With the way the Park City High School hockey squad has improved since Aaron Dufford took over the head coaching spot, it's no surprise he's won the Utah Amateur Hockey Association's Coach of the Year award two of the last three years.
Coming off a season in which the Miners suffered a heartbreaking loss in the state title game, Dufford said he didn't expect to win the award.
"I was pretty surprised," he said. "It's an honor to win it two of the last three years."
Dufford, who also runs the Park City youth hockey program, said the influx of talent coming from the youth levels makes his job with the high school team a lot easier.
"I think we have a strong youth program and presence in Park City," he said. "We've got about 160 kids in that program from ages 6 to 16. That program has grown exponentially over the last three or four years we expect that to continue to grow."
He added that the youth program has grown so much that they're running out of space to play and practice.
"There's only one ice rink in town," he said. "We're about at the bubble of what we can do. We need another sheet of ice to accommodate the kids we have. But that's a good problem to have."
Those youth players, Dufford said, create quite the logjam of talent at the high school level, another good problem to have.
"Each year, we've got qualified kids moving up through the ranks to the high school team," he said. "We had a very strong freshman class this year that, on any other team, probably would have been varsity players. But we also had a very strong senior class, so we were able to let the freshmen get junior varsity experience this year."
He expects that junior varsity playing time to help the varsity squad next year.
"We've got a core group of now-to-be sophomores who have some high school experience under their belts," he said. "Our talent level will be higher than it was in previous years."
With that said, Dufford hopes to finally grab that elusive state title.
"The first year I coached, we took fifth in state, which was above and beyond what we expected," he said. "Last year, we made a very good run, but ran into some teams we weren't prepared for. This year, we showed some of our grit. But we struggled during the end because we weren't really tested in the regular season."
The influx of talent from the freshman class will force Dufford to change up his coaching tactics a bit, but he's confident the Miners will once again be a force to be reckoned with in Utah high school hockey. Then, maybe, he'll earn his third UAHA Coach of the Year award in four years.