playoffs playing the right way with the right mentality. But at the same time you know that the spots already locked up, in the back of your mind you’re thinking you don’t want to get hurt, you don’t want to take any injuries on the night. It definitely made for a loose, fast paced game”

Looking back on the season, and the team’s overall attitude, Eick continued, “We knew what kind of team we had. A couple of those runs where we had some losses, we were playing well, we just weren’t getting the bounces, we were finding ways to lose games. But we knew that if we stuck with the process, we’d get back with the winning side, and that’s what happened.”

Tim Branham’s thoughts on the team’s performance were in a similar vein.

“I thought it was really energetic from both sides. I thought it was a good game. Definitely liked our energy, I thought we were playing well even though we got behind early. They worked hard, got a lucky bounce. I thought we were playing some good hockey. We really took over the last half of that 1st period and got a lot of shots on net and then out third period was good, using our speed and pushing them back on their heels, just get more pressure on the goaltender and knew we would break the dam.”

“I definitely believed in this group along,” Branham said when asked to reflect on the season as a whole. “I knew some changes had to be made and some tough decisions had to be made up front, trading some guy away that we did not want to, [that’s] just the nature of the business with the amount of injuries that we had. You gotta give the boys props, you gotta give them credit, they battled through and they wanted to get in. Had to do it by winning, and I thought they did a tremendous job at sticking together, scoring the goals when they had to. Winning that 5 and 0 on that road trip was massive. You really gotta give the guys credit, they did an amazing job and they deserved to celebrate a little bit here with the fans, and then the real work begins, that’s for sure.

“The position that we were at in January, after a real tough stretch, winless in nine, to be able to pull though, battle through, that month of February was really important. We got to play the teams in our division and close the gap a little bit there in Alaska, and then obviously that last road trip going 5 and 0 was big. It’s a character group. They know what it takes to win and its just a matter of having people in that lineup on a consistent basis getting some chemistry, and bringing in some new D-men. We had to revamp the D-core after it was decimated so it was good. The boys never said die, found a way to get the job done, its huge. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us right now and we gotta make sure we’re ready.”

The battle for the playoff spot is over, but the war is only just begun. The Grizzlies will face the reigning Kelly Cup champion Allen Americans against whom they were 0-2-1-1 this season.

“We know what we’re up against. They won a lot of championships here in a row, they got some guys on their team who know how to win, but so do we. We gotta make them play defense. They went out and got a lot of high end talent there at the deadline. We gotta make sure that we’re in their face, not giving them time to make plays, and make them play defense. We’ve been saying puck possession all year, when we have the puck their team cants score so, we gotta make sure that we stick to that philosophy and see if we can’t frustrate them a little bit and take it one game at a time.”

It’s a tall task, to be sure, but Utah is very familiar with those by now, and if we’ve learned anything from the regular season, it’s this.

Don’t ever, ever count the Grizzlies out when there’s still time for a comeback.

 

Photo courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

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: Goalie Duel

With the Missouri Mavericks breathing down their necks in the standings, and the next three games on the road against Colorado, Utah very much wanted to pick up a win in the last of the three-game home stand against Idaho.

Just prior to the game, it was announced that Kevin Boyle had been re-assigned to Utah, and that SPHL defenceman Brandon Lubin had been signed to help shore up the defence. Both were in the lineup, and the only other difference in the roster from previous games was the absence of Brad Navin.

The Grizzlies came out flying to start the period getting the first three shots of the game. They then proceeded to carry the play for the majority of the first, skating hard, defending well, and getting quite a number of nice shots.

The level of play from Utah continued to be at a higher level than we’d seen this weekend, and by the half-way mark in the period, shots were 9-4 for Utah, who had by and large dominated play. Offense and defence worked strongly together, supporting each other on both ends, and the speed and work ethic was definitely superior to what we’d seen previously. They hustled to be first on the puck, and when anything got through the defence, Boyle was there with some terrific saves.

Anthony Luciani got two breakaways and came flying in, but both times Boyle shrugged off the shot like it was nothing. Phil Pietroniro took a slashing penalty on the second breakaway, and the Grizzlies went to the penalty kill with 4:44 left in the period.

The Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked good though, and Idaho took an interference penalty against Ralph Cuddemi. Utah got a few chances on the man advantage, including a few big point shots from Pietroniro once they went to the power play.

Idaho took another penalty with 40 seconds to go as Joe Basaraba took an interference call against Kenton Helgesen, but 20 seconds after that, Cam Reid also went to the box, and the period ended on a 4-on-4.

Both teams killed of their penalties early in the period, but sadly, it was Idaho who drew first blood as a rebound beat Boyle in a scramble around the net.

The Grizzlies kept pressing though, and got two three-on-twos in a row thanks to the speed of Pelech, Cuddemi, and Erik Bradford, and then Pelech, C.J. Eick and, Carlos Amestoy, but though they got off a number of shots, they couldn’t beat Landon Bow.

Idaho looked much more awake as the second period progressed, and the Grizzlies had a little bit of trouble handling them. Utah iced the puck, but won the ensuing faceoff, and proceeded to get quite a number of really good scoring chances, including a number of shots from Pietroniro, and a point blank chance from Reid, but Bow remained a brick wall.

The Grizzlies continued to skate well and by the 14 minute mark, Pietroniro and Pelech had five shots a piece while Bradford was right behind them with four.

Both teams exchanged a few minor penalties in the final minutes of the second, and Idaho got in on yet another breakaway, only to be stonewalled yet again by Boyle.

The Grizzlies got an incredible chance of their own at the other end, but were unable to put the puck past Bow as it pin-balled wildly around the blue paint, and Pelech took a penalty.

At the end of 40, shots were 34-21 for Utah, but they had been unable to erase the 1-0 deficit.

Utah killed off the remaining 30 seconds or so of Pelech’s penalty to start the third, but Idaho pushed hard through the third.

With just over fifteen minutes left to go, Helgesen was stapled to the boards, and left the ice favouring his left leg – and leaving the Grizzlies short-handed on defence once again.

6:17 or so into the third, Erik Higby beat Bow, but the puck hit the post and went out of play in heartbreaking fashion. The good news, however, was that Helgesen returned to the bench not long after.

Utah continued to play well, and to generate chances, but none of the bounces went their way, and Bow remained unbeaten by any of the Grizzlies 39 shots.

With 5:09 left to go in the third, Boyle made another nice save look effortless, as he largely had all game, keeping the team within one.

Despite putting up 43 shots on Landon Bow, and pulling Boyle with one minute left for the extra skater, the Grizzlies were unable to tie the game up and fell in regulation.

It was a disappointing outcome, especially considering how well the entire team played from start to finish. Pietroniro, Bradford, and Pelech all picked up six shots a piece, and Boyle turned in a phenomenal 32 save performance, which earned him first star honours.

“Their goaltender definitely won them three games, there’s no doubt about that.” Branham said of the Steelheads’ second star of the game, and his 43 save performance. “He’s good. When you have a .930 save percentage, that’s a pretty good goaltender.”

Of Boyle’s first star performance, and the Grizzlies’ short-handed defence, he said: “Our goalie stopped five breakaways in the first period, and that’s what happens when you have three regular defencemen in the lineup, you’re going to give up chances like that. You’ve just got to weather the storm, and keep pushing on until we either bring guys in or get guys healthy. I really think our guys are doing a good job of doing that.”

However, the game also emphasized some scoring woes, some of which are simply circumstantial, and some which need to be addressed. “We didn’t score a goal today, scored two yesterday, you don’t win scoring that many goals, you’ve got to put the puck in the net more. But that’s probably due to a depleted blue line, so it’s not just your forwards needing to score goals. I thought we generated a lot of shots today, I thought we could have been a little more tenacious on the rebounds that were there, and drive the net a little bit better, you know, kind of get in his face and bump him a little bit when he’s having that much success. The bounces just didn’t go in our way in that regard.”

Brad Navin’s absence from the game was later explained by the announcement of a trade that sent Navin to Alaska, in return for defenceman Marc-André Lévesque.

“He’s a good defenceman. We’ve seen him last year, and seen him this year a lot. He’s a really good D-man. Unfortunately, I really like Brad Navin. He did a great job here, but in order to get something, you have to give up something. It’s the way this game is, and there was no end in sight. We had to get a D-man, we’ve got guys out injured, and I don’t see any time table for them to be back, so you gotta do something. You can’t continue to play with three or four and forward on the back end at this part of the season, so unfortunately, that’s part of the business, and I wish Brad nothing but the best, and I thank him for all his hard work and success, he did a really good job here, it’s sad that we had to do it.”

In 30 games, Lévesque has two goals and 13 assists, 32 penalty minutes, and a +10 rating, and will help bring further stability to the Grizzlies’ depleted blue line.

Utah plays three games in Colorado Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and it is to be hoped that they can both pick up wins, and avoid any further injuries while they’re there.

 

Utah Grizzlies: Closing the Gap

If Idaho came to Utah motivated, Utah came into game two of the homestand even more so after Friday night’s showing. Colin Martin did not dress, serving the first of his two game suspension, but Carlos Amestoy returned to the lineup, and started in his stead. The Grizzlies remained short-handed on defence.

The Grizzlies looked far more alive than they had the night before in the opening shifts of the first, but it would be Idaho again who struck first. On the next shift out, Mathieu Aubin was tripped up in the offensive zone, and Utah went to the power play.

They were unable to establish any kind of prolonged offensive zone pressure, but the C.J. Eick-Jon Puskar-Brad Navin line caused all sorts of havoc in the offensive zone, and at 7:55 tempers flared. Puskar got tangled with David Glen and Charlie Dodero, and all three were sent to to the box, giving Utah the power play.

The Grizzlies were unable to capitalize, but they looked much better after the stint on the power play, and looked much better through the remainder of the first period, both on the power play and the penalty kill.

As the period went on, it also became clear that the Steelheads were actively targeting Phil Pietroniro as the Grizzlies’ best remaining defenceman, even taking out Faragher at one point as collateral damage.

Both Jefferson Dahl Pietroniro took penalties later in the period, but at the end of 20, Idaho led 1-0, and shots were 13-10 for Utah.

Utah opened the second period with 1:42 on the Pietroniro penalty kill, but killed it off, and proceeded to look much more like their usual selves through the minutes that followed. Idaho continued to gun for Pietroniro, but he responded by getting a number of big shots, and allowing the Grizzlies to maintain offensive zone pressure.

The the second period belonged solely to Utah, as they looked far more like the team that won nine out of ten games, than the one that limped through the the last two contests. As the game progressed, Higby became the only forward to consistently line up as a defenceman, and he started looking far more comfortable in that spot, giving Utah another mobile defender they very much needed – though Pietroniro still seemed hardly ever to leave the ice.

As the period went along, Puskar and Eick were robed of gorgeous chances, as was Ralph Cuddemi while Faragher, when tested at all, made some big saves.

At the buzzer the Grizzlies still trailed 1-0, but they were well and truly in this game.

Unfortunately, after all the good work, the Steelheads scored on a gorgeous shot scarcely twenty seconds into the period. Higby took a slashing penalty in the immediate aftermath, but Cuddemi and Bradford got one of their usual short-handed offensive zone jaunts, followed by one from Cam Reid and Austen Brassard, and the Grizzlies returned to full strength.

Travis Howe took a roughing penalty at 6:06, but Utah played exceptionally well, and a beautiful up-ice rush from Bradford followed by a perfect read of Bow’s pass gave the Grizzlies a lengthy offensive zone that killed off the majority of the short-handed situation.

At the half-way mark, the Grizzlies finally solved Bow, as Michael Pelech scored his 13th of the year with assists from Howe and Higby.

Utah continued to skate hard, and at 15:56, Puskar off a gorgeous up-ice rush with an equally gorgeous goal to tie the game.

In the final minutes of the period, Nemcik, Pelech, and Jefferson Dahl all went to the box, but the Grizzlies killed the short-handed situation, and the game went to overtime. Utah played quite well in the extra frame, Erik Bradford especially controlling the puck in the offensive zone for an extended period of time, and eventually forcing Idaho to take a penalty. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were unable to capitalize, and the game went to the shoot out.

Faragher allowed only one goal in the shoot out, but none of the Utah skaters was able to beat Bow, and the Grizzlies fell 2-1.

While the loss was disheartening, to say the least, the Grizzlies did pick up a point, and move within two of the Alaska Aces. They also played far more like the Utah team that had won nine of ten coming into this weekend – despite being short-handed. Erik Higby was the lone forward who remained on defence as the game progressed, which seemed to help, as Utah no longer looked lost in their own end.

“He’s done a great job back there,” Tim Branham said of Higby’s performance. “It’s a lot to ask for for a forward. He’s done an amazing job. Definitely lucky that he’s been able to transition to the back end there.”

“Monday’s going to be a big test.” He added. “Everyone’s gotta be ready. It’s a big game for us, a big game in the standings, so we’ve gotta take advantage of it.”

The Pink in the Rink jersey auction was, as it always is, a rousing success. Ryan Faragher’s jersey went for a record breaking $3,500, and the team raised 30,000 dollars in total.

Utah plays their third game against Idaho this afternoon, where they hope to pick up two points and catch Alaska, as well as to hold off the Missouri Mavericks who are currently tied with them in the standings.

 

Utah Grizzlies: War of Attrition

The Grizzlies came into this contest looking to take the third game of the series down Erik Bradford, Tim Daly, and Evan Stoflet, while Keven Boyle got the start for the second straight night. These absences meant that Utah only dressed four defencemen and ten forwards.

Utah  got an early power play, as Ben Lake boarded Brad Navin 1:45 into the first. Utah got a few chances, but Alaska killed off the penalty.

Colin Martin, Erik Higby, and Michael Pelech all got big scoring chances, but it would be Navin who gave the Grizzlies the 1-0 lead at 9:35.

Utah killed off a holding penalty to Higby, and they continued to swarm, in no way looking like a short-handed team playing their third game in as many nights.

Cam Reid took a late penalty with less than a minute to go, but the Grizzlies headed to the locker room holding the 1-0 lead, outshooting Alaska 17-5.

The Grizzlies killed off the remainder of Reid’s penalty handily, getting the only shot on the Aces’ man advantage, and generally looking like the better rested and hungrier team.

Higby, Cuddemi, and Martin crashed the Aces’ crease, and Martin collared Higby’s rebound, beating Michael Garteig for his twelfth of the year at 3:56.

Half way through the frame, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, and after the longest staredown ever, Howe got the edge in the fight, landing quite a number of punches before they were separated.

With just under five minutes left to play, the Grizzlies capitalized on an Aces’ bobble at their blue line. Cuddemi made a spectacular pass, sending the puck behind Garteig to Martin who scored his second of the night into the wide open net.

Utah closed out the second with some great chances, and the period ended in absolute chaos, Tim Wallace tangling with Nemcik and Pietroniro at the buzzer before both teams came flying in.

As the mayhem continued, Pelech and Marc-Andre Levesque dropped the gloves, and it was all the officials could do to break up the fight and get everyone off the ice. Utah went to the room up 3-0, and outshooting the Aces 24-19, but that’s when the tables turned.

As the dust settled, it became clear that despite the 3-0 lead, getting through the third period was going to take a Herculean effort from the Grizzlies. Pelech and Levesque both got five for fighting and a game misconduct, while Nemcik and Laplante were assessed a double minor for roughing, and a ten minute misconduct each. Wallace, who started the whole mess, also got two for roughing.

Alaska, who got three fresh players back for the game, could shrug off the loss of two players. Utah, already down their leading goalscorer and two defenders, would now have to play with only three defencemen for all but six minutes of the third without yet another top six forward.

It didn’t get any better from there.

In the early stages of the third, Cuddemi scared Grizzlies fans everywhere, when he left the ice looking uncomfortable. Fortunately, he appeared to be alright, but that was only the beginning.

A few minutes later, Richart was sent head over heels by a pair of Aces players, and went to the bench before taking a few tentative spins during the break. It appeared that Utah had dodged yet another bullet when he returned to play, only for Pietroniro to take a tripping penalty at 5:46. Unfortunately, Tyler Shattock scored just ten seconds later to make it 3-1.

Although the Aces manhandled Helgesen in the middle of the frame, it was Puskar who went to the box with 11:08. A mere six seconds later, Wallace took a healthy swing at Pietroniro off the faceoff. Pietroniro went down to the ice, and Wallace joined Puskar in the box.

With both Pietroniro and Richart banged up, Nemcik still in the box, and Helgesen the sole healthy defenceman on the bench, the Grizzlies struggled, and at 9:07, Nolan Descoteaux put the Aces within one.

At 10:33 Shattock took a charging penalty on Helgesen, Martin took exception to the hit, and both got two for roughing. Navin also tangled with an Alaska player, but neither were given penalties. Thanks to these infractions, Utah had a brief 5-on-3 situation, before a returning to a 5-on-4 power play.

Each team returned to full strength with no change in score, but Utah got a few really excellent chances on the man advantage. Alaska got a power play of their own as Navin took a slashing call with 5:37 to go in the period. Austen Brassard had a great chance short-handed, and the Grizzlies got Nemcik and Navin back. However, the Aces tied up the game with less than four minutes left to go.

Utah and Alaska both pressed in the remaining minutes, but Boyle and Garteig made some big saves to send the game to overtime.

Just fifteen seconds into OT, Cuddemi was sent to the sin bin for hooking, but the Grizzlies killed the penalty off, even getting a 2-on-1 chance from Helgesen and Nemcik.

In the dying seconds of OT, Martin made a bid for a hat trick and the win with an incredible shift, but it was not to be, and the game went to the shoot out.

Boyle — who has received far too little praise in the recap for being instrumental in helping get Utah this far — allowed a lone goal in the shoot out. Reid and Aubin scored for the Grizzlies, and Utah took the extra point.

Martin and Cuddemi earned the first two stars, but there were no passengers in this game. The performances of Pietroniro, Richart, Helgesen, and Boyle especially were also essential in earning the win.

This was a huge game for the Grizzlies, not only because they won despite being down three to five players for significant stretches of the game, but also because the two points they earned put them three points behind both Alaska and Idaho.

At the end of the day, they’re well within striking distance of a playoff spot, and they have a whole week to recover from what was unquestionably their gutsiest performance of the season.

The Grizzlies are next in action in a three-game home-stand against the Steelheads, where they will hope to take possession of a playoff spot.