Utah Grizzlies: Home, Sweet Home

After three long, but successful, weeks on the road, the Grizzlies finally returned home, getting reinforcements in the form of Tim McGauley and Ty Lewis. The team wore Batman jerseys with the team’s nicknames (both real and invented) on the back. Martin Ouellette made his 21st start, while the return of both McGauley and Lewis meant that Brandon Saigeon sat out.

The game got off to a great start for the Grizzlies, as Rapid City took two penalties in quick succession, and Yuri Terao made them pay for it on the back-half at 3:27. Mitch Maxwell and Jack Jenkins got the assists.

Ouellette made a big save, and then Eric Williams was sent to the box for interference, followed rapidly by Taylor Richart. Utah killed off the two man disadvantage, and maintained both shot and score superiority.

McGauley leveled Myles McGurty, and drew a crowd, eventually being sent to the box for boarding on a very delayed call.

Utah continued to hold the lead in both shots and goals into the final five of the first. Josh Anderson threw a thunderous hit, and Tanner Karty took exception, dropping the gloves. Both were sent to the room to cool their heels for the final 4:58 of the period.

Griffen Molino had two great attempts in close on Gordie Defiel, but he got taken down, and Defiel made both saves.

Utah continued to pepper the Rush with shots, picking up 12 to Rapid City’s 5 with just over two to go.

Joe Wegwerth got shot number thirteen, and then answered the bell against Brennan Saulnier shortly thereafter.

At the end of a highly eventful first period, Utah retained the 1-0 lead, shots 13-5 in their favor.

The second period began with a fair amount of Rush zone time, but no shots, and Anderson and Karty were released before anything changed.

Utah got the first shot of the period, but in general, their feet kept getting ahead of their hands.

Molino’s hands certainly didn’t get away from him at 8:21, however, as he used his reach to hold on to the puck around a defender, and then swung it over Defiel’s head for his 21st of the year. Lewis got the primary assist, while McGauley got the secondary.

Utah didn’t stop there, extending the shot lead, and getting another goal from Josh Dickinson at 12:58 from Richart and Ryan Wagner.

By the fifteen minute mark, shots were 23-9 for the Grizzlies, and if Ouellette hadn’t made a couple of really nice saves the few times he was tested, it would have been pretty easy to forget that a very good goalie was in the net at all.

Rapid City challenged that a little as time went on, but except for a scuffle between Peter Tischke and Karty after a hit on Lewis, the end of the period maintained the status quo.

Second intermission saw shots 25-13 for the Grizzlies, with 45 seconds left on the offsetting penalties to Tischke and Karty.

The Rush came into the third with more jump than heretofore, but missed the net, or were met by Ouellette or the Utah defense. After that, however, Utah returned the favor in spades.

By the half-way point, the Grizzlies had firmly re-taken control of the game, hitting thirty shots by the 10 minute mark.

Wagner had a glorious offensive zone shift, topped off by a perfect set up, and Maxwell JUST missed spinning the puck into a gaping net.

Chris Leibinger stood Garret Klotz up at the Utah blue line, and was probably fortunate that Klotz didn’t look particularly interested in really dropping the gloves. Both got two minutes at 11:57.

Klotz got a borderline tripping call with under five to go, but the Rush were unable to cleanly complete a pass for almost the entirety of the penalty. With 40 seconds or so to go, the Rush pulled their goalie, and scored on the multiple man advantage.

With two to go, they again pulled their goalie, but were unable to close the gap, giving Utah the 3-1 win, shots 31-23 for the Grizzlies.

Ouellette picked up his 16th win and first star honors, while Terao and Maxwell took second and third.

“You know, I’m really proud of the group right now,” Tim Branham said after the game. “When you bring back McGauley and Lewis — and I know, they’re good players, but we just spent two games without them in a different game plan — they come back in and it’s like they never left, everyone picks up where they left off, other people accept different roles. When you add two high-skilled players like that, two other guys are going to take a back seat, which means it’s gonna be a trickle down effect. We’ve got a great group of guys, guys that accept whatever role they’re put in. They just want to win. Really proud of them for playing a complete game today. That was bigger to me than anything because Rapid City is a tough team. They try to come in and play physical and play hard, and we always have problems with them, have fits, and I think the guys did an excellent job playing between the whistles and playing a good physical, yet skilled, puck possession game.”

While there is certainly no doubt that the level of skill on this team is high, it’s their relentless willingness to work hard that’s set them apart so far.

“Their mindset is different” said Branham, “They have a hard working mindset instead of just a skilled game mindset. You know the old cliche, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. But when you can have talent that works hard, it’s a dangerous thing. We know come playoff time, it’s going to be a tough brand of hockey, so we want to make sure we’re used to playing that style and you throw our skill into the mix and good things happen.”

While the Grizzlies’ speed and high-intensity approach have contributed to their success, they have played a lot of games with a lot of travel lately, and while the travel is decreasing in the coming weeks, the number of games certainly isn’t. So how is the team preparing both for the short term and the big picture?

“We got to be careful here now. We played so much hockey lately, and we’ve been on the road, they’re tired. Even a day off is a travel day, you know, and being able to sustain that energy like they are is huge. So we’re trying to manage that, making sure that we do have enough energy to be able to compete at a high level, and the level that we want to compete at. We’re not measuring ourselves to the other teams, we’re measuring ourselves to ourselves, and we want to be the best team that we can possibly be.” 

It’s a management challenge, for sure, but Dickinson also sees it as good practice for the playoffs.

“Come playoffs you’re playing every other night/every night,” he said, “So I mean, it’s a good warm-up for us and it’s good to see what we’re made of and how we respond to it, and the night-in-night-out games is what is going to take in the playoffs, so it’s it’s good.”

And while long road trips are difficult, even late road trips like this one also allow teams to gel together. “Obviously it’s later in the season here, so you’re already close with the guys,” Dickinson added, “But when you’re on a road trip for a long time you’re spending every hour with the guys so you get to know everyone a lot better–it’s where you really find each other and it makes it easier. You kind of get in a groove and you just know more about each other so it’s nice.”

With both the need to manage energy, and that playoff goal in mind, the fact that the offense is clicking on all cylinders rather than being carried by one line or guy at a time is a big help.

“With any given night, we’ve got a bunch of guys that step up,” Branham said. “Lewis and McGauley and Molino have done a really good job for a long stretch, but now you’ve got Wagner and Dickinson, and Wegwerth is back in the mix, and Maxwell scored, I don’t know how many game winning goals for us over that stretch. Then you’ve got Jenkins who’s just a motor. He’s our motor. He’s the one that does everything right and plays hard and doesn’t get any accolades for it. He is so important to our team.

“Our D are learning to compete in the tough areas because they’ve got a lot of ability,” he continued, “They’ve got a lot of ability to move the pocket and things like that. So we’re starting to come together. We want to learn lessons through success. So far, we’ve been able to do that, and definitely proud of this group for for sticking with it.”

Speaking of defense, while the return of Davis and Anderson has filled out what was once a rookie-heavy blue-line, the rookie defenders no longer look like rookies.

“What can you say,” Branham said of his defensive core, “They stuck with it, definitely, you know, maybe early on some of the goals were going in a little bit too easy, maybe. And you can get down and frustrated, but they stuck with the game plan. We’ve worked with them after practice and video and things of that nature. But the biggest thing is just the attitude. Their attitude is a professional attitude. They want to get better every day, and they want to learn. When you’re at this level, if you’ve gotten to this level, you’ve got something in the toolbox, you’ve got a bunch of tools. When you put on top of it the mix of forwards that they’re playing with, and a great attitude of listening to the coaching staff and they work hard every day — they work harder in practice than they do in games, this whole group, it’s unbelievable — when you’ve got that kind of combination, the sky’s the limit. So you know, hopefully we can continue to play well. I know there’s dips and valleys sometimes, but if we can continue to play well going into playoffs some good things will happen.”

As mentioned before, the schedule does not get any easier, both in number of games and in opponents, but if they can stay healthy and keep their momentum going, they’ll have had plenty of practice for the post-season.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Berry.

Utah Grizzlies: Tick Tack Terao

In the last game of the decade, if you’ll pardon the use of a very tired phrase, the Grizzlies made only one roster change, activating Brad Barone to back up Martin Ouellette.

The Tulsa Oilers got the first shot of the game just over two minutes in, but the Grizzlies got the first serious attempt.

Overall, though, the speed and tenacity that characterized the Grizzlies’ first match against Tulsa, and which waned a bit in Saturday’s game, was once again lacking, and the Oilers struck first at 3:53 after an extended sequence in the defensive zone.

Despite not looking terribly sharp overall, there were still early flashes. One such instance involved Peter Tischke losing his footing, still got a pass away, and then muscling his way into the offensive zone where Utah drew a power play at 8:37.

Unfortunately, the power play struggled, as the Grizzlies continued to have trouble handling the puck cleanly and finishing passes, but between Ouellette and a defenseman, they muddled through without giving up a short-handed goal.

Yuri Terao took a hooking call at 9:15, and perhaps not surprisingly, that’s when the Grizzlies showed signs of waking up.

Griffen Molino and Tim McGauley got their traditional two-on-one short-handed chance, and Travis Barron chased the Oilers around their own zone. Likewise, Joe Wegwerth, aided and abetted by Ty Lewis, saw the Grizzlies have their best shifts of the game so far.

Utah sunk back down into lethargy again after the penalty kill until about the 15 minute mark, when a strong shift from Terao, Wegwerth, and Jack Jenkins,  created a spark of life. Brandon Saigeon followed that up with a nice move that didn’t result in a shot on goal, but also didn’t miss the empty top of the net by much at all.

The Grizzlies still resembled a team skating through molasses in the final couple minutes of the first, but did still manage to spend more time in the offensive zone.

After 20, despite the slow start, they only trailed 1-0, despite being out-shot 14-8.

The Grizzlies had far more life in the second period, skating better, if nothing else, but misfortune struck rapidly as, with 18:18 to go, Teigan Zahn went awkwardly into the boards, and had to be helped off the ice.

On the next shift, Richart got checked, pushed back, and another full line scrum broke out. Peter Tischke and Joe Wegwerth were the only real combatants for Utah, and both found themselves in the box, together with Jake Clifford and Miles Liberati for Tulsa. Liberati got an extra two for cross-checking, while Clifford and Wegwerth both got an additional ten for continuing the altercation.

The Grizzlies got going in earnest after that, however, and the shots began to even up to 16-13 for Tulsa. Terao continued to work absolute magic with a spin-o-rama chance that led to a power play when he got hauled down.

He continued to electrify the crowd by scoring the equalizer in the dying seconds of the advantage, and just a few moments later, the Grizzlies had seized the shot lead 19-16, absolutely pouring it on as the game hit the half-way point.

Utah was the first team to hit 20 shots, and then somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net as certain disaster seemed imminent with Tulsa pin-balling the puck through a veritable sea of legs and sticks.

Josh Anderson took a cross-checking penalty later on the same shift, but Terao and Maxwell had the most serious chances of the special teams time.

By the time Wegwerth and Clifford were freed with just under three to go, shots were 21-19 for the Grizzlies.

A questionable call on Jenkins saw Utah down a man in the final minute of the period, and a clock issue dragged it on even longer. Thankfully, a huge effort from Tischke and Ouellette kept the game tied as they headed into the locker room. After 40, shots were 23-22 for Utah, and 15-8 in their favor in the second.

The Grizzlies killed off the remaining 22 seconds of Jenkins’ penalty, but Tischke headed to the box at 1:02 to put them right back on the kill.

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they got on an up-ice rush, and Maxwell was tripped up, leading to a brief 4-on-4 and then to a Utah power play.

Flying out of the penalty box, Tischke set up a perfect pass, but both Molino and Williams were unable to beat Devin Williams. Not that it mattered much. At 3:42, McGauley chipped the puck over Williams and in for his 12th of the season unassisted.

And the Grizzlies weren’t done. About 20 seconds later, Josh Anderson rocketed one past the Tulsa goalie for his first of the season from Maxwell and Barron.

Not to be outdone, Tischke didn’t give anyone a chance to think, scoring just ten seconds later to make it 4-1 from Saigeon and Yao. Three goals in less than a minute, and by the nine minute mark, shots were 30-26 in their favor.

Tulsa rallied, but Utah didn’t back done, Barron and Saigeon especially harrying the Oilers into their own zone, and Ouellette calmly turning aside pucks on the other end of the ice.

With 11:22 to go, Piccinich boarded Richart, a crowd gathered, and Utah headed to the advantage. Molino showed off his blistering speed, but wasn’t able to elevate a back-hander over the sprawling Williams.

Just 16 seconds from killing off the penalty, the Oilers took a roughing call, sending Utah to a brief 5-on-3, and a longer 5-on-4. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do a whole lot with it.

In the end, it didn’t much matter, as the Grizzlies held the 4-1 lead until the end, amassing 36 shots to Tulsa’s 29, and completing the series sweep in decisive fashion.

It was especially impressive, as prior to the series, the Oilers averaged 38 shots a night, and the Grizzlies held them to less than 30 every game.

Moreover, after getting so much scoring from the same couple of guys, the Grizzlies mixed it up in a big way, getting contributions from two defensemen, and two forwards, of whom only McGauley was on the usual suspect list. Ouellette, Anderson, and Terao were named the three stars of the game, respectively.

“That team worked hard.” Tim Branham said following the game, “That’s a hard working team over there, and it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row in these series. But I thought we stuck with the process. It was a really slow first, first couple shifts were pretty good, we still had four or five scoring chances — if we’d have hit the net we would have scored in the first period — but not good enough by our standards, that’s for sure. Second period we took it to them. What can we say, power play came up big, penalty kill was good, Martin Oullette, he’s a rock back there. He allowed us to battle through some things and eventually put some pucks in the net. All around, really proud of this group, really proud of the way they battled, and go into the new year on a high.”

Getting contributions from defense first guys like Tischke and Anderson was also a big plus. “I thought they played a really solid game. To be able to step up and provide scoring like they did, that’s huge. We don’t look for it from them, but I think that’s them getting rewarded for playing well, and playing hard. We ask a lot of them, sometimes it’s not a glamorous job going out there and grinding it out, sticking up for your teammates like Tischke does, over all, really proud of the way Josh played, really proud of the way he played, and Tischke has been really solidi for a while now, so kudos to them.”

But Branham saved some of his highest praise for Terao. “He’s got a really high skill level, that’s for sure. A great person, works really hard out there on the ice. It was good for him to get that goal, he needed that one for his confidence, some things weren’t going his way, but what a great human being. I wish some fans would be able to get to know him better, he’s just an amazing person. Really proud of him. If we can get him going, get that depth scoring that we’ve been, obviously that top line has done really well, but get some depth scoring, which we did tonight, then we’re a dangerous team.”

Despite speaking only some English, Terao agreed to do a post game interview. When asked about his time with the Grizzlies, especially during this winning streak, he said, “I’m so happy because [we have a] good coach, and good players, and good fans. I’m so happy now.”

About the slow first period he said, “I think everybody was a little bit tired here,” and of his own play he added, “I needed a mind change, keep things simple, simple, simple, and then shoot, shoot, shoot, you know what I mean? Hockey is simple. Go to the net!”

Go to the net the Grizzlies certainly did, ultimately out-shooting Tulsa 36-29 to close out the year.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard

Utah Grizzlies: Snowed In

If last night’s team looked a bit different from the team on Wednesday, that’s because it was, to some extent. After Tim McGauley and Griffen Molino were recalled to Colorado, Mitch Maxwell and Brandon Saigeon both returned to the lineup for game two against Florida on a very snowy Friday night. Meanwhile, in net, Brad Barone got his first home start for the Grizzlies.

Both teams got a couple of shots early, but Utah drew the first power play at 6:01. 48 seconds later, Saigeon scored his first pro goal goal to give Utah the 1-0 lead.

Just moments later, Peter Tischke was taken down, and the Grizzlies got another crack at the man advantage. This time, however, Florida kept them at bay.

The testy nature of Wednesday’s game continued, as crowds continued to gather following whistles, and at 11:35, Maxwell and Hunter Garlent both took roughing calls in front of Florida’s net.

No sooner had both teams returned to full strength, however, than Garlent got in one-on-one against Barone, forcing the latter to make a great save. Saigeon also found himself in the box for interference on the play.

Utah’s penalty kill had nearly as many good looks as the Florida power play, and Saigeon returned to the ice with no change in score.

With 38 seconds to go, Yuri Terao took a hooking call, but the Utah PK kept the Everblades chasing until the buzzer sounded.

Utah started the second period with 1:22 on the PK, but killed it off easily, and Barone continued to impress the home crowd with a great save.

Terao beat Cam Johnson on a snipe of a shot with 14:20 to go in the second, but the puck struck iron. Barone also had a couple of big saves as the period approached the eight minute mark.

Unfortunately, though Barone made the initial saves, Florida tied the game with 9:17 to go. That’s when the wheels came off just a bit. Utah got a good chance on one end of the ice, and on the other Florida scored two in quick succession. The Grizzlies called their time out to slow the game down.

On the next shift, Klotz laid a huge hit, and then clipped Michael Downing solidly up high, earning himself a game misconduct. Economos and Arvin Atwal also earned matching ten minute misconducts. So with only seven minutes left, all four players headed to the locker room.

The Everblades scored less than two minutes in to make it 4-1. As the PK continued, Joe Wegwerth got in on a breakaway, but a Florida player got back in time, forcing him to spin and fire wide. However, Florida had no answer for a flying Terao, who made no mistake, beating Johnson clean and one-on-one to cut the defect in half.

After 40, Utah trailed 4-2, out-shot 20-15, but had regained their composure.

Having scored his first pro goal in the first period, Saigeon sold Johnson on the pass, and then absolutely sniped one for his second unassisted. Shortly thereafter, Taylor Richart drew an interference penalty, and just four seconds later, Michael Downing (who fortunately seemed none the worse for wear after the hit) took a penalty in front of his own net, getting a double minor for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct. Jack Jenkins also took two for roughing. Unfortunately, Utah wasn’t able to accomplish anything on the nearly two-minute advantage.

Unfortunately for the Utah comeback effort, Barone sealed the post at 8:43, but the puck still trickled just past him to make it 5-3 Florida, and then the Everblades scored again at 9:25.

After that, the Grizzlies spent a substantial amount of time in the offensive zone, taking over the shot lead once more, and drawing a penalty at 16:41.

Right as the power play came to an end, an absolute sea of bodies converged on the Everblades net, as well as possibly the puck.  The call on the ice was no goal, and the call stood after a review of the play, as it went into Johnson’s shoulder, not the back of the net.

Although they spent most of the rest of the game in the offensive zone, the Grizzlies were unable to cut the lead down, despite out-shooting the Everblades 19-5 in the third period.

Despite the 6-3 loss, Brandon Saigeon’s first and second goals of his pro career earned him the second star, while Yuri Terao’s short-handed marker, and an assist, gave him third.

“He played really well tonight,” Tim Branham said of Saigeon. “We’re trying to get him to be stronger on the puck. He’s got a good shot, which we saw tonight, and if he plays that consistent game, he’s gonna have a lot of success. Like we’ve talked with Felix, and those guys coming out of Major Junior, sometimes it’s a little bit of an adjustment and a learning curve, but they’ve definitely got the talent.”

“I thought we played a pretty good game, it’s just a couple of shifts in a row there that we took our foot off the gas, and it cost us” Saigeon said.

“It’s always nice to get the first, got to give a lot of credit to my teammates, they’re great out there. My linemates, we had some good o-zone shifts, it’s nice to get the first couple pro goals, but not it’s back to work. We’ve got a game tomorrow, so now we’ve gotta just focus on that.”

With Klotz kicked out mid game, the Grizzlies, who only had nine forwards to begin with, were forced to play even shorter once Klotz was kicked out, and Economos took a ten minute major.

“I thought we played a pretty good game all around,” said Branham. “It was never gonna be perfect. I thought our group worked really hard. We were short-benched a lot of the game. I thought we looked really good in the third, I thought we looked a little bit tired in the second, our forwards. But against a team like Florida,  you’ve got to manage the puck a little bit better than what we did. It’s never going to be a perfect game, but I actually thought we played a pretty good game. We gave up 25 shots, so I’d take that any night.”

Overall, the team has adjusted remarkably well in a short time to the amount of players that have been up and down from the American league on a game to game basis. When asked how they’ve been able to adapt so quickly, Branham gave all the accolades to his team.

“I’m going to give credit to my players on that one. We’ve got seven forwards in the American League, and our players have done an amazing job of coming in, filling roles, listening, working hard, sticking to the system. You’ve got to give credit to them through the changes, they’re the ones playing, we just tell them what to do. They’re the ones who have to go out there and execute, and I think they’re doing a great job with that, because there’s certainly been a lot of movement.”

The changeover will continue into Saturday’s game, as it has been announced that Klotz was given a suspension and a fine with a hearing to come.

 

 

Utah Grizzlies: A Work In Progress

After a strong road game, the Grizzlies iced the same winning lineup, with the exception Mason McDonald starting to give Jeff Smith the rest in the second of three games in as many days.

Yuri Terao got the first shot of the night, but Idaho sent the puck pin-balling around the crease. The goal light went off, but it looked like it might have gone off the iron and out. The uncertainty led to the first video review at the Maverik Center. Unfortunately, it was ruled a good goal, putting Idaho up 1-0 at 2:05.

Less than a minute later, however, Colton Saucerman took a tripping call to send Utah to the power play. The Grizzlies were unable to muster as much as a shot on the advantage. To be fair, both teams were stingy on shots, allowing five between them in the first eight minutes.

Idaho largely kept the puck in the Grizzlies’ zone, or if Utah got in to attack, managed to get a stick in the way of any opportunities. Fortunately for Utah, however, Idaho put the puck over the glass, sending the boys to the power play. It wasn’t going so well when Taylor Richart laid a thunderous hit on and Idaho player. Immediately thereafter, he took an elbow to the face, and Michael Economos took violent exception. He took down Saucerman, and while both got five for the fight, Saucerman got five for elbowing Richart, and a game misconduct.

Utah made them pay immediately, Griffen Molino scoring his fourth of the year from Travis Barron and Ryan Wagner.

Tim McGauley took a penalty to negate most of the rest of the five minute major, but both teams returned to full strength with no change in score.

At the end of 20, shots were 8-6 for the home team in an entertaining 1-1 game.

Utah spent the first four minutes in their own zone, and unsurprisingly, it led to a penalty. Kevin Davis went to the box for high-sticking. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, considering how they’ve played on the PK, the Grizzlies were more aggressive and coordinated on the disadvantage, and killed it off with only one shot allowed.

Although the Grizzlies did not pick up a shot through the first half of the period, they started to control play much ore than they had up until that point, McGauley, Davis, and Terao all creating nice opportunities.

After multiple close calls, the Grizzlies’ drive picked up a power play. Utah kept working hard, and a wicked shot from Richart led to a wild scramble in the goal-mouth. In the mean time, the puck went out to the stick of J.C. Brassard, who had lots of time to beat a beleaguered Tomas Sholl for his first with Utah. Barron and Richart got the assists.

The Grizzlies continued to press, leading to some great looks, including a wrap-around beauty by Ryan Wagner followed up by a shot that was especially memorable. Terao and Brassard also had a two-on-one that Sholl stopped dead.

On the other end of the ice. McDonald made some big saves of his own, perhaps none bigger than those with 30 and then 13 seconds to go in the period. After 40, the Grizzlies trailed in shots 18-14, but led 2-1 where it mattered.

Coming into the third, the Grizzlies faced the challenge of one of the best (if not THE best) come-back teams in the league. Idaho ran the Utah zone for the first couple of minutes, and it payed off. Zack Andrusiak scored with minimal fuss at 5:05.

It appeared to be just the swift kick Utah needed though, as they picked up the pace significantly following the goal. Overall though, the Steelheads managed to keep the play largely (though not exclusively) in the Utah zone.

Economos took a delayed tripping call with just under six to go, and McDonald made a huge series of saves. Once again, the Grizzlies’ kill got the job done.

As time ticked down, and the Steelheads with an offensive zone draw, McDonald made another terrific save, and sprinting the other way, McGauley, Terao, and Molino came close. However, regulation wasn’t enough to break the deadlock.

Unfortunately, Andrusiak got his second of the game, giving Idaho the 3-2 OT win.

At the end of the day, the Grizzlies played well, but made a couple of crucial mistakes that Idaho jumped on.

Andrusiak’s two goals, including the game winner earned him first star honors, while Barron (two assists), and Molino (one goal) took second and third. Wagner didn’t pick up a point, but  continued to impress, as did Terao who continues to always be exactly where he needs to be, and now joins McGauley and Wagner in the point-per-game club.

Idaho best PK team in the league, Utah had two against them. Unfortunately, Idaho is also a brilliant comeback team, and Utah gave them the opportunity to do so.

“Obviously protecting our third period leads haven’t been good.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We didn’t do it yesterday, but we were able to score, and then today again, going into the third with the lead, the first five minutes wasn’t good enough. We generated scoring chances, didn’t generate shots.”

So what do they have to do to remedy that?

“We’ve got to keep things more simple. We talk all the time about managing the puck, and we just have too many turnovers. Too many turnovers in key areas. It’s unacceptable. We’re working on that, just getting it through guys’ heads to keep things simple. And once again, everything that they got, we gave them. We had the puck on our stick, we turned it over, two of the four goals last game were like that too. We gotta make sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot so we can give ourselves a chance. But at the end of the day, that’s a good team over there, it’s a good battle each and every night, it could go either way. Tonight they got a couple of chances in overtime, and it went their way.”

Not all is grim, however, as special teams continue to be a strength. The Grizzlies capitalized twice on the advantage against a strong PK team, but even the penalty kill created momentum — in at least once instance, even more momentum than five-on-five.

“Just like last year, our special teams have been really good all year. Idaho scored two goals on us last game, but a four-on-three, that’s a tough one, then there was another quick strike, not characteristic of our team. Back to work again, the penalty kill was great, our power play got us two, our special teams are always great. Our five-on-five play has got to improve. Like you said, the intensity, we start every period slow. They scored again on the first shot. They scored in the first five minutes last game, even though we were taking it to them. But still, we’ve got to make sure that when we’re playing we’re getting results, and keeping things simple. Hockey is a simple game. When you start to over-complicate it and try things new and out of your skill set, or whatever, bad things happen. You’ve got to play the percentages and good things come your way.”

Despite the loss, McDonald had perhaps his strongest game since preseason, making a couple of especially key saves especially at the end of the second and third periods. It was a marked improvement, but there’s still room for more.

“He played well. He gave us a chance to win” Branham said. “I’m all over our goalies to say it’s not good enough, be the reason we win. I’m still waiting for that, but he had a really strong game after that first shot went in. A great bounce-back game for him, and it’s gonna be good for his confidence. We have good goaltenders, and they need to get better each and every night so that they can grow as well. They need to be the reason we win, not just give us a chance.”

We had a chance to speak to third star Griffen Molino afterwards as well, and his thoughts were similar.

“Obviously they got that one quick one,” He said of the opening Idaho goal, “But I thought we answered back, and then it was pretty even for most of the game. But having that lead going into the third was big, and those are points that you just can’t find a way to lose.”

It was a common theme, but he definitely sees promise in the team.

“It’s a young group of guys, a lot of first year players, and managing the game, especially with a 72 game season, is obviously critical. We’ve seen it a handful of times already, so I think moving forward it’s just the little things, taking care of the puck, getting things out of your own end and into theirs, especially late in the game when you’re holding the lead, it’s pretty important.”

“We’ve got a close group. I think a lot of these guys are working hard to make a name for themselves, and in the early going it’s been tough for our team, but I think that we’re coming together game by game, and getting better and better. Trying to keep things simple, and as far as the power play goes, I think it’s just who you’re playing with, and getting the reps in in practice, and in the game feeling comfortable with guys and building a rapport. As far as that goes, tonight we got a couple of good cracks at them, traffic in front of the net, and so it worked out.”

When asked about his line with McGauley and Terao, which showed flashes of future promise, as well as some immediate results, he thinks it is, again, just a matter of time.

“With Cassels and [Dickinson] being called up, it’s kind of a new line formation, but one that seems to be working kind of early on. But like you guys know, the more you play with someone, or with a group of guys, it’s easier and you figure out tendencies and stuff like that as you said, it felt like we were one or two seconds away, or a pass here or there away from really clicking. I think it’s gonna come.”

The two teams will meet for their third game in as many days, and their second in less than 24 hours on Sunday afternoon.

Goals

  • First Period: Molino (Terao, Barron) (PP)
  • Second Period: Brassard (Barron, Richart) (PP)
  • Third Period: None
  • OT: None

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Slow Start

After a spirited end to Friday’s game, the tilt on Saturday promised to be a a good one, complete with specialty jerseys for Epilepsy night. Mason McDonald got his first regular season start in a Grizzlies’ jersey, while Mike Economos and Teigan Zahn drew in for Connor Yau, Ryan Black, and Colin Jacobs.

Although the Grizzlies looked much more together from the get-go, Idaho struck first, 1:26 into the frame.

However, Utah got right back on their collective horse, and were able to string together several shifts in the offensive zone. Despite the zone time, by the five minute mark, Idaho held the shot lead 5-0 as well as the score lead.

Kevin Davis kept his feet moving, and drew a power play shortly thereafter. Although it wasn’t reflected on either the shot counter or the scoreboard, the team looked more cohesive.

Despite all that, Idaho made it 2-0 before the Grizzlies had hit their third shot on goal.

Economos tried to get something going after Taylor Richart got into a little bit of a shoving match, but Idaho declined, and Economos was sent to the box for roughing.

Utah killed off the penalty off, but Joe Wegwerth took a roughing call in the after-buzzer crowd.

The Grizzlies spent large portions of the kill in and around the offensive zone to start the second, and Travis Barron continued to have a second strong game, earning some cheers following a big hit.

Barron followed that up by drawing a power play, and Utah got a couple of really nifty chances, but were again unable to beat Tomas Sholl. They were able to narrow the shot deficit however, 18-14 after the 16-9 first period.

Just when it looked like the Grizzlies were getting themselves sorted out, and playing some solid hockey, they coughed the puck up right in front of McDonald, and Spencer Naas made it 3-0.

Zahn took a boarding call with four to go, and Barron continued to be the Grizzles’ most standout all-around player going into second intermission.

Less than a minute into the second period, Barron drew another power play, and then ruined Sholl’s shut out by banking the puck off an Idaho defenseman and in.

The Grizzlies drew another power play at 7:06, and took over the shot lead shortly thereafter.

The players had a couple of great ideas in the minutes that followed, but shot just wide, or were just out of reach. Tischke took a cross-checking penalty with about six minutes left and the cantankerous spirit escalating.

Utah pulled McDonald with 1:30 to go, but they were unable to draw within one, falling 3-1 regulation.

Barron was, once again, one of the more noticeable Utah players, drawing power plays, laying hits, and driving play throughout the game.

Overall, it was a better start than Friday, and once again improved greatly in the second and third periods, but the slow start and the second period turnover proved costly.

“Same script as last night, except I thought we played better.” Tim Branham said after the game. “Not the first period. First period was terrible. Second period was fabulous until we had one turnover, one shot, goal. And that’s what happens. That’s what happens when you think…I don’t know if you think it’s gonna be easy, but the way you play you think it’s gonna be easy. This league will kick you in the butt. And that’s a good team over there. That’s a goalie that’s always one of the best in the league every single year, and he proved that this weekend for sure. He was their number one star. But you’ve got to find ways, you’ve got to take his eyes away, be more tenacious. I thought we did a lot of good things in the second and third period, we had that fire in our gut, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got that fire in our gut from the drop of the puck.”

Travis Barron continues to impress, and came in for some high praise from his coach.

“He’s really stepped it up, that’s for sure. I thought both games he was our best player. We’re challenging him to be our best player every single night, and that’s what it’s gonna take to move up. He’s done really well, from penalty killing to power play to the physical aspect of the game, making plays, great attitude, leading on the bench, leading in the dressing room, he has done a really good job so far.”

Barron stood head and shoulders above the rest, but he wasn’t the only one who has shown flashes. One such player is Cole Cassels, who has two assists, and Griffen Molino. Another has been Yuri Terao, who isn’t always the most noticeable player, but always seems to appear exactly where he needs to be.

“Yuri competes. He’s a good player. For a language barrier, it’s tough sometimes, and he does a really good job. A lot of good things out there. He’s got good cut backs, good skill, and I think he’s just gonna get better the more he gets used to this North American style.”

As has already been said, the pieces are all there, and they’re starting to come together, but there’s still work to be done. Fortunately, it’s only game two, so there’s still plenty of time yet to sort it all out.

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff