By Dan Rasmussen
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – From the start of the 2008-09 ECHL season to the end of it, the Utah Grizzlies constantly dealt with change.
In keeping with one of the main objectives of the Double-A hockey club, Utah fed AHL clubs with players throughout the year, leaving a revolving door of guys shuffling in and out of the lineup.
Combine that with the fact that the Grizz had a number of injuries pop up along the way, and it was very difficult at times to stay competitive on the ice.
Through everything, however, Utah somehow managed to do exactly that.
Despite never really playing with one cohesive group this year, the Grizz still finished with a .500 record (28-28-6-10) and qualified for the Kelly Cup playoffs, losing in the first round to Alaska in five games two weeks ago.
“I think every day was a learning experience,” Utah coach Kevin Colley said of the season, his first in charge of the Grizzlies. “Being a first-year coach, I don’t think there’s too many coaches that get put in some of the situations that I did this year. I’ve been through adversity before, which helped me with all the ups and downs throughout the year.
“There were a lot of ups and downs, but I can say I’m proud of my players for playing their hearts out, even when we had 12 guys for six weeks. That says a lot about some of the character we had in that locker-room.”
The grueling stretch that Collie mentioned arrived toward the end of the regular season. Within a 24-hour span between Feb. 4 and 5, standouts Ryan Kinasewich, James Sixsmith, Mike Walsh, Jon Gleed and Jordan Hart were all called up to Bridgeport, leaving the Grizz undermanned for almost an entire month.
Utah, however, emerged with a 7-8-0-3 record from that stretch to stay on course for making the playoffs.
“You tell me when I got the head-coaching job that I was gonna have all these transactions and go through the period we did of being short-handed, I would’ve probably scratched my head and been like, ‘Wow,'” said Colley. “But you never know what’s gonna happen. I’m glad I could at least be a part of their lives and help them out to be AHL players.”
“I’m sure there’s gonna be a few guys on this year’s team that I won’t see back because they’ve grown into AHL players.”
One guy, however, that will be back next year is Colley, whom the club officially signed to a two-year extension just two days after the end of the season.
Colley says he’s looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
“We’ll take the things we learned this year, and I’ll be stronger as a head coach and we’ll bring in the right people to win a championship for the great franchise here in Salt Lake,” said Colley.
Off the ice, change was also a huge theme for the Utah Grizzlies this year, as West Valley City took a 40-percent ownership stake in the team in exchange for writing off $600,000 in past due rent at the E Center.
Going forward, Grizzlies CEO Kevin Bruder said the move will help give the club stability in the years ahead.
“We feel great about the future and are very excited to have West Valley City involved,” said Bruder. “From a day-to-day business standpoint, it really doesn’t change much of how we’ve operated the last 13 years. What it does do is ensure the stability that over time people have doubted.
“I don’t think the organization has ever doubted it, (nor) has the city ever doubted it, but now that makes a strong statement that the Grizz are here (and) they’re solid. We’ll continue to be active in the community.
“The future,” added Bruder, “is bright for hockey in the Salt Lake valley.”