WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The Maverik Center, where the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies play their home games, still has plenty of reminders of its moment on the international stage when the building hosted many of the most important hockey games in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
A cauldron-like sign, inspiring its viewers to “Light the Fire Within,” the Games’ official motto, greets drivers as they enter the parking lot. Near the entrance, a giant bronze statue of two hockey players battling over a puck also commemorates the site of the Salt Lake Olympics’ marquee team sporting events.
But tucked away in the bowels of the arena, on the walls of a nondescript room used for storing odds and ends, rests the building’s most personalized keepsakes from the action. In that room, which was used as a temporary locker room by the gold medal-winning Canadian men’s team, over a dozen autographs by some of the sport’s greatest are preserved behind a thin layer of plexiglass.
Despite its unremarkable current setting in a storage room, Grizzlies vice president Jared Youngman considers the autographs to be a priceless part of hockey history. A lifelong hockey fan, he remembers that moment he saw the signatures on the wall after the Canadian team had left after their victory over the United States on Feb. 24, 2002.
“It was breathtaking to realize and know that a piece of the Olympics stayed. It’s cool to say we’re the home of the 2002 Winter Olympics, of the hockey championship games, and a lot of the games that mattered,” Youngman tells ABC4.
Many of hockey’s most legendary figures signed their names on the walls, most of which require a bit of research and guesswork to decipher. The numbers next to the name help a bit. Hall of Famers like Joe Sakic, who played for the Colorado Avalanche and won the MVP award of the ’02 Games is scribbled his name next to his NHL teammates Adam Foote and Rob Blake.
Owen Nolan, a feisty forward known for his days with the San Jose Sharks, left “Buster wuz HERE!!” twice on the walls. His teammate, Jarome Iginla, who scored over 600 goals in the NHL, wrote “SO WUZ IGG!” next to one of Nolan’s declarations.
There’s a bit of trash talk or a “chirp,” as it’s known in hockey terms, on the wall as well. Basking in the glory of Canada’s win over the U.S. team in the finals, one player chirped “U.S.A. WOT WOZ THE SCORE?” It was 5-2, by the way.
The artsiest autograph undoubtedly belongs to team captain Mario Lemieux, whose swooping, curly John Hancock would be impossible to recognize were it not for his signature jersey number, No. 66, written underneath.
The Canadians were given the cozy quarters in the building, which was known as the E Center then, as a temporary dressing room. The Americans, being the host country, were given the locker rooms belonging to the Grizzlies. Other teams, including Canada, were put in rooms intended to be torn down and repurposed after the game. However, once the gold-medal winning team left their marks on the wall, it was determined that those walls would remain standing.
Despite plexiglass covering on the signatures, there is no plan in place yet to make the room an exhibit or to carefully remove the walls to place the autographs elsewhere. Youngman imagines that at some point, the walls may be extracted and sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto as memorabilia.
The Hall of Fame in Canada already has one piece of the Canadian triumph in Salt Lake in a place of honor. A “Lucky Loonie” dollar coin, which was covertly placed at center ice at the Maverik Center, was recovered after the gold medal game and presented to Canada’s team president and legendary hockey figure Wayne Gretzky, who in turn, donated it to the Hall.
Still, for the time being, the signatures remain in a preserved state outside of the public view at the Maverik Center. Youngman, who was working in ticketing and suite sales during the Games, enjoys showing inquiring puck heads who have heard about the secret signature the markings on the walls.
“This is a piece of history that has stayed with us at the Maverik Center, to be able to show people and it’s just awesome to have it to see and to know that it’s there.”