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Out of hibernation: Utah Grizzlies back on ice after 9 months

WEST VALLEY CITY —  Utah Grizzlies vice president Jared Youngman was pretty stoked before the franchise’s first home game in more than nine months. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic shut down the 2019-20 season in March and play didn’t resume until December when the current campaign got under way. After a couple of postponements, the Grizzlies finally returned to the Maverik Center ice on New Year’s Eve.

“It was great to just come back in and realize we’re really playing hockey tonight and then you go out and kind of watch the fans coming in,” Youngman said. “I love getting involved with the fans and seeing them. I was out front watching the fans and the cars pulling in.”

Youngman added that it was a surreal moment.

“After being gone for so long we’re back. We’ve got hockey in the building,” he continued. “All the ticket-holders are what I call my friends. I get to see all my friends again and we get to have fun, watch hockey, yell and scream, and laugh — just have a great time.”

Utah defeated Rapid City 4-3 in a thriller that night. The Grizzlies went on to sweep the three-game series. They’re currently in the midst of their second homestand, taking on Kansas City over the weekend.

Crowds are currently limited to 1,800 patrons. Fans are required to wear masks and practice social distancing. 

Youngman said all precautions are being taken and it’s a safe environment. All seating is separated by more than six feet. There are four seats between everybody in pods two rows apart.

Safety is a priority.

“We are sanitizing everything as we go through,” said Youngman, who noted that concession stands are open and mobile ordering — including delivery — is now available.

“Technically you can come in and if you’re really worried you can come in and sit in your seat and then everything happens from there,” Youngman said. “The fans are our No. 1 priority. Obviously we want to make sure the players are safe as well.”

The ECHL, he explained, has done its job in that regard. A few fan experiences like puck drops and Zamboni rides are on hold.

“It’s mainly for the safety of our players and the safety of fans as well,” Youngman explained. “They’re trying to limit as much contact as possible.”

Although the team’s season-ticket base has dropped a little bit due to COVID, many fans who are at a high risk to catch the virus are holding off for now. 

“We’ve lost some, but we’ve also gained some because people are excited to come back. They want to support the team,” said Youngman, who acknowledged there are some folks staying away because they don’t take the threat seriously and won’t wear a mask. The latter, though, is required unless you are actively eating or drinking.

“Everybody has the freedom to do as they wish. I think you’ll see more people coming back as we go through,” he added. “As we continue to push it out and people see that we’re playing hockey, I think you’ll see an increase with it. Our hope is that in the coming months that we can get back with the health department and they’ll let us increase our attendance. Maybe it’s up to 2,500 or 3,000 and moving it up that direction.”

2020-21 remaining Utah Grizzlies home games

JANUARY: 18 — KANSAS CITY, 5:10 p.m.; 29 — ALLEN, 7:10 p.m.; 30 — ALLEN, 7:10 p.m.; 31 — ALLEN, 1:10 p.m.

FEBRUARY: 12 — WICHITA, 7:10 p.m.; 13 — WICHITA, 7:10 p.m.; 14 — WICHITA, 1:10 p.m.; 19 — RAPID CITY, 7:10 p.m.; 20 — RAPID CITY, 7:10 p.m.; 21 — RAPID CITY, 1:10 p.m.

MARCH: 12 — ALLEN, 7:10 p.m.; 13 — ALLEN, 7:10 p.m.; 14 — ALLEN, 1:10 p.m.; 24 — TULSA, 7:10 p.m.; 26 — TULSA, 7:10 p.m.; 27 — TULSA, 7:10 p.m.; 28 — TULSA, 1:10 p.m.

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Utah Grizzlies

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