Utah Grizzlies: Into the Storm

The Grizzlies came out flying against the Thunder on Monday night, and were rewarded almost immediately, as Ralph Cuddemi pounced on a rebound at 2:45, and Shane Walsh deked out a lone Adirondack defenceman before putting a laser of a backhand past Mason McDonald at 5:10.

Just before the half-way mark, first Colin Martin and then Phil Pietroniro were hit hard, and were slow to get up. Pietroniro remained on the bench, and Martin returned to it before the penalty was even over.

The Grizzlies took full advantage of the power play, and Cuddemi scored his second of the night at 11:51.

Adirondack pushed back a bit after that, but Utah ended the period on a strong note with excellent pressure around the Thunder net. At the end of 20, Grizzlies led 3-0, and outshot the Thunder 11-7.

The first five minutes of the second were pretty scramble-y, and the puck remained in the Utah zone for long stretches of time, but between Faragher, and the Grizzlies’ defensive play, they were able to remain on top in both shots and on the board. That is also not to say that they spent the entire stretch in their own zone, as Cuddemi nearly capped off his hat trick early on.

At 6:53, new acquisition Robbie Donahoe found himself in the penalty box for hooking, but the Grizzlies’ penalty kill was more than up to defending against an unexciting power play. Right after Utah returned to full strength, however, Faragher was called on to make a huge save as a Thunder player got in all alone, and Utah went right back to the penalty kill as Mike Banwell took a seat for hooking. The power play was unable to generate anything as the Grizzlies were quick to jump on every puck.

Just over 12 minutes into the period, the Grizzlies stormed into the offensive zone en mass, and C.J. Eick scored his fourth of the year to put the Grizzlies up 4-0.

Not long thereafter, Walsh got taken down, and Brandon McNally made his return to the lineup felt, as he took on Phil Lane. They both would be assessed double minors for roughing, but as Adirondack took an additional slashing call, the Grizzlies went to the power play. They got a few chances on the man advantage, but Adirondack stemmed the tide.

Unfortunately, with just under two minutes to go, Mathieu Aubin took a highsticking penalty, and the Thunder scored at 18:50. After 40, Utah was up 4-1, but Adirondack had taken the lead in shots, 18-16.

The first half of the third was spent largely in the Grizzlies’ end, but between Faragher’s strong play, and Utah largely keeping Adirondack pinned along the boards, the Grizzlies maintained their lead. At 7:14, Cuddemi was penalized for closing his hand on the puck, but between some well timed clears, and tight defensive play saw them through.

With 6:18 left to play, the Grizzlies had only turned two pucks on McDonald, but rapidly remedied that in the next minute, as Puskar and Amestoy both got chances, putting the shots up to 25-22 for Adirondack.

Going with the bold strategy, Adirondack pulled their goalie down 4-1 with roughly five minutes to go, and the Grizzlies took a number of icing calls as various players, including Faragher, took shots at the empty net that missed by the slimmest of margins, including one that just clanged the post, before Evan Stoflet scored his first of the season into the empty net.

Just seconds thereafter, Adirondack added a second goal, but despite pulling their goalie again, that was as close as the Thunder got.

Faragher, Cuddemi and Stoflet were named the three stars of the game.

It wasn’t a great game, by any means, what with the long stretches hemmed in their own zone, and some general sloppiness, but after two great games against Allen that were lost in such a frustrating manner, sometimes you need a break like this game to get back on track. “We’ll take the two points,” said Coach Branham after the game, “Much, much needed two points, that’s for sure, a big win here at home in front of our awesome fans, and a few things we just gotta clean up, but we’ll definitely savour the moment.”

The same two teams will face off again on Friday and Saturday at 7pm.

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: Unbowed, Unbent, Only Slightly Broken

When the Utah Grizzlies and the Colorado Eagles play, you may fear for the Grizzlies’ lives, but you’ll never be bored. The Eagles are big, they’re nasty, and to top it off, they’re chock full of talent. But the Grizzlies are every bit as skilled, never ones to back down from a fight, and are happy to give as good as they get. As a result, gratuitous penalties and painfully close games are par for the course when these two teams square off. Saturday’s game was no exception to the rule.

After the physical game on Friday night, the Grizzlies were down Eric Springer, Jon Puskar and Taylor Richart. As only Travis Howe and Colin Martin replaced them, the Grizzlies faced an uphill climb, playing short-handed against the meanest team in their division for the second time in as many days.

Shane Walsh opened the scoring for Utah 10:41 into the first period off a nice little drop pass from Tim Daly and Austen Brassard, and then the game took on all the hallmarks of an Eagles-Grizzlies tilt.

Jessey Astles plastered Daly to the boards, and Martin flew in to defend his teammate. Both Astles and Daly would get double minors for roughing, followed just two minutes later by Michael Sdao and Howe, who also got roughing penalties after a scrum in front of the Eagles’ net. Less than a minute after that another Grizzlies’ chance led to another net-front scuffle, and both Brandon McNally and Sean Zimmerman were sent to the box; Zimmerman with a double minor for roughing, and McNally with a minor for slashing.

Though Walsh was again flying on the Grizzlies’ power play, they were unable to capitalize. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Jesse Mychan, one of Colorado’s leading scorers, got in behind Utah’s defence, and tied the game up with 1:44 left in the period.

Less than a minute later, Martin tripped up Teigan Zahn, and the pair dropped the gloves for real, sending Colorado to the power play to end the period. After 20, shots were 8-6 for the Grizzlies, the score 1-1, with 30 penalty minutes already assessed.

The Grizzlies killed off the first-period penalty, but a few minutes later found themselves again on the kill after Daly was sent to the box for hooking. Ryan Faragher stonewalled Mychen, and C.J. Eick, corralling the puck in his own zone, blew into the Eagles’ end and nearly had a breakaway. Although Eick was unsuccessful, Kenton Helgesen followed up Eick’s excellent shift with one of his own, blasting a short-handed point shot through a screen for his first goal of the year.

The rest of the second period was fairly uneventful by way of goals or penalties, but there was no shortage of chances, possibly missed calls (including what should probably have been a couple of Eagles’ penalties against Phil Pietroniro), and general ill will all ’round. The end of the second saw the Grizzlies leading 2-1, and holding the smallest of edges in shots, outshooting the Eagles 17-16.

The pace of the third was good, but neither team was able to muster more than one shot in the opening five minutes. Helgesen had another big shot from the point just after the 10-minute mark, and Faragher smothered the puck on Matt Garbowsky, who nearly managed to sneak past the Grizzlies’ defence. With five to go, shots were 25-24 for the Grizzlies, and they were maintaining the 2-1 lead, but with the Eagles, you can never rest comfortably on such a slim advantage.

With just under three minutes to play in the period, Erik Higby took a slashing penalty, Faragher made some huge saves, and the penalty was killed off. However, with about 30 seconds left in the game, Colorado pulled their goalie and called a timeout. A mere four seconds later, with a swarm of bodies in front of the Utah net, Luke Salazar somehow trickled the puck over Faragher to tie the game up, and a scrum broke out. Both Ralph Cuddemi and Cole Sanford were sent to the box off the ensuing faceoff, and the game went to overtime.

Because of course it did.

A wild five minutes of hockey — in which there were definitely too many men on the ice for both teams at one point, Daly rang a shot off the post, Faragher made a huge save, and the Eagles continued to target Pietroniro — solved nothing, and the game went to the shootout.

Aubin (missed the net), Cuddemi (saved by Lieuwen) and Higby (lost control of the puck) all shot for the Grizzlies, while Faragher stopped Pierro-Zabotel, Garbowsky hit the crossbar, Salazar was robbed by a beautiful toe save, and Mychen too was unable to score for Colorado before Walsh put the game away 3-2 for the Grizzlies.

With the victory, the Grizzlies remain unbeaten at home, improve to 5-1 overall, Faragher has won four straight, and the team finds themselves on top of the Mountain Division. They also improve to 9-3 against Colorado in the regular season over the past two years.

Although Tim Branham, the Grizzlies’ head coach and general manager, had no concrete explanation for why his squad is consistently able to come out on top in such closely contested games against the skilled and nasty Eagles, he did add that “we have big players that play here in Utah, and big players play in big games, and when Colorado is in your building, you better be sure you come ready to play.”

Come to play they certainly did.

Walsh Continues to Shine

Shane Walsh continues to be a force to be reckoned with, scoring the game’s opening and winning goals, and being generally noticeable all over the ice at all times. He now has four goals and two assists over six games, trailing only Jon Puskar in team scoring, and has been named a runner-up for October’s CCM ECHL Rookie of the Month. He was named third star of the game.

First Star Honors

Kenton Helgesen was named first star, and had another terrific night again doing double duty for the short-handed Grizzlies. Coach Branham had nothing but praise for the Ducks’ prospect.

“He’s done tremendous. He’s come a long way from last year. And we’ve utilized him in the front, we’ve utilized him on the back end, he scored a huge goal for us today, he’s played big minutes. He has definitely come to play this year. He’s done a fabulous job.”

The flexibility Helgesen gives the Grizzlies by being able to play forward and defence has been a big benefit to the team in the past two games.

“It’s tough to do,” Branham added. “You have to think differently, so for him to just do that is great. He’s had a great season so far.”

Helgesen now has three points in four games, and is a +2 with three shots.

Firing on all Cylinders

In their six games this season, the Grizzlies have two or more points from all but three of their skaters. Jon Puskar holds the lead with seven points, Walsh has six, and Brassard five.

Even more impressive, there are six players (not counting Samuels-Thomas, alas) who are at or near a point per game. Puskar and Walsh, of course, lead the list, but there are also Colin Martin (1G, 2A in three games), Zac Larraza (1G, 1A in two games), Austen Brassard (1G, 4A in five games) and Helgesen (1G, 2A in four).

Combine the team’s excellent scoring contributions with Faragher’s goaltending (which saw him named one of the runners-up for October’s goalie of the month) and you have a very strong team.

The Grizzlies begin a grueling stretch of four games in five nights in two different cities starting tonight in Tulsa before playing Friday and Saturday in Wichita, and Sunday back in Tulsa.

Utah Grizzlies: Routed on the Road

 

The Utah Grizzlies did not get off to an auspicious start in their first away game of the season, battled back to a tie at the end of the second, and then had the wheels came well and truly off in the third.

After being badly beaten in the two opening games, the Steelheads came out strong in their home opener. Just 2:19 into the first, the Grizzlies’ defence left Caleb Herbert all alone in front of Kevin Boyle, and he made no mistake, scoring the first goal of the game on the first shot. Very shortly thereafter, they scored again as Phil Pietroniro lost his footing and Travis Ewanyk scored on the second shot.

Tim Daly put the Grizzlies within one, first drawing a penalty in the Grizzlies’ end, and then on the delayed penalty, carrying the puck up the ice himself to score his first goal of the season in style.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were a little lackadaisical coming back to their own zone, and Idaho scored. The Grizzlies responded well to the setback, and upped their play a notch. With 4:01 left in the first, Shane Walsh, Colin Martin and Brandon McNally crashed the Steelheads’ net, and McNally banged the puck home, making it 3-2 Idaho. The Grizzlies seemed to get their feet under them after that, and looked much better in the last few minutes of the period.

The Grizzlies came out in the second and continued to improve on their play, though nothing came of it until Jordan Samuels-Thomas scored on an absolute cannon of a shot, tying up the game at 11:49. The Steelheads looked a bit shaky for a stretch, and the Grizzlies upped the intensity. Larraza and Samuels-Thomas swarmed the net, and the Steelheads’ goalie looked a little harried, but smothered the puck.

At 19:34, Jon Puskar took a holding penalty behind his own net, but the penalty kill was very short lived. Idaho’s Rob Linsmayer took a high-sticking penalty with 12 seconds left in the period. After forty, the game was tied at three, and the shots were also tied at 20.

In the opening minutes of the third, it looked like the Grizzlies had a chance to make a game of it – deserved or not. However, that was not to be. Following a post face-off scramble, Kellan Lain put the puck right through Boyle for the Steelheads’ fourth goal at 5:14.

Unfortunately, that goal turned out to be the death knell of the comeback, as Utah ran into some penalty trouble, and the Steelheads scored their fifth goal on the power play. Boyle was clearly not happy with himself, slamming his stick on the crossbar in the aftermath.

The Grizzlies had another chance to close the gap when the Steelheads took two penalties, and Utah pulled Boyle for an extra attacker. Colin Martin scored his first pro goal, putting Utah drew within one again, and it looked like the rookie had waited for just the opportune moment to make an impact. The goal was eventually given to Samuels-Thomas, and less than a minute later, Linsmayer scored on a turn over. At that point, it was all well and truly over. Kyle Jean scored on the empty net with less than thirty seconds left, and David Glen put the final nail in the coffin with just four seconds to go. The final count was 8-4 for Idaho, and the shots 33-24, also in Idaho’s favour.

After battling so hard to tie the game up at the end of the second, it was disheartening to lose by such a wide margin, but the Grizzlies clearly weren’t on their game all night. They had issues in transition, and their defensive coverage – such a strength in the first two games of the year – was weak, most especially in the first period, but also throughout the game in general. As a result, their rookie net-minder was often left to fend for himself, and he struggled mightily.

Fortunately, Utah can go back to the drawing board and try again tomorrow, as the same two teams face off again in Idaho at 7:10 MST.