The Denver Grizzlies roared into town in 1994 as an expansion team in the now-defunct IHL. Colorado has had wonderful luck with expansion teams in the past. Both the Falcons and the Invaders played in the playoffs in their first, and only, seasons in Denver. The Rangers made it to the second round in their first season and the Flames made it into the playoffs in each of their two seasons in town.
Nevertheless, nobody could fathom the Grizzlies being the dominant team they were in the 1994/95 IHL season.
The NHL was on hiatus thanks to a lockout, the World Series was cancelled because of a players' strike, and the Nuggets, well... many people were happy to have a second option to football and the 0-4 Denver Broncos.
It was finally the right conditions for hockey to be seen and fallen in love with in the Mile Hi City.
The Grizzlies didn't disappoint as the season started with a bang against the Minnesota Moose. A sellout crowd of 16,215 watched the opener.
Milan Tichy scored the first goal for the Grizzlies at the 13:51 mark of the first period. The game was still 1-0 midway in the second when the Grizzlies opened up on Moose goalie Tom Draper with three goals in four minutes. Marinucci and Madill (2 goals) each scored in the second to put the game out of reach. Tommy Salo let one go late in the second to account for the final score, 4-1.
After the game, the players were enthusiastic about the fan turnout. "I was exceited to score the first goal in Denver, said Tichy in the Rocky Mountain News. "It's exciting with those 16,000. It's like the NHL." Mike Madill said the same thing, "I think in my eight years (of pro hockey) I've never experienced anything like this."
With the players enjoying the fan support and the fans appreciative of the players' efforts, everybody was looking forward to the Houston Aeros the next night, a game that was televised on ESPN2.
This was a rough game punctuated by fierce body checking and the first scrap between Mike MacWilliam and Houston's Graeme Townsend. Houston tied the game early in the third, which forced a shootout after the period. Salo stopped all four Houston shootout shots while Grizzlies Kip Miller and Derek Armstrong scored on their chances to stake Denver to its second victory of the season, in front of a nationally audience.
The Grizzlies took to the road where they immediately lost to the Kansas City Blades but then won the next two.
That's how it went. They didn't lose many especially with NHLers Ziggy Palffy and Chris Luongo on board. Palffy scored his first goal in the fifth game of the season against the Milwaukee Admirals.
Chris Luongo Gets Around Dave Mackey
Tommy Salo Looks On
A stifling defense backstopped by an MVP goalie in Salo and a potent offense usually spells trouble for opposing teams. This was certainly the case with the Grizzlies and their opponents.
Not only was the hockey talent tops on both sides, but the fighters were intimidating and bruising as well. Jason Simon was the flashier fighter as he showboated a bit and was very colorful.  :Mike MacWilliam was the Terminator. A stalking bruiser you didn't want to mess around with. Of course, Mike Madill was the power forward most teams covet nowadays.
Despite everything clicking along midway through the season, there was still cause for concern. MacWilliam was out, injuring his hand in a December 15 fight, Derek Armstrong missed some time as well and coaches, players and fans knew it was a matter of time before the Grizzlies lost star forward Ziggy Palffy to the NHL when the owners ended their lockout.
The only line working out was the Taylor, Palffy and Vasiljev trio. While the team was mired in a mild slump for most teams, four losses in eight games, the above line accounted for a majority of the team's goals and assists.
While the future was shrouded in mystery and potential pitfalls, the present wasn't so bad.
A first place showdown between Las Vegas and Denver at McNichols was mired in controversy and set the dominos falling for the rest of the division.
The Grizzlies went up 3-0 in the second period on goals by Anderson, Tichy and Palffy. However, the Thunder would come back and tie the game with only 1:15 left on Alexi (I'm sitting out with a contract?) Yashin's third goal of the night. The Grizzlies would win the faceoff and force the play. Chris Taylor let a shot go. Andrew Brickley suffered a vicious-phantom crosscheck while he created traffic in front of the Thunder net. Brickley never felt the hit but the referee saw something.
On the resulting powerplay, the Grizzlies scored to win it with less than a minute remaining. They rejoiced but Thunder coach Bob Strumm went nuts. He followed the officials to their locker room but was intercepted by security before he could enter. "Professional officials don't call that kind of penalty," Strumm said in the Rocky Mountain News "That guy was obviously not a professional."
Less than two weeks later, the NHL would end the lockout. Palffy and Luongo were back on the Isle. And with the Islanders mired in what was going to become a seven-year (and counting) slump, it was a safe bet that the first-place Grizzlies were going to be raided for other talent as well.
Another weak spot for the Grizzlies was the third period. They had only scored 28 goals in the third as of the second week of January, the worst in the "I". Nonetheless, the team's resolve would show its colors in the Grizzlies first game without Palffy. Down 3-1 in the third, the Grizzlies ran off four consecutive goals, two by Madill and one each by Anderson and and Kip Miller.
The Grizzlies started running away with the division. On January 1 they were one point behind the first place Thunder. By January 26, the team was in first place by nine points. The Grizzlies pasted the Thunder 7-2 on January 25 thanks to four unanswered third period goals to emphasize to the league that they were going to be the team to beat.
Then the raids came. The Islanders took Chris Taylor, who led the team in goals with 27. In February, Milan Tichy and Kip Miller were called up. Defenseman Paul Stanton did a stint in the NHL and of course, later in the season, Tommy Salo was called up leaving capable replacement Jamie Mclellan to take his place.
Despite all of this, the Grizzlies would keep right on coasting along. Players such as Chris Marinucci often stepped up. In his first game on the second line after Taylor was called up, Marinucci got two goals to pace the Grizzlies in a victory.
The Grizzlies machine was causing significant frustrations for the rest of the league who were hoping for a reprieve from the juggernaut after the Islanders began their yearly habit of calling up its best minor-leaguers. Once again, Thunder coach Bob Strumm was at the focal point of the chaos between the Thunder and the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies scored two unanswered goals in the third to put the game away. The Thunder then 13 points back, began trying to send the message in the final minute. Jason Simon and Madill were there for the Grizzlies to stem the effort. Strumm then received a ten minute misconduct penalty for his antics on the bench. After the game he would chase the referees down, this time getting into the locker room, and verbally abuse them. Then Strumm went after the press, giving the reporter plenty of unprintable quotes in the process.
"We're not intimidated," Mike Madill said
in the Rocky Mountain News.
"Some of that stuff is just hockey, but
it won't work on us."
Call ups weren't effecting the Griz and neither were injuries. Doug Crossman and (still Colorado's own) Jeff Sirrka were hampered with injuries. But, not to sound like a broken record, nothing was hampering the Grizzlies drive to the league championship. The third period jinx had ended as the Grizzlies were putting goals up on the board and coming from behind in more games in the third period. They ripped Cincinnati with four in the third, Phoenix with four in the third, the Aeros with four in the third and so on and so on.
In addition to the opposition, records were falling. The Denver hockey seasonal attendance record fell, the record for wins for an expansion team also fell. But the Grizzlies weren't done. They wanted first in the division and the home ice advantage throughout. The Griz were battling Peoria (CATERPILLAR SUCKS!!) for best overall record..
By now, Salo was in the NHL and McLennan was in a Grizzlies uniform. But McLennan would play incredibly and help the Grizzlies to the best overall record going into the playoffs.
The team was chomping at the bit to get the playoffs going. Jason Simon and Jamie McLennan were really wanting to get things going. They engaged in a pre-playoff scrap to really get the adrenaline flowing.
The scrap must have helped. McLennan pitched the shutout against the Minnesota Moose in game one. The Grizzlies owned the Moose in the regular season, going seven and zero against them. Game one was more of the same, a 6-0 shellacking by the Grizzlies.
The Moose were in trouble. They lost game two 9-2. It was an all around humiliation for the Moose in game 2. Bullwinkle cartoons were played on the scoreboard all night bringing "hearty laughs" from the Grizzlies' fans and McLennan made a 60-foot outlet pass to record an assist.
We didn't want to give them any encouragement
after the first period like the other night, and the guys
did a good job of coming out right away," Butch Goring
said in the Denver Post.
Game three was a 4-2 victory for the Grizzlies. All in all, the Moose were outscored 19-4 in the three-game sweep.
The next team to put their head on the chopping block was the Phoenix Roadrunners. Madill and Miller would each score two to pace the Grizzlies over the Roadrunners in game one 6-2.
Phoenix came out surly in game two. While the referees kept a lid on the on-ice tensions, they couldn't stop Goring from erupting. In between the second and third periods, Goring caught the officials in the hallway and was voicing his displeasure over the course of the game, then a 4-1 Grizzlies edge, when Rob Laird, Phoenix coach, confronted Goring. Goring, LADY BYNG WINNER, unleashed his rage verbally on Laird.
It Takes MacWilliam and Madill to Catch a Roadrunner
With things at the boiling point, Mike MacWilliam was ready to rock and roll. He was vicious. In game one he nailed Keith Redmond, an unfortunate Roadrunner guily of numerous elbowing transgressions, into the boards. He then rag-dolled Redmond in the ensuing fight.
"The playoffs are always going to be a little more
intense," said MacWilliam in the Denver Post. But if they
want to get rough, we can do that too."
Things were fixing to get worse for the Roadrunners. Tommy Salo and Chris Taylor were returning to the team. Salo was league MVP.
Phoenix ended up losing the series in five games. Salo was in net in game five, a 5-4 comeback victory for the Grizzlies.
The Milwaukee Admirals saw their ship begin sinking in a hurry. Game one started close, tied 2-2 after one period. Then the Griz went on to score nine more to ice it 11-4. It was Andersson who led the team with five goals. After the game Andersson said, "I wish I could shoot more, but I like to pass and I've played that way for the last 10 years. It's kind of hard to change now, but after tonight, maybe I will a little more."
He was back to passing in game two, but it didn't matter. Andersson netted two assists in the 5-1 Grizzlies victory. Kip Miller scored twice and Andrei Vasiljev scored once in a 58 second span in the first period to put it away early.
Vasiljev, Taylor and Rockefort Celebrate Andrei's Goal
The Admirals would play an inspired game 3, winning 4-1. But that was it. The Grizzlies would win the next two 5-3 and 3-2.
The Kansas City Blades were the next victims.
The Grizzlies played uninspired, according to goalie Tommy Salo, but still won game one 3-2.
The Grizzlies would play more inspired in game two and win convincingly 6-3. This would be the last time the Grizzlies would play on Denver Ice. Some team from Quebec was coming to town to be Denver's second NHL team.
A 3-2 comeback victory in game 3 all but ensured that the Grizzlies were going to sweep. Sure enough, Chris Taylor scored the game winner short handed with just under two minutes gone in the third period. The Grizzlies won the game 4-3 and won the Turner Cup after losing just two playoff games in the post season.
Kip Miller was given the Bud Poile Trophy as Playoff MVP and Gord Dineen took the Turner Trophy for the first skate around the rink.
Chris Taylor and Tommy Salo Battle To Keep The
Puck Out of the Net in The Fourth and Deciding Game.