WEST VALLEY CITY — Coming off the first season in ten years in which the club missed the playoffs, the Utah Grizzlies have their sights set on getting back to the postseason.
“We’re going to make the playoffs and try and go for a far push. Last year, we have a bad taste in our mouth still, not making the playoffs, first time in ten years. We had a long summer, but now we don’t want to think about it anymore, we want to move forward with this season,” Grizzlies forward Ryan Walters said.
Over the offseason, the Grizzlies announced that they had entered a five-year agreement to become the ECHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche after the Colorado Eagles moved up to the AHL — and the Grizzlies are already seeing the benefits of the new partnership.
“It’s definitely changed a lot. Not with the Utah Grizzlies in general, but being a part of the Avs organization has been truly remarkable. Obviously, the player support that they give us is tremendous, the coaching support that they give us is second to none, I’ve never even heard of it at this level before,” head coach Tim Branham said. "We’re so close, everybody is so close right here, they can send coaches here to work with us and work with the players, so it’s definitely a blessing and really fun to be a part of."
The expectations of being an Avalanche affiliate are apparent to Walters, who led the Grizzlies with 29 goals last year.
“The Colorado Eagles last year, they’re back-to-back Kelly Cup champions in our league and the Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs in the NHL. This organization is a winning organization. I don’t know if it’s so much that we want to worry about the pressure that’s on us, we just need to go out and play our game, but we do have to respect what they want to bring to the table and that’s to be in the playoffs and make a push for a championship, so we have a lot of work to do,” Walters said.
Walters sees a difference between this year's team and last year's.
“They’re a winning organization and the players that they signed, when they came into the locker room, I could tell the difference in atmosphere in the locker room. Last year, the guys that we had — and this is nothing against our team last year — we wanted to go to the playoffs, but we didn’t do the right things to make sure that happened, and this year, I can tell that we’re doing what we’re saying and not just talking about it, so that’s the biggest difference to me — the guys care a lot more than I think we did last year, and I think that’s great to have in the locker room,” Walters said.
The Grizzlies return Walters, Ryan Misiak, Brendan Harms, Taylor Richart, Gage Ausmus, Kevin Carr and Brandon Wildung from last year's squad.
“It’s a focused and intense group. They want to win, they want to work hard, they’re fast, they push the pace, they’ve got a lot of skill. It’s been fun to coach so far. Obviously, things change, players come and go. While we’re here and the team that we have right now, we want to do some damage. It starts on Friday, we’ve got to make sure that we come out and play our game. So far, these guys have been definitely a good group to coach,” Branham said.
With the first win of the season, Branham will break the Grizzlies franchise record for most wins by a head coach.Comment on this story
“That’s definitely a true honor, that’s for sure … When I heard about it just now, it’s good. I’ve been here a while and I’ve had some good teams, coached some really good teams and some really good players and I’m very thankful to be a part of such a good organization. To spend these six years here has been truly amazing. You’re bound to get enough wins there when you’ve been here so long, right,” Branham said. “I’m definitely proud of it and hopefully we can just get it out of the way.”