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Grizz ready to work out kinks

WEST VALLEY CITY — It's a rare thing when the Utah Grizzlies get to have real preseason games, especially against other teams from their league.

Logistics have always made it tough to schedule such games, and the Grizzlies were often poorer for it, especially in years where rule changes were significant, such as last year. Teams the Grizzlies played had had some experience with rule changes in the preseason, and Utah didn't.

"It took us a little bit to get adjusted at the start without having exhibition games," said coach Jason Christie, who sees this year's new anti-hooking rules as important ones for the players to get accustomed to.

Tonight, for the first time since they joined the ECHL three seasons ago, the Grizzlies will get to skate against another league team when they meet the Victoria Salmon Kings in an already-soldout game at the Park City Ice Arena. The two teams will meet again Saturday at Acord Ice Center in West Valley, and that one is about sold out, too. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.

Utah hasn't had a preseason game since it was a member of the Triple A American Hockey League and played the Idaho Steelheads, which had just moved into the ECHL, in 2003.

The games will help Christie sort things out as he gets ready to make some roster cuts early next week. "It's good on decision-making time because there are so many guys battling for spots. It will be good to see guys in actual game situations," he said.

After a week of training camp, Christie is pleased with the team's direction. "I definitely like how the guys have been coming to work," he said.

That's backed up by one of last season's captains, Travis Rycroft. The Grizzlies haven't yet named this season's captains.

"I see definitely a lot of positives," the third-year Grizzly said. "Work-ethic-wise, it's just a step above what we had last year. It seems like we've got a bunch of committed guys right now enjoying coming to the rink. I know it's early, but it's a good sign, right?"

He says the difference is obvious. "You can just tell the want. The want is there. Guys are showing up early, they're doing extra work, they're riding the bike — little things that add up."

Utah is trying to climb out of last season's 24th-place finish in the 25-team league and opens 2007-08 at Phoenix Oct. 19. The home opener is with Idaho in the E Center on Oct. 26.