The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason has been one of the more intense ones in recent memory. The Avs lost both of their backup goaltenders, gained one in Philipp Grubauer, snagged up defenseman Ian Cole from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and even introduced the Colorado Eagles as the new American Hockey League affiliate. Yet, one move that flew under the radar in the offseason was the introduction of the Utah Grizzlies as the new ECHL affiliate. With a new team to follow, it’s always a good idea to learn the basics of the team’s history as well as its previous successes and failures. So, let’s dive right in.
If there ever were a franchise to be described to follow a gypsy lifestyle, the Utah Grizzlies must be one of the names that come to mind. To say the franchise has bounced around from place to place would be a drastic understatement.
The Grizzlies made their debut to the hockey scene in 1981 as the Nashville South Stars in the Central Hockey League, an affiliate of the Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars). In their inaugural season, the South Stars finished 41-35-4 in the regular season before getting swept in their first playoff series against the Wichita Wind (what a name, I know).
After just two seasons in Nashville, the team would find itself in the state of Virginia as the Lancers from 1983 to 1993. In that time period, the Lancers won one All-American Hockey League title, defeating the Mohawk Valley Comets 4-3 in the 1986-97 season. The Lancers would also help create the ECHL and join the league in 1988.
After multiple name changes after the 1989 season, the then-named Roanoke Valley Rampage packed their metaphorical franchise bags and headed south to Huntsville, Alabama to spend just a single season as the Blast in the ECHL.
Next, the franchise headed further south on to the campus of Florida State University, becoming the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks. The franchise would stay there from 1993-2001, only making big splashes (pun intended) in their first two seasons, where they lost in the semifinals both years.
From 2002-2004 the team relocated twice more, first to Macon, Georgia and then again to Lexington, Kentucky before finally settling down into what appears a permanent home in West Valley City, Utah as the Grizzlies.
The move to Utah was one that, at the time, made perfect sense to hockey fans in the Beehive State. For the previous ten years prior to 2005, Utah hockey fans could always catch a Utah Grizzlies game (AHL franchise) to satisfy their need of hockey. Yet, when the team was sold to become the Lake Erie Monsters (now Cleveland Monsters), Utah was left without a team to call its own. Luckily, in the offseason that the AHL franchise moved to Cleveland, the Lexington Men O’ War set up shop right where the AHL franchise had left. Meaning, that Utah fans would not even have to go a single year without one of the world’s coldest sports.
In the 12 seasons the Grizzlies have been in Utah, the team has boasted an impressive track record, only missing the playoffs in two seasons; most recently missing the playoffs last season. Since being stationed in West Valley City, the Grizzlies have only been affiliated with three franchises: the Calgary Flames from 2005-2012, the Anaheim Ducks from 2013-2017 and now the Colorado Avalanche from this year onward.
As a whole, the affiliation is an extremely smart decision by the Avalanche. For the Grizzlies, the Avalanche are the second closest NHL franchise in terms of geographical location and Utah is the second closest ECHL team for the Avalanche. This move also allows for the Avalanche to expand their fan popularity in the southwest, a region that has exploded in hockey popularity in recent years. If the Avs hope to build their fan base in the southwest and compete with the Vegas Golden Knights and the Arizona Coyotes, the Grizzlies are the prime franchise to expand with.