When the Utah Grizzlies played at the Delta Center for two seasons, they dreamed out loud about how much better life was going to be when they got their new building.

In their own place, after all, they would pay themselves rent instead of paying it to alleged "hockey-hater" Larry H. Miller. Their fans would have great sight-lines for hockey. They could practice at convenient times. They could put their feet on the couches. And, of course, they could play when they wanted. Every weekend night would be their's, not the Jazz's.So why then was the E Center filled with dirt, cowboys, bulls and broncs on Friday night and not ice, sticks, hockey fans and pucks?

Why didn't they begin the IHL playoffs on a weekend night - when the most fans are likely to come - as the majority of the league's teams did?

It basically boils down to bucks - and not just the kind that are happening to the participants of the Dodge Bulls & Broncs rodeo event at the E Center this weekend.

In simple terms, the Grizzlies were sold out of their own building - at an inconvenience to them and their fans - at a time when it counts most.

Because of the scheduling conflict with the mini-rodeo event, the Grizz were forced to play on Wednesday and they won't hit the E Center ice again until Monday.

Ironically, the Delta Center sat empty Friday night.

Tim Mouser - the Grizzlies executive vice president who helps oversee scheduling for all E Center events - admits it would have been ideal to play one or both games at home this weekend. But the Grizz management isn't too concerned because the hockey and non-hockey revenues return to them anyway.

"It's (Grizzlies owner) Dave Elmore's left pocket, and it's Dave Elmore's right pocket," Mouser mused. "It serves us either way."

But does it serve the Grizzlies and their fans?

"You have to rob Peter to pay Paul at times," said Mouser.

For its 4-3 overtime loss to Kansas City on Wednesday, Utah had a crowd of 6,815. That was almost 2,000 fans less than the Grizz averaged during the regular season when they set a Utah record for hockey attendance. Keep in mind, though, Utah's regular season schedule was weekend-heavy. Twenty-three of the Grizz's 41 games were played on Fridays or Saturdays.

"In the first round it doesn't really matter," said Mouser, speculating that the attendance would have been about 1,000 fans or so higher had the game been played on a weekend night.

"The first round is a survival - both financially and opportunity wise," he added. "People start jumping on the bandwagon in the second and third rounds when there's a tremendous amount of excitement."

The extra time off between Games 1 and 2 is actually coming in handy for the Grizzlies. They took a day off on Thursday to heal their wounds (both physical and psychological) from Wednesday's frustrating loss. They looked refreshed at Friday's practice.

"As it turns out we've got a couple of guys hurt," said Utah coach Butch Goring, referring to forwards Niklas Andersson and Dan Plante, "so, had we played back-to-back games we'd be in trouble. In hindsight, it's a blessing."

The extra practice time couldn't hurt the Grizz, either. Their special teams play was below par at best on Wednesday, when they gave up three power-play goals and one shorthanded goal.

"We have three days of good practice and kinda get a chance to regroup, which I think is really positive for us," said Utah defenseman Gord Dineen.

The Blades returned home on Thursday and will return to Utah on Sunday. The series moves to Kansas City next weekend.

If things go as Mouser hopes, the Grizzlies will have to work around the E Center's other upcoming events (concerts, Wizard of Oz, Sesame Street Live) for two months.

"We've just got to kind of live with it and hope that it's not a problem," he said. "That's my goal - that we'll have scheduling conflicts in June."

Meaning, of course, that the Grizzlies would be playing some Turner Cup championship games at the E Center.

Unless, by chance, another rodeo comes to town.



IHL playoffs


First round


K.C. leads series 1-0

Game 1

K.C. 4, Utah 3

Game 2 - Monday

K.C. at Utah, 7 p.m.

Game 3 - Friday

Utah at K.C., 6:30 p.m.

*Game 4 - April 25

Utah at K.C., 6:30 p.m.

*Game 5 - April 27

K.C. at Utah, 7 p.m.

*-if necessary