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Grizzlies end camp, now eye Phoenix

WEST VALLEY CITY — The Utah Grizzlies are now officially in game-week preparation for the start of the 2007-08 ECHL season Friday night at Phoenix.

Training camp ended with Monday's practice at the E Center and the release of three contracted players and one who was in camp on a tryout basis.

Trimmed were former Grizzly forward Garett Cameron, who played in the UHL last season but was with the Grizzlies the season before and scored 28 goals and piled up 128 penalty minutes playing in all 72 games in 2005-06; defenseman Grant Clafton, who played six games for Utah last season with one assist and two penalty minutes; rookie defenseman Olegs Koreskovs; and noncontracted tryout player Steve Jenson, a forward.

"We've got quite a few guys, and we just had to cut down our camp," said third-year Grizzlies coach Jason Christie, whose club is affiliated for the first time in its Double-A ECHL reincarnation with the New York Islanders, who used to be Utah's parent club when it was in the Triple-A IHL.

"We have to have our roster in by Wednesday," he said following Monday's practice. "We've still got to make a couple more decisions. You're only allowed 20 on the active roster (including goalies) and then (some players on the injured reserve list)."

Utah opened camp with 33 players last week.

The Grizzlies have 10 players with ties to the NHL Islanders, including goalie Mike Mole who began his professional career in Phoenix two seasons ago and spent last season dividing time between Pensacola of the ECHL and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, which is now Utah's AHL parent club in the Islanders' chain. He was 3-8 and played in 15 games with Bridgeport last season.

Christie was happy with Mole's play in last Saturday's second preseason game at accord Ice Center against fellow ECHL club Victoria, Utah winning 4-1 after losing to the Salmon Kings last Friday night at Park City, 3-2.

"I thought Molesy played great," Christie said of the Saturday game. "In the second period, we had a bit of a down time with penalties and that, and he kept us right in there."

He stopped 25 of 26 Victoria shots.

Utah's other goalie is its own free-agent signee, ECHL veteran Brett Jaeger, who played part of Friday's game and stopped 21 of 23 shots in a game in which Christie spent much of the time looking at the newer players on his roster.

"The second game against Victoria, the guys played relentless," he said, "and that's the kind of energy we have to take right at the start of the season. I think the biggest thing is we come prepared to carry that energy and enthusiasm into the start of the year."

Christie noted a few other Islanders' prospects. "(Rookie left wing) Michael Haley is a gritty player. He'll stand up to almost anyone.

"And then we've got (rookie center Tyler) Haskins, who is a skilled forward who had a really good camp in New York and Bridgeport," Christie said.

"(Rookie forward) Justin Bourne is the type of player that's always around the puck, always in the traffic. He handles the puck well. He's got a good shot," Christie said, labeling him "definitely" a strong prospect for the Islander chain. He played in nine games, eight in the playoffs, last season with Kelly Cup-champion Alaska.

Another Islander product to watch is left wing Jason Pitton, who played 76 games for Bridgeport last season. He is "just down here regrouping," Christie said. "He has to push himself every day. He's been excellent — great attitude, working hard."

Others with Islander ties are forwards Keith Johnson and Christian Gaudet and defenders Martin Frechette and Jordan Hart.

The past week of training camp, Christie was just trying to get everyone familiar with each other and the more simple plays.

Now that camp is done, the next couple of practices will be spent on playing within the system — Christie planned to show some film so players can visualize better — and, "Basically bringing everybody together as a group," he said. "It always helps to get on the road the first little bit to bring them more together."

Utah plays three games at Phoenix this weekend and has its home opener Oct. 26 in the E Center against the Idaho Steelheads, who stick around to play here Oct. 27 as well.