Colorado Rubber

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Grizzlies bounce Eagles in 6 before bowing to Fort Wayne


Sometimes, the playoffs are like that.

After the Utah Grizzlies eliminated the Colorado Eagles in a tight six-game series to open the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Grizzlies then lost four straight to the Fort Wayne Komets in the second round to abruptly see their season come to a close.

Utah coach-GM Tim Branham found positives in the season after the 5-3 loss to Fort Wayne on May 6 at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.

“We had a pretty good season, really exciting team that’s for sure, exciting for the fans,” said Branham. “Our fans were behind us 100 percent all year – they always are. We’re so thankful for them. They’re the reason we’re all here and they’re behind us every single night.”

The Grizzlies battled back from 1-0 and 3-1 deficits in Game 4 and tied the game 3-all early in the third period before the Komets notched the game winner at 8:16 and then salted the game away with an empty-net goal at 19:45.

“I thought we played a pretty solid game,” said Branham. “We had a lot of good efforts from a lot of guys. I thought we played good enough to win, but the cards weren’t in our favor.”

Ryan Hayes, who factored in on all three Utah goals with two goals and one assist, got Utah on the board 7:43 into the first period as he scored a five-on-three goal from Eric Knodel and Mike Ratchuk. The goal tied the game 3:22 after the Komets took a 1-0 lead.

“You bring him in for a reason, he’s a heck of a hockey player,” said Branham of Hayes. “He shows up in big games (and) every single playoffs, he’s unbelievable. He’s a great leader in the locker room – he does everything for this team. We were lucky to get him back this year.”

The Komets added one late in the first off of a rebound and then on a power play in the second to build a 3-1 lead.

Hayes rang up his second goal of the night, scoring on the power-play at 11:14 of the second period. Barry Almeida and Charles Sarault picked up the assists.

“You can’t say enough about Hayes, Barry Almeida and Charlie Sarault,” said Branham. “Those three guys had unbelievable seasons. They’re leaders on and off the ice and they’re unbelievable men.”

Almeida scored 29 goals in the regular season, while Hayes had 20 points in 24 games before tallying five goals and 14 points in nine Kelly Cup games. Sarault led Utah in regular-season scoring with 62 points on 19 goals and 43 assists.

Utah tied the game 6:36 into the third period on a blast from Marc Cantin, assisted by Almeida and Hayes.

The Komets got the lead back on a shot from the blue line and that proved to be the game-winning goal 8:16 into the third period.

“The boys played their hearts out,” Branham said. “It was an exciting team, they scored a lot of goals. A lot of wins here at the Maverik Center and it was fun to be part of it.”

Grizzlies goaltender Mark Owuya dropped all four games in the series after Ryan Faragher was called up to the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls.

“In order to win in the playoffs, you have to have good goaltending, you have to be healthy and you have to have some luck,” said Branham. “We battled through a lot of adversity in this round.”

Against the Eagles, Utah took the series with a 7-2 win at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland to seal the deal on April 26. Faragher made 27 saves as the Grizzlies scored seven goals on just 18 shots.

“It was a good game by everyone,” said Utah forward Erik Higby. “Faragher shut the door, we were able to capitalize on our chances and it was a good game all around.”

Hayes photo/Josie Vimahi

— Matt Mackinder

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