Utah Grizzlies: Downed by the Best

Coming off a pair of much needed wins, the Grizzlies faced off against the league leading Toledo Walleye. Ryan McKay got the start, looking for his third straight win, with new acquisition Troy Redmann as his backup. Other new players included newcomer Brad Navin, and the returnee, Michael Pelech.

Toledo put pressure on the Grizzlies off the opening faceoff, but after five minutes, the Grizzlies had begun to push back, leading in shots 2-1, and spending several consecutive shifts in the offensive zone.

Toledo returned the favor, but McKay stood tall. At 7:53 Tim Daly got a roughing penalty, and the Grizzlies’ penalty kill looked exceptionally good, right up until they let in the 1-0 goal with two seconds left.

The rest of the period was largely a back and forth affair, the Walleye coming out with the slight advantage, but with the Grizzlies, and Erik Higby especially, having several good chances.

The Utah came out absolutely buzzing to start the second, controlling a majority of the play in the first five minutes.

Unfortunately, despite the strong play, Toledo got the second goal of the game as Tyler Sikura rang the puck off the post, and then collected his own rebound.

Toledo largely hemmed the Grizzlies into their own end for most of the end of the second, but Utah managed to keep the Walleye along the boards, and with 2:14 left to play, Brad Navin scored his first goal with the team off a turnover to put them within one.

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The third period did not begin well for the Grizzlies, as they were hemmed in their own end for almost the first four minutes straight. McKay was huge for Utah during that stretch, but Toledo went up 3-1. Less than a minute later, the Walleye scored again after a scramble in front of Utah’s net.

Taylor Richart got the Grizzlies’ first shot of the period about eight minutes in, and after that, the Grizzlies had a little more success.

With about seven minutes left, Erik Higby had his third big chance of the night, and as he was slashed going in, he was awarded a penalty shot. Unfortunately, though he beat Heeter, the puck went off the post and out.

Daly got called for interference with just under six minutes left to play, but the Grizzlies shut the Walleye down, Puskar got a short handed chance, and right off the penalty kill, Navin got his second of the game to cut the deficit in half.

With 2:19 left to play, Branham pulled McKay in favour of the extra skater. It payed off as Toledo iced the puck three times, and then Mathieu Aubin scored with 1:44 to go.

Despite a strong effort, the Grizzlies were unable to tie the game, and Toledo scored into the empty net with five seconds remaining.

The most encouraging thing about the game was that, except for the five minutes or so to open the first and the third, the Grizzlies were definitely able to skate with Toledo, allowing 24 shots altogether, and getting 20 of their own.

“We know we can play with them,” said goal scorer Brad Navin after the game, and it was a sentiment echoed by Coach Branham.

 

“Didn’t think we played with enough energy in the first period,” he said,  “I thought we gave them way too much respect, and then we realized that hey, we can play with this team, then we played pretty decent in the second period. Then in the first five minutes of the third, they kind of took it to us, and we were sitting back again, and then when we wanted to turn it, we turned it up.”

So where do the Grizzlies go from here?

“We gotta learn from that, just have confidence right from the start.”Branham concluded, “Coming off two big wins, I’m not sure why we didn’t come out with energy in that first period, I think we were kind of just worried and taken back, and thought they were going to be coming at us like super humans or something, but once we realized they were just a normal team, we started playing.”

On the return of Michael Pelech to the Grizzlies, he added, “He’s huge. Huge. The way he controls the play, he’s great down low, he’s a leader, he’s great on draws, it’s really nice to have that anchor back, we’ve really missed him, so definitely a big addition to have back.”

One gets the feeling that we’re starting to see real shape of the 2016-17 Utah Grizzlies coming together, and it’s an exciting prospect.

The Grizzlies take on Toledo again tonight in the second of three home games against the Walleye.

Utah Grizzlies: The Force Awakens

They may have been wearing Vader’s clones on their jerseys, but the Force was strong with the Grizzlies on Saturday night.

The opening minutes were largely played in the Grizzlies’ end, with Ryan McKay making some good saves, and Phil Pietroniro getting a very nice shot going the other way.

Utah got the first power play of the night at 3:25 as Ryan Walters tripped a Utah player behind the Grizzlies’ net. Rapid City got the first shot of the power play with a short handed rush up ice, but McKay and the Grizzlies’ defence were able to break it up.

The Grizzlies and the Rush exchanged several penalties in the next several minutes as the game turned into a race up and down the ice.

With roughly six minutes to go, the puck appeared to trickle past McKay while the Grizzlies were on the power play, despite a valiant effort, but the ref immediately waived it off due to a distinct kicking motion, and no sooner had Rapid City returned to full strength when they took another penalty.

After 20, shots were 9-7 for Utah, but the score remained tied up at 0.

Just about three minutes into the second, Rapid City scored again, going up 2-0, but throughout most of the second, Utah outshot the Rush. Erik Higby had quite a number of good chances throughout the period, and you got the feeling that he was going to score.

With three minutes left to play, Higby did just that, after an excellent stretch of offensive pressure, cutting the deficit to one.

Five seconds before the end of the period, Travis Howe and Brayden Low squared off behind the Rapid City net after a big hit. They both got sent off for fighting, but Low got an extra two for roughing, and the period ended with the Grizzlies outshooting the Rush to the tune of 24-12.

The third period was a wild ride right from the gate, as Mathieu Aubin scored from the point to tie the game at two with :39 left to go in the power play.

About two minutes later, Taylor Richart got an elbowing penalty after a big hit, and that’s when things got really interesting.

McKay took a puck off the mask, and left the ice bleeding heavily. Down Ryan Faragher and Kevin Boyle, the Grizzlies had signed Jay Stevens to be their emergency backup. Stevens, a 43-year-old firefighter, has served as Utah’s emergency back up on numerous occasions, but had never made an appearance for them until Saturday night.

As the ice crew removed McKay’s blood from the ice, and Stevens warmed up, Grizzlies fans had no idea what to expect, with the team on the penalty kill, and the game tied at two.

Stevens put any questions to rest immediately, and the Grizzlies killed off the penalty. They got a power play of there own at 6:35. At the end of the power play, shots were 29-19 for Utah, and Stevens was a perfect six for six.

But it wasn’t over quite yet. Higby went to the box for tripping with 7:05 left to play, and shortly thereafter, Josh MacDonald and Brenden Walker went off for Rapid City, while Howe was sent off for Utah.

At that point, McKay returned to the ice, and the crowd gave Stevens a rousing ovation as he headed to the bench, where his teammates gave him a hero’s welcome, his perfect 10:35 and seven saves having kept the Grizzlies in the game.

Rapid City and Utah exchanged several power play opportunities, but with only one minute left, and the Grizzlies out shooting the Rush 30-22, the score was still tied at two.

But the Grizzlies weren’t done. With just 40 seconds left in the period, Higby scored his second of the night from Bradford and Banwell to give the Grizzlies a 3-2 lead.

Though Rapid City called their time out to regroup, it made no difference, and Utah came away the winners.

Higby, Aubin and Stevens were named the three stars of the game.

 

“The guys just did an awesome job.” Branham said of his team after the game,  “The way they pulled together, stuck with it, never said die. Jay Stevens, the job he did there in net was just tremendous. For Aubin to get that tying goal, and Higby to pounce on a rebound to win it, you can’t say enough how proud I am of this group, the character that’s in that room.”

“They’ve put up with a lot of crap this year, a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs, and they’re coming out clean on the other end. We’ve just got to keep it up, savour the moment, and keep fighting, clawing our way back up in the standings.”

Of Higby he added: “We were saying on the bench before he got that game winner, ‘we’re gonna get one here, we’re gonna get one here’. It was a great rebound, he darted down there, right where we’ve been telling him to go for the last month.”

“The amount of adjustments we had to make today was crazy. You have to top your hat to these boys. They pulled together as a team, they executed, they listened, you can’t ask for anything more.”

The good night continued after the game, as the Star Wars jerseys raised $18,731 for the Make-A-Wish foundation. Ryan McKay’s jersey topped the sale, going for $1,800!

You can read a couple of great stories on Jay Stevens here and here!

Utah Grizzlies: Home Sweet Home!

 

 

After something of a hellish road trip, the Grizzlies returned to the Maverik Center hoping to get a much needed win on home ice.

The game began well with the Grizzlies getting their first shot right off the faceoff, but the following five minutes were very much a back and forth affair, and the Grizzlies’ passes didn’t quite seem to be hitting tape in the beginning.

Unfortunately, Rapid City would strike first at 5:32 as a laser shot found its way past Ryan Faragher. The Grizzlies responded with ferocity, but narrowly missed the net.

About the halfway point of the period, Jon Puskar got in on a 2-on-1, and scored on a beautiful shot to tie up the game.

Just a few minutes later, Evan Stoflet took a huge shot from the point, but his stick shattered, and the play went the other way. Immediately afterward, however, Erik Bradford got in all by himself, and deked out Rapid City goalie Austin Lotz right in the blue paint to put the Grizzlies up 2-1 at 11:52.

Shortly thereafter, Puskar found himself in the box for roughing, and the Grizzlies’ penalty kill went to work in a businessman-like  fashion. Faragher made a huge glove save, deflecting a dangerous-looking shot up and over the top of the net right as the penalty kill ended.

With just 2:47 left to play in the period, Mike Banwell got off a gorgeous shot from the point that found its way to the back of the net via the sticks of Bradford and Johnny McInnis, giving the newcomer his first goal at the Mav, and putting Utah up 3-1.

The Grizzlies came out hard in the second period, getting some sustained pressure in the offensive zone, and showing off an excellent cycle game.

However, at about the two-minute mark, a Hail Mary pass sprang Brayden Low all alone into the Grizzlies’ end. Phil Pietroniro made a diving attempt to tie him up, but only succeeded in tripping Low, who went sprawling into Faragher. The goaltender remained in the game, and Pietroniro went to the box for tripping.

The Grizzlies killed off the penalty without trouble, and about two minutes later, Brett Perlini went to the box for hooking against the speedy C.J. Eick.

Rapid City killed off the penalty, and at 7:47, Erik Higby took a slashing minor. Unfortunately, the Rush scored on the man advantage, as Josh MacDonald, a former Grizz player, tipped the puck in past Faragher.

Just shy of the halfway mark, Evan Stoflet, Anthony Colins, and Triston Grant got tied up along the boards, and Colins and Stoflet dropped the gloves. Stoflet and Colins both got five for fighting, and Stoflet and Grant both got two for roughing.

Just about a minute later, Ryan Walters (also a former Grizz) put a terrific shot through Faragher to tie up the game.

Rapid City took a penalty behind their own net to give the Grizzlies a power play at 11:52, but though both Mathieu Aubin and Tim Daly got big shots off, they were unable to capitalize.

The Grizzlies got another power play at 15:54, and with just seven seconds left, Aubin scored to put them up 4-3. However, before the in arena announcer even had time to finish announcing the goal, Rapid City came in and tied it up all over again.

To start the third, Ryan McKay replaced Faragher in the Grizzlies’ crease.

The Grizzlies started throwing their weight around, to good effect, but Pietroniro was taken down  by the Grizzlies net, and though he got up under his own steam, he had to be helped off the ice favoring his right leg. Stoflet took a penalty at 4:26, and the team has a close call as the puck got past McKay, but it hit the post and came back out. Shortly after the penalty kill expired, Pietroniro returned, though didn’t look entirely comfortable the rest of the way.

Just after the nine-minute mark, Mike Banwell scored his first of the year to put the Grizzlies up 5-4. Erik Higby and Erik Bradford got the assists, giving Bradford three points on the evening.

With 2:29 left to go in the period, Rapid City scored right off the faceoff, on an absolute rocket from the point to tie up the game once more.

After all that, the game went to overtime.

The Grizzlies dominated the extra frame, spending the large majority of the time either in possession of the puck, or keeping Rapid City passing the puck around in their own zone.

With 1:26 left in overtime, Banwell scored his second of the game to break Utah’s nine-game losing streak, and started the six-game homestand off with a much needed victory.

“It felt really good to get that win,” said Banwell after the game. “When they came back to tie it late in the third, we were obviously bummed out, but it was good how we rallied and came back and won in overtime, cause we were more than due for that one, so hopefully we can build on that and get some momentum.”

“We need to get the wins from anywhere right now,” he added later.

When asked how the Grizzlies can build on this win moving forward, he mentioned that while Utah got some bounces during the game, their goals were also gritty, the product of some strong net-front presence.

He also pointed out that the Grizzlies played pretty well in Wheeling, and in general lately; a sentiment echoed by Coach Branham.

“Obviously, we’ve been waiting a little long for that win,” Branham said, “But the boys have been playing good hockey. I’m not going to lie, there’s been some adversity and some weird change of events, but we played really good hockey. And tonight … tonight it wasn’t as good, to be honest, we didn’t play as good as we have been, but the boys wanted it. We faced a lot of adversity today, even some that the fans probably don’t know about, and for the boys to pull together and find a way was just awesome.”

When asked what it means to him that the Grizzlies continued to play hard throughout the nine game losing streak, he added: “it means the world, especially for me as a coach. When you lose that much in a row, it’s tough to keep their attention. They’re a great group of guys, they’re really fun to be around, they battle hard for each other. They never gave up, that’s for sure. They never gave up.

“We gotta savor this moment, we had a lot of success earlier this season, and we’ve finally got that feeling back. We’ve just got to build off of it.”

Of Banwell Branham said “he’s extremely important to this team: he plays against top lines, power play, penalty kill, he plays a lot of minutes. Obviously for a guy that’s played in the American League, we expect a lot out of him, and he delivers.”

He certainly did last night, with an assist and two goals, including the OT game-winner.

As to Faragher, and whether or not we’ll be seeing him on the ice tonight, Branham could only say that the team will re-evaluate today, and see how things go for tonight’s rematch.

The game starts at 7 PM, and as it is Star Wars Night, the Grizzlies will be wearing these awesome Storm Trooper jerseys which will be auctioned off after the game!

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: It Never Rains but it Pours

It was not an auspicious start for the Grizzlies in Wheeling, despite a few big chances from Ralph Cuddemi off the first shift, as Brett Stern blasted a shot over Ryan Faragher’s glove just 42 seconds into the game.

At 3:16, the puck bounced off the back boards, onto a Nailers’ stick, and took a wild bounce over Faragher and into the back of the net.

Shortly thereafter, the Grizzlies were trapped in their own zone, and Mathieu Aubin took a hooking penalty, sending them to the penalty kill. To make matters worse, Colin Martin had to be helped off the ice just prior to the 10-minute mark, and Utah found themselves outshot 5-3.

Erik Bradford took a hooking penalty at 13:47, but the Grizzlies were able to kill it off, and stepping back onto the ice, Bradford drew a penalty of his own. However, the period would end with Utah down 2-0, and outshot 8-5.

The second period did not begin any better as Wheeling scored less than 1:30 into the frame, and Faragher was replaced by Ryan McKay.

The Puskar line got a few good chances around the blue paint, but the Grizzlies and Nailers took matching penalties, as Jordan Kwas was dinged for hooking, and Puskar for diving. C.J. Eick took a holding minor roughly a minute later, and Wheeling scored on the 4-on-3.

Bradford drew a penalty before the the game returned to even strength, but the Nailers got about as many chances as the Grizzlies did. At 14:05, Aubin was called for boarding, and Puskar and Garrett Meurs both went to the box as well for roughing. The Grizzlies did get a 2-on-1 chance on the penalty kill, but a pass bounced over Eick’s stick on the odd-man rush.

The Grizzlies did get a chance on the 5-on-3 for 1:10 as first Alex Kromm went off for tripping, followed by an elbowing call on Danny Fick. Scarcely had the first 5-on-3 situation expired then Kromm went back to the box for slashing. Utah had a few chances, but the period ended with no change in score. Tim Daly was run over as time expired, and everyone grabbed a buddy.

Utah opened the final 20 with 52 seconds on the power play, but like many early-period man advantages, it came to nothing. However, the Grizzlies had another shot at the power play, as Christian Hilbrich was sent off for hooking. At the 3:46 mark of the period, Wheeling took a too many men penalty, and Tim Daly scored his second goal in as many nights.

With 14:13 to go, Cuddemi took yet another hooking penalty, but the Grizzlies were able to kill it off, and Eick even got his second short-handed attempt of the night. Just under 13 minutes in the period McKay made a big save, but Evan  Stofflet took a slashing minor. Puskar got a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct after a rumble in the neutral zone. Fortunately, McKay continued to look sharp, making a series of big saves, and the penalties to Stofflet and Puskar were both killed off.

Though the Grizzlies got some good chances in the final seven minutes or so, they were unable to spark any kind of comeback, losing their eighth straight game.

Unlike previous games, where the team looked good overall, with a few costly hiccups, the first period was pretty dreadful all around. However, with McKay coming in and making 14 saves on 15 shots in the second and third, the Grizzlies eventually got their bearings, and had a much better third period.

Obviously, this was not the follow-up game anyone was hoping for after last night, but the road trip is almost over.

Utah travels to Fort Wayne tonight where they will face the Komets tomorrow at 3 PM before finally returning to the Maverik Center.

Utah Grizzlies: The Goals Return, but the Losses Continue

Tonight’s game saw Ryan McKay make his pro debut against the Wheeling Nailers, and it was a wild ride to say the least.

The Grizzlies drew the first two power plays of the game, and after some chaos around the net, Erik Higby scored his third straight goal dating back from Sunday night, giving the Grizzlies the early lead.

Off the ensuing face-off, Travis Howe and Kyle Flemington dropped the gloves and fought to a draw. Immediately thereafter, Evan Stofflet drove the puck on the net and the rebound went straight to Colin Martin, who scored through a Wheeling defender giving Utah the 2-0 lead 17 seconds after they went up 1-0.

After receiving some nice goal support from his team, McKay returned the favour, making a series of huge saves. Things got a little chippy as the team tangled in front of McKay and Erik Bradford and Nick Sorkin were both sent to the box.

At 16.41, Ralph Cuddemi went to the box for hooking, and McKay and the Grizzlies defenders went to work. Unfortunately, Tim Daly took a hooking call, and the Grizzlies went down 5-3. Despite being hemmed in their own end, they killed off the 5-3, and thanks to a clear from Cuddemi, spent the remainder of period keeping the puck pinned to the boards in the Wheeling end. At the end of 20, the Grizzlies up 2-0, shots 13-12 in Wheeling’s favour.

The second period began with action on both ends, but though there was some excitement, nothing much of note occurred until Mike Banwell and Garrett Meurs dropped the gloves 6:06 into the period.

Kevin Schulze closed the deficit to 2-1 just past the 12 minute mark, and though Utah responded well, Wheeling tied it up with just under two minutes left to play in the period.

Scarcely into over a minute into the third, Flemington was left wide open and uncontested beside McKay, and batted in an easy goal to put Wheeling up 3-2.

The line of Johnny McInnis, Colin Martin and Erik Bradford drew a penalty, and then collected some good scoring chances on the ensuing power play. Utah would tie up the game on the power play, after an absolutely delicious display of determination and passing put the puck squarely on the Rocket’s stick. Mathieu Aubin made no mistake, scoring his fifth of the year with assists from Banwell and Jon Puskar.

Despite a valiant effort from Cuddemi and McKay, Derek Army scored his second of the game just past the half-way mark of the period, forcing the Grizzlies to once again play from behind.

The Grizzlies pressed on, however, Puskar, Howe and Kenton Helgesen getting some good looks, and creating chaos in front of Wheeling goalie Doug Carr with about six minutes left to play.

With 3:46 to go in the period, Banwell was called for roughing, and the Grizzlies found themselves in quite a hole, down 4-3, and on the penalty kill.

Although Utah was able to kill off the penalty, the Nailers kept buzzing, and Cody Wydo put them up 5-3 with 1:17 left in the game almost immediately thereafter.

Down 5-3, and with 50 seconds left, Branham elected to pull McKay, and the Grizzlies played 6-5, which payed off as Tim Daly scored after a wild scramble in front of the net. Bradford and Cuddemi were awarded the assists.

The Grizzlies pulled McKay again, but though they played furiously in the last ten seconds, they were unable to send the game into overtime.

While the loss was a disappointing way to go after the 2-0 start, there were still some positives. The team looked good, over all, much more like their former winning selves, and the goals made a long awaited return. McKay played well in his debut, despite the loss, and the Grizzlies have a chance to settle the score in the rematch tomorrow night.

 

Image courtesy of Josie Vimahi.