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Grizzlies delighted to March off to April

by Brian Compton /

When Utah Grizzlies forward Justin Bourne was promoted to the AHL, the team suffered to the point where they did not win a game in March.
Usually, the large amounts of rain don’t arrive until April.

For Jason Christie and his Utah Grizzlies, it poured the entire month of March.

With a playoff spot already clinched, and the departures of goaltender Mike Mole and forwards Justin Bourne and Keith Johnson to the American Hockey League, the Grizzlies went the whole month without a victory.

Finally, the long slide -- which lasted a full dozen games -- came to an end Thursday night, when Utah rallied for a 5-3 win over the Stockton Thunder at The E Center. It was the Grizzlies’ first victory since Feb. 29.

Hello, April.

"It was tough," Christie told "It was one of those things where we clinched a playoff spot early and we were just trying to keep the guys focused. It was unique because everything kind of happened at once."

Bourne, who had five points in 16 games for AHL Bridgeport, had a power-play goal late in the first period last night. His return to Utah certainly relieves some offensive pressure off the likes of Ryan Kinasewich and Scott Burt. When he returned to Salt Lake City on Monday, he entered a dressing room where smiles were hard to come by. Twelve losses in a row will do that.

"It wasn’t so good," Bourne admitted. "It’s tough to come to the rink and you really can’t smile."

It was tough for Bourne after the experience he had in Bridgeport, where he was one step closer to skating on the same ice as his dad, Bob Bourne, who won four straight Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders.

"It was awesome," Justin said of his time in the AHL. "It was a really good experience. I feel like it made me a better player. I played more of a defensive game there, but I didn’t feel out of place at all."

Thursday night, though, things were different. While there wasn’t any champagne flowing afterwards, the Grizzlies were feeling much better about things after winning for the first more in more than a month.

"It wasn’t like winning the Stanley Cup, but it was good," Bourne said. "It was nice to be able to smile afterwards. It was huge to get a win. We need to sharpen our systems now and get everyone on the same page before the playoffs. We need to get things going."

Christie certainly breathed a sigh of relief when the final horn sounded. He was proud of the way his team fought through such a tough stretch -- not to mention the way it battled back Thursday night to finally get on the winning side of things.

"Our guys were pretty upbeat," Christie said. "We were pretty much in every game. We were getting a lot of opportunities -- we just weren’t burying them."

Now they finally have buried some chances, the Grizzlies must continue their winning ways heading into the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Utah closes out the regular season with two more games against Stockton before heading to Fresno for Game 1 of the postseason on April 13.

"It’s huge. We know we have a big series with Fresno coming up, so we’ve got to be ready to go. They’re a tough team, and it’s always a chess match."

All-Rookie Team Announced -- The ECHL announced its All-Rookie Team for 2007-08 yesterday as determined in a vote of ECHL coaches, who were asked to select a goaltender, two defensemen and three forwards. A rookie is defined as a player who has played in less than 25 professional games prior to the start of the current season.

F -- Matt Beaudoin, Dayton Bombers:  The soon-to-be 24-yearold (Sunday) had racked up 38 goals and 31 assists in 62 games this season.

F -- David Desharnais, Cincinnati Cyclones:
The 5-foot-6 Quebec native came out of nowhere this season to record 102 points (28 goals, 74 assists) for Chuck Weber’s squad. Desharnais also has a remarkable plus-35 rating.

F -- Josh Soares, Alaska Aces:
The University of Maine product has had a tremendous campaign in Anchorage with 81 points (36 goals, 45 assists) in just 59 contests. Spent some time with AHL Peoria earlier this season.

D -- Ryan Gunderson, Trenton Devils: After watching games at the Sovereign Bank Arena as a teenager, the Bensalem, Pa., native has opened some eyes in Trenton this season. The 22-year-old has 40 assists in 70 games.

D -- Adrian Veideman, Augusta Lynx: Joined the AHL’s Portland Pirates right out of the University of Denver at the end of last season, and has developed his game quite nicely under Bob Ferguson in Augusta. In 65 games, the 6-foot-2 blueliner has 10 goals and 29 assists.

G -- Anton Khudobin, Texas Wildcatters: The Minnesota Wild’s seventh-round pick in 2004, Khudobin has been nothing short of sensational for the Wildcatters this season. In 27 appearances, Khudobin has racked up 20 victories while posting a 1.98 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Has a 1.99 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 12 games with AHL Houston this season.

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