November 29: Game Day
11/29/2008 9:54 AM - Adrian Denny
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 - Adrian Denny
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 - Adrian Denny
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 - Adrian Denny
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 - Adrian Denny
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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