Utah Grizzlies: The Elusive Complete 60

On Wednesday night, in their first games against their former teams, Ryan Olsen, Cliff Watson, Gage Ausmus, and Jake Marchment were all in their teams’ starting lineups. In Utah’s net, new goalie Brandon Wildung got his first pro start.

The Grizzlies got off to a good start, Ryan Walters flying in largely uncontested, until Matt Register lifted his stick at the last moment.

Utah took the first penalty of the night, a cross-checking call on Chris Leibinger, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and Walters rang the cross-bar short-handed on a glorious pass from Brendan Harms.

In hi early tests, Wildung looked good, poised and calm, On a hard working shift in front of the net from Jake Marchment, Travis Howe, and Walters, Howe banged the puck in past Lukas Hafner to open the scoring.

Then things got interesting. On the very next shift, Brad Navin flew in with a head of steam, and was tripped up, sending Utah to the delayed power play and then the power play. On the first shift of the power play proper, Taylor Richart came wheeling around the Eagles net, and was leveled. It looked scary, fortunately in the end, he skated off under his own steam, though he did not return.

The power play unit got working after that, and though they didn’t score, Navin briefly hobbled Teigan Zahn, and the Grizzlies took over the shot lead.

Unfortunately, at 13:48 Watson beat Wildung with the assist from Olsen to tie it up. Leibinger took a hooking call on the next shift. Once again, the Utah penalty kill was strong, and Leibinger sprinted out of the box, and made a sweet pass to Harms, who shot just wide.

The Grizzlies drew yet another power play at 2:08 as Kyle Thomas kept his feet moving. The best chance on the advantage went to Thomas and Michael Pelech about half way through the power play, and at the end of twenty, Utah and Colorado remained tied 1-1, shots 8-7 for the Eagles.

The Grizzlies opened the second decently, Leibinger displaying a beautiful bit of puck handling to keep the play in the offensive zone, but after that, the Eagles pressured.

Utah eventually got themselves back in order, getting a couple of near things as first Mitch Jones’ shot bounced in on Hafner oddly, and then rolled through the blue paint moments later.

Half way through the period, Sam Babintsev broke the deadlock, scoring his third of the season from Thomas.

With under two minutes to go, Graaskamp made a really nice pass to Navin, Navin wired it just wide, and Melindy drew a power play with 1:55 yo go.

Olsen motored in one-on-one short-handed, but his shot was turned aside. The puck bounced wildly in front of Hafner, but the period came to an end, still 2-1 Utah, shots 13-13.

The Eagles got the first four shots of the period, but Wildung made some really great saves to hold on to the lead.

The Grizzlies got possession at about the six minute mark, but mostly cycled it until Jones wired one on net. Halfner was there to meet it however, and somehow Brendan Harms ended up with a high-sticking penalty at 6:51.

The Grizzlies’ kill continued to be excellent, Wildung making some more good saves, and Walters missing on a short-handed break away.

Just after the Grizzlies returned to full-strength, Pelech swatted the puck on net, beating Hafner five-hole to put the Grizzlies up 3-1 at 9:01.

The Eagles pressured after the goal, as one would expect, and Wildung turned aside a big shot one-on one.

Unfortunately, the wheels came off a bit, as Matt Garbowski scored at 14:55 when the coverage around the Utah net faltered, and on the very next shift, Olsen put one past Wildung to tie it up.

In the final minute, Harms threw the puck on net through traffic, but the game once more went to OT.

Harms had a really good looking OT shift, but shortly afterwards Watson flew in uncontested, was turned aside, then regaining the puck after Utah flubbed the play, beat Wildung and the Grizzlies’ defenders to win the game.

It was a familiar outcome; play a strong game against a strong opponent, lose focus at a few crucial moments, and pay for it with an overtime loss.

 

“I thought we played a pretty solid game,” Tim Branham said after the game. “I mean there were times where Colorado had control. We talked to the boys before the game about playing a full sixty minutes, same thing with the game in Worcester, we had complete control of the game in Worcester for fifty minutes, and then in the last ten we didn’t. Same here tonight. Fifty-five minutes we had control and then the last five we kind of let slip. There’s a couple of guys who made some huge mistakes, it is what it is, that’s a learning experience, and at this point in the season, it should be pretty clear your roles and responsibilities.

“They have players on their team that make big plays, we have guys that are learning, and they’re young. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way it went. At this point in the season, we needed two points, definitely, from a game like that. That one stings a little bit.”

Marchment’s thoughts were in a similar vein:

“We just gotta find ways to win. We’re finding ways to lose games right now, we’ve got leads going into third periods, or we’re tied, we’ve lost three of our last five in over time now, so just finding ways to get that extra point, work a little harder, bear down a little more on our scoring chances, but we still have a little bit of time here, we just gotta start getting some wins, and do what we can on our part. Hopefully other teams lose, and we can maybe sneak in.”

Wildung was definitely one of the players who did do his part. “I thought he played well, I thought for coming in his first pro game,” Branham said, “He definitely got some good experience, and did a good job.”

“It’s just a great opportunity for me,” Brandon said, “Playing professional hockey has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember it’s what I’ve wanted to do, so for this organization to give me a chance it means a lot to me.”

Wildung, whose freshman year overlapped with Misiak’s senior in the 2013-14 season at Mercyhurst, has appreciated already knowing someone in the organization.

“It’s awesome, it’s great to come to a new organization and see a familiar face,” he said. “I mean the guys have all been great, but when you come in and you know a guy it makes it…kind of gives a little bit of a breather.”

While a familiar face may give Wildung a breather from all the newness of location, level, team and the like, a breather is exactly what the Grizzlies do not have. They face Colorado twice more (Friday and Saturday) before heading out to Idaho next weekend. After that, they play Colorado once more, and then finish off the season at home against Kansas City. They are still chasing Allen and Tulsa who are both four points ahead with a game in hand.

The task is by no means impossible, last year’s Grizzlies were in almost exactly the same boat, but they’re going to have to play a complete 60 minutes every game to do it.

 

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

Utah Grizzlies: The Unexpected

Two top notch goalies gave up 4+ goals each, a goal scorer dropped the gloves twice in one period, and an enforcer turned play-maker with a pair of glorious assists as the Grizzlies took on the Monarchs.

The new look BAM line (Brad Navin, Kyle Thomas, Michael Pelech) got of to a flying start as the Grizzlies picked up three of the first four shots in the opening four. Unfortunately, when Manchester had a strong shift in the offensive zone, Joel Rumpel was forced far to the right of the goal mouth to cover a shot. The cross crease pass was put into a wide open net, as the Grizzlies were unable to box out Michael Doherty.

Utah picked themselves up after the goal, as the Pelech line had a good offensive zone shift, followed by Brendan and the Ryans. At 8:28, a seemingly harmless shot from Ryan Misiak bounced off Charles Williams’ glove, and into the net to tie it up.

The Grizzlies took the first penalty at 9:55 on a hooking call against Sam Babintsev. The penalty kill worked hard in their own zone, and went to the four-on-four as Taylor Richart was boarded at 10:48. The shenanigans didn’t end there, as Pelech and Matt Leitner dropped the gloves with 8:08 left. It wasn’t a whole lot of a fight, and it was broken up quite quickly, both sent off for five.

In the brief power play that followed, the Grizzlies doubled up their shot count, 10-5, and continued to look good, collecting a really nice shot from Brendan Harms off a face-off, and Misiak almost snagging his second of the frame on the rebound. On the very next face-off, Walters also got a good look on Williams.

The third line had a hardworking offensive zone shift with just over four minutes to go, and boy did it ever pay off. Travis Howe made a really nice pass to Mitch Maxwell, and Maxwell put it emphatically past Williams to give the Grizzlies the 2-1 lead.

Pelech laid a huge hit at about 18:50, which wasn’t penalized, but Keegan Iverson took exception, and Pelech dropped the gloves for the second time in the game, and fourth time this season.

The Grizzlies ended the period in the offensive zone, after (with the exception of the one very bad shift) a strong road period, out-shooting Manchester 14-9 with the 2-1 lead.

The Monarchs pressured to start the second, but took a holding the stick call at 1:06 in the offensive zone, sending Utah to the advantage. The Grizzlies got a couple of looks from Thomas, and at least one good one from Marchment, and they continued to press after the penalty.

However, the play went the other way, Ryan Walters took a hooking call, and just seven seconds after he went to the box, Manchester tied it up.

At 8:12, Walters drew a tripping call after another stretch of Grizzlies offensive zone time (and another shift from Howe). This time, Utah got some of their own back, as Harms pounded the puck past Williams from Taylor Richart just six seconds in.

Walters continued to miss by inches, getting in on a mini breakaway for at least his fourth look of the night. Chris Leibinger took a slashing call with 5:45 to go. Utah failed to make the final clear of the kill, and once again, the Monarchs tied it up.

With about a minute left, the puck bounced over Navin’s stick on one end of the ice, and at the other, Rumpel made a big save, and the two teams got into a brief shoving match.

At the end of the second, the teams were once again tied 3-3, but Manchester had the 22-19 lead on the shot clock.

Navin started the third flying, first off the opening face off, and then into the wall, giving the Grizzlies the first shot of the frame.

The third line once again created some buzz, backed by the skill of Richart, but on the next shift, Rob Mann turned the puck over, then in the ensuing defensive zone shift, took a hooking call.

Fortunately, Utah killed it off, and at 5:29, Melindy and Jake Wood dropped the gloves.

The third line’s strong showing continued, as Howe and Marchment got in two-on-one. Howe looked like he was going to shoot all the way, but at the last moment, he passed it off. Williams was helpless to stop the shot that Marchment put in over him.

Unfortunately, Manchester once again tied it up at 8:06, and despite Rumpel immediately being up in arms calling interference, and a very, very brief consultation, the goal counted.

Melindy took a delay-of-game penalty at 11:45, but Utah killed it off, and just over two minutes to go, the Grizzlies drew a power play. The first and second units both had some good looks, but weren’t able to beat Williams, and the advantage expired just moments before the third came to an end.

Once again, the Grizzlies went to OT, but 1:45 in, the Monarchs scored to get the extra point.

Harms (one goal, one assist), Howe and Babintsev (two assists each) all had multiple points, Howe’s the first of his career. Although Navin’s eleven game point streak came to an end tonight, he remains over a point a game, having put up 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 23 games since January 20th. Meanwhile, Misiak now has 14 points in the last 14 games, while Harms is on a point streak of his own, with five in the last four straight.

The two teams face off again at 4 PM today (Saturday) before they head to Worcester to face the Railers on Sunday.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming and staff.

 

Utah Grizzlies: Worth Fighting For

With the exception of Sean Maguire in for Joel Rumpel, the winning lineup remained unchanged on the second and final night of Grizzlies Fight Cancer weekend. On the other end of the ice, after his Utah related struggles, Wichita didn’t go with Shane Starrett, instead starting Nick Riopel. As everyone knows, familiarity breeds contempt, and there was a great deal more chippiness in the last game of the season between the Thunder and the Grizzlies.

The game did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, as Utah lost control of the puck, and the Thunder got the first couple of shots of the night.

However, the Grizzlies drew the first power play of the game at 2:41, and their special teams success continued, as Jake Marchment made it 1-0 at 3:38. Sam Windle took a tripping call almost immediately afterwards, as the previous game’s trend of a tightly called match continued. The kill was strong though, and they returned to full strength.

Brad Navin and Austin Ortega got in on a two-on-one at about the eight minute mark, but Riopel calmly gloved Ortega’s shot.

The chances continued to go both ways, but Utah eventually took over the shots, going from down 5-1 on the shot counter, to up 6-5 by the half-way mark.

Gage Ausmus took a bit of a bump behind the Grizzlies net at 11:06, and dropped the gloves with Travis Ewanyk. He hauled him down emphatically to the great delight of the home crowd. Both got sent off for five minutes to cool their heels.

A mere couple of minutes later, Travis Howe and Etienne Boutet got tangled up between the benches, and dropped the gloves, eventually joining their teammates in the box with 5:28 to go.

Unfortunately, it was the Thunder who struck next, as the puck skipped over Maguire’s glove and in at 15:29. The goal came off a pretty lengthy shift in their own end for the Grizzlies.

However, the game did not stay tied for long. Ralph Cuddemi went to the box for slashing, and Ortega beat Riopel on a perfectly placed laser of a shot from Taylor Richart and Sam Babintsev.

Wichita pressed hard in the final moments of the first, but after 20, shots were 12-9 for Utah, who led 2-1.

Mitton took a high-sticking call at 4:16 in the second, but Jon Puskar negated it moments afterwards on the trip. The Thunder tied it up as Jeremy Beaudry capitalized on a defensive lapse, swept around a swarm of players, and put the puck past Maguire.

Brendan Harms had a lovely look on the four second power play that followed, beating the Wichita defenseman, but Riopel was unphased. Rob Mann and Puskar got into a bit of a jousting match, but separated before anything was called.

Navin got a good shot off, and Michael Pelech tangled with Kevin Patterson at 7:42. Pelech got two for cross-checking, two for roughing, while Patterson got two for high-sticking and two for roughing.

Cuddemi came flying in alone on the next shift, and tried to slip one past Maguire five-hole, but he shut the door. For all that, though the Grizzlies were by no means hemmed in their own zone, the Thunder continued to roll along in a concerning fashion.

Ortega got hauled down on what should have been a clean breakaway, and though it could have been a penalty shot, it did result in a power play. The advantage got a couple of good looks, but ultimately came up empty.

There was a bit of a lull in the pace of the game, as it entered the back half of the frame, and in that lull, Wichita pounced on a breakdown, and took the lead. As the period ran out, the mood was grim, despite only being down a goal. It didn’t improve when Mann went to the box for tripping at 17:50. Utah killed it off, however, but after two periods, they trailed going into intermission for the first time during the winning streak.

Utah looked a little flat to start the third, though Harms and Richart teamed up for an exciting moment, as Harms pounced on a turnover by Riopel behind the net. Riopel tripped him up, but there was no call, and the puck did eventually get out of danger.

Gage Ausmus made a gorgeous stick-lifting play to keep Cuddemi from getting a shot on the breakaway, but unfortunately, Utah got a too-many-men penalty at 4:24. They killed it off, and Utah started showing signs of life in the minutes that followed. Ortega woke the crowd with an up ice rush, and when Richart buried it, the 8,594 fans in attendance erupted. Navin got the secondary assist, getting his eighth point in five games.

Ortega got sent off for interference at 9:40, but once again, Utah killed it off, and built on the momentum. Maguire was especially instrumental short-handed, making an eye-catching save early, and holding down the fort. On the very next shift, the Grizzlies took the lead as Navin set up Mann for his first pro goal, and his first multi-point game. Ortega was again in on the action with Navin, getting the secondary assist as that line once more got the puck to a defenseman for the goal.

Maguire stood tall after that, but with 1:44 to go, Wichita pulled Riopel, and Pelech took a cross-checking call 33 seconds later. The Thunder called their time-out, and the penalty kill gave up their first of the game with a crushing nine seconds left.

Pelech drew a power play at the very end of regulation, and the Grizzlies started overtime on the power play. 3-on-3 OT. Because there was no whistle for quite a while after Wichita returned to full strength, very little of OT was actually played 3-on-3. Regardless, OT solved nothing, and the game went to the shoot out.

Babintsev scored the only goal in the shoot-out, as Maguire calmly stoned all three of the Thunder’s skaters, and the second largest crowd of the season went wild. Utah extended their winning streak to five with their second shoot-out win of the year.

Maguire got the the third star of the game, Ortega’s goal and two assists got the second star, and with his first pro goal, and first multi-point game, Mann was named first star of the night.

“I thought they played with more energy and passion than us for the majority of that first forty minutes, or say fifty minutes,” Tim Branham said after the game, “But at the end of the day we’ve been on a roll here, and good teams find a way to win. Everybody is pulling the rope—today it was Maguire, big in the shoot out, Ortega getting us going on that one, Rob Mann, what a time to get your first goal—at the end of the day, you find ways to win. That’s what good teams do.”

Ortega (three goals, seven assists), Navin (two goals, six assists), and Richart (two goals, five assists) all picked up points in each of the five games, while Pelech (four goals, one assist), Mann (one goal, four assists), Misiak (two goals, five assists), and Marchment (three goals, two assists) have also racked up points over the course of the winning streak.

The auction of the beautiful cancer night jerseys raised over $21,000 for charity, and the Grizzlies look to close out February on a winning note tonight in Quad City.

 

Cover 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: Friday Funday

After a disappointing effort on Wednesday night, Utah got some reinforcements on Friday night. Forwards Mitch Hults (assigned by Anaheim to get ice time during the all star break) and Nate Mitton (who attended training camp) both joined the Grizzlies prior to the game, drawing into the lineup in place of Erik Higby and C.J. Eick. Hults, a centerman, slotted in with Ryan Walters and Austin Ortega, while Mitton played with Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

The game got off to a rocky start with a couple of quick penalties. Mitton flew into the Tulsa end looking not at all like a guy adjusting to the altitude, and first drew what looked like an interference call, but then was mysteriously dinged with an embellishment call as well.

Shortly thereafter, James Melindy and Justin Selman went off with “roughing” and tripping calls respectively, and then Travis Howe dropped the gloves with Mike McKee off the face-off at 4:30. Howe got some really huge punches in, and the 6,843 in attendance roared their support.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies coughed the puck up in their own zone, and Tulsa made it 1-0.

It looked, for a moment, like the Grizzlies were doomed to give up a quick second goal as Chris Leibinger lost the puck at the blue line, and the Oilers came in uncontested. However, Taylor Richart flew back from the far side to cut off the attempt.

Cliff Watson drew Utah’s first power play at 6:30. Tulsa got a short-handed shot against, but at the tail end of the advantage, Leibinger skated the puck down behind the Tulsa net, and threw it to Puskar just above the blue paint. Utah’s first shot of the game found the back of the net to tie it up. The assists on Puskar’s eleventh of the year went to Leibinger and Harms.

Utah got yet another crack on the power play less than a minute later, but despite Kyle Thomas’ bet efforts, Tulsa killed that one off. Watson got tripped up without a call, Leibinger stepped in on Ryan Tesink, who was sent sprawling before Dylan Hubbs jumped in on Leibinger. Both players got a couple of good punches in, and when the dust settled, Hubbs got an extra two for instigating.

Sean Maguire made a big save on a short-handed stretch pass that saw an Oilers player alone behind the defense, but after that, the Grizzlies got set up in the offensive zone. Hults got a huge shot off from the point, and Richart’s shot from the blue line flew into a crowd in front of the net. Ryan Misiak got his stick on the rebound, and Ortega scored his fifth power play goal in eleven games.

Mitton got a very nice chance on the ensuing shift, and Mitch Jones also got off a rocket in his return. Howe demonstrated that his hands are good for things besides big punches, making a nice play to keep the puck in the zone as the third line had a very strong shift. Tulsa had a hard time holding onto the puck in front of their own net, and Utah pounced on every opportunity, but were unable to capitalize.

Watson got a great chance at the end of the first, and Utah went into the locker room leading 2-1, and out-shooting Tulsa 13-8, despite having been out-shot 5-0 at one point in the period.

 

The third line got another really strong shift in a few minutes into the second, Mitton getting a shot off of of a hard-working cycle from Navin.

Tommy Vannelli tripped up Ortega at 2:55, and Ortega got up ready to fight. Vannelli didn’t oblige, but the two went off for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Utah controlled the ensuing four-on-four, and Melindy got a nice spinning shot off. Navin had another strong shift with Puskar, Leibinger, and Sam Windle. Leibinger and Puskar also got a scoring chance off the rush. On the defensive side of things, Jones hounded an Oilers player into the defensive zone to prevent a chance against.

After the teams returned to full strength, the third line had another terrific shift that culminated in a gorgeous goal from Navin, whose first goal since November 1st was a top shelf snipe. Howe got his first point of the year on the primary assist, while Harms got his eleventh with the secondary.

The same line had another big shift, and a couple of minutes later, Melindy took a high-stick, sending Utah to their fourth straight power play at 10:10.

Puskar and Richart both got good looks, and Utah got a lengthy five-on-three at 10:52. The first wave power play of Hults, Ortega, Thomas, Walters, and Watson got some really nice offensive zone pressure going, but weren’t able to capitalize, and Tulsa killed off both penalties.

Howe took a slashing call as the game got a little rough in the corners with 6:13 to go. The penalty kill came up big for Howe, Misak and Puskar orchestrating a couple of clears, as the Grizzlies allowed zero shots.

With less than two minutes to go, Melindy made a big defensive play and was sent off for holding. Maguire made a couple of big saves, and the period came to an end. After 40, Utah led 3-1, out-shooting the Oilers 24-16.

The Grizzlies began the third with just four seconds of Melindy’s penalty on the clock, and about four minutes later, Maguire made a couple of big saves, and Utah cleared the puck out of certain danger.

Watson made it 4-1 at 4:35, as the puck rolled past Hildebrand surprisingly uncontested. Walters got the primary assist, while Hults picked up his first point with the Grizzlies.

Tulsa pushed back, getting a couple of good shifts of their own, but weren’t able to capitalize until past the half-way mark, as the entire roster played hard and blocked shots.

With 8:05 to go, Utah got tied up in their own zone, and Tulsa scored to cut the lead in half.

The Oilers continued to work, but Maguire shut the door when shots made it through, and at 15:36 McKee got a closing hand on the puck penalty.

It took the Grizzlies just six seconds to capitalize. Leibinger held the puck in the zone, passed to Richart, who shot once again from the point. The puck bounced to Harms, who put it past Hildebrand from a tight angle. The goal was his fourth of the year, and his third against Tulsa.

That was pretty much the game, both teams got a couple more shots, but at the final buzzer, the 5-2 lead belonged to Utah, who out-shot the Oilers 31-24.

Utah is now only one point behind Tulsa, and four behind Allen, who own the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division.

In addition to a big two points, the game broke a couple of long time goalless streaks for Harms and Navin, Harms picking up three points and first star of the game, while Navin got his third point in three games. Without a doubt, Utah played a complete sixty, as well as a complete game from the entire roster. Maguire was awarded the second star of the game, while Howe took the third with the fight and assist.

“When we play like we want it, we’re tough to handle.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We’ve got some guys—when you can add Mitch Hults, Austin Ortega—when you’ve got guys who can score goals, it helps. We’ve lost a lot of one goal games. Our power play has been really hot lately, and we’re able to put the puck in the net. When we’re able to score, good things happen.”

“They’re a hard working team,” he added of the Oilers, “And they actually do a good job of getting to the blue line with speed, just putting pucks on net, and being tenacious. We did a much better job of winning our battles, getting the puck up the ice, controlling the play in the offensive zone. Obviously we spent a lot more time in their zone today than the last game, so we’ve gotta play the same way. They’re gonna come out hard, they’re not gonna be happy they lost today, but if we play with that effort, teams can’t stop us. When everybody is pulling the rope in the right direction, good things happen.”

Moreover, if the third line can keep their momentum going, it will be big for the team going forward. “Before last game, we were one of four teams who had three players or more that were a point a game. We lose those one goal games because we don’t have that depth scoring. So when Navin scores, Harms scores, it’s just huge for us, so we need that depth scoring in order to be able to compete and win those one goal games.”

Ortega’s thoughts were in a similar vein. “We’ve been talking about getting in a playoff spot, we haven’t been happy with the way we’ve been playing, especially last game, and we took it to heart. We had a big meeting about our effort, and I think tonight we were a completely different team, we had a tremendous amount of effort and hard work, and it paid off.”

So what do the Grizzlies have to do on Saturday night to keep rolling? “Same thing with effort and hard work, playing the way we’re supposed to be, and at this point, it’s just consistency.”

If Utah wins tonight (Saturday), they will be on point ahead of Tulsa, closing in on the Allen Americans, who have been on a bit of a losing skid. It would be a huge win for the Grizzlies, and they’ll do have to do it in front of what will likely be a nearly sold-out crowd.

 

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff