Armed with a handful of parents, some supportive community members and a plan, the Park City Ice Miners launched this fall.

And somehow, everything just seemed to come together.

Since the building of the Park City Ice Arena, hockey has been a vital part of the operation, but it has taken a fair amount of effort for youth hockey to get off the ground. There was a brand-new team last year, but when the director left the area at the end of the season, the parents of hockey-loving children had to scramble to quickly form a new organization. They did just that, and now nearly 100 kids play each week.

The team welcomes a mix of players. Some of them come from hockey families who have been involved with the sport for years. Others are brand new to the sport. But the common thread is the love of the game.

Both the program directors and the coaches see the endeavor as a labor of love. Most grew up playing hockey and are happy to share their knowledge with the next generation.

Right now, the Park City league plays against other leagues in northern Utah and the surrounding areas, including some that have been around for years. Ice Miners organizer Larry Feldman Feldman said that one of the most gratifying moments in the organization's short existence was two wins that the Select Mites grabbed against Logan and Bountiful last month. The scores were 7-2 and 11-3, respectively.

"We were all a bit surprised by the outcomes since we figured that the other, more-established teams would be more advanced skill-wise than us. But, that is obviously not the case. We now can say that the future is bright for our kids and youth hockey in general in Park City ," said Larry Feldman, one of the league organizers.

The Ice Miners include a Mini Mites team for five- and six-year-olds, a Mites team for ages seven and eight, Squirts for nine- and ten-year-olds, Peewees, who are 11- and 12-years-old and Bantams for 13- and 14-year-olds.

Marc Colaizzi, a Gross Pointe, Mich. native who serves as one of the Mites coaches, said that there was a lot of interest in keeping the program going even after some glitches in the previous year's program. He immediately got certified so he could contribute.

"It's been a part of my life and I want my son to play," he said.

His son, Marc Jr., is among 98 kids who signed up to play this year. This is much bigger than last year's program and seems to be a sign that hockey is fast becoming an important part of the Park City sports landscape.

"It's been well received from a community perspective," Colaizzi said.

Half of the children in the league are new players and the rest have played at Park City in the past or in the Salt Lake league.

Because the kids are young and many are new to the sport, practices focus mainly on drills and fundamentals. A fair amount of kids have taken the rink's Learn to Skate Class to get comfortable on ice, but there are a few still learning.

"We on going around curves, playing scrimmages, practicing our edges and crossovers," said seven-year-old Mite Luke Moeller.

"Right now, it's skate, skate, skate, skate, skate," Feldman said. "It's better to be the best skater than the best player."

The response from the kids has been nothing but positive.

"This is my favorite sport," said Alec Smith, 8. "I like it because it's really fun and a lot of kids learn. Its also good exercise."

Mini Mites coach James Soderborg said that the new league has saved him a lot of gas and hassle. Soderborg grew up in Salt Lake City playing hockey and signed his boys up to play there a few years ago. Before the Ice Miners, that meant many trips up and down the canyon. Even last year, he had his boys in both the Park City and Salt Lake leagues. But this year, his focus is firmly planted at home.

"When the program started, I wanted to help," he said. "It's nice to have a program where you don't have to commute."

Twice weekly, Soderborg heads to the rink to work with the small athletes. He said that the kindergartners seem to learn best through games like "Red Light, Green Light" and tag played on the ice.

"At that age, they learn skating without knowing they are skating," he said, smiling.

Soderborg has two girls who are more into figure skating than hockey, but he's hoping that they soon switch.

One young girl who doesn't need any encouragement is Luke Moeller's sister, Madeline. She says she loves the speed and roughness of the sport and has encouraged a number of her school friends from Parley's Park Elementary School to join her.

"I just think its fun," she said. "You get a lot of exercise and you don't even realize it. It's pretty tough and hard."

Their dad, Mark, has also got in on the act. A former freestyle skier, he had never tried hockey until his kids started playing. Since then, he has joined adult programs offered at the rink.

"It's the most fun I've had in my life," Mark said.

Hockey mom Beth Sears hasn't started playing yet, but said that she loves watching her son, Carter, learn. Her husband, Mike, grew up playing the sport and insisted their kids learn it as soon as they could.

"The rink is beautiful and the coaches are so patient with the kids," she said. "It's the first sport we've tried that my son said, 'I loved it.'"

Besides the enjoyment the kids are getting out of learning the game, the organizers of the Ice Miners have made sure the league is cost effective in these tough economic times. It was $350 to sign up for a year but now, halfway through the season, Feldman said that he will cut a deal with anyone who wants to join. The rink also has plenty of youth equipment for parents scared to spend a fortune only to have their kids quit the following year. Sponsors like Humpty Dumpsters, DC Transport, Dolly's Bookstore and Geary Construction have also come aboard to defray coasts.

"We're trying to make it as affordable as possible," Feldman said.

Also, fund-raisers like The Christmas for Kids event at the Basin Recreation Field House this Saturday and Luc Robitaille's celebrity game are making a difference. Later in the season, the Ice Miners will do a fund-raiser with the Utah Grizzlies minor-league hockey team.

They are also trying to make sure that all kids, no matter what level, feel welcome. Feldman said that his own son, Daniel, isn't nearly as good at hockey as he is at other sports, but he just loves participating in the program.

He said he understands that some of the more advanced kids will still go down to Salt Lake to play on the more established teams, but he envisions that the Ice Miners will soon get to that point.

Playing in the league is a commitment, just as with most sports. There are two practices a week, plus games most Fridays or Saturdays. But Feldman is convinced that the kids are having so much fun, they barely notice.

For more information about the team, visit www.pciceminers.org. The Christmas for the Kids Fundraiser will take place this Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Basin Recreation Field House.