NHL

Salt Lake Hockey History: The Utah Grizzlies

Apr 19, 2024, 11:44 AM

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Jay Stevens, EBUG for the Utah Grizzlies

SALT LAKE CITY – As I watched the final game of the Arizona Coyotes’ 28-year history in the desert and saw all the interviews with frustrated and sad fans, it made me think back to 1993 when all Salt Lake hockey fans were going through a similar experience with the sale of the Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

The Golden Eagles went on to become the Detroit Vipers.

The following year is what Utah hockey fans would refer to as the year of darkness, a full year with no pro hockey in the state. We watched our neighbors in Denver get an IHL franchise and in their first year the Denver Grizzlies went all the way to the championship and won the Turner Cup. And as if it wasn’t hard enough watching Denver win a championship, they were also awarded an NHL team, what was then the Quebec Nordiques, were to be relocated to Colorado.

What would happen to the Denver Grizzlies and could it help us hockey-starved fans in Utah?

The pieces started falling together with the IHL Tuner Cup Champions looking for a home and Utah preparing to host the 2002 Olympics.

Enter the Utah Grizzlies

The Utah Grizzlies would play their first season in Utah in the same building the Salt Lake Golden Eagles played their last, Delta Center.

With NHL Legend Butch Goring behind the bench and up-and-coming players like Andy Brickley, Danton Cole, Andrei Vasilyev, and an entertaining goaltending trio of Jamie McLennan, Mark McArthur, and media favorite Tommy Salo, the new Utah Grizzlies won their second championship in a row by sweeping the Orlando Solar Bears in front of a sold-out Delta Center Crowd of 17,381 fans.

The IHL folded in 2001, and several teams were granted franchises in the AHL.

The Grizzlies were the farm club of the Dallas Stars from 2001-2004 and the Phoenix Coyotes for their final season in the AHL. In 2005, the Elmore group announced that they had purchased a then-dormant ECHL franchise, formerly the Lexington Men O’ War, and that the Grizzlies would be joining the ECHL.

This move was to save money on not only salaries but travel costs as well, but it also cost them in attendance, as the Grizz average attendance dropped to around 4,000 per game.

Since entering the East Coast league, the Utah Grizzlies have always put together an entertaining roster that is competitive and produces fan favorites and an occasional standout such as current head coach Ryan Kinasewich, who is the Grizzly’s all-time leading scorer.

During the NHL lockout in 2012, Salt Lakes’ own Trevor Lewis dawned the Grizz jersey for six games to stay sharp for his return to the NHL’s L.A. Kings. Locals D.J. Jelitto, Evan Stoflet, Masson Mannek, Garett Metcalf, Anders Johnson, Jared Pike, and yours truly have all played for the Grizzlies.

Mannek reflected on growing up a Grizz fan and what it meant to play for his hometown team, “my memory with the Grizzlies goes way back. It’s hard to put a finger on what the exact first one was, but I remember when I was seven, my parents let me have my birthday party at a game there, I was able to bring a bunch of my buddies, the team gave me a signed stick which I still have I grew up going there games which made it so special for my family and I when I was able to play for the team. Having a team in Utah definitely played a role in my drive and my passion for the game going to those games was the closest thing we had to the NHL.”

The Utah Grizzlies remain an affordable option for hockey fans to watch high-quality, professional hockey at the Maverik Center.

Up Next in this series about Utah’s hockey history, The Utah Roller Bees.

Puck Report is a podcast all about Utah hockey, from interviews with NHL stars to which Grizzlies players are about to take the next step, Utah Puck Report has everything for a Utah hockey fan. Find it wherever you find podcasts or on KSLSports.com. The show is hosted by KSL Sports’ hockey insider, Jay Stevens. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram. 

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Salt Lake Hockey History: The Utah Grizzlies