WEST VALLEY CITY — For years now, the Utah Grizzlies have desired to be an affiliate of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
Ever since leaving Denver for Salt Lake City — the Grizzlies were based in the Mile High City in 1995, as a member of the now-defunct International Hockey League, but ceased operations when the Quebec Nordiques relocated there and became the Avalanche — a partnership between the Grizzlies and the Avalanche has been a regular topic of conversation.
For a multitude of reasons, the partnership between the two Rocky Mountain-based franchises never came to be.
That is until today.
The Utah Grizzlies and the Colorado Avalanche formally announced a partnership between the two clubs, Thursday afternoon in a press conference held at the Maverik Center, with the Grizzlies becoming the ECHL Double-A affiliate of the Avalanche.
“This is a partnership a long time in the making,” Grizzlies CEO Kevin Bruder said. “It started many years ago in Denver, with two ships passing in the night. Becoming an affiliate of the Avalanche has always been a touch point for us, and what a great day it is to be a Grizzly and what a great day it is to be a part of this organization.”
Under the ownership group headed by Dave Elmore and Donna Tuttle, the Grizzlies made it a regular habit to check in on the Avalanche and their affiliates — in hopes of connecting with the Colorado club — but it wasn’t until this spring, when the Avalanche promoted their former ECHL affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, to the American Hockey League (Triple-A) and cut ties with their previous AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, that a connection became possible.
“Dave and Donna constantly challenged us about the Avalanche, asking us what was going on with them, what were they up to,” Bruder said. “This spring, as we pursued that, it became more than just checking a box. Things moved swiftly as our season ended and we moved forward with the Avalanche (the Grizzlies had been the Double-A affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks).”
Moving forward was the general theme of the press conference, and the new partnership at large, due to the Avalanche's way of business.
“We are about winning and about developing players,” Craig Billington, the assistant general manager of the Avalanche, said. “We’ve found a formula to be able to develop talent and win, and we are going to work with that blueprint to have a really good team here. The ECHL, for us, is more than just a parking place for players. It is about development.”
That blueprint has led to great success for the Avalanche’s affiliates, as the Eagle’s have had five straight second-round appearances, were conference champions three years in a row and are the two-time defending champs of the ECHL.
“You look at their track record and what they mean to the development of players and the players they have in their pipeline, the success they have had at all levels, and you can’t help but be excited,” said Bruder.Comment on this story
“You have to be able to build through the draft and you have to be able to develop players,” Grizzlies head coach/general manager Tim Branham added. “We’ve had quite a bit of success here in the last five years, but we have to get over that hump and it’s pretty clear that with the support of the Avalanche we will.”
For their part, the Avalanche are thrilled with the partnership.
“We feel really fortunate to be a part of this family,” said Billington. “As (our search for an affiliate) evolved, the evaluation we made internally told us this would be a tremendous fit. The best we have ever had.”
The two organizations are locked into a five-year agreement, effective July 1, 2018.