Utah Grizzlies: Playing Catch-Up

Looking to pick up their seventh straight win, Utah turned to Sean Maguire in nets, and Mitch Jones returned to the lineup after missing seven straight games. With Jones’ return, Nate Mitton sat out as the Grizzlies returned to ten forwards and six defensemen.

It was not Utah’s best start, as they looked a little wobbly off the face-off, and it cost them, as the Mallards scored 43 seconds into the game on a huge shot. They settled down considerably after that, the third line helping tremendously in that regard.

Sam Babintsev drew a power play about five minutes in, and the Rookie of the Month wasted no time in getting yet another goal. Austin Ortega’s power play marker from Michael Pelech and Taylor Richart tied the game.

Sam Windle took an interference call at 8:28, but the Grizzlies killed it off. However, at 11:27 Kyle Bigos scored off the face-off on a lightning shot to once more give the Mallards the lead. At that point, things certainly looked less than ideal, as they trailed 2-1, and were being out-shot by a count of 15-3.

At 17:59 the Grizzlies pounced on a lose puck in the offensive zone, and Jake Marchment sniped on Ivan Kulbakov to restore the tie.

Ortega took a slashing call with 21 seconds left, but after twenty, the game was tied 2-2, the shots a far more respectable 16-10.

The second didn’t get off to a great start either, as Pelech took a cross-checking call 32 seconds in, putting Utah on a five-on-three for over a minute. The Grizzlies were able to kill off the five-on-three, but Ortega had barely made it out of the box when Tristan King gave the Mallards the 3-2 lead.

The usual scoring suspects went charging into the offensive zone, Kulbakov went on a wild adventure, and before Ortega could pounce on the mistake, the whistle was blown on a supposed hand pass.

The defense lost the puck behind the Utah net, and at 3:29 the Mallards made it 4-2. Joel Rumpel came in at that point for Maguire, who really couldn’t be blamed for the state of the game.

The Grizzlies drew a power play following a brief scrum in front of Rumpel, and just five seconds in, Walters made it 4-3.

Unfortunately, the Mallards pounced immediately, and made it 5-3 abuot a minute later.

After such a fast and furious opening six minutes, the back half of the period was slightly less eventful. The BAM line had a couple of shifts that came painfully close to finding the net, and Rumpel made a number of big saves.

Rob Mann and Brayden Low got into a net-front skirmish, Mann getting a double roughing call, and Low getting just two. However, Utah killed it off.

Despite another strong shift from Ortega, Pelech, and Navin, and a rocket from Richart, the Grizzlies went into the second intermission down 5-3, out-shot 29-24.

The third opened with a bang, Walters scoring unassisted 55 seconds in. On the very next shift, Misiak made it 5-5.

They weren’t allowed to rest on their laurels, however, as Low made it 6-5 a little over a minute later. The action didn’t stop there, as Misiak was sent somersaulting, and Utah got their third power play of the night.

They weren’t able to convert this time, but they followed that up with a couple of strong offensive zone shifts.

Harms dropped the puck off for Richart, who blasted it into the net, but supposedly the net was off, despite no whistle, and they called it off.

With the BAM line once again causing trouble around the Mallards’ net, Ortega drew a tripping call at 9:36. Navin tied it for real on the ensuing power play, extending his scoring streak to seven games with assists from Ortega and Pelech.

Richart took a puck up high shortly afterwards, but got up and remained under the bench, and took his usual shift afterwards.

Quad City kept things interesting, robbing Walters of a hat trick, and then beating Rumpel, but not the post.

The Grizzlies took over the lead in shots 36-34 with three minutes left, but despite a big shift from Misiak, the game went to OT after a big third goal period. Both teams came close, Misiak and Harms especially, but the extra five once again solved nothing. Babinsev and Navin both beat Kulbakov on perfectly placed backhanders, but neither Walters nor Ortega capitalized, and Utah fell 7-6.

So the winning streak is over, but the point streak continues, as do Ortega’s, Navin’s, and Richart’s scoring streaks. Moreover, Walters, who earned second star of the game with two goals one assist, is over a point a game on the season (53 points in 48 games), and has eight points in the last five. Likewise, Misiak has twelve points in the last ten, and Marchment has seven points in the seven games he’s played with the Grizzlies.

The playoff race has become very interesting, as the Oilers, Americans, and Grizzlies are all fighting for the final spot, currently sitting at 59, 58, and 57 points respectively. With fifteen games left in the season, the Grizzlies post season push is bound to be an exciting (if stressful) one.

In a quick turn around, the Grizzlies play the Indy Fuel tonight and tomorrow before returning home for a home stand against Allen.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Staying Hot

After a very successful, if brief home-stand, the Grizzlies were back on the road again in the Quad Cities. With Chris Leibinger and Mitch Jones still out, the Grizzlies again went with five defensemen and eleven forwards. After all, why mess with success? Joel Rumpel got the start in nets.

The Mallards were full of jump early, but after five minutes both teams had three shots each. The teams continued to exchange zone time, but it was Utah who struck first, Brad Navin extending his points streak to six games with a big shot for his tenth goal of the year. Austin Ortega and Sam Windle got the assists. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes later, Quad City tied it up on a huge shot of their own.

The Grizzlies got the first power play of the game, but were unable to get anything going. However, Ryan Walters gave them back the lead moments afterward.

Windle got an elbowing penalty at 16:49, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and after 20, they led 2-1, out-shooting the Mallards 11-7.

Navin sprang Ortega on a glorious breakaway 3:16 into the second, giving them a brief two goal lead. The Mallards drew within one again just over a minute later, however.

Walters went down with 11:45 to go either from a stick or the puck, but he remained on the bench, and ended up not missing a shift.

Brendan Harms had a couple of  great looks one one shift around the half-way mark of the period, while Sam Babintsev and Mitch Maxwell both had great opportunities to get their firsts of the year.

All three lines had an amazing couple of shifts shortly after the fifteen minute mark, but weren’t able to beat Ivan Kulbakov, who had himself quite a game.

Harms and Kulbakov took matching minors at 18:39, and at the end of the second, Utah had out-shot the Mallards 23-12 in the frame, hitting the locker room up 3-2.

Ryan Misiak got in all alone about four minutes into the third, and made no mistake, giving Utah their second two goal lead of the game.

After what had been a pretty good shift, Nate Mitton took a tripping call at the seven minute mark, which Utah killed off. The action went back and forth through most of the rest of the period, Rumpel making a number of big saves, and Ortega nearly getting a second goal.

James Melindy took a high-sticking call with 2:19 to go and the Mallards pulled Kulbakov to skate six-on-four. With less than a minute to go, Walters put the cap on the victory, scoring short-handed into the empty net from Richart.

Ortega (one goal, one assist), and Walters (two goals) earned the first two stars of the night, while Navin (one goal one assist), and Richart (two assists) also picked up multiple points. Moreover, Navin (ten points) and Richart (nine points) extended their streaks to six straight games, while Ortega (seventeen points) extended his to eight. Though they didn’t come in consecutive games, Misiak has eight and Walters has six points over the span on the winning streak.

Utah looks to keep rolling, and start March off on the right foot with their seventh straight win tonight against the Mallards.

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.

 

Utah Grizzlies: A Flurry of Goals

On yet another snowy evening, the Grizzlies faced off against Jon Puskar, Ralph Cuddemi, and the Wichita Thunder, and absolutely buried them on the first half of the Grizzlies Fight Cancer weekend.

Wichita’s Johnny Daniels came flying in, and in fighting him off, Rob Mann took a tripping call 50 seconds in. Utah was very aggressive on the penalty kill, and Wichita only took two shots. A nice defensive play from Sam Windle kept the shots at 2-1 with about four minutes gone.

The Thunder took a too-many-men minor at 4:06, and the puck found it’s way onto Navin’s stick, but the power play was ineffectual. However, barely had the penalty expired, than Utah went back to the advantage as Daniels stepped out of the box, and was a little too enthusiastic in his play against Taylor Richart.

Utah wasn’t able to capitalize on the power play, but barely a second after they returned to full strength, Michael Pelech scored with assists from Richart and Mitch Maxwell, who got his first point with Utah.

The Grizzlies went right back to the power play again at 8:36 as Cuddemi went to the box for slashing. Utah wasn’t able to capitalize, Gage Ausmus took an interference call on Puskar, Sam Windle took a tripping call, and before Shane Starrett could get off the ice for the extra attacker, Cuddemi made it 1-1 at 11:51. Utah killed off Windle’s penalty, but the parade to the penalty box was by no means over.

A couple of minutes later, Travis Howe, and Samuel Thibault dropped the gloves, and Howe pummeled Thibault pretty thoroughly before the refs intervened. Howe got an extra two for removing his helmet, but in the end it didn’t matter, as Ryan Misiak took a perfect pass from Ryan Walters behind the net, and fired it home to restore Utah’s lead. Ausmus picked up his first point on the secondary assist.

Walters almost got a shorty of his own on the next shift, flying in, and getting a back-hander off on Starrett. Rumpel and Brendan Harms were big in killing off the rest of the power play, and they drew another power play in the offensive zone.

The Grizzlies initially had a little bit of trouble with the puck, but in the end it didn’t matter, as Brendan Harms beat Starrett top shelf from in the top of the blue paint to give Utah the 3-1 lead. It was fortunate that he did, as less than a minute later a shot from Puskar went off Rumpel’s glove and in.

It was a pretty sloppy period, but it had some of everything: a fight, a power play goal, a short handed goal, an even strength goal, good goals, bad goals, and lots, and lots of special teams. But Utah led 3-2 going into the first intermission, shots 8-6 for Wichita, and that’s as close as the game ever got.

The Thunder put on some pressure through the early moments of the second, but the Grizzlies re-established their game, and got some pressure of their own back around the four minute mark.

The Captain struck at 5:55, banking the puck off the post and in, on a really nice shot, making it yet another game where they put four past the generally very stingy Starrett. Sam Babintsev got his first point with the Grizzlies with an assist.

Utah went back to the power play at 6:39, but the Thunder killed it off, allowing no shots, and Howe went back to the box on a high-stick at 9:32. Harms didn’t miss by much on a chance for his second of the game with less than 30 seconds left on the Howe minor, and Utah returned to full strength.

The Grizzlies really got buzzing with over six to go, getting a couple of strong shifts swarming around Starrett, and the puck continued to follow Misiak around. Given the game Misiak was having, it perhaps came as no surprise when he pounced on a turnover, and scored his second of the game unassisted. Clearly, Misiak  likes playing the Thunder, as all four of his last goals have come against them.

It was Starrett’s last shot of the game, and Nick Riopel took over the net in relief.

Mann took a cross-checking call at 16:58, the Grizzlies blocked all kinds of shots, Pelech beat out Travis Brown on the short-handed breakaway, and then beat Riopel cleanly for the 6-2 goal. Again, the short-handed goal was fortunate, as Cuddemi scored his second of the game about twenty seconds later on another that Rumpel probably wanted back.

After 40, the Grizzlies led 6-3, and had barely edged out the Thunder 14-13 on the shot clock.

Despite leading by three goals, Utah didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the final frame.

Ortega went off for high-sticking eight seconds into the period, but despite getting four shots, Rumpel and the defensive effort shut them down.

Misiak made a bid for the hat trick about three and a half minutes in, but Walters’ pass rolled off his stick.

Harms got stapled to the boards hard with about six minutes gone with no call, and when Howe went out on the next shift, it looked like it might have been for another fight. Instead, however, on a night of first points, Howe scored his first of the year from Babintsev and Jake Marchment. Fortunately for the injury-bitten Grizzlies, Harms was out again, seemingly none the worse for wear pretty soon thereafter.

Misiak made yet another bid for the hat trick half way through the third, but Riopel turned that aside as well. James Melindy was taken down around the seven minute mark, and there was again no penalty. He took matters into his own hands against Nick Latta and got two for cross-checking, two for unsportsmanlike conduct, and was tossed from the game. The 5,751 fans in attendance were vehement in their disapproval, but the penalty kill was more than up to the task. Rumpel, Richart, and Walters were especially noticeable, but the entire squad stepped up.

Utah continued to play hard in the last couple of minutes after the penalty kill and with 1:46 to go, they had once last go at the power play. Navin and Pelech both got shots in the last minute, Howe made a couple of moves, and at the final buzzer, they were the 7-3 victors.

It wasn’t, perhaps, Rumpel’s best game, but he made some big saves when Utah needed them, and considering how much Monday’s victory was due to his performance, it was excellent that the team was able to respond with an outpouring of goals to return the favor. Misiak’s assist and two goals earned him first star honors, while Pelech (two goals) and Walters (one goal and one assist) picked up the second and third stars. Richart and Babintsev also had multiple points, both getting two assists, while all but four players picked up points.

“The changes we made, honestly, made a world of difference.” Tim Branham said after the game. “Getting a goalie like Rumpel, he’s played some great games for us. I’m sure he wanted a couple back out there tonight, but it was our turn to get him a win from the win that he got us against Idaho. The Colorado boys that we got, Ausmus and Marchment, those guys are just spectacular. We’re really rolling all cylinders right now, we’re a real confidant group, but we’re playing the right way. We’re seeing a lot of the little things that we’ve been preaching all year. We’re doing, whether a lot of shot blocking, winning your battles, chipping pucks up the wall, third guy high, or something, we’re doing a lot of things that successful teams do.”

Of the game’s first star, he added: “Ryan was great. When he’s moving his feet and being opportunistic, good things happen. He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. He loves here, and tonight he was definitely spectacular.”

The guys picking up their first points came in for a share of praise, and so did the rest of the team. “Those guys are a big part of our team. Babs [Babintsev] came in, has done real well, Maxwell, coming in from Canadian university, he’s really poised with the puck. He’s an older guy coming out of collage, so you can tell he’s real poised out there, real confident guy. Obviously Howie, we know what he’s all about. Everybody from top to bottom was really playing with a lot of confidence. They’re playing a team game. The most important thing is that we understand that yes, we’ve accomplished a little bit, but we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve just got to keep going, we’ve got quite a few games left in the season, and we just have to make sure that we’re playing well.”

“I think we’re just desperate.” Misiak said when asked about why everything has been coming together for the team. “We know the situation we’re in, we’re climbing in the standings, but we haven’t done anything yet, so we just have to continue to move forward.”

They will look to do that tonight (Saturday) and close out the series against the Thunder on another high note on the final Grizzlies Fight Cancer night.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and Staff

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: Stolen Thunder

After a win in Wichita on Friday night, Utah looked to build on their success. The roster remained the same, Utah once again going with ten forwards, five defensemen, and Kevin Carr on Saturday night.

The Thunder were much more active early, controlling play through the first three minutes. Fortunately, Carr was sharp, and though they weren’t able to keep Wichita out of the offensive zone, they didn’t give up many shots.

The third line got a flurry of opportunities, and Taylor Richart rang the post about five minutes in. Brendan and the Ryans also followed that up with a strong shift.

Michael Pelech took a tripping call for the first penalty of the game, but Olsen grabbed the puck, sprinted out of the zone, shot, and Chris Leibinger slipped one past Shane Starrett at 10:57.

Utah almost immediately drew a tripping call of their own, but were unable to capitalize on the advantage. It didn’t matter, however, because Brendan and the Ryans had a terrific shift, and Misiak made it 2-0 from Harms and Cliff Watson.

Kyle Thomas drew a massive crowd with 2:30 to go, but except for it taking a few moments to break up, nothing came of it, and the period came to an end. Utah led 2-0, out-shooting Wichita 11-9.

Although Brendan and the Ryans had a strong shift a few minutes into the second, it ended with the puck trickling past Carr with agonizing slowness off the stick of Ralph Cuddemi. Cuddemi’s thirteenth of the year would be the Thunder’s only goal.

Mitch Jones took a high-sticking call at 9:14, but Thomas flew in, and scored the Grizzlies’ second short-handed goal of the game.

Misiak nearly got the second line another goal when he received a breakaway pass with about three minutes to go, but Starrett shut the door.

In the end, it didn’t matter either, as the next shift was a good one, and Walters made it 4-1 at 17:59. The assists went to Watson and Jon Puskar.

Olsen took a roughing call towards the end of the period, but Utah went into the locker room 4-1, with the 23-17 edge in shots.

Utah killed off the remainder of Olsen’s penalty to start the third, but Pelech collided with a Wichita player, and both had to be helped off the ice. This put Utah down to nine forwards and five defensemen, but it hindered them not at all.

The rest of the third was surprisingly uneventful, with no penalties, and no goals.

Wichita did hold possession throughout the middle of the period, evening up the shots 24-24, but between shot blocking and some amazing saves from Carr, the game came to an end with no change in score, shots 26-26.

Walters and Misiak were awarded the first and second stars of the game, Walters extending his goal-scoring streak to three (five points in two games) while Misiak now has goals in consecutive games. Olsen picked up his fourth primary assist in two games, while Puskar’s assist gave him his fourth point in three games. Austin Ortega put up a team-leading five shots, while Watson picked up two assists, before heading out to the ECHL All-Star game.

The Grizzlies have now turned in two very strong outings after the pair of disastrous games against Rapid City, scoring four goals in each game. They also did some damage on special teams, with two power play goals on Friday, and two short-handed goals on Saturday. Likewise, the first period or so of Friday’s game, and the lone goal on Saturday aside, it looks like Carr has returned to form.

Hopefully Utah will be able to keep the momentum rolling on Monday afternoon, when they kick off the first of four straight against the Rush.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Bring on the Thunder

With three disappointing losses under their belts, Utah came into Wichita looking to bounce back, especially on the defensive end of things. With Travis Howe out with a two game suspension, and James Melindy scratched with a day-to-day injury, Utah went back to ten forwards but played only and five defensemen, Mitch Jones drawing back in on the blue line. Kevin Carr once more got the start.

The first line of Ryan Walters, Jon Puskar, and Kyle Thomas started for the Grizzlies, and were followed by a strong shift from Brendan Harms, and the other two Ryans, who got the first shot of the game.

Misiak, Olsen, Zach Saar, and Sam Windle had a great shift, crashing the Thunder net, and Saar dropped the gloves with Cory Melkert at 3:21. Five minutes into an 0-0 game, shots were 8-2 for the Grizzlies.

Wichita had a brief stretch of possession shortly thereafter, but Utah responded well, and the Thunder took a delay of game penalty with 13:09 to go. They didn’t capitalize, but they held possession for nearly the entire advantage.

The Grizzlies’ strong, structured play continued through the first half of the period, out-shooting Wichita 11-4.

The defensive woes of the Pelech and Ortega line continued, and after a strong shift from the Thunder in the offensive zone, Evan Polei roofed it on Carr to give them the 1-0 lead, despite the 12-6 shot advantage for Utah.

It looked like Wichita had scored again moments later, but the linesmen went racing in, and after a brief conference, the goal was waived off with 5:13 to go.

Olsen made a couple of good plays, which ultimately culminated in a pass to Misiak through some bodies. Misiak pulled it around Shane Starrett, and into the net to tie the game up at 17:42. Ortega got the secondary assist.

After 20, Utah out-shout Wichita 20-8, goals one apiece.

The Grizzlies came out buzzing to start the second, getting the first three shots of the frame. Windle got a nice shot 16 seconds in, and then Brendan and the Ryans had a strong shift.

It eventually payed off. Olsen dished to Higby, and Higby batted it past Starrett, giving Utah the 2-1 lead.

Wichita then took two penalties in quick succession, and Puskar made it 3-1 from Ortega and Walters on the two-man advantage. Carr kept it a two goal lead, shutting down a one-on-none with roughly eight minutes gone, and Utah drew yet another power play.

They were unable to capitalize, and Chris Leibinger just missed scoring a gorgeous goal, as he flew in, and sniped on Starrett. Unfortunately for Utah, though he beat Starrett, the puck hit the post, and rolled to the wrong side.

Misiak took an offensive zone penalty with 3:15 to go, and after lengthy offensive zone possession, Wichita drew within one.

Brendan, the Ryans, and Cliff Watson buzzed around Starrett after he goal, but after 40, Utah headed out with a 3-2 lead, and a 38-18 shot lead.

Wichita took a face-off violation just 17 seconds into the period, but Utah was unable to beat the determined kill, and the Thunder returned to full strength.

Momentum swayed back and forth, first Colin Martin and the Thunder varying play, then Higby and Pelech, then the Thunder again through the first ten, as Wichita pressured, and Utah’s structured play briefly fell apart under it.

Jones took an elbowing call at 8:19, but Utah gave up relatively few looks, Walters got in on a short-handed breakaway, and Carr made a save right as the kill expired.

Another unforced error from the Thunder (too many men this time) led to another Utah power play, but the Grizzlies struggled again, Olsen and Harms having to hustle back to break up a good  Wichita short-handed look.

With 5:49 to go, Jones took another penalty, but fortunately, the penalty kill looked far more dangerous than their power play had in its last two outings, and Carr held down the fort.

With less than two minutes to go, Starrett went to the bench, but the Grizzlies controlled play in the offensive zone, holding the puck for almost fifteen seconds. The Thunder got a little too excited and got caught with seven men on the ice with 46 seconds to go.

Wichita once more pulled their goalie to skate five on five, and held possession of the puck, but for the second time that night, Walters pounced on the puck at the Utah blue line, and despite the best efforts of Jeremy Beaudry, pulled away, and scored into the empty net with ten seconds to go. Olsen got his third assist of the night

It was a fitting end to a pretty strong game, in which Utah out-shot Wichita 42-27 to halt the skid at three.

Olsen appeared to be more engaged than he had been for several games past, shooting more in the first period than he had in the four previous games combined. It certainly payed off, as he got three primary assists, and made some big moves on both ends of the ice, as well as playing a role on the power play and penalty kill.

The play of Misiak and Olsen earned them both stars, Misiak picking up the first star, while Olsen received the third.

The same two teams square off tonight before Utah returns home for their Monday afternoon match against Rapid City.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.