With a core group of returning veterans and some promising newcomers, expectations will be high for the Utah Grizzlies when they drop the puck Friday night at the Maverik Center to open the 2016-17 ECHL season.
The team the Grizzlies will unveil against the Idaho Steelheads includes eight veterans who played for Utah last season, and no fewer than 10 rookies.
Among the veterans eager to hit the ice is Mathieu Aubin, who enters his fourth season with the club. Having missed last year after suffering an injury in the final preseason game, Aubin is chomping at the bit.
"I'm so excited, Aubin said. "It was painful sitting through every game and wanting to be out there. I'm looking forward to Friday's game."
Tim Branham returns as the general manager and head coach for his fourth season in Utah. The Wisconsin native has guided the Grizzlies to a 114-78-23 record in his tenure and has assembled a team that combines speed with grit. Having secured playoff berths in nine consecutive seasons and garnered the best home ice record in the ECHL over the course of the past three seasons, the goal this season is nothing less than winning the Kelly Cup.
"The expectations are to win," Branham said. "We need to continue to build upon the success we've had here. We've got guys that play the right way and play physical and finish checks. They're fast, they work hard and put the puck in the back of the net. Our goaltending is tremendous, and I'm excited about this team."
The goaltending appears formidable as Anaheim Ducks prospect Kevin Boyle and Ryan Faragher figure to platoon in the crease.
Faragher has been a stalwart for Utah over the past two seasons, having amassed a 34-21-7 record with a .914 save percentage and 2.47 goals against average.
The Grizzles have also added rookie Ryan McKay.
Boyle was impressive in his preseason debut, deflecting 27 of 29 shots in Utah's recent preseason win over the Steelheads.
"The sky's the limit for this team," Doyle said. "We've got a talented group here, and we're tough defensively. We do a good job of transitioning from defense to offense and don't just throw the puck at the net. It's going to be fun."
New additions Austen Brassard, Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Brandon McNally seem poised to provide firepower in the Grizzlies' offense.
"All three of those guys are complete players. They play with an edge, skate well and are very smart hockey players," Branham said.