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Grizz begin long road trek

When the Utah Grizzlies lace up against the Kansas City Blades tonight at Kemper Arena, a week will have passed since they took to the ice for a real hockey game.

That seems like a long time for a mid-season layoff, but it's nothing compared to the length of the road trip they're about to embark on.

Utah begins its six-game road swing at 6:30 tonight and Saturday at Kemper Arena, and the Grizzlies won't return to the Beehive State for an IHL contest until a March 17 meeting with the Manitoba Moose.

With only 20 games left in the regular season, this stretch away from home could be pivotal for the Grizzlies. They currently stand in second place in the Western Conference at 30-28-4 (64 points), but only 11 points separate last-place Kansas City (28-31-2, 58) and first-place Manitoba (31-21-7, 69).

The season series between the Grizz and the Blades has been razor close. Utah is 4-4-0 against Kansas City but has lost three in a row on the road after winning the first one this season at Kemper.

Greg Leeb has been a sparkplug for Utah versus Kansas City, tallying four goals and six assists in seven games. David Ling, who was a Blade the past two seasons before signing with Utah, has notched four goals and four assists against his former team. Jamie Wright also has eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in the series.

The Grizzlies will be joined by center Roman Lyashenko, who was assigned to Utah by the Dallas Stars. The 21-year-old had four goals and three assists in 53 games with Dallas. He becomes the eighth player on Utah's roster to have played at least one time with the NHL parent club this year.

Injuries are still hampering the Grizz. Defenseman Pat Neaton is day-to-day and goalie Rick Tabaracci is out indefinitely with groin injuries. Center Chris Wells is still suffering lingering effects of a concussion.

John Erskine didn't travel to Kansas City. He has been suspended for two games due to too many game-misconduct penalties.