WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The Utah Grizzlies are poised to join twelve other teams for the most unique season in the ECHL’s 30-plus year history. With the Idaho Steelheads bowing out of the 2020-21 campaign this past Monday, Utah now becomes the ECHL’s western-most market for the year. Other Mountain Division foes — Allen, Kansas City, Rapid City, Tulsa, and Wichita — all remain in the fray for this unprecedented hockey season.
With that all in mind, here’s a look at the Utah Grizzlies season preview for 2020-21.
Initial Schedule (home games in BOLD and all times local):
Dec. 11 – Utah @ Rapid City – 7:05 pm MT
Dec. 12 – Utah @ Rapid City – 7:05 pm MT
Dec. 18 – Tulsa @ UTAH – 7:10 pm MT
Dec. 19 – Tulsa @ UTAH – 7:10pm MT
Dec. 31 – Rapid City @ UTAH – 5:00 pm MT
Jan. 1 – Rapid City @ UTAH – 7:10pm MT
Jan. 2 – Rapid City @ UTAH – 7:10pm MT
Jan. 8 – Utah @ Tulsa – 7:05 pm CT
Jan. 9 – Utah @ Tulsa – 7:05 pm CT
Jan. 10 – Utah @ Tulsa – 5:05 pm CT
Head Coach: Tim Branham, eighth season with Utah (249-179-65)
Captain: Not Yet Named
Last Season: 34-17-11, third in the Mountain Division, fifth in the Western Conference
2019-20 Season Summary
Utah stumbled out of the gate in 2019-20, winning only three of their first 12 games (3-6-3). The goaltending tandem of Brad Barone and Hunter Miska kept the ship afloat for the Grizzlies until the acquisition of goaltender Martin Oullette from Atlanta on December 9, 2019. Oullette would go 18-5-5, boasting a 2.16 goals against average and .921 save percentage before the season ended abruptly in March. Utah was tied with Idaho (79 points) and stood nine points back of first-place Allen, with their .637 point percentage its highest season-ending total since joining the ECHL in 2005.
Hot or Not?
Don’t be surprised if Utah takes a dip in the standings this season. Even with four skaters and one goaltender on loan from the Eagles, there are also 11 Grizzlies making their professional debuts this year. Such inexperience in the pro game could be detrimental for Utah in this shortened 2020-21 season.
- Teigan Zahn (D) – Rough and tumble veteran with 435 ECHL games played and almost 1,400 penalty minutes (PIMs) logged. This will be Zahn’s eighth season donning an ECHL Eagles or Grizzlies uniform.
- Brad Barone (G) – Has played with twelve teams across three leagues in five seasons. Posted a respectable 4-3-2 record last season, earning his first professional shutout and posting a 2.53 GAA and .908 SV%.
- Yuri Terao (F) – A small-statured speedster for the Grizzlies, the 25-year-old Japanese native scored 18 goals and notched 22 assists for 40 points in 61 games played in 2019-20 (his first pro season in North America)
- Christian Horn (F) – Playing in only one game for Utah last season, Horn is a disciplined skater with scoring capability, averaging over half a point per game (0.54) in 144 ECHL games played.
- Tim McGauley – Last year’s league MVP candidate signed with Stjernen Hockey (Norway) on June 26. He currently has 19 points (6G + 13A) in 18 games played.
- Taylor Richart – 2019-20 team captain announced his retirement on October 9
- Martin Ouellette – Future unknown. Utah retains his ECHL rights for the 2020-21 season.
- Matt Abt (D) – Signed two-way deal with AHL Colorado on July 22. Split time between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Wheeling the past two seasons.
- Tanner Jago (D) & Diego Cuglietta (F) – Both playing with Idaho last year, the former spent most of his time with the Steelheads (49 GP) while the latter skated in 23 games with the Texas Stars.
- Ian Scheid (D) & Charlie Gerard (F) – Teammates at Minnesota State University-Mankato the past four seasons, Scheid brings in power play leadership while Gerard can equally facilitate as much as put the puck in the back of the net.
- Garrett Johnston (D) and Miles Gendron (D) – Both defensemen with the Newfoundland Growlers in 2019-20, Johnston’s playmaking ability is complimented by Gendron’s leadership on and off the ice (named captain at UConn in 2018-19).
What to Watch For?
- Utah only has two of its top ten scorers from 2019-20 on the opening day roster for 2020-21. Out of the 17 skaters new to the Grizzlies organization this season, who will fill those scoring gaps?
- With Ouellette no longer in net for Utah, who will earn the starting goaltender job? Barone served well enough as the Grizzlies’ secondary netminder last year, but Jones’ standout collegiate career at Penn State was projected as AHL-worthy by former Head Coach Guy Gadowsky.
The Sin Bin’s AHL Editor C.C. Hawkley covers the Colorado Eagles and (occasionally) the Eagles’ ECHL affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies. Follow and interact with him on Twitter: @SinBinEagles!