West Valley City
John Yorkey left his seat in the fourth row, just to the right of the opposing goaltender, to visit a friend in the upper reaches of the Maverik Center.
His view of the ice? Almost as good.
That’s what Yorkey, who has driven from Provo to West Valley City to watch the Utah Grizzlies play nearly every home game for two decades, loves about the building. As he said, “It’s built for hockey.”
Personally, I like the acoustics that create a lively atmosphere even with a small, weeknight hockey crowd and capture the sound of a stick catching a pass or a goalie’s pads stopping the puck. And being at most about 50 feet from the ice in the steep design, any of the 10,207 seats offers a close perspective.
That’s the hallmark of the facility originally known as the E Center, with its development traced to the summer of 1995. Denver’s minor-league hockey franchise needed a home with the Quebec Nordiques coming to town. Salt Lake City’s Olympic Winter Games organizers needed a hockey venue. West Valley City needed an identity and a model for attracting businesses.
It all converged with the arena’s opening in September 1997, making this hockey season the 20-year anniversary of the Grizzlies and the building. The season will end this weekend with the Grizzlies missing the East Coast Hockey League playoffs after a 10-year run, partially dampening the observance. Yet the team’s average attendance of 5,463 (with two home dates remaining Friday and Saturday) easily will break the team’s record in its 13-year ECHL era.
ABOUT THE SERIES
Fandemonium is an occasional series about the sports fan experience in Utah. This installment: The Maverik Center, observing a 20-year anniversary during the Utah Grizzlies’ 2017-18 hockey season.
The Maverik Center is a fixture in Utah’s pro sports landscape, a tour stop for big-name performers and the symbol of West Valley City’s emergence. Former city manager John Patterson couldn’t persuade NBC’s Bob Costas to use “West Valley City” instead of “Salt Lake City” in Olympic hockey broadcasts in 2002, but the building and the town have given each other some staying power.
The arena is “the No. 1 catalyst that signifies West Valley’s coming of age as a real city,” said Wayne Pyle, the current city manager.
Grizzlies owners David Elmore and Donna Tuttle believed in West Valley City, and so did the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. SLOC gave the city $7 million — $10 million less than budgeted — to help build the $58 million arena, and the Grizzlies gave the city a 25-year commitment as the anchor tenant.
The other dates would be filled by Elton John, Prince, Metallica, Pearl Jam, AC/DC and just anybody else looking for a place to play.
Nobody ever said what the “E” in E Center stood for before Maverik’s name-rights purchase in 2010. Patterson once hinted about “enjoyment, excitement and entertainment.” Eclectic is another label, judging by the sporting events (hockey, basketball, wrestling, soccer, football, rodeo, motorcycles, trucks, mixed martial arts and volleyball) and acts (singers, dancers, skaters, comedians, ministers, pro wrestlers and political commentators) that have attracted audiences.
GRIZZLIES AT THE GATE
Utah Grizzlies attendance averages at the Maverik Center
1997-98 • 8,526
1998-99 • 8,129
1999-2000 • 7,359
2000-01 • 7,069
2001-02 • 6,096
2002-03 • 6,353
2003-04 • 5,672
2004-05 • 4,800
2005-06 • 3,844
2006-07 • 4,223
2007-08 • 3,834
2008-09 • 3,656
2009-10 • 4,119
2010-11 • 4,550
2011-12 • 4,412
2012-13 • 4,622
2013-14 • 5,003
2014-15 • 4,927
2015-16 • 5,095
2016-17 • 5,360
2017-18 • 5,463
Leagues: IHL (1997-2001), AHL (2001-05), ECHL (2005-18)
“We’re just extremely flexible,” said Kevin Bruder, the longtime CEO of Centennial Management, the arena’s operator. “When you’re smaller, you tend to be more creative.”
The building is occupied for 90 to 125 ticketed events a year, plus several high school graduation ceremonies and hundreds of corporate meetings.
Not everything has gone perfectly. A 160-foot spire broke into four pieces when crews were installing it at the entrance during construction. A few dozen dead trees had to be ripped out and replaced soon after being transplanted that summer. Two hockey games in the past five seasons have been suspended and completed the next day due to ice issues.
Barry Manilow once had to postpone a concert after the sound check because of illness. That’s all part of the live-event industry that Bruder loves.
There’s some irony in how the Grizzlies’ only championship banner of the Utah era, from 1996 in the International Hockey League, was earned in their temporary Salt Lake City home (now called Vivint Smart Home Arena). The Maverik Center has plenty of hockey history, though.
This generation of Grizzlies is mostly too young to remember the 2002 Olympics. Yet coach/general manager Tim Branham’s pitch to players (the team is affiliated with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks but signs the bulk of its of own roster) starts with the building. Bruder laughs about how some of the building’s features such as a photo darkroom are now obsolete. But the Olympic-driven locker rooms and other amenities were ahead of their time and remain selling points for minor-league players.
The Olympics featured Canada’s 5-2 victory over the USA for the men’s championship and memorable gold medal games in women’s hockey and Paralympic hockey. Those events remain a highlight for everyone involved with the arena, and the anticipation of possibly staging the Games again in 2030 already is building.
The Maverik Center would require some upgrades, considering 2030 is a dozen years away. But a building that sometimes is overlooked as part of Utah’s Olympic legacy stands ready to play its part again.