Tuesday, July 21, 2009
July by the Numbers travels out west to Utah for jersey #21.
When the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Denver to become the Avalanche, the resident International Hockey League (IHL) Denver Grizzlies were forced to vacate the Mile High City after only one memorable season in Denver, where they would not only finish with the best regular season record, but capture the Turner Cup, awarded to the champions of the IHL.
During their first season in Salt Lake City, the newly renamed Utah Grizzlies would replicate the playoff success of the Turner Cup Championship won the year prior in Denver. By defeating the Kansas City Blades 3 games to 2 in the first round, outlasting the Peoria Rivermen 4-3, beating the Las Vegas Thunder 4-2 and sweeping the Orlando Solar Bears 4-0 in the finals, capturing the title in front of 17,381 fans in Game 4 in Utah.
This would unfortunately prove to be the high point of the Utah Grizzlies, as they would never win a division title or achieve any sort of playoff success again. In the following season of 1996-97, the Grizzlies would defeat Kansas City 3-0 in the first round only to be swept themselves in the second. It would be the last time they would ever reach the second round, as their remaining eight years in the IHL, and later the American Hockey League (AHL) would see them bounced in the preliminary round once, the first round three times and miss out on the playoffs entirely four times.
When the IHL folded, the club was granted membership in the AHL where they played for four seasons prior to suspending operations for 2005-06. The franchise was then sold to a new owner who relocated the team to Cleveland, Ohio where it was renamed the Lake Erie Monsters.
A new franchise called the Utah Grizzlies took it's place in the lower ranked East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and continues to play this day, but is not a continuation of the same AHL franchise.
The jersey I am featuring today is a game worn Bauer 1998-99 Utah Grizzlies John Byce jersey. By far and away the most unique aspect of this jersey is the sublimated bear claw slash marks not only across the back and continuing onto the front of the body, but embroidered into the back numbers as well. The copper trim around the numbers is also executed with a metallic twill that adds a nice detail to the numbers and a needed dash of color to the back of the jersey.
Byce was a member of the Wisconsin Badgers for four seasons and played for a variety of clubs over the course of his career, including 21 NHL regular season games for the Boston Bruins, scoring 2 goals and 3 assists, while adding 2 playoff goals in eight games.
He would also see action for the Maine Mariners, Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates of the AHL and the Milwaukee Admirals, San Diego Gulls, Long Beach Ice Dogs and Utah Grizzlies of the IHL, as well as stops in Sweden with HV71 and England with the London Knights in a career that would span 11 seasons.