AHL: Utah Grizzlies season preview

By Keith Riskey

This year, Don Hay and the Utah Grizzlies hope to turn around what was a very lean and largely forgettable
2002-2003 season and playoff campaign.  Although last year’s Grizzlies were
able to just edge into the playoffs, their season was characterized by
inconsistencies and average play.  Their quick playoff elimination was no
doubt helped along by the Stars sudden recall of John Erskine, a defensive
anchor and physical presence for the club, on the eve of postseason
competition.  However, discipline, goaltending, and clutch scoring were
weaknesses for Hay’s team all season long. The team was among
the least disciplined in the AHL, garnering the second most penalties in the
league.  Goaltending, hitherto regarded as an organizational strength from
the Dallas Stars on down to their farm clubs, was disappointing and
inconsistent.  And the Grizzlies were the league’s worst-performing team
when trailing in a hockey game — a testament to the players’ perceived
inability to create offense not driven by their competitors’ mistakes or
over-aggression.   

The outlook for improvement in 2003-04 is only modest. Quite simply, their talent base just isn’t on par with some
of the other teams in the AHL.  Dynamic wings like Antti Miettinen
and Steve Ott are expected to stick with the Dallas Stars this year.   However, there are still many signs
that this will be an improved season, both for the club and for the development
of Dallas Stars prospects.

First, Utah coaching expects a more skilled, better skating hockey
club.  Stars prospects like Mathias Tjarnqvist and
Trevor Daley, one of the
best skating defensemen drafted in the last few seasons, are expected to boost
the overall talent quotient.  In addition, the Grizzlies coaching staff and
a handful of the Dallas Stars prospects expected to play in Utah spent part of
their preseason this summer in Sweden and Finland learning new techniques. 
The drills in Scandinavia focused on free-flowing offensive skills, especially
related to puck-possession and passing.  While these offensive skills are
not likely to change players into dynamic free-skaters overnight, Coach Hay
expects them to at least add something to a players’ arsenal. 

Goaltending, another sore spot for last season’s Grizzlies, should also
improve this season.  Last year, highly regarded Dallas Stars prospect Jason
Bacashihua
had a disappointing season.  He finished with a very under whelming 3.15 GAA and a .907
save percentage, and was outplayed by journeyman Corey Hirsch.  However,
this season the pressure is on Bacashihua to make great strides.  He will
compete for the starting job against Dan
Ellis
, another highly regarded Stars
prospect.  The fact that Ellis outplayed Bacashihua for stretches while
training with the Dallas Stars this preseason raises some questions, but both
“Cash” and Ellis have looked very good in camp and scrimmages so far
for Utah.  The competition should be
good for both Stars prospects, and both should combine for an improved Grizzlies
goaltending core.  Expect a lot of dedication from these two this season,
as a backup spot is expected to open up on the Stars roster sometime in the next
few years.

A few skilled journeyman have also been added to the Grizzlies.  Tough
winger Rob Valicevic (32) was signed in the offseason by the Stars after spending last season in the Anaheim Mighty Ducks system.
As a call-up Valicevic scored a goal in 10 games with Anaheim (NHL). In 69 games with Cincinnati
(AHL), the 6’2”, 208-pound forward scored 17 goals and had 26 assists. Valicevic is a veteran of 186 NHL games and is a former sixth round selection of the New Jersey Devils in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. 
In addition, “Bubba” Berenzweig of Nashville and Tim Vetterburn of Los
Angeles solidify the defensive core.  Mike Sgroi, a very experienced and
intimidating pugilist, should also add some entertainment for Grizzlies
fans.  A more competitive overall line-up should benefit Dallas Stars
prospects training in Utah.  

One additional plus for the Utah Grizzlies this season is their renewed
affiliation with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL.  The Idaho Steelheads
are a short, five hour drive from Salt Lake City, making call-ups and changes
efficient and practical.   
This proximity should make competition for jobs fierce and the organization more
flexible for sudden call-ups by the Dallas Stars.    

While it’s unlikely the Grizzlies will compete for the Calder Cup next
season, improvements are expected. 

The Grizzlies open their AHL season Oct. 10 at home in the E Center against San Antonio. 

Stars Prospects to Watch

Trevor Daley: Daley is a breathtaking skater and an extremely talented
defenseman on both sides of the ice.  Once thought of as a top 15 pick, the
Stars managed a potential steal when they landed him in the second round of the
draft a few seasons back (43rd overall).  For two consecutive preseasons
Daley, who has not yet even played in the minors, completely impressed the
Dallas Stars organization and survived all but the last cuts.  His progress
will be followed very closely this
season.  

Mathias
Tjarnqvist
:
Mathias has suffered from a very up-and-down
career, rebounding with strong play last season after struggles for ice time in
Sweden and an extended bout with mononucleosis.   But the
prospect acquired for Roman Turek has impressed Stars scouting and coaching in
the past, as far back as Ken Hitchcock.  It should be interesting to see
how Tjarnqvist adapts to the North American style of hockey. It is unlikely he
will be an extremely productive forward in the NHL, but he could develop into a
useful role player.   

Dan Ellis/Jason
Bacashihua
:
It should be very interesting to follow
the competition between these two highly regarded Stars prospects.  With a
potential roster spot opening on the Dallas Stars in a year or two, both are
strong candidates.  Both have had fine goaltending careers up to this
point, and both have the natural ability required to become excellent
goaltenders.    

Utah Grizzlies Roster

NamePosAgeDOBHtWtBirthplace
Bacashihua,
Jason
G219/20/19825’11175Garden City, Michigan
Bararuk,
David
LW205/26/19836’0180Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Bateman,
Jeff
C228/29/19815’11184Belleville, Ontario
Berenzweig, AndrewD258/8/19776’1217Arlington Heights, Illinois
Cox, JustinRW223/13/19816’0173Merritt, British Columbia
Daley,
Trevor
D2010/9/19835’10201Toronto, Ontario
Darby, ReganD237/17/19806’2200Estevan, Saskatchewan
Draney, BrettLW233/12/19816’1195Merritt, British Columbia
Ellis,
Daniel
G216/19/19806’0185Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Gainey,
Steve
LW241/26/19796’1192Montreal, Quebec
Gove, DavidC255/4/19785’9190Centerville, Massachusetts
Heisten,
Barrett
RW233/19/19806’1200Anchorage, Alaska
Jancevski,
Dan
D216/15/19816’3212Windsor, Ontario
Konopka, ZenonLW221/2/19816’0190Niagra Falls, Ontario
Macmillan,
Jeff
D243/30/19796’3206Durham, Ontario
Oliver, DavidRW324/17/19716’0190Sechelt, British Columbia
Peters, WarrenC217/10/19826’0201Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Sgroi, MichaelRW258/14/19786’5230Orlando, Florida
Skalde, JarrodC322/26/19716’0285Niagara Falls, Ontario
Smith, MichaelG213/22/19826’3189Kingston, Ontario
St. Jacques, ChrisC201/22/19835’8181Edmonton, Alberta
Stafford, GarrettD231/28/19805’11170Los Angeles, California
Tjarnqvist,
Mathias
RW244/15/19796’1183Umea, Sweden
Valisevic, RobRW321/6/19716’2208Detroit, Michigan
Wedderburn, TimD226/29/19816’1212Okotoks, Alberta
Wotton, MarkD2911/16/19736’1195Foxwarren, Manitoba