Utah’s Hockey History: Rollerbees

May 3, 2024, 12:05 PM


Utah Rollerbees (Photo by Jay Stevens, KSL Sports)

(Photo by Jay Stevens, KSL Sports)

SALT LAKE CITYThe third installment of the “History of Utah Hockey” series is about the sport’s “side hustle,” roller hockey.

Utah Rollerbees

The Utah Rollerbees were one of 12 teams to play in the initial season of Roller Hockey International in 1993. Like most teams in the RHI, the Rollerbees’ roster featured minor league hockey players, mostly Salt Lake Golden Eagles, like Rich Chernomaz, Rick Lessard, Brett and Todd Harkins, and Paul Skidmore.

The teams would hold open tryouts to fill the rest of the roster with people who had previously played roller hockey at the recreation level.

Former Rollerbees on playing in RHI

“Growing up in Phoenix, there wasn’t a ton of ice back then. As soon as rollerblades were available, everyone bought a pair and we skated virtually daily. Tennis courts, basketball courts, any place we could find a big open slab,” former Rollerbee James Burdett told KSL Sports.

Coached by former Salt Lake Golden Eagle Brent Meeke, the Rollerbees’ initial home was known as “The Hive.” As cool as that sounds, the hive was a 4,700-seat stadium built in the parking lot at South Towne Mall in Sandy. The players would have practice and then help work on the rink. Rollerbees first-round draft pick Andy Gannon reflected on his time in the RHI. “I was drafted 1st round, 11th overall. Not the smartest pick, haha.” Gannon laughed. “My best memories are building the outdoor rink we would play in at the Sandy Mall. Man, it would be hot and we would practice and then work on the stands. The beauty of Utah. the excitement of being part of something new, playing roller hockey with the Wasatch Mountains right behind you.”

Utah native Jimmy Kilpatrick, a testament to the impact of roller hockey on local talent, was signed and traded by the Rollerbees. Kilpatrick reflected on his experience in the RHI with KSL Sports. “I had been groomed my whole life to be the best goalie I could be. The fact that Utah was getting an opportunity to showcase local talent on a professional platform…I was all in,” Kilpatrick said. “Roller hockey had been used for off-ice season training. At the time the RHI came to town, I had been playing high-level hockey for 15 years.’

Fate of Utah Rollerbees

The Rollerbees averaged fewer than 2,000 fans per game. They moved to the Delta Center for their final three home games of the opening season in an attempt to legitimize the team. 

Team co-owner Dan Kotler, founder of Sport Court, stated that he lost $200,000 on the Rollerbees and moved the franchise to Las Vegas.

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Roller Hockey International went out of business in 1999. Major League Roller Hockey took its place. The Salt Lake Fire, a team funded again by Kotler, would compete in a few seasons of Major League Roller Hockey. The team and league could never find footing and folded. Roller hockey in Utah went from having several full-size “rinks” to none until recently when the Taylorsville Rec Center accidentally built a rink with what is known as a roll-on floor but full of boards and glass. Then Davis County installed a smaller 3-on-3 style rink in its county-owned recreation center.

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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Utah’s Hockey History: Rollerbees