You don’t know what you’re missing until you see the Utah Grizzlies play live on the ice
By Jared Blackley
Utah has its beloved Jazz NBA franchise and college football that keep us all on the edge of our seats. But it’s surprising more sports fan aren’t just as obsessed about Salt Lake’s Grizzlies pro-hockey team. The live action at the Maverik Center in West Valley City is nothing short of exhilarating, plus we have a team that consistently makes Utah proud.
The game is fast-paced and physical. For three 20-minute periods, five players on each team careen across the ice rink with sticks, fighting for, slapping, passing, shooting and hopefully clearing the puck past the opponent’s goalie. Players can reach speeds upwards of 30 mph while frequently slamming into other players. A hard check can knock a player into the glass or to the ice. A clean slap shot can hurl the puck towards the goal at around 90 mph.
When the Grizzlies first moved from Colorado to Utah in 1996, they were the reigning champions of the International Hockey League (IHL). The team was dominant again that year, coasting through the playoffs and sweeping the finals to bring the Turner Cup trophy to Utah fans. The IHL went defunct in 2001 and, after a few years in the American Hockey League (AHL), the Grizzlies joined the ECHL, formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League and a step below the AHL. During their time in Utah, they have been one of the most consistent teams in the league, making the playoffs 18 times, including 11 of the last 12 years.
You can stream their games on ECHL.tv with a paid subscription. But that’s not the best way to watch a game, says Tyson Whiting, currently in his second season as the play-by-play announcer for games broadcast on KSOP radio 104.3 FM and 1370 AM.
The best way to see a hockey game, he stresses, is in person. “You can feel the chill of the ice. If you stand close to the glass, you can feel the impact of a big hit. It’s a game that you just have to see for yourself in order to really embrace the sport.”
Whiting says there is just something different about seeing them play in the arena. “You can see the entire ice rink,” he says. “You can see the speed of the game.” In person, he says, “You experience the intangibles—the touch, the feel, the smell.”
Starting at just $13, tickets for regular season Utah Grizzlies games are relatively inexpensive. On Feb. 22, the team hosts its annual Grizzlies Fight Cancer benefit and will wear special jerseys to be auctioned off after the game. All proceeds will be donated to support cancer patients and research.
Showing your Maverik card at home games on Mondays gives you two-for-one tickets. The next Maverik Monday home games are on Feb. 17 and 24.
America First Credit Union members can purchase tickets at Friday night home games staring at just $8. The next Friday night home games are March 13 and 27.
With their college IDs, college students can get $6 tickets for every home game.
The regular season runs through the first week of April when the playoffs begin. Whiting sees a lot of potential for this team to make a run deep into the playoffs this year. “There is a lot of team speed,” Whiting says.
Plus, he says, “They just have that sixth sense on the ice. They know where the opponent is and when they can attack. It seems to be a team with a high hockey IQ.”
Above all, Whiting says, the team has chemistry. “You get the sense that every player is as excited when a teammate scores as when they score,” he says.
They have the skills in the forward spots and on defense, too, he says, but above all, the team values character, which “takes over when it matters most.”
There are currently six former Grizzlies playing in the National Hockey League, but more than 200 players have left the Grizzlies to play in the NHL since the team first arrived in Utah. Two former players, Ray Whitney and Scott Niedermayer, have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, hockey’s most coveted prize. Surely, there will be more to follow.
3200 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City
Did You Know?
The 12,000-seat Maverick Center was built in 1997 for the 2002 Winter Games. It was one of Salt Lake’s two Olympic ice hockey venues, and it hosted the 2002 Winter Paralympics’ ice sledge hockey events. The venue is owned by West Valley City, which formed a partnership in 2010 with Maverik Inc., giving them naming rights.
Why are you such a fan of hockey?
I’m pretty sure the love is in my DNA. I started going to Salt Lake Golden Eagles in the ’80s back when I was in diapers. Hockey is the only sport that can catch and keep my attention. It can be violent but gone are the days of bench-clearing brawls. You’ll see a punch here and there but not much more.
Where are the best seats at the Maverik Center for a hockey game?
Center ice about four to eight rows up behind the penalty boxes.
What’s with fans throwing frozen fish on the ice?
It’s a hockey tradition dating back to 1952. For the Utah Grizzlies, we feed the Grizz fish after the first goal of a playoff game.
Any other rituals?
Yes, there are all kinds, from tossing hats on the ice when someone gets a hat trick (three goals by same player) to taunting players in the penalty box. At Grizz games, we have our own institutions. My favorite is the superfan Leon, our unofficial cheerleader. He rarely misses a game and always gets the crowd going. He’s a local treasure.
What’s your favorite snack at the Maverik Center?
It’s a hockey game, so something with no nutritional value that’s fried and topped with cheese. The MC has been really good with keeping local beer on tap—they’ve got Level Crossing this season.
Who are your favorite players this year and why?
This year it has to be No. 11 Taylor Richart and No. 23 Tim McGauley. Richart always seems to keep the peace when we need it and hits back when it’s called for. And 23 is my favorite number; McGauley hasn’t let me down yet.
Eric Granato is Copperfield Media’s circulation manager and a die-hard Grizzlies fan for 23 seasons.