Utah Grizz: Unfamiliar Territory

Coming off a big weekend against Alaska, the Grizzlies looked to keep the wins coming against stiff opposition. Ryan Faragher got the start in Utah’s first encounter ever against the Florida Everblades, while Gabriel Verpaelst made his Grizzlies’ debut in place of Sean Robertson.

The Everblades began well, but it was the Grizzlies who brought all the fire power early. Michael Pelech, Cam Reid, and Austen Brassard all scored in the first five minutes for Utah. Florida pulled Anthony Peters in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic, and the fireworks weren’t over yet. The Everblades an interference penalty, and Marc-André Lévesque dropped the gloves with Dalton Smith.

Faragher stopped a short-handed breakaway on man advantage, and the Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize. Unfortunately, Florida had some terrific zone time afterwards, and scored at 10:31 when Utah was unable to clear the puck, making it 3-1.

The Grizzlies held off a swarming Florida, including on a power play following a Pelech holding call. Faragher absolutely stood on his head through the rest of the period, and at the end of 2o, the score was 3-1 Utah. However, Florida outshot them 11-5, and the Everblades’ most dangerous period, historically, was yet to come.

Utah came out of the gate quickly, and just 59 seconds into the second, Erik Bradford tipped in a big shot from Phil Pietroniro to restore the three goal lead. Jon Puskar’s work to keep the puck alive earned him the secondary assist.

The Grizzlies got another power play at 3:06, but it was negated shortly thereafter when Pelech took a tripping call at 3:37. Utah killed it off, and even got a breakaway chance of their own from Mathieu Aubin.

The Everblades cut the lead in half again with 11:02 to go, again after a prolonged shift in the Grizzlies’ end.

Utah thwarted what seemed like a sure recipe for disaster when Puskar, Brassard, Amestoy, Daly, and Pietroniro were trapped in their own zone for what must have been well over a minute. Shortly thereafter, Daly drew a power play with just under two minutes left to play, but though Utah got a few looks, they were unable to capitalize.

After 40, Utah led 4-2, but the Everblades continued to outshoot them 20-13.

Faragher made two enormous saves to start the third period, and at 3:46 Martin Nemcik took a slashing call, sending Utah to the penalty kill. C.J. Eick got in on a glorious breakaway, but Nedeljkovic turned him aside, and on the next shift, Gabriel Verpaelst took a boarding call, sending the Grizzlies to a lengthy 5-on-3.

The Grizzlies killed off the 5-on-3, but unfortunately, Florida scored after Pietroniro whiffed on the clearing attempt, and the puck went straight to a waiting Everblade to make it 4-3 at 6:46.

Utah held Florida off through the later minutes of the period, and with 1:30 left to go, Florida pulled their goalie. He had to return to the net 30 seconds later when Grizzlies drew a power play. Verpaelst took an elbowing call mere seconds after that, though, allowing Florida to pull their goalie yet again, and play 5-on-4 with the empty net.

Regardless, the Grizzlies hung on through the last minute, and they picked up a huge two points against one of the top teams of the ECHL. Unfortunately for the playoff race, Alaska beat Colorado, so instead of moving within one of the last spot, the Grizzlies remain three back.

Marc-André Lévesque remains a point-a-game with the Grizzlies, while Bradford’s multi-point game ties him with Ralph Cuddemi for the team lead with 13 multiple-point games this season. Bradford and Reid were named the first and third stars of the game, and while Faragher was not, he very well could have been as well after that performance.

Utah moves on to Orlando next where they will take on the Solar Bears on Friday and Sunday.

Utah Grizzlies: Swagger

Saturday night’s game was likely the last to ever be played between the Alaska Aces and the Utah Grizzlies, and it did not disappoint.

Ryan Faragher got the start for the third straight game, and the only roster change saw Sean Robertson draw in in place of Zac Larraza.

Utah came out flying in the opening minutes of the period, and Jon Puskar scored his 19th of the year at 3:37, making it 1-0 on a beautiful shot. Ralph Cuddemi drew the only assist.

About a minute later, Phil Pietroniro put the puck over the glass, and was sent to the box for delay of game. There were some tense moments to follow, as C.J. Eick joined him shortly after for interference, drawing a crowd of ticked off Aces players. Between some beautiful saves from Faragher, and the Grizzlies’ excellent penalty kill, however, the 5-on-3, and subsequent 5-on-4 were both killed off.

Both teams collected chances in the following few minutes, but it would be Utah who capitalized. At 10:45, The Grizzlies came flying into the Aces’ zone, and Colin Martin made it 2-0 on Pietroniro’s rebound.

Martin took a penalty at 13:02, and though Utah did an excellent job of killing it off, Alaska cut the Grizzlies lead in half mere seconds after it expired.

Both teams got good chances in the last four or so minutes, but Utah decidedly carried the play, throwing a flurry of shots on net in the last three seconds, and the period came to an end with Utah up 2-1, outshooting Alaska 9-7.

The Grizzlies continued to buzz right out of the gate in the second, as Erik Bradford rang the post mere moments into the frame.

Brad Navin took a goaltender interference penalty at 2:34, and the Grizzlies got a few chances early, but Alaska also got two breakaways. Ultimately, however, Martin made Alaska pay, scoring his second of the night at 3:49 after absolute mayhem around the net. Cam Reid and Marc-André Lévesque drew the assists, and Utah reclaimed their two goal lead.

Despite being up by two goals, the Grizzlies stayed hungry, continuing to skate hard and get chances. Alas,, that’s when the questionable penalty troubles began. Mathieu Aubin was pulled down in the defensive zone at 9:22, yet it was Pietroniro who was sent to the box for tripping.

Unfortunately, Nolan Descoteaux scored on the suspect penalty, and the game was made 3-2. Alaska put the pedal to the metal after their goal, and with 8:31 left to go, they tied it up.

The Aces continued to press, but Faragher made a pair of big saves, and the momentum slowly began to shift back in Utah’s favor.

Mitch Jones tried to goad Ralph Cuddemi into a retaliatory penalty, but with no luck after the Grizzlies continued to crash the net.

The crease crashing paid off as the Grizzlies went to the net hard, and Martin’s wrap-around slipped past Kevin Carr for the hat trick. Martin’s hat trick makes him the third Utah player this year to put up a three goal game, joining Cuddemi and Puskar. Reid picked up his third assist of the night – all three coming on Martin’s goals.

The missed calls continued to pile up, as Erik Higby was taken down with no call. A few minutes later, Brassard was sent into the back of the net at 16:45, and took justice into his own hands, dropping the gloves with Mitch Jones. Brassard won the bout emphatically, Jones got an extra two for roughing, and Utah went to the power play.

The Grizzlies’ power play generated some chances, including two from Martin, but the most dangerous attempt of the play went to Alaska who jumped on a bad line change, and got a 2-on-0 on Faragher. Faragher made a phenomenal save, and the Grizzlies went into second intermission up 4-3.

Alaska got a big scoring chance eighteen seconds into the third on their sixteenth shot of the night, but Faragher shut the door.

Puskar took a shot up high along the boards with no call with 14:31 to go, and Reid took a holding call moments afterwards. Once again, Descoeaux scored on the power play, to tie the game at 6:02.

The Grizzlies responded emphatically as Bradford, Aubin, and Michael Pelech capped off a terrific shift with a goal from the Rocket at 9:08.

Alaska countered, but the Grizzlies did a terrific job blocking out shots, and responding with offensive zone shifts of their own. With roughly five minutes to go, Alaska twice got away with blatant calls against Tim Daly, but Utah continued to battle

The Aces finally took a penalty as Stephen Perfetto all but hitched a ride on Daly through the neutral zone with 2:18 left in regulation. The power play was not so much a power play as a time killer, Utah playing keep-away in the offensive zone as much as possible.

When the final horn sounded, Utah had outshot Alaska 28-24 en route to the 5-4 victory, while Martin, Reid, and Faragher were the well-deserving three stars of the game.

“This whole series, I don’t think we put together a full 60 minutes until tonight.” Martin said after the game. “We took it to them from puck drop right to the last buzzer there. That’s what we need to do every night. It’s playoff hockey, starting now, and it’s time to go.”

Coach Branham had similar thoughts on the team’s game. “Definitely proud of the effort. I’m sure it was exciting for the fans, but we would have liked to keep the puck out of our net a few more times, but I thought we did a pretty good job. We did a good job of answering every time. Alaska did a good job of responding, and then we would respond back. It was just great. No matter what got thrown at us — we were talking on the bench — no matter what gets thrown at us, we’re not losing this game. I thought we could have had quite a few calls there at the end, that weren’t called. I don’t know what was going on there. But we did get the one at the end, and we were able to seal the deal.”

“Our destiny is in our hands” Branham continued. “We’ve gotta just win. Win games, and we’ve got a tough stretch here, but so do they. Missouri lost again tonight, so we’re two points up on them, and they make up a game in hand tomorrow, so we’ll be watching the scoreboards, but at the end of the day we’ve gotta just worry about what we gotta do, and focus on continuing to win hockey games.”

“It’s pretty crazy” Martin said, reflecting on the future of the Aces, “Every time you think about this league, one of the teams you obviously think about is the Alaska Aces. It’s sad. I feel sorry for the guys down there, but at the same time, it’s hockey. Stuff happens, and you’ve just gotta do what you can.”

As much as Martin may sympathise with their fate, he, and the Grizzlies, are focused on their own play, and the task ahead. “We’re confident. That’s what we need. We need confidence, we need guys going to the net, we need guys scoring goals, that all comes with confidence. I think we have that right now, we’ve got some swagger, and it’s time to go to Florida and get six points.”

Confidence and swagger were the watchwords of the day as Branham echoed Martin’s words:”It’s all about confidence and swagger. It’s a confident group in there, so we’ve just gotta build on that, and keep that rolling.”

With the win, Utah improves to 9-0-0-1 when they score first, and a staggering 13-1-1-2 when Puskar scores.

They’ll look to take their winning ways to Florida in the coming week, where they will face the Florida Everblades, and the Orlando Solar Bears, both of whom have been hot as of late.

Photo courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

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.

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: A Point Taken

In the first of Utah’s three games in Colorado, the lineup saw a little bit of a change up, as Zac Larraza returned to the Grizzlies after having spent most of the season thus far with the San Diego Gulls. Marc-André Lévesque also made his debut in a Grizzlies’ jersey, and Ryan Faragher got the start.

Erik Higby got the Grizzlies on the board first at 3:58, on a gorgeous shot from the right circle, with assists from Austen Brassard and Larraza.

Unfortunately, Utah had no time to rest on their laurels. The Eagles answered with two goals in 61 seconds less than a minute later, and the Grizzlies found themselves in desperate need of some more offense. The first goal was off a wild scramble and repeated rebounds that eventually beat Faragher, and the second off a takeaway and a big shot from Sam Jardine.

Colorado continued to press after their two goals, but Faragher turned aside multiple two-on-ones, and other chances, while the Grizzlies scrambled to get their bearings.

Matt Garbowsky made it 3-0 with a wrap-around at 11:08, and Faragher narrowly prevented a 4-0 deficit immediately after. Martin Nemcik and Sean Zimmerman took a penalty after the ensuing scramble. Colin Martin took a tripping minor a few minutes later, but Utah killed off their first short-handed situation of the game, silencing the best power play in the league.

The Eagles got a second go on the man advantage after a slashing call on Travis Howe at the very tail end of the period. Erik Bradford nearly capitalized on a turnover all alone in front of the Eagles’ net, but Clarke Saunders dove out of  to make the save

At the end of twenty, Colorado led 3-1, and the shots were tied at 11 a piece.

Despite starting the second on the penalty kill, Ralph Cuddemi had a spectacular chance by himself as the Eagles’man-advantage ended, and Larraza, Brassard, and Cam Reid had a shift that started a brief stretch of Utah possession at about the seven minute mark. On the other end, Faragher continued to turn aside some dangerous Eagles’ opportunities.

Cuddemi made it 3-2 as the puck hit Saunders on the 2-on-1, and then bounced into the net at 10:28. With 7:33 left in the period, Utah was outshooting Colorado 21-15.

Despite drawing their first power play of the game with 3:06 left in the frame, Utah was unable to capitalize, and Martin took a high-sticking penalty with less than two left to go, sending the teams to a brief 4-on-4, and then an Eagles’power play.

Aubin and Higby both had chances on the penalty kill, but it would be Bradford who tied the game short-handed on a beautiful buzzer beater. Utah outshot Colorado 15-5 in the frame, and 26-16 overall after forty.

Utah killed off the remainder of the Eagles’ power play to start the third, and then they had to weather some Colorado pressure. Faragher made a couple of key saves, and the Grizzlies pushed back, getting a very nice shot off a Cuddemi drop-pass to the trailing Pietroniro. There was another very close call when the puck trickled through Saunders in the blue paint, but Teigan Zahn narrowly beat Pietroniro to the puck and swept it out of danger.

Colorado pressed for large portions, but the Grizzlies got a few counter-punches that forced Saunders to make a few good saves. At 9:01, Brassard and Zahn got sent off with matching cross-checking penalties, and Utah drew a 4-on-3 when Bootland tripped up Larraza by the Eagles’ net.

Casey Pierro-Zabotel got away with a couple of crosschecks on Pietroniro by the goal mouth, but just moments later, Cuddemi scored his second of the game with assists from Bradford and Lévesque.

The pace kicked up a couple of notches in the final six or seven minutes or so, and with just 2:20 left in the third, Alex Belzile tied the game up again. Despite a good response from the Grizzlies, the game went into overtime.

Unfortunately for Utah, after a fast paced 55 seconds, the Eagles got in on a two-on-one, and Jake Marto scored the game winner.

It was not the Grizzlies’ finest performance, though it certainly wasn’t one of their worst either, and the point is a valuable one in the playoff push.

Larraza and Lévesque seemed to fit in fairly seamlessly, which is a major benefit, especially for the defence.

Utah plays tonight (Friday) and Saturday against Colorado, and it is to be hoped that a renaissance in goal-scoring together with more familiarity on defence will lead to a better result.