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Grizzlies are ‘evicted’ for 2 worldwide competitions

SHARE Grizzlies are ‘evicted’ for 2 worldwide competitions

WEST VALLEY CITY ? The Utah Grizzlies have moved. Sunday, they vacated the E Center.

"The Grizzlies are displaced lock, stock and barrel ? jocks, sticks, everything," said team president Tim Mouser. "In laymen's terms, we've been evicted."

The ouster, however, isn't permanent. Once the 2002 Winter Olympics and Paralympics clear out, the Grizz will reclaim the facility they've inhabited since the building opened in 1997. Aside from a pair of home games between the international competitions (Feb. 28, March 1), the American Hockey League franchise will operate elsewhere. From Jan. 20 to March 17, the front office will set up temporary quarters at Convergys in the south end of the valley; the team will be visitors in 17 consecutive games over 33 days, and supplies are being stowed in storage units and semi-trailers.

Though inconvenienced, few within the organization are complaining.

"Several years ago when West Valley City was awarded the Olympic venue (for hockey), we knew eventually that February 2002 would come and we'd be out of the facility," Mouser said as he packed a box of belongings from his desk. "We've convinced ourselves that we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Olympics. Whatever inconvenience we are incurring is well worth it."

That was a common theme Saturday night as team officials finished packing after Utah's 2-0 win over Manitoba. Most faced a midnight deadline, as per contractual agreement, to clear the premises.

"It's been kind of hectic the last couple of days," said Jeff Vernier, the director of merchandise for the Grizz. "But I don't have any problems with it at all. If it wasn't for the Olympics, the E Center wouldn't be here and I'd be out of a job."

Vernier and his staff began packing up the team store Monday and wrapped it up shortly after Saturday's game. All but the arena management offices and some storage rooms were emptied as the building became a "clean venue" for the Olympics.

The last to depart was equipment manager Richard Krouse and his staff. They were busy stripping the Grizz locker room down to its bare bones. Working under a special grace period given by Olympic officials, Krouse had until Sunday at 5 p.m. to move the team's gear out and embark upon the lengthy road ahead.

"We started preparing for this a couple of months ago," Krouse said as he loaded equipment into a bag. "It's kind of exciting to be involved with the Olympics and saying you were part of it."

In recent weeks, the E Center has undergone a transformation. Fences surround the perimeter, with trailers and tents popping up as the facility is prepared for the Olympics. Mouser says it's like something out of the movie "Escape from New York." The only thing missing, he explains, is barbed wire.

"My view of the Wasatch Mountains is now a tan double-wide. I feel like Fred Sanford ought to be pulling up out here in front of the building with all the construction," Mouser mused while looking out of his once-picturesque office window. "We've prepared for this and we expected this. I used to have trees outside my office; now I have trailers."

Six trailers will be used as locker rooms during the Olympics during qualifying rounds. When the field is pared to 12 for the medal pool, each team must have its own locker room. That meant transforming storage space and some rest rooms on the arena level into additional locker rooms. Because the E Center is a multipurpose facility, some of the new construction may be temporary. As for permanency, the arena increased its luxury suites and now has some large enough to handle groups of 40-60 people. New upgraded video screens have also been installed.

"It's a tremendous facility. This is heads and tails above the Nagano facility. Squaw Valley and Lake Placid pale in comparison ? the amenities, the sight lines and everything else," says Mouser. "We don't have to make apologies to anybody for the facility we have when the world comes to Salt Lake."

No guests, however, will likely be as impressed as Team USA. They'll occupy the Grizz locker room.

"We've spoken to USA Hockey, and we will accommodate the U.S. team in every way possible within the limits we're allowed to," says Mouser, who notes that the Grizz will leave their skate sharpener and rivet machine behind for the host nation to use during the Games. "Being an American, I'm all for helping the U.S. bring home the gold."

The hope is more than patriotic. Should the Americans claim top finishes in either the men's or women's divisions, it could have a ripple effect beneficial to the Grizz.

"We're hoping that the Games will expose people to hockey as it did in 1980, and people go, 'Wow, I never spent time watching it and now I'm a fan,' " says Mouser.

Because of the Olympics and Paralympics, the Grizz won't have many chances to lure new fans this season. They only have nine home games following the international competitions. A majority of this season's E Center games came before Christmas ? 14 on weekday nights ? dates traditionally not conducive to drawing big hockey crowds.

"For a lack of a term, the Grizzlies end up being roadkill in the race for the Games. That's just part of it," says Mouser, while noting that Utah's situation is different than what the NHL's Calgary Flames endured in 1988. Back then there were fewer teams and no women's hockey. The Flames were displaced for just 2 1/2 weeks. "We've commiserated our various levels of pain at times. But, in the overall aspect, this building was built with Olympic money.

"The Grizzlies will probably feel the impact of the Games more than anyone else," he continued. "It'll be April, May, June before things get back to normal."

With the Grizz on the road for such an extended period of time, Mouser anticipates tough times for players and coaches. Equipment like sticks and per diem payments will have to be shipped out and escalated travel costs and communication needs such as cell phone usage are guaranteed to increase. And it remains to be seen if it'll impact the team's performance. Utah has led the Western Division for much of the year.

The Grizz will practice at the nearby Acord Ice Center for a couple of days before beginning their journey Wednesday in Houston.

In an effort to accommodate its employees, Mouser says the organization is allowing some of its staff to seek temporary Olympics-related work. In addition, team owners Dave Elmore and Donna Tuttle have purchased a suite in the E Center for use during the Games.

However, it'll be like being restricted to a single room in your house. Access will be restricted.

The Grizz offices will become competition headquarters. The coaches' offices will be inhabited by referees, and Utah's training room gets transformed into a medical area for all teams.

Mouser said SLOC plans to give the E Center the look of the Games. All Grizz logos will be covered and the ice and dash boards revamped to Olympic standards. The same goes for sponsors and signage. One notable change is Grizz advertiser Pepsi getting bounced by Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola.

"Life as the Grizzlies know it is changing drastically," said Mouser.

Anything left behind Sunday fell into Olympic control.

"I'm done (packing). Whatever's left they can have," said Grizz coach Don Hay. The Canadian then offered a little friendly fire. "Actually, it's top-secret, just as long as the U.S. doesn't get it."

E-MAIL: dirk@desnews.com