WEST VALLEY CITY In their only other ECHL playoffs appearance, the Utah Grizzlies of 2006 were swept out of the Kelly Cup tourney in the first series, 0-4. The Grizzlies as a franchise haven't won a playoff game since 2002, when they were at the Triple-A level in the American Hockey League.
"We don't look back in the past. We've got to look in the future and keep this train rolling," said captain Travis Rycroft, who missed the end of the regular season with injury but said he's "ready to rock and roll now."
"Guys are a lot tighter this year," said Utah co-scoring leader Ryan Kinasewich, who like Rycroft played on that 0-4 club that fell hard to the eventual Kelly Cup-champion Alaska Aces.
The 2008 Grizzlies (32-30-2-8) open Kelly Cup play today at 6 p.m. at the Fresno Falcons (42-22-4-4). Game 2 is Monday at 8 MDT in Fresno. The middle of the 2-3-2 best-of-seven series is scheduled for the E Center Wednesday, Friday and, if necessary, Saturday, all at 7 p.m. If needed, Games 6 and 7 are in Fresno on April 21 and 23.
"It's a young group of guys, and they're all taking in the experience day by day and having fun with it," said Kinasewich, who scored 60 points in 44 games, spending much of his time with AHL Bridgeport this season. Scott Burt also scored 60 points, playing in 70 games.
The 2006 Grizzlies were an older group, and coach Jason Christie noted that its leaders did not play well in the postseason. "The biggest thing is from what we had two years ago to this year, I think depth-wise we're stronger.
"Our go-to guys have to make sure that they're competing. This series it's going to be important for our top guys to be top players."
Now that Utah has received many of its players back from Bridgeport, including Tyler Haskins, who came back this week and adds a lot to Utah's chemistry, said Christie, this is a confident bunch despite its late-season slump that seemed to end with wins in two of the last three games.
"I think we've got all the ingredients sitting in the locker room right now," said Rycroft. "We've got no self-doubt about this series. We're going to come out, like old cliche, like gangbusters.
"We're going to come at them wave after wave, and we're going to wear these guys down. Up front, I think we're fast, we're strong, we're dominant, and we're going to wear their D-men out."
Big words that will need a lot to back them up.
"These guys have been a pretty close-knit group since Day 1," Christie noted. "That's something as a coach you really want your room to be strong. Everybody right now is on the same page (for) what we want to get accomplished."
Burt, who won two championships with the Idaho Steelheads and who lost in the Kelly Cup finals twice, also sees the right ingredients and notes that his two title teams were not the best clubs in the regular season, but they came together in the postseason.
"It comes down to a dedicated group of guys that are willing to battle every night for each other and not take a night off. Sixteen wins to win a championship," Burt said. "It's a war out there, and you're playing for each other.
"The longer you can play, the more paychecks you're going to get and the more bonus money you're going to get," he added. "It's fun along the way. These are the memories that we're going to have for the rest of our lives."
Christie said Fresno got rolling once goalie Jake Moreland arrived. He carries a 2.64 goals-against average and is 22-11-0-4. Center Oren Eizenman (65 points) is the hard-working offensive force, especially against Utah, Christie said.
"It's not so much his first but his second and third effort that we've really got to key on," Christie added. Also, Luke Curtin (55 points) has been a leader, and Rycroft sees him as someone to key on.
Utah will play the first game without 6-foot-7 defenseman Ian Forbes, suspended a game by the ECHL for a match penalty he received in the last game against Stockton.After Stockton's Ryan MacMurchy slashed Utah goalie Nathan Lawson, Forbes hit MacMurchy with one punch and gave him a concussion and several stitches. MacMurchy apparently did not drop his gloves or stick before the hit. The penalty was announced as a match, then downgraded on the official scoring sheet but then deemed a match again.
Utah Grizzlies vs. Fresno Falcons
Game 1: Today,
Utah at Fresno, 6 p.m.
Game 2: Monday,
Utah at Fresno, 8 p.m.
Game 3: Wednesday,
Fresno at Utah, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Friday,
Fresno at Utah, 7 p.m.
Game 5: Saturday,
Fresno at Utah, 7 p.m., if necessary
Game 6: Monday, April 21,
Utah at Fresno, 8 p.m., if necessary
Game 7: Wednesday, April 23,
Utah at Fresno, 8 p.m., if necessary*All times Mountain