November 29: Game Day
11/29/2008 9:54 AM - Adam Turner
As “shorthanded” as they are, the Grizzlies would definitely get a boost with a power-play goal here and there. With there two leading power-play scorers currently inactive in Ryan Kinasewich (injured) and James Sanford (Chicago, AHL) the team has struggled to 2-27 over the last eight games and 1-27 on this current home stand.
However, I think the tide is ready to shift directions for Utah. Starting back on the blue line, Andy Sertich is starting to take off, he has five assists in his last five games. During his rookie season and only full campaign in Utah, Sertich led the Grizzlies with five goals and 24 assists on the power-play. On the right point, Jon Gleed had six shots for Utah last night and added an assist. These two are the anchors for the Grizzlies power-play unit and are leading me to believe that the Grizzlies one-man advantage, who has struggled lately, is ready to breakout.
Tonight will be the last meeting of the year between the Grizzlies and Salmon Kings and the second-straight year that VSK will not play a regular season game in Utah past November. The Grizzlies complete their mini six-game season series with Victoria tonight before they even play a single game against Stockton, Fresno, Phoenix or Bakersfield.
At 7-8-1-0, Utah is one point better than this time last year when they were 7-9 through 16 games, before they rolled off a nice little stretch starting Thanksgiving weekend. A win tonight and the Grizzlies have collected points in three of their last four games and have a two-game unbeaten streak!
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November 28: Game Day
11/28/2008 9:50 AM - Adam Turner
Well a shorthanded Utah group who remains without James Sanford, Nathan Lawson and Dennis Packard who are all in the AHL and injured soldiers Ryan Kinasewich, Mark Lutz and Jordan Hart, who didn’t play Wednesday, gladly welcome back Evan Kotsopoulos to the lineup tonight.
Kotsopoulos who returns from a nine-game ECHL suspension, may never want to go back to Victoria again or at least just skip the third game of a three game series in Canada. Last March 22, he sustained a season-ending injury in Victoria missing the final 21 games of the year for Utah including the playoffs just eight games into his Utah career after being acquired from Bakersfield at the ECHL’s trade deadline. Recharged and ready to go this year, Evan played in the first five games of the year for Utah before being involved in an unfortunate heat of the moment situation that resulted in him being suspended nine games by the ECHL.
Well after allowing 121 shots in their previous three games, Utah allowed just 22 to Victoria Wednesday night, a season-low with the exception of holding Ontario to 21 on November 7.
Utah who started out the season a bit slow in the first period has scored in seven of their last ten first periods and outscored the opposition 4-0 in the last two games.
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November 26: Game Day
11/26/2008 8:25 AM - Adam Turner
The Grizzlies and Mike Mole look to start a winning streak tonight against the Victoria Salmon Kings as the Utah goaltender comes off his best effort of the season, for the second-straight night, Saturday when he stopped 43 of 45 shots from Las Vegas, a night after he stopped 34 of 35 shots from the Wranglers in 1-0 loss. Tonight Mole, who ranks fourth in the ECHL with 689 minutes played is expected to make his 13th-straight start.
As Mole goes, so go the Grizzlies. He allowed just 9 goals during Utah’s four-game winning streak that saw them peak at 6-2. Though more factors obviously go into it than that like staying out of the penalty box and not turning the puck over in the neutral zone to create an odd-man rush.
So the question going into tonight, is who will join Mike Walsh and James Sixsmith on the Grizzlies number-one line with Dennis Packard being loaned to Bridgeport. Who ever joins that line, will be in good company as Walsh has three goals and three assists in his like six games while Sixsmith has tallied three goals and one assist in his last three games.
Will Bodine has been activated from IR and will play tonight for Utah.
Meanwhile on the Salmon Kings side, forward and former Utah player, Olivier Labelle, who I am told was looking forward to his first trip back to the E-Center, was recalled to the Salmon Kings and Canucks AHL affiliate in Manitoba yesterday. The team is also without goaltender Jonathan Boutin, who started two of three games versus Utah during the Grizzlies visit to Victoria earlier this season. He was called-up to the Moose on Monday.
Not a problem for the Salmon Kings, as Julien Ellis, who was dominant against Utah at points last year is expected to be activated off of 30-day IR prior to tonight’s contest.
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November 22: Game Day
11/22/2008 10:11 AM - Adam Turner
Well the Grizzlies clearly miss captain and leading scorer Ryan Kinasewich who remains day-to-day and on seven-day IR. Just one of many obstacles that Kevin Colley, as all ECHL coaches, will have to battle through during the 72-game ECHL season.
While the ECHL is considered “AA” hockey, it is undoubtedly the toughest level to coach at. The lack of resources when a player like Kinasewich gets hurt or a defenseman like Sanford gets called-up are scarce. Unlike the NHL or AHL, in the ECHL you can’t just call-up a quality player from a good league. Number one: it’s not logistically possible and number two: they don’t exist. When a coach loses a player or two at the ECHL level, he is forced to tweak and reshuffle his lineup and hope that a player steps up to fill the void(s). The Grizzlies are still looking for that player to take control offensively and bust out with a couple three or four point games.
What a difference two weeks makes, as 14 days ago the Grizzlies had a four-game winning streak and with all their depth traded Brandon Scero to Elmira because there was not room for him to continue his development here. Fortunately, one of the Grizzlies depth casualties from earlier in the season, Evan Stoflet was still in the area and available for Utah to take back for their blueline when Sanford was called up. He took advantage of his opportunity last night and if he keeps that up will undoubtedly have satisfactory employment for the rest of the year.
Right now, Utah is the team in transition, next week it could be Idaho, Alaska, Victoria or Phoenix and the Grizzlies will be back on top of the world. That’s just life in the ECHL. It is definitely a roller coaster ride and always will be. But that will just make everyone involved: fans, players, coaches and broadcasters that much tougher and that much more prepared for their next step.
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November 21: Game Day
11/21/2008 10:40 AM - Adam Turner
Grizzlies look to get back on track tonight, not only to end a four-game winless skid but also a 14-game winless stretch against Las Vegas whom they went 0-9-3-2 against last year after winning the first game of the season between the two teams 8-5 in Las Vegas November 2, 2007.
For some reason, Las Vegas just got the better of Utah in 07-08, though along with the five losses past regulation, three were decided by one-goal in overtime. Last year in the conference finals, two of the four games against Las Vegas went to overtime.
Rookie Tom May seems to be coming into his own as many ECHL rookies do a month or so into the season. He has a team-high four-game scoring streak entering tonight with two goals and two assists. In total, the University of Denver product has four goals and four assists in eight games. Pencil him in as an early favorite to represent the Grizzlies at the ECHL All-Star Game in Reading in January. Reminds me a lot of Keith Johnson’s evolution last year with Utah.
While we’re comparing players purely on statistics, is Dennis Packard last year’s Trevor Smith? He is the hottest player offensively for the Grizzlies with five goals and four assists since joining the team October 29. Last year Smith, made short order of the ECHL before returning to the AHL in January and staying there all year where he still remains. Packard of course is a veteran of 237 AHL games.
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November 16: Game Day
11/16/2008 12:20 PM - Adam Turner
At 6-5, you can’t accurately describe the Grizzlies record through 11 games because four of them, soon to be five of 12 have come against the Alaska Aces who Utah is 1-3 against this year. That would make the Grizzlies 5-2 against the rest of the ECHL. Utah will be looking for a strong finish tonight wrapping up their three-game-in-three-night series here in Anchorage. After tonight Utah will play 42-straight games not against Alaska before returning here to the Last Frontier for games February 27 and March 1.
For Utah it has been Alaska goaltender J.P. Lamoureux who has been the biggest factor in the last three Utah losses to Alaska. He has stopped 107 of 109 Utah shots since giving up seven goals on 36 shots versus Utah October 24 in a 7-3 loss. My first reaction to him is why is he in the ECHL? Why isn’t he in the AHL or even the NHL??????? Last night Utah looked to have three or four sure goals that Jean-Phillipe some how magically stopped
So how does this sound as an x-factor for tonight’s game three? First team to score a power-play goal wins. The Grizzlies and Aces are a combined 0-14 on the power-play in the first two games of this Alaska weekend and 2-37 combined in four games against each other this season.
Be thinking about the Grizzlies tonight when you are asleep as they will be reclining “comfortably” attempting to sleep on a 1:10 a.m. (3:10 a.m. Utah time, 5:10 a.m. eastern time) red-eye that will transport them directly from Anchorage to Salt Lake with a scheduled arrival time back in Utah about 8 a.m Monday on the four-five hour flight back.
Haven’t seen Alaska Governor and Former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin here in Alaska yet so maybe she isn’t as big of an Aces fan as we were led to believe. Though there is a video commercial with her sitting at her desk talking about something that plays several times a night in the Sullivan Arena.
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November 15: Game Day
11/15/2008 11:11 AM - Adam Turner
Not easy to find a lot of positives after last night’s 5-1 loss in Alaska though the Grizzlies did get their special teams in order from a penalty-kill standpoint. Prior to the game on Grizzlies Radio, Head Coach Kevin Colley told us the team could correct their penalty-kill issue by merely staying out of the box. Utah went shorthanded just four times in the game to tie a season-low and killed all four Alaska power-plays. Utah is also now 14-15 on the penalty-kill versus the Aces this year. The problem, though for a rare time this year, was even-strength play as Alaska outscored Utah 5-1 in five-on-five situations.
Kazuma Takahashi made his 08-09 debut last night and was a burst of energy especially late in the game. The Japanese native was all over the ice hustling to try and make something happen.
Reagan Leslie also continues to be a presence offensively with two goals and one assist in his last five periods played entering tonight.
So after ten games the Grizzlies are 6-4 on the year, with both 3-2 records at home and on the read. Last year at this time they were 4-6 while starting off 3-5-2 in 06-07.
Congratulations to former Grizzlies AHL goaltender Mike Smith (2002-2004) who was named the ECHL’s Alumnus of the Month for October with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Smith was second in the NHL with a 1.80 goals against average in October going 2-2-2 though it wasn’t enough to save coach Barry Melrose’s job – he was fired yesterday. Smith played for the Grizzlies ECHL affiliate and fellow Elmore Sports Group team the Lexington Men O’ War in 2002-2003.
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November 14: Game Day
11/14/2008 9:47 AM - Adam Turner
Well here we are in Anchorage, Alaska, where as I write this at 7:30 a.m. Alaska time it is currently dark with light snow and a temperature of 25-degrees F according to our good friends at www. weather.com. The UV index is 0. The team arrived on a direct flight from Salt Lake City Thursday at about 3pm as the plane battled head winds coming up to Alaska causing the flight to be extended a few minutes to five hours and fifteen minutes. Upon arrival, the team was swiftly escorted to the Sullivan Arena for their first practice on the big old Olympic sized ice. The practice not only allowed the team to get acquainted with the ice for the first time this year but also allowed them to work out their plane legs that they accumulated with the flight from Salt Lake. Actually the Grizzlies had been practicing since Tuesday at the Acord Ice Center in West Valley which also features the large ice surface so tonight should not be any real surprise when they play game one versus the Aces. One final note from the flight up, was the presence of ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna who will take in the game tonight here in Anchorage. He was at the E-Center November 5 when Utah battled Ontario. While the Sullivan Arena is approximately 4432.33 miles away from the league offices in Princeton, New Jersey, the league does not ignore Alaska’s largest city. ECHL Director of Officiating Bryan Lewis was here two weeks ago and the Grizzlies were in current Senior VP of Hockey Operations Rod Pasma’s presence during their first trip to Alaska in November of 2005.
Returning home this weekend, is Grizzlies forward, Anchorage Resident and unofficial mayor of Anchorage Justin Johnson. JJ, will undoubtedly have lots of friends and family in the stands tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. Though, given the reputation of Aces fans, he will also have a lot of enemies who will wait to re-befriend JJ until after the season as tonight he is a member of the hated Utah Grizzlies. I distinctly remember him being booed on several occasions last year following some rough plays and interactions with Alaska players here in the Last Frontier.
Captain Ryan Kinasewich is not on the trip with the Grizzlies following a hit he took versus Ontario Saturday. Here’s to a speedy recovery for Ryan. He is still listed as day-to-day. On the trip for Utah is Matt Craig who hasn’t played since opening night while battling an illness and forwards Kazuma Takahashi and Greg McCauley who could make their 08-09 debuts this weekend. With the trade of Brandon Scero last week and now Kinasewich out, it would seem like the Grizzlies would be shorthanded in terms of forwards. I don’t think that will be the case. Kevin Colley has talked all year about the depth of this team and that will show this weekend.
Alaska is unbeaten in five-straight games and at 7-2-0-1 currently sits three points above Utah in the West Division standings, though the Grizzlies do have a game in hand. Only the Gwinnett Gladiators have played fewer games than the Grizzlies (9) and a handful of others.
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GO GRIZZLIES! Remember 9:15 p.m. start tonight and tomorrow in Salt Lake, so feel free to mix in a pre-game nap!
November 8: Game Day
11/08/2008 11:16 AM - Adam Turner
You always here the sports cliché “it’s hard to beat a team three-straight games.” Tonight, the Grizzlies hope the third-time is a charm for their first ever three-game series sweep since joining the ECHL. In 2007, Utah beat Texas, who just happens to be the former Ontario ECHL team, in two games 5-3 and 6-2 February 28 and March 2 of 2007 before falling 6-0 in game three March 3. Last season, Utah beat Alaska 6-3 and 9-5 January 31 and February 1 before falling 4-2 to the Aces in the third game February 2.
This is the second of three-straight weekends of three game series for Utah. Last week, Utah beat Victoria on Saturday 4-3 in game three of that series. Last year, Utah was 4-7-0-1 in the third game of a series. Utah plays next weekend Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Alaska.
Obviously this year falling behind for Utah hasn’t been an issue. The Grizzlies have fallen behind 2-0 in four of eight games this year but have battled back to tie the game in three of those four contests, winning two. Last night the key for Utah was keeping the deficit at 2 and no more by holding Ontario to just 10 shots after the first period and no power-plays after the third period to allow their power-play to come alive in the final three minutes after going 0-6. Tonight, Kevin Colley once again puts an emphasis on Utah’s start after being slow out of the gate yesterday after jumping up 1-0 in the first period in their previous two games.
Ontario who started the year 2-0 is 2-4-0-1 in their last six and winless in three-straight games scoring just two goals in that span. The Reign though, like Utah, have only had two games this year where they have allowed more than three goals.
Talk to you next weekend in Anchorage!
November 7: Game Day
11/07/2008 4:28 PM - Adam Turner
Well unlike some West Divisions in other sports like the NL West or the NL Worst and the NFC West or NFC Worst, the ECHL’s West Division could never possibly referred to as the ECHL Worst. Three teams including the Grizzlies in the West Division have winning percentages of over .700. While in the Pacific Division, Fresno has the best winning percentage and the only winning record at .625. The Grizzlies have a standings board right in the middle of their locker room and Head Coach Kevin Colley watches scores every night as the Grizzlies continue to win themselves. Unfortunately, for Utah, Phoenix and Alaska are playing great hockey, but that just makes the Grizzlies know that each and every game is that more important.
One thing helping Utah in the standings, to this point, is the fact that the team is 4-1 in one-goal games. You hate to see the team you are rooting for go past regulation and pick up just a point for a shootout or overtime loss night after night when two could have been attained in regulation before play was relegated to four-on-four or the Russian roulette shootout. Each year their seems to be a team that ends up with 20 overtime or shootout losses. The Grizzlies have been successful late in games because of their will to keep the pressure on their opponent. Their parent New York Islanders have been one of the best NHL team through two periods but have developed an 08-09 stereotype of being unable to closeout a game constantly.
AJ Bucchino has joined the Grizzlies as a backup goaltender to Mike Mole. He played one game with Utah last year during the team’s opening weekend in Phoenix allowing just a goal. AJ certainly had a busy 2007-2008 as you will see by clicking his name and reading his hockey db bio. He has been in camp with Bridgeport the last two seasons and his father Joe has been an ECHL General Manager in Pensacola among other hockey management jobs he has held.
Ontario was as tough as advertised Wednesday. Utah had to play nearly perfect on the power-play and a complete 60 minutes to hold for the 3-2 win. Tonight, you can bet they will look to tighten up the penalty-kill which gave up both Ontario goals two nights ago.
Well, talk to you tomorrow.
November 5: Game Day
11/05/2008 10:26 AM - Adam Turner
Another three-game-in-four-night set tonight for the Grizzlies with another Wednesday, Friday and Saturday series like last week in Victoria when they took two of three against the Salmon Kings in Canada after just three games in eleven days to start the year. Last weekend, the Grizzlies got stronger with each passing period after a slow start Wednesday in a 4-3 penalty-plagued loss. Over the weekend, Kevin Colley continued to emphasize getting off to a good start and Saturday the Grizzlies scored in the first period for the first time on the road this year and for the second time in six games. Over the season, Kevin has been very detail oriented on his expectations and goals for this team and we have seen things come together in the areas of good starts, consistency and penalties.
Anticipation I am sure is high for Grizzlies fans to see the Ryan Kinasewich, Dennis Packard and James Sixsmith line for the first time with both Ryan and Dennis adding three points Saturday. I have the feeling they will be consistently one of the top scoring lines in the ECHL.
Mike Mole will make his fourth-straight start tonight, but be rest assured that Kevin Colley and the Grizzlies organization are working to bring in another goaltender as soon as possible to backup Mike. Going with an emergency backup for any period of time is risky and a very compromising situation that Colley and the Grizzlies don’t plan on being in for any extended period of time.
Bad news on the injury front, as rookie defenseman Mark Lutz was placed on 30-day IR yesterday as Justin Johnson was activated. You can never have enough healthy defenseman in this league, much like goaltenders.
This year’s Grizzlies team has definitely take control of the shot-board. They haven’t had fewer than 32 in any game so far this year and have only been outshot once in six games.
Don’t judge Ontario as being an expansion hockey team. This Reign group, headed by Karl Taylor, who led Reading to winning seasons and the playoffs in two of three years in Pennsylvania, has developed a reputation for being a very consistent hard working group and their record of 4-3 overall and 3-1 on the road certainly expresses that. They possess former Grizzlies defenseman Chad Starling who captained Cincinnati the last two years for former Grizzlies Assistant Coach Chuck Weber.
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November 1: Game Day
11/01/2008 11:22 AM - Adam Turner
Well for an optional morning skate, it didn’t look like it for the Grizzlies. By my count 12 skaters and both goaltenders joined Assistant Coach Jeff Dwyer on the ice Saturday morning following a 3-2 Grizzlies win in Victoria Friday. Kevin Colley made this morning’s festivities optional as the team completes their three-game-in-four-night series tonight. It marks the second day in a row that Dwyer has run the team’s game day practice while Colley observes from the stands in a suit while taking notes.
It’s a make or break your weekend game tonight. Winning tonight and taking two of three in Victoria definitely makes it a successful trip. A loss and losing two of three does not feel good. The Grizzlies still haven’t played their best 60 minutes in Victoria, but last night just kept working and eventually left the arena with two points. Again tonight they will put the emphasis on scoring in the first period where they have now been outscored 6-1 this year. The Grizzlies though last night did do a good job of staying out of the penalty box especially in the third period where they protected their lead by going shorthanded just once.
The Grizzlies have scored a goal the last two games right off of the draw to start a special teams situation. Friday, four players touched the puck in five seconds to start a four-on-four as Kinasewich won the draw to Hart on the near point. Jordan kicked it to Sanford in the high-slot who fired before James Sixsmith tipped it in.
Repetition has seemed to benefit Grizzlies netminder Mike Mole who has gotten stronger and stronger each period as he prepares to make his fourth start tonight after stopping 30 of 32 shots Friday for his first win of the season.
The Grizzlies (3-2) enter today in a three-way tie for second-place with Alaska (3-2), Victoria (3-4) and Idaho (2-1-1-1).