ONTARIO, Calif. – The Utahn who brought the Stanley Cup to Rice-Eccles Stadium pulls no punches when declaring his allegiance.
“I’ve always been a University of Utah guy,” Salt Lake City native Trevor Lewis said.
“My cousin actually goes to Utah State, and I kind of give him crap for that. I’ve always been a Utah guy, so I always cheer for them.”
Beehive State sports fans now have the opportunity to return the favor.
Lewis, whose constant hustle, speed and character were on display during the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup run, is in his second week with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, maintaining his conditioning as the NHL inches back from a work stoppage now 112 days long.
It’s a natural partnership, so why did Lewis delay his homecoming for so long?
“It was kind of in the back of my head from the very beginning, but we had some good skates out in L.A.,” Lewis explained. “I was kind of thinking about it from December, and [negotiations] kind of looked like they were going to get going there. So I kind of put it in the back of my mind, and nothing ever happened, so I think once Christmas hit, I needed to go somewhere and start playing. I think it was just the right time for me, and a correct fit.”
An end to the lockout appears near, though stuttered talks over the last two days haven’t exactly elicited a great deal of confidence from an ornery fanbase. The talks, however, did convince Anaheim forward Saku Koivu to return from his native Turku, Finland, where he had been skating and training with local SM-liiga outfit TPS.
Lewis isn’t ready to return to Los Angeles yet – not until he’s played himself into proper playing shape. He earned the game’s third star for his two-goal performance in Utah’s 6-4 loss to the Ontario Reign.
“I’m starting to feel more comfortable out there and more confident,” he said. “I think the first few games I was a little sloppy, and tonight I had a little bit more legs and made some better plays, so I’ve just got to keep building off that.”
He also had an opportunity to play opposite Los Angeles linemate and Ontario forward Kyle Clifford for the first time in his career. Though their OHL careers never overlapped, they were still able to give accurate scouting reports from opposite dressing rooms.
“He’s a fast player, so you’ve got to contain him and don’t give him an opportunity to use his speed,” Clifford said of Lewis. “He’s a smart player, so you’ve got to be aware of him while he’s out on the ice.”
“He definitely plays hard,” Lewis said of Clifford. “You just have to take away his speed, kind of. He’s going to get to the net. He’s a big, strong guy. So you have to be ready for that, and just kind of use your speed against him.”
That’s not all that Lewis said.
“The first thing he said was ‘Don’t hit me,'” Clifford recalled of his on-ice exchanges with his Kings teammate.
Lewis offered a different interpretation of their on-ice verbal sparring, referencing an apparent ding to Clifford’s hand as the reason why no gloves were spilt on Friday night.
“He said his hand was sore or something,” Lewis said. “I think he’s just scared of me.”
Ahh, the sweet sound of hockey chirps between teammates. Before too long, they’ll return to the forgotten locker rooms and practice facilities of the NHL. Until then, there’s the matter of maintaining game shape – something that comes quickly in the ECHL, which rotates only three lines of forwards.
“It’s definitely a different game with three lines,” Lewis said. “You don’t really realize four and three lines until you actually do it – how much more tiring it is, and how much more different you have to play. You pick your spots because you’re pretty tired all the time.”
He’ll also be pounding the fluids this weekend in a three-games-in-three-nights schedule, something he hasn’t experienced since permanently joining the Kings before the 2010-11 season. Utah travels to Las Vegas for a pair on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m still a little rusty out there, but it’s good to be playing a lot. Haven’t had a three-in-three yet,” Lewis said. “Sunday’s going to be a little bit tough, but it’ll be good if things get going here.”
“It’s a lot of fun playing in front all of my family and friends. It’s fun playing games again and being around a team atmosphere. I’m enjoying it so far and getting a lot of ice time, so it’s good.”
As the only Utahn ever to win the Stanley Cup, he’s now paying forward his hockey love. Having waited in line as a minor hockey player at the Maverik Center over a decade ago for a chance to pose with sports’ greatest trophy, he returned the goodwill by bringing the Cup back to the Maverik Center last August. 6,000 fans showed up for the party.
“It was unbelievable. It was even more than I can imagine. The reception I got was great. It was pretty surreal how many people actually really enjoyed it, and how many people actually came out to see it, so it was a lot of fun.”