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: 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: No Such Luck

The Grizzlies came home after a fairly successful Florida road trip, looking to continue picking up points. Ryan Faragher once again got the start, Gabriel Verpaelst made his home debut, and Travis Howe again dressed as Utah iced eleven forwards and five defensemen.

The early minutes of the game saw action and hard skating from both teams, but Colorado picked up six of seven shots in the opening few minutes, and struck first 7:21 into the frame.

Sean Zimmerman went after Jon Puskar after the latter got a shot in on Clarke Saunders, and a crowd gathered, as they often do in Grizzlies/Eagles games. Utah came in hot after the following media time out, and drew the first penalty of the game. Harrison went to the box for slashing with 9:37 to go, but the Grizzlies were unable to get properly set up, and Colorado scored on a short-handed breakaway a minute later.

They got some offensive zone pressure to end the power play, but Cam Reid’s stick broke as he went to take a shot from the point, and the man advantage came to an end.

With six minutes left in the period, Utah was already spotting Colorado 12 shots, and there was a fair bit of stick and door slamming at the bench.

Though the Grizzlies had a few good shifts and chances in the offensive zone, especially from the Puskar line, Faragher still had to make a huge save with 14 seconds left in the period. After twenty, the Eagles still led 2-0, and supposedly outshot Utah 13-6, though there were definitely some shots that were not recorded.

The Grizzlies came out hot to start the second, though there were some nearly costly defensive turn overs, but 4:11 into the period, they got the power play as Darryl Bootland came in hard after Faragher made a save, and the Utah defense took exception.

There was a bit of a delay as the ice crew needed to repair a chunk taken out of the ice with about 13 minutes left to play in the second. Coming off of the delay, Puskar, Howe, C.J. Eick, and got the Grizzlies some good opportunities. Michael Pelech, Mathieu Aubin, and Ralph Cuddemi followed it up with a good shift of their own, and with 11:02, Eick drew a penalty. Unfortunately, Erik Higby took a slashing penalty, and Matt Garbowsky scored 14 seconds into the ensuing 4-on-4.

Utah continued to get chances, including a great shot from Cam Reid, who beat Saunders but couldn’t hit the net.

With 6:51 left to play, Puskar was taken down in the offensive zone. The Maverik Center held their breaths as both the Grizzlies’ and Eagles’ athletic trainers tended to him. He was taken off the ice on a backboard as a precaution, and thankfully, at the end of the night it was announced that he was going to be ok.

Cuddemi and Reid both got chances on the power play, once the game resumed, as the Grizzlies held the zone for a large portion of the man advantage. However, after the power play expired, the defensive coverage again fell apart, and Matt Brown scored over a sprawling Marc-André Lévesque.

Howe got a cross-checking minor, and off the next puck drop, Aubin and Garbowsky both got sent to the box for slashing and cross-checking respectively.

The Grizzlies’ penalty kill continued to be excellent, killing off the minor penalty, with 1:39 to go.

But the eventful second wasn’t over yet.

Phil Pietroniro was stapled to the boards in the corner behind the Grizzlies’ net, and Howe had enough, collaring Jackson Houck, and eventually trading punches with Zimmerman in what turned into a free for all.

Howe was given two for roughing, five for fighting, and a ten minute misconduct. Zimmerman got a two minute rough, and the Grizzlies had a five minute penalty kill on their hands.

Cuddemi got a short-handed breakaway, and was tied up, resulting in a penalty shot. Unfortunately his backhander was gloved by Saunders.

After 40, shots were 21-12 for Colorado, who led 4-0.

With over three minutes of penalty killing time to start the third, Utah closed ranks, and kept the Eagles puck-chasing.

With 1:45 left in the penalty kill, Bootland cross-checked Pietroniro in the corner, and Pietroniro retaliated. Both were sent off for roughing, and en rout to the box, Verpaelst grabbed Bootland and got in a few punches, sending him to the ice, joining the others in the bin. Both Bootland and Verpaelst got five for fighting.

The Grizzlies drew another penalty with 17:20 left to go, as Johnny Lazo went off for goaltender interference. However, 20 seconds in, Utah negated the 4-on-4 when Eick went off for tripping. The Grizzlies killed off the 4-on-3 and the ensuing 4-on-4 before the Eagles took a holding call with 15:09 left in the second that sent Utah back to the power play.

Colin Martin got a great chance in alone, but missed the net, and was shortly afterwards put into the boards by Teigan Zahn, which gave the Grizzlies a 5-on-3 power play. Aubin got a spectacular chance at a wide open net that somehow didn’t go in, but the Grizzlies kept going. At 7:54, Austen Brassard put the Grizzlies on the board tipping in Reid’s shot from the doorstep on the man advantage.

Then Cuddemi scored his 27th of the year from Tim Daly at 9:45 on a beautiful shot, and the arena came alive with half a period left to play.

The Grizzlies worked hard after the goal, coming quite close to solving Saunders on a number of occasions, but the Eagles were not without chances of their own, which Faragher turned aside.

The Grizzlies spent a lot of time in the Eagles’ end in the last five minutes, as they took advantage of two icing calls, and pulled Faragher for the extra skater. Utah got their chances, and with 1:27 to go, Lazo and Daly were sent off with matching minors.

Utah kept Faragher on the bench for the extra skater, but with eight seconds to go, Harrison scored into the empty net.

“To be honest, I think the difference was just goal-scoring.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We had a penalty shot, we missed, they had a breakaway they scored on. We probably had three or four empty nets that we didn’t score on where their goalie is making a diving save, in last minute, [last] second desperation. To be honest, we had pretty good chances. I don’t think the shot clock was correct, I know I counted four or five shots throughout the game that they didn’t even give us credit for, so it wasn’t as lopsided as you think, but we had our scoring chances.

“We had some scoring chances that we missed the net on, but the empty nets kill you. We literally had empty nets that we didn’t put in, and then the penalty shot. That kills you. that can be a totally different game when you put those in, so I didn’t like some of the goals that went in on us, as far as a team effort, I thought we could have done things to prevent them, we’ve gotta make sure that those little small things don’t cost us.”

“Obviously you gotta try a little harder, and bear down a little bit more. We’re going to put that one behind us. It stings, that’s for sure. We’re going to put that one behind us. Tomorrow’s the biggest game of the year, so we’ve gotta make sure that everyone is on board.”

Utah squares off against the Eagles again tonight (Saturday), and will be wearing their special Military Appreciation jerseys which will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Salt Lake City Fisher House.



Utah Grizzlies: Cloudy Skies

The Grizzlies continued their Florida road trip with their first game in Orlando. Ryan Faragher got the start against the Solar Bears, Garrett Haar made his debut, and Erik Higby returned to his natural position at forward.

Utah began well, maintaining some good possession, but it would the Solar Bears who struck first 3:01 into the period. After the goal, the Grizzlies struggled to play crisp hockey, while Orlando hemmed them in their own zone.

The Solar Bears made it 2-0 at 6:47 as they established a strong cycle game, and then put a rebound past Faragher.

The Grizzlies responded well, though, with Erik Bradford having a terrific shift, followed by another strong shift by Cam Reid, Ralph Cuddemi, and Colin Martin. However, momentum ended with Reid taking a slashing call. The penalty kill proved to be up to the task, Austen Brassard even getting a scoring chance, and Orlando negated the final 30 seconds or so of their man advantage.

Utah looked far better after their power play, especially in the dying minutes of the period, getting a few really good shots on Ryan Massa. At the end of 20, the Grizzlies had made up ground, tying up the shots at 11, but Orlando still led 2-0.

The Grizzlies got the first two shots of the second, as they got 10 of the last 14 shots, but the Solar Bears came back and forced yet another great save from Faragher.

As the period progressed, Orlando dominated zone time, but the Grizzlies did a good job keeping shots away from Faragher, shots 14-11 with 12:08 to go. The Solar Bears’ strength was especially evident as they efficiently took away time and space from the Grizzlies.Utah had some trouble completing passes as a consequence.

The game opened up a bit in the second half of the period, as Orlando negated another power play, and the teams played 4-on-4. Cuddemi and Phil Pietroniro gave the Grizzlies a good chance, but with 4:29 left in the period, the score was still 2-0. Orlando also led in shots 19-17.

Ty Stanton high-sticked Daly at 15:55, sending the Grizzlies to their first power play of the game. Although Utah took a 21-20 lead in shots, they were unable to capitalize, and Pietroniro took a tripping call with 1:05 to go.

After 40, shots were 21-20 for Utah, but the Solar Bears remained up 2-0.

Utah killed off the tail end of the penalty kill, and got a terrific shift from Cuddemi and Jon Puskar, as the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to throw shots on Massa.

The first six minutes belonged emphatically to Utah, as they racked up seven of the first nine shots. They continued to win battles and get shots all through the third, but were unable to get past Massa.

Haar took a penalty with 6:34 to go, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked terrific, Cuddemi and Bradford both getting shots, followed by a short-handed breakaway from Higby. Higby drew a penalty at 14:46. Pietroniro got a pair of shots off from the point on the 4-on-4, as the Grizzlies came agonizing inches away from beating Massa.

Unfortunately, Eric Faille made it 3-0 at 15:13, and though the Grizzlies continued to buzz, none of their shots got past Massa.

Despite their valiant effort, the final buzzer saw Utah shutout 3-0, despite outshooting Orlando 42-26.

Unsurprisingly, the Grizzlies defense had some tentativeness to work out early with so many new bodies, however, as they game wore on, they looked far more comfortable.

Offensively, Cuddemi (seven shots) and Pelech (five shots) had very strong nights, despite the lack of goals, while the Puskar line also generated a number of grade A scoring chances. In fact, every single player on the Grizzlies recorded at least a shot, and all but three of them recorded two or more.

The loss was by no means due to a lack of effort.

Utah is off tomorrow, before playing their final game in Orlando at 11:30 on Sunday morning.


Utah Grizzlies: The Comeback Kids

If there was ever a non-playoff series that was a must win, it is this one. Alaska holds the last playoff spot, and is the only team currently in a playoff spot within striking distance. Now they’re in town for three straight games.

With Anaheim trading Kenton Helgesen, Tim Daly’s return to the lineup couldn’t have been more fortuitous. The game also marked Marc-André Lévesque’s first home game as a member of the Grizzlies, and the return of Brad Navin as both players were in the starting lineup against their former teams.

The early going favored Alaska, but a couple of saves by Ryan Faragher allowed Utah to get their legs going.

Jon Puskar drew a tripping penalty at 4:49, and Ralph Cuddemi made it 1-0 exactly five minutes into the first period, with his team-leading 26th of the season. Carlos Amestoy and Lévesque drew the assists, giving Lévesque five points in four games with Utah. Scarcely had play resumed than Navin took down Martin Nemcik at the Grizzlies’ blue line, and Utah went right back to the power play. The power play got some looks, but Navin returned to the ice with no change in score.

Alaska got most of the looks following the power play, as Utah struggled to handle the puck cleanly. With 6:13 left in the first, the Aces capitalized on the issue, tying it up as the Grizzlies got tangled up in front of the net.

Daly took a penalty with 3:14 left in the period, and the Aces took the lead thirty seconds later. Utah pressed hard through the final minutes of the frame, but after 20, they trailed 2-1, and were being outshot to the tune of 12-4.

Just seconds into the second period, C.J. Eick got in on a breakaway, but lost his footing and both he and Kevin Carr ended up in the back of the net, which came off it’s moorings.

The Grizzlies really hustled after that, and Cuddemi got another breakaway for Utah, but was also shut down by Carr.

Unfortunately for Utah, despite gaining ground in shots, and looking better through the early going, Brad Navin made it 3-1 14:21 into the period.

The Grizzlies kept pressing, and the defense made some really great plays to keep the puck away from Faragher, but they remained unable to solve Carr, despite some solid chances.

As the period progressed, it seemed increasingly clear that Utah had all the right ideas with their passes and plays, but seemed unable to execute properly, leading to a number of turnovers and tense moments.

Michael Pelech took a high-sticking call with 8:17 left in the second, and the Grizzlies’penalty kill did a terrific job, but no sooner did they return to full strength than they took a bench minor for too many men. The penalty kill proved to be rock solid, and Puskar drew a roughing call.

This time, when the Utah looked to kick the comeback into gear, it roared to life. Zac Larraza made it 3-2 on a seeing-eye shot that beat Carr with 3:03 left to go, giving the Grizzlies their second power play goal. Lévesque and Amestoy picked up the assists, giving them both multiple point games.

After 40, Utah had closed the gap in both shots (20-19 Alaska), and in score, and finished frame looking much better than they had all game.

Just 1:21 into the third, Erik Higby made it 3-3 from Mathieu Aubin and Erik Bradford, who now has six points in the last four games. Higby’s goal was his eighth point in ten games since his return from injury, and his fourth goal since moving to defence.

Just moments later, Larraza was taken down at the offensive zone blue line, and Utah went to their fourth power play of the night. Mathieu Aubin scored his 14th of the year on a nice shot below the hash marks to give the Grizzlies the 4-3 lead at 3:10. Pelech and Bradford got the assists, giving Bradford, Amestoy and Larraza all multi-point nights.

Faragher, in his turn, was spectacular when needed and the Grizzlies kept skating hard. All through the middle of the period, Utah continued to play well, whatever cobwebs they’d struggled with in the first entirely blown away.

With five minutes left in the game, the score remained 4-3, thanks in large part to Faragher.

Alaska took their time out and pulled their goalie with 1:31 to go, but Pelech took the puck at center ice, and scored into the empty net to give them the two goal lead with 1:10 to go.

Faragher made one last save for good measure, and the Grizzlies took a huge two points.

Aubin, Amestoy, and Lévesque were named the three stars of the game, each with multiple points.

When asked after the game what allowed the Grizzlies to hang on and come back with four unanswered goals Aubin said, “I think sticking together. We knew we had a bad start, not the start we wanted, in that huge game. After the first period, we just talked to each other, had a boost of energy, and then started playing the way we can, and it paid off at the end.”

“I think Tim (Branham) switched it up a bit,” said Aubin of Utah’s lethal power play, and his game winning goal. “Got us in a new power play tonight, put us at a spot where we’re comfortable, me and Pelly and Bradford, and Pelech just gave me an awesome pass. I just had to put it in, it was great.”

“It’s huge” he added, of Daly’s return. “He was our biggest weapon back there. He’s obviously getting back in shape here, he hasn’t played in a while, but he played a great game, and every game is gonna get better so it’s huge for us.”

“Obviously we know we need to win all those three games, we’re taking one game at a time, but for us, what we need is six points, and we’re not going to be happy if we don’t get that.”

Head Coach Tim Branham expressed similar sentiments.

“I wish we’d stop doing that. Give me a heart attack on the bench!” He began, to general chuckles, when asked about the Grizzlies’ continued ability to go down a few goals, and then come roaring back.

“The first period we just didn’t work for it, and we were down 2-1 for a reason. They out-shot us, they out-played us, they beat us to all the puck battles, and then as the second period rolled on, we gradually started to take over, and the second half of that second period was good. Obviously, our power play was really good tonight. Once we kind of got in a rhythm, once we kind of understood that hey if we work hard, do the right things, the things that we’ve talked about, we’re gonna have success. Don’t sit back. Don’t wait for the guy next to you to do it. Take it upon yourself to play your game, and once we start doing that, good things happen.”

With so much at stake in the next month and a half, Daly’s return couldn’t come at a better moment. “It’s very good to have Tim back. You look at him, he’s got a great stick, he makes plays, he has his head up. He’s so poised with the puck. You can tell he’s still ginger out there with his shoulder. He played over 30 minutes a night for us before he got injured, and in every situation, so he’s a huge part of this team, so it’s great to have him back.”

“Now we’re four points back with two games, so it’s huge. We did a good job up in Alaska, we’ve got to make sure we take care of business here at home. No matter what happens this weekend, it’s still not over. There’s a lot of hockey to be played, and we’ve gotta make sure we take it, like you said, one game at a time, and that’s all you can do. It’s one shift at a time, make sure you give  all that one shift and play the right way. If we do that, we’re going to be just fine. We hold our destinies in our own hands. All we have to do is win games. We just gotta take it one at a time.”

Puck drop for game two against Alaska is tonight at 7PM at the Mav.