The history of Utah ice hockey

Jan 25, 2024, 1:52 PM

Grizzlies Goalie Corey Hirsch at a game in 2002. (Paul Barker/Deseret News)...

Grizzlies Goalie Corey Hirsch at a game in 2002. (Paul Barker/Deseret News)

(Paul Barker/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The owner of the Utah Jazz has formally asked the National Hockey League to consider establishing a team in Utah. And though the NHL might be a novelty in Utah, Tyson Whiting, the broadcaster for the Utah Grizzlies, said ice hockey in Utah dates back 50 years. 

What is the history of Utah ice hockey? 

The Salt Lake Golden Eagles predated the Utah Grizzlies. The team called Utah home from 1969 to 1994. 

“They were pretty much like a triple-A team just one step below the NHL,” said Whiting. And they were successful, he said.  

The Salt Lake Golden Eagles played at the Salt Palace (before it was demolished and became a convention center.) At the time, it was also the home of the Utah Jazz.

“[The team] seemed to have a lot of support, especially in the late 1980s. (Hockey games were) a big happening in town,” said Whiting. 

In 1994, the Golden Eagles were sold by the Larry H. Miller group to another group in Detroit. There, the team became the Detroit Vipers. 

Salt Lake City was left without a hockey team during the 1995 season. 

The Utah Grizzlies arrive

In 1995, about 515 miles away in Denver, Colorado, another team was formed. 

“They played as the Denver Grizzlies for one year and they won a championship,” said Whiting. The team played in the International Hockey League. 

According to Whiting, at the time, the IHL was just a step below the NHL. However, it folded in 2001. 

The Denver Grizzlies were successful. According to Whiting, they averaged 12,000 cheering fans per game. 

Their success motivated an NHL team to move to Denver. The Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche, forcing the Denver Grizzlies out of town. 

The team moved to Salt Lake and became the Utah Grizzlies. During their inaugural season in 1996, they won the Turner Cup, according to Whiting. 

The trophy was the IHL equivalent of the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

Until 2005, the Grizzlies played in Salt Lake City. Then, they were sold to a group in Cleveland, and became known as the Cleveland Monsters. They play in the American Hockey League. 

However, Whiting said that a group led by Dave Elmore bought a team in the ECHL. He moved that team to Salt Lake City and they were renamed the Utah Grizzlies. 

“Some eighteen years later Grizzlies are still here,” Whiting said.

The team still plays in the ECHL, which was previously known as the East Coast Hockey League. However, Whiting said the league currently goes by the ECHL.

“Right now, it’s just listed as ECHL partly because of the teams out west and that, you know, the league kind of feels like that East Coast moniker doesn’t necessarily fit,” Whiting said. 

NHL in Utah?

Whiting added that the ECHL is the third-tier hockey league. “The NHL’s kind of the ultimate,” followed by the AHL. 

While Whiting said that “it seems like right now everybody’s kind of happy with where they are,” the Grizzlies could potentially move to the AHL. However, he said the problem right now is that there are already 32 teams in the league. The ECHL has more room, currently consisting of only 28 teams. 

“Maybe the Grizzlies can end up fitting there as an affiliate with the with the new NHL teams that were to come here,” said Whiting. 

Currently, the ECHL website says that the Utah Grizzlies are affiliated with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. 

Related: Utah Jazz owner formally asks NHL for expansion team in Utah


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Arts + Entertainment

ksl movie show host steve salles next to widow clicquot movie poster...

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Widow Clicquot’ explores one of the earliest successful international businesswomen

KSL Movie Show host Steve Salles says the 'Widow Clicquot' explores one of the earliest successful international businesswomen.

7 hours ago

Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox celebrate Pioneer Day and wave to onlookers as they ride i...

Carter Williams,

‘We need more community’: Why Cox says this Pioneer Day can be unifying for Utahns

'We need more community' Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says that this coming Pioneer Day can be unifying for Utahns

16 hours ago

Bob Newhart shown...

Associated Press

Comedian Bob Newhart, deadpan master of sitcoms and telephone monologues, dies at 94

Publicist for Bob Newhart Jerry Digney says the actor died Thursday in Los Angeles after a series of short illnesses.

1 day ago

Micah Hyde shakes hands with Post Malone...

Cassidy Wixom,

Missionary returning home gives musician Post Malone a Book of Mormon

The Hyde family was getting ready to welcome Micah Hyde back from serving his mission when they encountered the famous singer at the airport.

2 days ago

Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy Allen White in a still from FX's "The Bear," which broke a record for Emmy n...

Emma Keddington

Emmy nominations 2024: “The Bear sets a record, ‘Shōgun’ scores big

The 2024 Emmy Awards nominations arrived Wednesday morning and shows like "The Bear" and "Shōgun" scored over 20 nominations each.

2 days ago

The Utah Theater, also known as the Pantages, sat on Main Street before it was torn down....

Allessandra Harris Gurr

Pantages Theater site offered as location for new concert hall

The site that once housed the Pantages Theater has been offered as an alternate location for a new build of Abravanel Hall.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

A young woman smiles while reading the menu at a lakeside restaurant, enjoying the panoramic view o...

Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau

The best restaurants to try in Bear Lake

Save this guide to the best restaurants in Bear Lake when you need to find a place to dine during your next visit.

Female leg stepping on weigh scales. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept....

Health Utah

Sustainable weight loss: the science-backed way to achieve it

Learn more about Debbie's weight loss journey with Health Utah, who have a unique weight loss philosophy for success.

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...


Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

The history of Utah ice hockey