Park City Pioneers leave town
July 26, 2011
Three months ago, the Park City Pioneers and their adoring fans crowded the foyer at the Park City Ice Arena, raising their newly-acquired Utah Senior Elite Division Championship trophy, sipping beer from the silvered hardware.
But now, after two years in Park City, the Pioneers are packing up their wagons and moving west.
The Pioneers hockey club has accepted an invitation to become part of the Utah Grizzlies of the East Coast Hockey League. The franchise will now be called the Utah Senior Grizzlies, still a premier amateur hockey club in the state. They will play in the 10,000-seat capacity Maverik Center in West Valley City.
"At the end of the day, it was very, very bittersweet," said David Imonti, one of the founders and captains of the franchise. "Not something I really wanted to do at all."
Imonti said with the arrival of the Park City Junior Moose, an incoming Junior A League hockey team scheduled to make its debut this fall, the already crowded ice at the Park City Ice Arena simply couldn’t accommodate what the franchise needed.
"It was something where we couldn’t house both teams with the junior team coming in," he said. "This opportunity presented itself, and rather than waiting for it to sort itself out, we made a move.
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"At the end of the day, it was probably the best possible situation, not just for the club, but for hockey as a whole in the state."
Jason Glidden, business development manager for the Park City Ice Arena, said he is saddened to see the Pioneers leave town, but understands the move.
"It’s unfortunate that we’re not going to be hosting their games anymore," he said. "It’s a good move for their organization. They have to take advantage of that. It’s a big deal."
Glidden said adding the Junior Moose in late May was a move the ice arena felt it had to make.
"We couldn’t pass up an opportunity in bringing in the Moose," he said.
Imonti said while the move will ultimately benefit the players and franchise, he would have preferred to stay firmly planted in Summit County. He said up until two weeks ago, he was planning on trying to keep the Pioneers in town.
"Once I saw the doors closing, I knew we had to move on," he said. "It works out for us hockey-wise, but on a personal note, it’s disappointing. We would have definitely preferred to stay in Park City. The fan support here was what we first dreamed of.
"We kind of look at it now as, we’re not only Park City’s team, but we’re more of the entire state’s team."
Glidden said the ice arena has always had a packed schedule, and still had room for the Pioneers.
"It just wasn’t as flexible as it was in the years past," he said.
Imonti said if the team had stayed, the Pioneers wouldn’t have been able to kick off their 2011-12 season until Christmas Eve.
"You can’t start your season in late December," he said.
The new Utah Senior Grizzlies will be playing games before and after Grizzlies games at the Maverik Center. The team will be helped by the Grizzlies’ coaching staff and training staff and will often scrimmage the pro squad.
"It’ll be a better experience for everyone," Imonti said. "We’ll be able to host more out-of-state teams and bring in better competition. We can have the best of everything in terms of equipment and all that stuff. It’s an upgrade in every category, except we had some pretty great fans in Park City that made it pretty hard to move."
Imonti said the coaching staff and the majority of the roster will remain intact. He said he will continue to scout Summit County for potential hockey players. The partnership with the Grizzlies was predicated on the fact that Imonti and the Pioneers had made such an impact in the local hockey scene in only two years.
"A main selling point to the Grizzlies was to help market their product in Park City," he said. "We want to help link the two areas."
Both Imonti and Glidden said they are open to the idea of having the now Utah Senior Grizzlies play some games at the Park City Ice Arena this season.
"We still have a great relationship with David and the Pioneers, and we would absolutely welcome them back," Glidden said. "Hopefully that will happen."
But Imonti still wonders what might have been.
"The support we had from the community was amazing," he said. "We were on the verge of being something huge here."