Before the Avalanche was even a twinkle in Denver’s eye, the Denver Grizzlies set up shop in McNicholls Arena for one season and won the Turner Cup as champions of the IHL. The success was so great that someone helpful bought the Quebec Nordiques and brought them to Colorado to be our beloved Avalanche. That made the Grizzlies redundant so they moved to Utah where they’ve played ever since.
Utah repeated Denver’s success in year 1, again winning the Turner Cup then played 5 more seasons before the IHL folded. Luckily an inactive AHL franchise was available so they joined the American league for four years before becoming the ECHL team we know today. The AHL franchise was inactive for a couple years and eventually became the Lake Erie Monsters.
Like the Eagles, Utah has been very successful in the ECHL only missing the playoffs twice in 13 seasons. The Avs have a knack for making their ECHL affiliates better with two Kelly Cups in a row now and 4 straight appearances in the Western Conference finals with both Ft Wayne and Colorado. This is a good match for both sides.
The affiliation begins officially on Sunday when coincidentally many of last year’s Eagles become free agents. I suspect that the new Grizzlies will have a bit of a Colorado flavor, actually they already do thanks to a mid-season trade that brought Gage Ausmus and Jake Marchment to Utah with Joey Ratelle completing the deal after the year ended.
At the press conference yesterday, Avs AGM Craig Billington reinforced the Avs thinking on using the ECHL as a development league and that it’s important to them to create a winning environment. Head Coach and GM Tim Branham seemed giddy with excitement at the prospects of having a top-level goalie and young AHL-quality players populating next season’s roster.
The next step is making qualifying offers to players on the 20-man end of season roster. They have 4 players, including Marchment, already under contract and they can QO up to 8 more. At this point I’m admittedly unfamiliar with most but Joey Ratelle was a gritty rookie scorer for the Eagles with 55 points in 89 regular season and playoff games. Taylor Richart had 41 points in 70 games as a defenseman for Utah last year and looked great in a PTO with the Rampage, scoring a goal and 2 assists in 2 games. Offers are due by tomorrow.
After that we’ll see who the Avalanche sign as their 5th goalie, probably on Sunday or soon after, who will more than likely end up as the starter for the Grizzlies. The rest of the summer will see the roster gradually build with the rest filling out from AHL Camp in Loveland near the end of September and the Grizzlies Camp soon after.
Looking forward to seeing if Utah can continue the success that Colorado and Ft Wayne have enjoyed over the past few years and welcoming them to the organization. Stay tuned.