Utah Grizzlies: Ex-Zac-tly what the Doctor Ordered

With Jon Puskar and Cam Reid out with injuries, Ralph Cuddemi suspended, and Tim Daly up in the AHL, the Grizzlies came into tonight’s game with nine forwards and five defensemen – a situation they had not found themselves in since the infamous game against Alaska in February. When asked what it would take to replicate a win, Tim Branham answered, “heart.” Fortunately, that’s something the Grizzlies have in spades.

The game started much more tentatively for the Grizzlies than Friday’s contest, but Faragher made some terrific saves to keep the game 0-0 as Colorado got the first six shots of the night.

Utah took the first penalty when Michael Pelech took a roughing call with 11:39 to go. They were able to kill off the disadvantage, thanks to an excellent penalty kill, and to a terrific save or two from Faragher.

After that, the Grizzlies improved, getting some chances of their own, and doing a much better job of keeping Colorado in check.

Mathieu Aubin made it 1-0 at 15:13 as Pelech, Aubin, and Zac Larraza capped off a strong offensive zone shift.

Unfortunately with 20 seconds to go in the period, Luke Salazar made it 1-1, and after 20, the shots were 15-7 for the Eagles.

Erik Bradford drew a power play at 2:19, and Larraza scored on an absolutely gorgeous snipe just over a minute later.

Utah continued to largely control play through the middle of the frame, but Pelech took a slashing call with 8:29 to go, and Colorado went to the man advantage. However, the Grizzlies got short handed chances from Higby and Bradford, and killed off the penalty.

Utah got a power play of their own at 14:18, but though they got a few looks, they spent most of the man advantage chasing the puck back to their own end. They got a second chance on the power play with 2:42 left as Colin Martin drew a hooking call, and then made Colorado pay, scoring his 20th of the year with assists from Bradford and Larraza.

There were some extracurriculars as the buzzer sounded, and Utah headed to the locker room up 3-1, having closed the shot gap to 24-22.

The Grizzlies began the third well, keeping Colorado shotless for the first three minutes or so, Garrett Haar drawing a hooking call at 3:25. Utah was unable to capitalize, but Bradford’s speed drew another power play with 13:43 to go, but were unable to make it 4-1. However, they also did not allow any dangerous short handed chances, which after their previous struggles, was certainly a good thing.

In the end, it didn’t matter, as Larraza made it 4-1 at 9:48 with assists from Bradford and Gabriel Verpaelst.

The Eagles pressed hard with just about five minutes to play, but Faragher and the Grizzlies stood their ground. Phil Pietroniro and Jackson Hauk took matching roughing penalties with 5:05 to go, and Nemcik followed soon after, putting the Grizzlies on a 4-on-3 penalty kill for a minute, and the Eagles pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. the Eagles scored shortly afterward, but the goal was scored on a high-stick and immediately called back.

Colorado pulled their goalie once more with 1:54 to go, but the Grizzlies held on to win 4-1, and closed out the season series against one of the best teams in the league on a high note.

Larraza had a breakout night, and had a hand in every single Utah goal, picking up assists on the goals by Aubin and Martin. He also picked up two goals of his own, and was named first star. Bradford and Larraza continued right where they’d left off on Friday night, and Bradford had a multi-point game of his own with two assists, earning second star of the game. Faragher was also incredible, making 41 of 42 saves, and holding the fort early before the Grizzlies really got going, and was named the third star.

With Missouri wining against Wichita, and Alaska losing to Rapid City, the race for the final playoff position has become incredibly close. The Mavericks and Aces both have a game in hand, and are tied with 70 points, while Utah trails them by just one.

The Grizzlies continue their road trip in Rapid City, where they will play Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday before returning home for a final, all important home stand against the Mavericks.

Utah Grizzlies: A Taste of Redemption

With eight games to go in the season, Utah looks to continue their tradition of closing out the year on the high note. Branham elected to start Rob Nichols, signed out of the University of Connecticut in his pro debut, while Erik Higby returned to defense with Daly in the AHL.

Both teams got chances early, while Nichols held the fort. The top line of Zac Larraza-Erik Bradford-Ralph Cuddemi looked terrific in the opening five minutes, as the Grizzlies picked up seven of the first eleven shots of the game.

Utah drew the first penalty as Teigan Zahn went to the box for roughing at 9:31, and then just moments later, Gabriel Verpaelst was taken down in the offensive zone, and Cam Maclise went to the box for high-sticking. Higby made it 1-o after a nice shift for Utah, while Garrett Haar and Larraza got the assists.

The rest of their power play looked much improved, getting a few more chances before the Eagles returned to full strength.

The Grizzlies continued to play well, though they did occasionally get caught in their own zone, where they did a good job of helping out their rookie goalie.

With 3:07 to go, Austen Brassard continued his strong play, scoring on a tight angle shot, with assists from Michael Pelech, and Mathieu Aubin, and Haar drew a penalty in the final seconds of the period.

At the end of 20, Utah led 2-0, and outshot Colorado 10-8.

Utah opened the second period with 1:41 left in their power play, but while they got a few shots, so did Colorado, and the Eagles returned to full strength.

C.J. Eick took the Grizzlies’ first penalty of the game, a holding call after he got tangled up with Sean Zimmerman in the offensive zone, but Utah had no trouble keeping the Eagles chasing the puck out o the zone. Aubin took a goaltender interference and Bradford made it 3-0 on a gorgeous short-handed rush.

Unfortunately, Phil Pietroniro took a delay of game penalty just seconds after that, and the Eagles made it 3-1 on a tick-tack-toe play. They scored yet again just moments after that on the 5-on-4 to make it 3-2, and all the momentum the Grizzlies had built up was gone.

Matt Register took a slashing penalty on Nichols, who had to leave the game as a result. Ryan Faragher took over in nets, and the Grizzlies went on the power play. They were unable to convert, and Pietroniro and Harrison took matching minors at 16:02.

The game got a bit out of control as Cuddemi boarded Zahn, and then Jackson Hauk jumped Cuddemi. Brassard, Verpaelst, and Michael Sdao all got involved, and once the dust settled, Cuddemi was given five minutes for boarding, and a misconduct, while Hauk, Sdao, and Verpaelst got two each for roughing.

At the end of 40, Utah maintained the 3-2 lead, but were outshot 24-17, and staring down a three minute penalty kill, and without Cuddemi.

The Grizzlies killed off the three minute Cuddemi major, and Bradford nearly got a second short-handed breakaway, but was not quite able to elevate the puck over Kent Simpson’s pads.

Eick made it 4-2 at 5:32 with assists from Higby and Travis Howe, giving Higby his second point of the game, and Howe his fourth point of the year.

Faragher made some big saves to preserve the two goal lead, and Brassard scored his second of the night into the empty net to give the Grizzlies the 5-2 win.

Haar once again had a great game, as did Brassard, who now has nine points in the last ten games. It was also an encouraging outing, as the entire team looked better than they have at any point in the Colorado series for a complete sixty minutes. Now, if they can keep that momentum rolling, they should do pretty well.

Unfortunately, it has since been announced that Cuddemi has been suspended indefinitely for his hit on Zahn (who has since been placed on reserve), and Nichols has been released to return to UConn to finish school after being injured – though he returns having won his first professional game. So not only will Utah have to fight for their playoff spot without arguably their best defenseman in Daly, but without their leading goalscorer as well.

There is some good news though. With Alaska’s loss to to Rapid City, and Missouri’s win, Utah remains one behind Missouri, but only three behind Alaska for the final playoff spot.

Utah will need to dig in and overcome adversity to finish the season in a playoff spot, but they are no strangers to adversity this year, and have proved on several occasions that giving up on the Grizzlies is unwise.

After all, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Utah Grizzlies: Death by Special Teams II

The Grizzlies got off to a very good start in their final home game against Colorado on Monday night, as Cam Reid opened the scoring at 1:42 with assists from C.J. Eick and Phil Pietroniro. Unfortunately, however, the advantage they’d established evaporated as they ran into some penalty trouble.

Martin Nemcik took a holding call at 7:08, but Garrett Haar’s hard work behind the Grizzlies’ net drew a penalty and evened out the play. However about four minutes later, Michael Sdao was tripped up and flew into Faragher. Faragher wasn’t entertained, and laid into him, which resulted in two Utah penalties, one to Nemcik for hooking, and one to Faragher for roughing. Matt Register got off three big shots from the point on the five-on-three before the next one finally beat Faragher to tie the game.

Erik Higby took a double minor for high-sticking at 13:09, and Register scored yet again on the 5-on-3. The Grizzlies were able to kill off the remainder of the penalty, thanks in large part to Haar’s excellent play, and Colorado took a penalty of their own with 22 seconds left in the period.

After 20 minutes, the game was tied 1-1, and Utah outshot them 11-9.

The Grizzlies got off to another great start in the second, as Michael Pelech made it 2-1 24 seconds into the frame with assists from Marc-André Lévesque and Mathieu Aubin.

Austen Brassard got a beautiful breakaway all alone from off the bench, but was tied up, and no call was made. Faragher and Haar continued to impress, Faragher made some terrific saves, and Haar also had a nice scoring chance. Register took a slashing penalty with 13:18 to go. Utah was unable to generate anything on the man advantage, and Faragher had to make an incredible pair of saves as the Eagles pounced on some egregious turn overs.


However, just when it looked like Colorado was prepared to take the bit in their mouth and run off with the game, Pelech scored his second of the period from Tim Daly. Haar got the secondary assist, his first for Utah, and a nice touch to a great game.

Pelech took a tripping call with 4:34 to go, but C.J. Eick, who had looked terrific so far, got a glorious short-handed breakaway, but unfortunately his shot went wide. However, they killed off the remainder of the penalty, and at the end of 40, Utah led 3-2, and the shots were tied 22-22.

The third period did not get off to an altogether auspicious start, as the Eagles kept the Grizzlies playing in their own end, and Utah iced the puck. However, they averted danger, and Daly drew a tripping penalty behind the Utah net.

The Grizzlies struggles on the power play continued against the Eagles, however, as Darryl Bootland made it 3-3 with 1:03 to go on the Utah man advantage.

The special teams issues continued for the Grizzlies, as they took a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct at 9:51, and despite two terrific saves from Faragher, the puck continued to pinball, and Jackson Houck made it 4-3 about a minute later.

Faragher and Haar continued to have strong games, Faragher turned aside a breakaway, and shortly thereafter, Haar made a perfect sliding play to prevent a shot on the 2-on-1.

Utah tried to make a game of it, but despite a power play in the final two minutes of the game, and pulling Faragher for the extra attacker, Colorado scored a short handed empty netter for the dagger with 37 seconds to go.

When the buzzer sounded, the Grizzlies found themselves the losers of three straight, outshot 33-31. They definitely did not play badly, but special teams cost them. Every single one of Colorado’s goals was scored either on the power play, or the penalty kill, and the Grizzlies’ power play – though they did score one on the man advantage – really hurt them as the Eagles’ penalty kill jumped on any mistake or hesitation.

“I thought we definitely played well enough to win.” Said Branham after the game, “Special teams was a huge part of the last two games, and they’re pretty good on special teams, so we’ve got to make sure we tighten up in that area.”

“We’ve got to play that same way. Be a little more disciplined, stay out of the penalty box a little bit. I didn’t think some of those penalties were warranted. I thought we were on the wrong end of quite a few of them, to be honest, but that’s the way it goes, and you’ve got to battle through it.”

He had good things to say of Eick and Haar as well:

“[Eick’s] full of energy. He’s a guy that works hard each and every shift, and his speed is tough to defend, so we like getting him out there on the open ice, he brings it every game. It’s great for a coach when you know what you’re going to get out of a player every night. You definitely know what you’re going to get out of him each and every night.”

He added that he thought the contest was the second in which Haar was theGrizzlies best defenseman.

With their loss, they find themselves one point behind Missouri, and five behind Alaska. They’ve got eight games left, so the playoffs are certainly not out of the question, but (as they have all year) they face a very stiff uphill battle.

Then again, it remains unwise to count them out entirely.

They play tonight in Colorado, where they hope to return to their early season success against the Eagles.


Utah Grizzlies: Turning the Tables

After falling 3-0 on Friday despite amassing 42 shots, and playing pretty well, the Grizzlies were highly motivated coming into the matinee rematch.

Coach Branham elected to go with eleven forwards, scratching defenseman Garrett Haar in favor of Travis Howe – a decision which ended up paying off in spades. Ryan Faragher got the start again, facing down Ryan Massa, who looked to extend his 12o minute shut-out streak.

The Grizzlies came out of the gate with speed, and Travis Howe made it 1-0 at 1:29, breaking the shut-out streak, and picking up his second goal of the year on a nice shot. Austen Brassard and C.J. Eick drew the assists.

Utah continued to press hard after Howe’s goal, getting a number of chances, including a beautiful, point-blank shot from Higby. Faragher was also called upon to make some saves of his own, which he did with alacrity.

Utah picked up an 8-5 shot advantage through the first four minutes, as the Grizzlies continued to drive the play. Utah drew the first power play of the night, but though they got a few looks, they were unable to capitalize.

The Grizzlies negated their power play at 11:16, but they played well on the ensuing 4-on-4, and killed off the ensuing 5-on-4 thanks both to the penalty kill and some excellent play from Faragher.

No sooner had Orlando returned to full strength, than the speed of Pietroniro and Erik Bradford drew yet another penalty, sending the teams back to 4-on-4 before a Utah power play.

The Grizzlies drew two more penalties toward the end of the first, including one right at the buzzer.

After 20 the Grizzlies maintained the 1-0 lead, and had outshot the Solar Bears 14-11.

Utah began the second period with a lengthy 5-on-3. They were unable to capitalize on the two-man advantage, despite a number of strong shifts. However, Colin Martin scored on a nifty little spin-o-rama just as the first penalty expired. Cam Reid got his 20th assist of the year, and Pietroniro picked up the secondary for his 13th.

Orlando pushed back after the goal, but the Eick-Puskar-Howe line pushed right back, and the teams continued to trade chances, Faragher and Massa both making some excellent saves.

Michael Pelech took an interference call at 8:04, but the Grizzlies killed it off. Gabriel Verpaelst and Martin Nemcik got involved in a slight scuffle around Faragher with the Solar Bears forwards, and Verpaelst got jumped by Taylor Doherty as the teams returned to the bench. Both got four for roughing, though Doherty more or less grabbed Verpaelst and pummeled him without much resistance.

Off the very next faceoff, Howe and Daniel Maggio dropped the gloves. Maggio got the take down after a spirited bout, and both were sent to cool their heels in the box just past the half-way point.

Austen Brassard took a slashing minor with 5:38 to go. The Bears got some pretty good looks, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill remained strong. At the end of 40, the Grizzlies remained up 2-0, but had been outshot 26-20.

Orlando came out with some jump in their step in the third period, but Faragher stood strong.

Puskar drew a power play with 11:16 left to go, but though the Grizzlies maintained possession and zone time for the majority of the man advantage, they were unable to beat the penalty killers.

Utah ran into some penalty problems of their own, as Reid took a slashing call at 11:12, and Verpaelst joined him at 11:25 for boarding. However, the penalty kill was so good that Faragher hardly saw any shots.

With 4:42 to go, Pelech drew an interference call, sending the Grizzlies to a power play of their own, and the officials were quick to break up Pietroniro and Chris Crane before more than words could be exchanged. The Grizzlies were unable to generate much on the man advantage.

Orlando pulled their goalie with just over a minute to go, but they took a penalty with 1:52 left to go. Utah finished the game on the power play, but were more or less content to kill time as the clock wound down.

When the final buzzer sounded, Faragher collected his second shut out of the season with 39 saves, and was named first star of the game. Howe and Martin were named the second and third stars of the game respectively, and the Grizzlies headed back to Utah with four of six points.

Utah is off until Friday, when they play the first of five straight games against the Colorado Eagles.

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.