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The City Journals

Grizzlies end season on top, ready for next year

Jun 22, 2020 10:35AM ● By Greg James

By Greg James | [email protected] 

The Utah Grizzlies Hockey season ended abruptly on March 14, as did most sporting events in this country, but before everything was canceled it was an unforgettable year for the team.

“Overall, I am extremely pleased with this season,” Grizzlies head coach and general manager Tim Branham said. “We had an amazing group of young men who did wonderful things on and off the ice. We had a real good chance of making a long playoff run and it’s disappointing that the players don’t get that chance. They really believed in themselves.”

At the time of the season suspension and eventual cancellation, the Grizzlies stood tied for second place in the Mountain Division of the East Coast Hockey League. Their .637 winning percentage was the best in franchise history. 

This was the second season of the team’s working agreement with the Colorado Avalanche. Under the agreement the National Hockey League team supplements the Grizzly roster with their contracted players. 

Forward Ty Lewis led the team with 25 goals. He scored four goals in one game Dec. 17. The team scored 207 on the season highlighted by a 10-goal game against the Allen Americans in November, the most goals they had scored in a game since 1995 against the Chicago Wolves of the International Hockey League. That night eight different players tallied a goal or an assist. Josh Dickson had a hat trick (three goals).

Forward Tim McGauley led the league with 42 assists and was second in scoring with 62 points overall (assists plus goals).

In December, the team posted nine wins, one loss and two ties. During the December run, the team went from last place to first. 

The players assigned to the Grizzlies play at this level to showcase their talent. The abrupt ending to the season could sidetrack many hopeful careers, but Branham is hopeful it doesn’t.

“The end was extremely disappointing. When you work as hard as the players did all year, giving so much blood, sweat and tears. It’s hard to see it end without any closure. I think it is too soon to tell how things will affect them, time will tell. I loved this team and hope every one of them is back next season,” Branham said.

On Dec. 12, the Grizzlies acquired goaltender Martin Oueluette from the Atlanta Gladiators. He was awarded ECHL goaltender of the week in his first week with the club. He stopped 51 of 53 shots against the highest scoring team in the league. In 28 games with the club he allowed only 2.16 goals per game and had a .921 save percentage. 

The Grizzlies had qualified for the playoffs if the season had not been canceled. This would have made 12 of the past 13 seasons they have made the postseason.

Branham has compiled 249 wins over seven seasons. He is the winningest coach in franchise history. This year a total of 37 players logged time with the team including five goaltenders. Hunter Miska began the year with the team and eventually spent time with the Avalanche in the NHL.

As of press deadline, the future of the team and its players is up in the air. 

“I am in the dark just like everyone else,” Branham said about beginning the season on time. “I believe everyone is waiting on direction from the NHL, but we are extremely hopeful that we will have hockey in Utah next season and it will start on time. The support that we get from our fans is tremendous. We could not do it without them. The passion that they bring each and every night really energizes the boys.”

The 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in October, but the league is waiting for direction from local authorities before a final decision is made.