Three Park City Pioneers get ‘the call’
December 27, 2011
When major-league teams need players, they can call them up from the minors. But what happens when minor-league teams need bodies?
Three players from the Park City Pioneers hockey team found themselves in new uniforms last Wednesday when two teams from the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) clashed at the Maverik Center in West Valley.
In the Utah Grizzlies’ electric 4-3 victory over the visiting the Las Vegas Wranglers, Park City residents and brothers Mike and Mark Adamek sat next to one another on the same bench they’ve been envisioning since their collegiate days together at Lake Superior State University. Meanwhile, fellow Pioneer Ben Wilner found himself on the opposing bench as a member of the Las Vegas Wranglers.
In all their years playing hockey, the Adamek brothers, a mere 13 months apart and members of the Park City Pioneers team, had never been on the same pro team at once.
"It was pretty ironic," said Mark. "Now, he’s been retired for four years and I’ve been retired for two years. It was pretty unique."
Wilner and the Adameks were briefly promoted last week when both the Grizzlies and Wranglers needed players.
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Wilner, who is in his second season with the Pioneers, grew up playing hockey in the Salt Lake Valley. He played high school hockey at Brighton and collegiate hockey at the University of Utah. For the last 12 years the 25-year-old Wilner has worked in the locker room at the Maverik Center
When the Wranglers traveled to town, the team only had 12 players, but needed 13 in order to avoid a fine from the ECHL. The Wrangler staff asked the Grizzlies equipment manager if he knew anyone who could be available to suit up and skate for just one game. Wilner was given the nod.
"Some of the Grizzlies players didn’t know I was suiting up for the other team and, when they saw me in warm-ups, they were really caught off guard," he said. "It was kind of funny.
"It was definitely really special. Once they called me in that afternoon, I was just kind of shaking all day. I thought I was just going to be there to be on the bench, and then coach says, ‘We’re going to get you in there.’ I thought, ‘Holy crap, I better start warming up!’ Working there half of my life, and getting onto that ice there for once was pretty cool."
While Wilner was able to live out a dream, the Adamek brothers also saw theirs come to fruition. Mark said he was on his way to San Jose, Calif., with the Triple A youth hockey team he coaches when he received a phone call from David Imonti, his teammate on the Pioneers, who coincidentally was Mark’s agent for five years during his pro hockey days.
"He said the ‘Grizz needed help," Mark explained. "They’ve had 10 or 11 injuries right now; I’ve never heard anything like that.
"I later got a call from Utah head coach Kevin Colley who I played against in the league about four of five years ago. He said, ‘Try to be there for morning skate on Wednesday.’ I made it back and played Wednesday night."
While Mark Adamek played one game Wednesday night for the Grizzlies, his brother Mike was signed for a longer prorated contract and played in three Utah games last week. But the Pioneer defenseman said the call from the Grizzlies didn’t come as a total surprise. Over the years since he’s retired, he’s received numerous calls from local pro teams in search of temporary help.
"I’ve had other teams call in the past who have had injury problems, but never the Grizzlies," he said, laughing. "Before, it was Boise calling and I didn’t want to go all the way up there. This time it was a little bit different because I know they had so many injuries; in the past, it’s been ‘go and sit on the bench.’ This time I got to play."
In Friday’s loss to Colorado Eagles in Fort Collins, Colo., Adamek was on the ice in front of 6,000 raging fans, he said, quite a chaange from the 200 or so loyal Pioneer fans who pack the Park City Ice Arena.
"It was cool to be playing in front of a loud crowd on a Friday night," he said.
But Mike Adamek couldn’t help but treasure Wednesday night when the Grizzlies emerged victorious and he and his brother Mark sat next to one another on the bench watching the game unfold.
"It was very special because the family was in town for Christmas and the whole immediate family was there," he said. "It was definitely cool. I understand it was momentary, but it’s still fun to be on the same bench and in the same locker room as your brother."
As he rehashed the night three Pioneers played on the same ice as pro players, Wilner said he wished the game had never ended.
"I was hoping for a shootout," he said.