By Adam Turner
The curtain has closed on the 2017-18 Utah Grizzlies hockey season and although there is reason to mourn as the club’s streak of 10 consecutive post-season has reached its conclusion, not to worry. October is right around the corner and a brand new hockey club will emerge poised to rekindle Utah’s playoff aspirations in hopes of hoisting the Kelly Cup.
Despite the season ending prematurely, there were some notable highlights from this year’s campaign. Ryan Misiak was the only Grizzlies player to suit up for all 72 games, Travis Howe engaged in 16 fights to the delight of the Maverik Center patrons, and Ryan Walters led the club with 63 points on 29 goals and 34 assists.
There were some key contributions from defensive players including Sam Windle, Mitch Jones, and Rob Mann, who all helped anchor the blue line. The MVP of the defensive unit, though, was Taylor Richart. Paving the way with 17 goals, which led the ECHL by a defenseman, Richart was voted Fan Favorite as announced by the team’s Booster Club prior to Saturday’s game.
“We had a lot of ups and downs but this was a great group of guys and we all wanted to make the playoffs,” Richart said. “If a couple of those games went the other way the result might have been different. But this is a great organization and I’d be thrilled to be back next season.”
One major difference next year will be the absence of the 2016-17 ECHL champion Colorado Eagles in the Mountain Division. Taking their place will be the Kansas City Mavericks, who, following a brief stint in the Central Division, will recommence their rivalry with the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies will address a need for reliable goaltending during the offseason, as Utah goalies combined for a rather subpar .878 save percentage during the season. Safe to say that no roster spot will be assured as the Grizzlies will look to bounce back to where the organization belongs: in the ECHL postseason.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the outcome and this organization deserves better than that but we need to use this as motivation to ensure it never happens again,” Branham said. “There will be quite a few things that we will address and things will come to fruition over the course of the next few months. Fans will see the effort that this organization is putting forth and they’ll be happy.”