WEST VALLEY CITY — Pat Conacher recalls being on the wrong side of a coach's decision to send him down, so when he had to make the first roster cuts of his coaching career over the weekend, "It was very tough," he said.
Conacher, the Utah Grizzlies' first-year head coach, and his assistant, Gord Dineen, made those trims after breaking training camp in Boise on Sunday and announced 23 new Grizzlies and one old one — some wearing the new brick-black-and-white sweaters — to Utah on Monday at the E Center.
There will probably be another cut or two before the Grizzlies take their first official puck drop as members of the NHL Phoenix Coyotes family Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. against the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in the E Center.
Utah jettisoned its affiliation with the Dallas Stars at the end of last season and signed on with Wayne Gretzky and the Coyotes in late April.
So far, said Grizzly co-owner Dave Elmore, that new working agreement has produced the improved communication he desired after spending several years kept in the dark on decisions by Dallas.
Incidentally, co-owner Donna Tuttle announced Monday that she had recently married Elmore, her friend and business partner for some 12 years. He said he asked her 10 years ago and told her if she didn't marry him this time, he wouldn't ask for another 10 years.
The new uniforms reflect Phoenix's brick red, desert sand and black colors and are the first departure from the green-based sweaters Utah has worn through its 10-year history. The new jerseys have a Coyote insignia on the sleeve and Grizzly logo on the chest.
The 24 players introduced Monday include rookie defenseman Keith Ballard, a University of Minnesota product and the only collegian on the 2004 U.S. World Championships team, for whom the Coyotes traded two players; 27-year-old former Grizzly left wing Jon Sim, the club's all-time hat-trick leader with four; U.S. World Championship team center Erik Westrum; nine players held over from Phoenix's former affiliate, the Springfield (Mass.) Falcons; and several who might have played with the Coyotes this season if there weren't a labor-dispute lockout.
Westrum, centers Jason Jaspers and Jeff Taffe (pronounced Tayf), wingers Mike Stutzel and Fredrik Sjostrom, defender Matthew Spiller, and goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier all spent time in Phoenix last season.
Taffe, who started last season in Springfield but played 59 games with the Coyotes, is an example, said Dineen, of the kind of hunger these Grizzlies have exhibited so far to the coaches. "He was determined he was going to light it up and make Phoenix," said Dineen, an assistant at Springfield last season.
Without the lockout, he might have competed for a Coyote job. For now, though, the third-year player from Minnesota says the lockout-strengthened AHL will provide plenty of competition, and Utah is a fine place. "I love it. The people are friendly," said Taffe.
Utah will have four rookies — Ballard, forward Randall Gelech and center Jakub Koreis out of the Canadian juniors, and University of Maine goalie Frank Doyle.
Players with "veteran" status, meaning they have more than six years of pro experience, are Sim, defensemen Rick Berry and Nikos Tselios, and forwards Martin Sonnenberg and Doug Doull.
Conacher said he's still mulling his line combinations but is happy that the league now allows 18 skaters and two goalies to dress for games instead of last year's 17-2. That means four full lines can be formed, and he plans things to be "very up-tempo." He also expects to often use one defenseman jumping into the offensive plays.
Conacher is 2-0 as a coach, the Grizzlies winning both exhibition games (3-0, 2-1 in overtime shootout) during training camp in Boise, where the Grizz roster was combined with one that on Sunday became the roster for the ECHL Idaho Steelheads.
GRIZZ BIZZ: In his second public appearance in Utah, Conacher uttered two phrases usually associated with the Utah Jazz. He said he was happy to be in "the city of Utah," the old Karl Malone reference, and said, "We really can't wait to get this thing going." The Jazz slogan this season is, "I can't wait" . . . The Grizzlies' season advertising campaign is "see red," and boosters will now be called "the Red Sea" . . . With nine players standing 6-foot-3 or better, the Grizzlies will likely be one of the AHL's taller, heavier teams but one that should skate well, too, said Conacher and Dineen. The height, particularly on defense, can be helpful "without a doubt," Conacher said, citing reach and strength.
2004 UTAH GRIZZLIES
No. PLAYER POS HEIGHT WEIGHT D.O.B BIRTHPLACE
4 Berry, Rick D 6-2 213 Nov. 04, 1978 Birtle, MB
5 Wood, Dustin D 6-0 185 May 21, 1981 Scarborough, ONT
6 Spiller, Matthew D 6-4 220 Feb. 07, 1983 Daysland, ALTA
7 Westrum, Erik C 6-0 204 July 26, 1979 Minneapolis, MN
8 Tselios, Nikos D 6-5 226 Jan. 29, 1979 Oak Park, IL
10 McLeod, Kiel C 6-6 240 Dec. 30, 1982 Sherwood Park, ALTA
12 Jaspers, Jason C 5-11 207 April 08, 1981 Thunder Bay, ONT
14 Sim, Jonathan LW 5-10 190 Sept. 29, 1977 New Glasgow NS
16 Gelech, Randall C 6-3 212 Feb. 02, 1984 Wynard SASK.
17 Zion, Jonathan D 6-0 180 May 21, 1981 Nepean, Ont.
19 Stutzel, Mike LW 6-2 215 Feb. 28, 1979 Victoria, BC
20 Sjostrom, Fredrik RW 6-1 217 May 06, 1983 Fargelanda, Sweden
21 Ballard, Keith D 5-11 200 July 29, 1981 Baudette MN
22 Taffe, Jeff C 6-3 201 Feb. 19, 1981 Hastings, MN
24 Metcalf, Peter D 6-0 200 Feb. 25, 1979 Steamboat Springs, CO
25 Sonnenberg, Martin LW 6-0 185 Jan. 23, 1978 Wetaskiwin, ALTA
26 Podlesak, Martin C 6-6 220 Sept. 26, 1982 Melnik, Czech Republic
27 Callahan, Joe D 6-3 219 Dec. 20, 1982 Brockton MA
28 Keefe, Sheldon RW 5-11 184 Sept. 17, 1980 Brampton, Ontario
29 Koreis, Jakub C 6-3 213 June 26, 1984 Plzen Czech Republic
49 Doull, Doug LW 6-2 216 May 31, 1974 Glace Bay, N.S.
30 Doyle, Frank G 6-1 175 Sept. 08, 1980 Guelph ONT
31 LeNeveu, David G 6-1 170 May 23, 1983 Fernie, BC
36 Pelletier, Jean-Marc G 6-3 210 March 04, 1978 Atlanta, GA