Utah Grizzlies: RicHart and Soul

With the NHL looking ahead to the trade deadline on the 26th, the Grizzlies made a bunch of moves of their own. Cliff Watson and Ryan Olsen went to Colorado, while forward Jake Marchment and defenceman Gage Ausmus. Mitch Maxwell was signed to a contract, as was Sam Babintsev, while C.J. Eick was sent to Kansas City for futures, and Nate Mitton was returned to his SPHL team. Michael Pelech and Zach Saar also made their returns to the lineup.

Pelech took an early penalty, going off at 3:35 for high-sticking. The Grizzlies’ penalty kill went to work, however, and killed off the disadvantage, and Joel Rumpel made a couple of good saves.

James Melindy and Bryan Moore got into a fight at 8:21, both getting five and ten for continuing the altercation, but Utah got a power play, as a tripping call had been assessed to Allen prior to their fight.

Utah wasn’t able to capitalize, but they picked up in momentum following the power play, and took the lead in shots 10-8 after a great shift from Marchment, Babintsev, Ausmus, Austin Ortega and Taylor Richart.

Some good defensive hustle from Rob Mann and Sam Windle drew a power play with 6:33 to go, to the disgruntlement of the Americans fans. Utah ran into some trouble in their own end, leading to a save by Rumpel, before they went the other way, and Marchment scored his first goal for the Grizzlies from Brendan Harms and Ryan Misiak.

Marchment took a penalty about a minute later, but Utah killed it off in an authoritative fashion, and after 20, the 1-0 lead held, shots 15-10 in their favor.

Allen was strong in the offensive zone through the first two minutes, but didn’t register an official shot on goal through that time, and Utah followed that up with some hard-working offensive zone shifts of their own.

The hard work paid off, as Utah continued to crash the net, and create opportunities. Saar scored at 3:57 from Mitch Jones and Mann.

Maxwell got a tripping call at 4:46, but Allen negated it very shortly afterwards, putting the teams on more than a minute of four-on-four. Unfortunately, the Americans scored at 6:32 though, cutting the lead in half.

Harms got a look on a two-on-one on the next shift, but was slashed, sending the Grizzlies to the power play. They weren’t able to capitalize, but did generate some really good traffic and movement in front of Jeremy Brodeur.

Towards the end of the period, Allen continued to bear down, playing really long stretches in Utah’s end. However, the Grizzlies did a really good job of keeping pucks away from Rumpel.

Ryan Walters took a hooking call at 19:08, but the Grizzlies won the draw, Pelech and Richart rushed in, Taylor shot, and Pelech put the puck in the net. The short-handed goal gave Utah back the lead.

There was some chaos in the final seconds of the period, as Brad Navin was crosschecked to the ice, and the two teams tangled. Ausmus, Alex Guptill, and Zach Pochiro all went to the box, the first two for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Pochiro for boarding.

Maxwell let loose a big shot in the final second, and Utah went to the room leading 3-2, and despite Allen’s dominance in the second, out-shooting them 14-8 in the frame.

Richart started the third absolutely flying, getting his team leading seventh shot, coming out of nowhere to break up a four-on-one, and generally being the most noticeable player in the first three minutes.

Utah got a two-on-one with about five gone in the third, Ortega made a really nice pass, and Navin scored his eighth goal, picking up his tenth point in twelve games.

The Grizzlies were able to capitalize on another Allen breakdown at 7:35, making it 5-2 on a gorgeous tick-tack-toe goal by Walters from Harms and Misiak. Allen came back on the very next shift though, beating Rumpel to make it 5-3.

Richart was boarded with 7:49 to go, sending Casey Pierro-Zabotel to the box for two minutes. Richart was ok, if his later play was anything to judge by, but the Grizzlies weren’t able to get their three-goal lead back.

Allen was able to come within a goal after pulling Brodeur with 40 seconds to go, but that is as far as it got, Walters’ goal standing for the game winner.

All in all it was a really strong game, Utah looked good on both sides of the ice. Babintsev, Maxwell, Marchment, and Ausmus all fit right in, and added a great deal of stability to the roster. Likewise, the return of Pelech and Saar to the lineup gave them a strong, and much needed net-front presence. Only five players didn’t get on the board, while Misiak and Harms both had two assists, and Marchment got a goal and an assist. He was named third star of the game, while Walters got the first star. Navin and Harms continued their point streak, and Richart had his best game in a long time. He was prominent on the rush, prominent on defense, and led the team with seven shots.

After a series of disappointing losses, this was a much needed win against a strong opponent. Whether they can keep it going and establish some consistency remains to be seen.

 

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

 

 

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Utah Grizzlies: Defensive Disaster

In a rare morning game (something that hasn’t happened since Assistant Coach Ryan Kinasewich was on the bench instead of behind it). The roster remained the same as it had on Saturday, with the exception of Nate Mitton, who drew in after Mitch Hults was called back up to San Diego.

The Grizzlies began the game with a lot of buzz, and even when Rapid City got their skates under them, the first five minutes went to Utah, who outshot them 4-0.

So of course, the Rush scored first on their second shot from a tight angle. They were not allowed to rest on their lead very long, however, as Taylor Richart tied it up less than two minutes later on a big shot from the point at 10:30.

Austin Ortega drew the first call of the game at 11:50, but though Utah got a couple of shots, they were unable to get a second one past Adam Vay. Instead, Kenton Miller capitalized on a number of breakdowns in front of the Utah net for their second of the game with about five to go.

That’s more or less where the first period derailed. Kyle Thomas was high-sticked with two minutes left, and Alex Kromm pulled a clearly reluctant James Melindy into a fight.

Somehow, after all that, Melindy got two for instigating, negating the power play. The Grizzlies bench continued to protest, and were eventually called for a bench minor. Fortunately, Ryan Walters drew a slashing call at 18:40 to put the teams back four-on-four.

After 20, Utah trailed 2-1, outshooting the Rush 8-6.

Walters tied the game up at 1:39 from Ortega to once more tie it up. Rapid City got some zone time of their own after the goal, and Walters followed that up with a delay of game penalty at 4:41.

At 6:12, Mitch Jones and Daniel Leavens got tied up on the neutral zone, gloves went everywhere, and both got four for roughing. Jones went to the room, rather than the box, but returned shortly after the penalty expired. Both teams returned to full strength with no change of score. Unfortunately, however, a defensive turnover led directly to Miller’s 3-2 goal soon after returning to full strength.

Walters drew another slashing call at 10:40, but despite getting a couple of good looks, including a point-blank chance from the Captain, Rapid City drew a power play of their own with seven to go.

Walters got a good shot off on the kill, and he and Jones chased the Rush around their own zone. Rapid City maintained really strong possession of the puck coming off the power play, but Maguire dove to smother the puck, effectively putting an end to the onslaught.

Ortega took a holding call at 16:42, but Cliff Watson was high-sticked under a minute later, and left bleeding pretty heavily. It gave Utah a brief four-on-four, and then a considerable advantage that carried over into the third.

After getting patched up during the intermission, Watson returned to start the third, the power play fell flat, but Brad Navin threw a shot on goal, and as everyone looked around, Brendan Harms jumped on the puck, and tied the game.

The Ryans followed the goal up with a very nice shift, and at 4:52 they drew a power play. Brief, and averted defensive disaster aside, the power play moved the puck well, and got the chances they wanted, but didn’t convert. The defense continued to struggle though, and at 8:18, Miller capitalized once more on a mistake in front of the net for the hat trick.

Thomas took a slashing call half-way through the period, but Utah killed it off, though not without another skirmish by the Grizzlies’ net.

Jones went off to the room again shortly thereafter, and to make bad worse, yet another disastrous defensive turnover led to the Rush’s first two-goal lead of the afternoon at 17:19.

Utah pulled Maguire for the extra skater, and what had been such a close game for so much of the game ended 6-3 on an empty netter, shots 27-26 for Utah.

So, once again, turnovers by Utah’s top defense, and Rapid City capitalizing on every mistake killed what had otherwise been a close (if not particularly strong) game.

Once again, Utah wins one and loses one, and is still seeking consistencyβ€”especially from the defense. At least, with three goals, the offense is still showing signs of life, even with Vay giving Grizzlies fans a creeping feeling of deja vu.

So Utah will have to try again to pick up a win against the Rush on Friday.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff.

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: Saturday Night’s Alright

The lineups saw a bit of a shuffle again on Saturday, Brendan and the Ryans getting a new lease on life with Brendan Harms, Ryan Walters, and Ryan Misiak. Todd Skirving centered Austin Ortega and Alex Dostie, while Brad Navin and Kyle Thomas were joined by Mitch Hults. C.J. Eick also drew in for Travis Howe, and Sean Maguire got the start.

The Grizzlies came out skating and shooting hard, jumping out to a 3-1 shot count, but Thomas was a little too overzealous, and took a cross-checking call at 1:33. The penalty trouble continued when Navin took a high-sticking call at 3:52, but Utah killed off both five-on-three and five-on-four. Brendan and the Ryans came flying in on a three-on-one, Ryan Faragher stopped it, and unfortunately, the Steelheads went the other way and scored one of their own.

Skirving was the next Grizz player to head to the box at 11:51, but Utah only allowed one shot, and got one of their own before it was killed off. Dostie and Ortega had a good chance, but they weren’t able to connect cleanly, and with five to go, shots were 9-8 for Idaho, who led 1-0.

Brendan and the Ryans did what they do best, running Idaho around their own zone, and getting shots, but were unable to convert.

Utah drew a penalty, as Hults was hauled down in the defensive zone, and then they got a second with 1:04 to go. Despite getting a couple of chances from Hults right before the buzzer, after 20, Utah still trailed 1-0, though now out-shooting the Steelheads 12-9.

The Grizzlies began the second with 43 seconds of five-on-three power play time, but if suffered that all-too-familiar fate of many early power plays. Although they didn’t capitalize, they picked up the first three shots of the frame, buzzing in the offensive zone after the power play.

They carried that momentum through, and at 2:28, Navin got his sixth of the year from Sam Windle and Hults to tie the game. James Melindy powered around Idaho’s net on the next shift, but took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a crowd gathered around Faragher.

Utah killed it off, and then Thomas got tied up and hauled down, giving Utah the power play. They got three shots, Ortega’s especially being a good one. After all that momentum, it was particularly frustrating that the Steelheads got the next goal. Max French shot the puck through a couple of Grizzlies to take the lead. It did not last long though. Windle threw a shot hard onto the net, and Ortega tipped it in to tie the game.

Melindy’s hard work around the net eventually paid off as well, as he made it 3-2 at 15:03 unassisted.

Utah ran into penalty trouble again later in the period, Ortega taking a slashing call at 16:22, and Eick getting a tripping call at 18:09 putting Idaho on the five-on-three for 14 seconds. Utah killed off the five-on-three, and took a 3-2 lead to the locker room.

Thomas and Jefferson Dahl tangled after the whistle, but when the teams came out for the third, there were no additional penalties. The Grizzlies killed off the final nine seconds of Eick’s penalty, but they looked shaky in their own zone. Fortunately for them, Connor Chatham went into Maguire and took a penalty, but less fortunately, Dahl got in short-handed, hounded by Ortega. Maguire got a pad on it, but Ortega went to the box for slashing. Both penalties expired with no change in score, Utah out-shooting Idaho 27-22.

The defensive issues re-surfaced however, as a clearing attempt didn’t make it all the way out, and Idaho pounced on the rebound to make it 3-3.

The animosity amped up a couple of levels as Ully and Jones got into it behind the Utah net, and then all hell broke lose. All the skaters on both sides piled in. When the dust settled, Jones, Hults, and Thomas went to the box for Utah, while Ully, Dahl, and Baldwin went for Idaho.

The chippiness continued, and Melindy drew another penalty. This one finally paid off, as Dostie wired it past Faragher’s glove. Rob Mann took an interference call at 12:34, but Utah’s penalty kill remained perfect, and they returned to full strength.

Idaho pressed hard in the final couple of minutes of the game, as Utah struggled to keep them out of their own zone, which was compounded when they pulled Faragher for the extra attacker.

However, with 1:33 to go, Joe Faust put the puck over the glass, and Utah went to a late power-play. The advantage almost backfired horribly when Maguire went to play the puck behind his own net, and bounced it over and directly in front of the empty cage. Somehow, he managed to get around the net, and stop the speeding Steelhead, and Brendan Harms sent the puck down the length of the ice, straight into the empty net.

Idaho once again pulled Faragher with 50 seconds left, but the two-goal cushion saw the Grizzlies to the end of the game.

Hults was the only Utah player to earn a star, first, with his two assists, but plenty of other players had terrific games as well. Dostie and Ortega, of course, continued to be forces to be reckoned with, but Melindy also had a particularly strong game. Richart and Navin led the team with six shots a piece, Navin picking up his fourth goal in five games. Windle also had two assists, and Maguire stopped 37/40 shots, while the penalty kill went a perfect 8/8.

Hopefully, the next step now will be consistency, and that they can bring the kind of game we saw on Saturday into their three game series against Rapid City.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard

 

Utah Grizzlies: Costly Lapses

After a wild comeback fell just short on Wednesday, and after Alex Dostie was assigned from San Diego, parts of the lineup were shuffled up, and parts remained the same. Angus Redmond got the start, the potent line of Ryan Walters, Brad Navin, and Kyle Thomas remained together, Dostie replaced Jon Puskar, and Rob Mann drew in for Chris Leibinger. Tim Branham put the three AHL guys together, Mitch Hults centering Dostie and Austin Ortega.

The two teams exchanged chances, Navin and Dostie right in the thick of the action for the Grizzlies, as Dostie looked right at home, and Navin continued to look dangerous. Idaho put the pressure on after the half-way mark, but Redmond looked sharp and calm, snatching up shots and rebounds alike.

Taylor Richart drew the first power play of the night, a tripping call on Steven McParland. It did not take them long to draw first blood with a first wave of Dostie, Hults, Ortega, Thomas, and Cliff Watson. Dostie put the Grizzlies up 1-0 with his first on the team, and the first of the night.

Redmond continued to look strong, and the Grizzlies got into a tussle in front of him. Mitch Jones got a cross-checking penalty at 10:24, but Utah killed it off.

Idaho continued to hold the pressure, jumping out to a 13-4 shot count with about six left, but the puck went the other way, Thomas and Navin making Idaho (Faragher included) run around, and the line drew a power play with 4:50 to go. It was short-lived, Ortega taking a cross-checking minor mere seconds later.

The negated power play didn’t matter, however, as Dostie rushed in two-on-one with Hults, who got his second on the four-on-four marker.

Unfortunately, Idaho scored on their 15th shot of the night with a couple of minutes left to play in the first. At the end of the period, Utah led 2-1, despite being out-shot 17-7.

The second did not begin well. Watson took a penalty 19 seconds in, and Idaho capitalized on a bad bounce of the boards. Then Utah drew a power play, that spent half their time in their own end.

The Grizzlies got another crack on the advantage at 5:12, but though it went much better, they still couldn’t muster up more than the one shot. On the positive side, unlike their prior advantage, it didn’t effectively kill their momentum.

Utah continued to be opportunistic when they had the puck, were out-shot and out-possessed through the middle of the frame.

Hults took a cross-checking penalty deep in the offensive zone, but the Grizzlies killed it off, getting a really terrific shift from Richart and Brendan Harms in the process.

Navin caught Hults with a nice pass out of the box at 13:57, but Faragher stopped the puck. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes later, a misjudged pass turned into a bad turnover, and the puck ended up behind Redmond once again.

The second line threw themselves into the breach, creating chaos around Faragher, and the third line followed that up, as the Grizzlies cut the shot lead down to 26-18. From there on to the end of the period, Utah worked hard, and did a better job of holding onto the puck, drawing another power play with two seconds left.

Utah won the face-off, and Richart yet again did not miss the net by much. The Grizzlies went to the room having pulled within 6 shots, trailing by one goal, and with 1:58 of power play time waiting for them.

The power play suffered the fate of many early period advantages, though the second half certainly went much better than the first. Harms got the first shot of the third just after the Steelheads returned to full strength.

In the next three minutes, the teams exchanged icings, and play, but Hults took a holding call at 5:05. Utah killed it off, Idaho getting two shots, and Utah getting one. Moments after it was killed off, it looked like the puck was behind Redmond, but it was immediately waived off. Idaho didn’t protest very much, and from the replay, it looked like the puck may have popped over the net and rolled down the back, or something. Either way, the Grizzlies were happy to take it.

Todd Skirving beat out an icing, set up two great looks from Harms and James Melindy, and then drew a power play at 9:33. This advantage went far better, as the top power play unit established a good cycle, lost possession, and then regained it. Navin won the draw for the second unit, spun and fired. Both units got two shots, but came up empty.

The Grizzlies hustled after that, and after a strong shift from Misiak, Walters, Harms, and Richart, Richart drew a power play. It was rapidly negated as Thomas went to the box. Once again, however, Utah pounced four-on-four, as Watson’s blast made it past Faragher. Ortega and Walters got the assists.

The Steelheads responded though, Redmond sprawled to reach the puck, and Will Merchant got in a couple of good whacks which eventually freed the puck, and put it in over Redmond’s shoulder.

Dahl got in with Merchant on a two-on-one, but Redmond snatched the puck out of the air with a flashy save that plucked it out of harms way.

With 40 seconds left, Utah pulled Redmond for the extra skater, idaho iced the puck, Utah took their time out, Dosti got a blast, Connor Chatham missed the empty net, icing the puck again. The final shift of the game was a determined one from the Grizzlies, but they were unable to beat the buzzer, falling 4-3, out-shot by an ultimately respectable 34-28.

It was really too bad that the Grizzlies weren’t able to reward Redmond for his most consistent outing of the year, and in the end, it was a couple of little things that cost them. Sloppy defence, a really bad bounce, and an ill-advised pass led to three of the four goals. Once again, Utah played just short of of a complete 60, and it cost them.

On the bright side, it is very clear that Dostie and Hults are going to be great fun to watch as long as they’re here, and putting Ortega with them gives the Grizzlies an incredibly lethal first line, that already has familiarity from their time together in the AHL. The other two lines were no slouches either, Thomas getting a team-leading six shots, while Navin had three. Harms was a man on a mission as well. It seems like, for now at least, offense is no longer the issue. Utah will really need to sort out the defensive issues going forward, without sacrificing the offense, if they’re going to bare down and get any kind of run going.

They get another crack at Idaho Saturday night.

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard

Utah Grizzlies: Uphill Battle

Wednesday’s game saw the Grizzlies debut of new center Todd Skirving, as well as the second games from Mitch Hults and Nate Mitton. Brad Navin centered Ryan Walters and Kyle Thomas, while James Melindy and Cliff Watson started in front of Sean Maguire. Ryan Faragher got the start for Idaho.

The game got off to a fairly leisurely start, neither team coming out particularly energized. Idaho skated more, but Utah passed much more cleanly.

The Steelheads held Utah in their own zone around the four minute mark, but Utah allowed only two shots to get through to Maguire, and Jones getting Utah’s first shot shortly thereafter against Faragher. That shift seemed to wake the Grizzlies up, as they took the game to the Steelheads with much ore vigor after it.

Utah drew the first power play of the game at 8:56, but Idaho scored shorthanded when the puck trickled just past Maguire’s out-stretched toe. Idaho returned to full strength, and just under a minute later, made it 2-0.

Unfortunately, they gave up another at 15:27, and Maguire’s night was over. Angus Redmond came in, and on the next shift, Navin just missed putting the Grizzlies on the board.

With just a couple of tenths of a minute to go, Redmond drew a goaltender interference call, and Utah limped out of the period, out-shot 11-7, and down 3-0.

They opened the second with nearly a full two minutes on the advantage, and the Grizzlies capitalized. Hults isn’t exactly flashy, but he does little things that just put him on another level, and that was very much in evidence as he quarterbacked the advantage. He held the puck in the zone, and his play eventually led to the power play tally from Walters..

Utah got their third straight power play opportunity as Eric Sweetman put the puck over the glass. They did not capitalize. Birthday boy Kyle Thomas flew into the zone at 7:36, but had his gorgeous opportunity taken away with a slash across the hands. It probably could have been a penalty shot, but Utah drew another power play.

In the end, the result was probably the same. Austin Ortega took a cross-ice pass right on the tape and wired the puck past Faragher to make it 3-2. The lead did not last along. On the next shift, Utah took a penalty, Faragher sprinted off for the extra skater, and Zach Bell made it 4-2.

Utah continued to work, however, Redmond made a snappy glove save, Ortega made a really nice play, and Utah drew another power play. They were unable to capitalize, though Walters rang iron, and at the end of 40, shots were 20-20, 4-2 for the Steelheads.

Idaho got the best of the first couple of minutes of the third, but thanks to a couple of nice defensive plays from Watson, they got through with apparently no shots.

2:23 into the period, the Grizzlies got set up in the offensive zone, and Navin caught the Steelheads completely by surprise, scoring from the slot, completely unobstructed in front of Faragher.

Utah got another power play opportunity, but were unable to get going, and in a scramble around the net, Redmond lost his footing, and the puck went in off his back.

Thomas drew another power play at 11:03 as he was tripped up, and an absolutely insane scramble around Faragher sent the puck right onto Navin’s stick. Once again, uncontested, he put the puck past Faragher to put Utah within one.

With 4:03 to go, Thomas flew into the offensive zone, and the Captain tied the game. Walters’ second goal sent the game to overtime tied 5-5, shots 31-30 for Utah.

It was certainly a high-intensity OT, both teams flying about, and players on both sides making some great plays. Idaho took a too many men penalty with just 57 seconds to go, but at the buzzer, the game was still tied.

An equally nerve-wracking shoot-out followed, in which Richart scored, Thomas was allowed to shoot twice as a result of interference from Faragher, Redmond turned in a strong showing, but Idaho scored two to Utah’s one.

It was a disappointing result, but considering how grim things had looked at the end of the first period, and how entertaining a game it became as the Grizzlies drew ever closer.

All three stars went to Utah, Navin and Walters getting the first two with two goals a piece, and Redmond being named the third for his relief and shoot-out performance.

When asked about the effort displayed in the comeback, Tim Branham said, “That’s what I just told them. Very proud of coming back and getting a point. We actually started out the game really good until that first power play. Then we decided to take it easy when you have to out work them. When we decided to outwork them, we scored three power play goals right? So at the end of the day, we got a point, but we’re going to play the guys who want to be here, and want to put in a full sixty minute effort.”

“He gave us a chance to win there in the shoot out.” Branham said of Redmond’s third star performance. “I thought he did a good job coming in in relief. He kept us in it, and allowed us to come back and get a point. We had four chances to win it in the shoot out, so can’t fault him at all.”

Navin’s thoughts on the game were in the same vein. “Like Coach said after the game, we came out and we thought we were playing well, then all of a sudden, the power play came, and kind of depleted us as a team, then we had to fight back. Like he said after the game we gotta be sick of making it hard on ourselves and come back like that. But it shows what kind of group we’ve got, the willingness of guys to go in and win battles, make a comeback, make an effort, it shows guys are still trying, we’ve guys who want to win.”

Tonight (Friday’s) game in Idaho kicks off a lengthy road trip that will see the Grizzlies play in Idaho, Rapid City, and Allen before returning to the Maverik Center on Monday the 19th.

Wednesday’s highlights/Friday’s game preview

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff