An inch and a half.
After a five-month season, 20 games per team, countless practices, and thousands of miles skated, that distance is what decided which team could call itself state hockey champion for the 2013/14 season — an inch and a half.
If Park City wing Noah Pranschke's wrist shot in the championship game's first overtime period had hit just that much lower on the crossbar of the Viewmont goal it probably would have deflected down and into the net and the Miners would have been champions. Instead, the shot deflected up harmlessly into the glass behind the Viking goal and play continued on.
Two overtimes later, in the game's sixth period, the Vikings pushed a puck past Miner goalie Brent O'Connell during a scrum in front of the Park City net and it was a 3-2 championship game win for Viewmont.
An inch and a half.
That goal in Friday's night's championship game at the Salt Lake Sports Complex ended a stellar season for Park City. The Miners finished the season 17-3, and fought back through the playoff tournament loser's bracket after losing another overtime game to Viewmont the previous Friday, Feb. 21. Following that loss, Park City then beat Uintah on Saturday and Viewmont on Monday to set up Friday night's winner-take-all final game.
Therein lies a statistic that surely won't sit well the Park City faithful. Through the three Viewmont playoff games, the Vikings led for a total of zero seconds. You read that right, zero. The Vikings trailed in all three games, tying both of the games they ended up winning in the final minute, and then prevailing in OT.
In Friday's game, fueled by the huge crowd of hundreds of frenzied PCHS students and other Miner fans, Park City dominated zone play and puck possession, and outshot the Vikings 37 to 23. But they couldn't get the puck past Viking goalie Landon Ramirez often enough.
"I thought we played well enough to win, and that's hard to swallow," Miner coach Aaron Dufford lamented after the game. "We out-chanced them, outshot them, and outplayed them."
As in the two previous Viewmont games, Park City scored first. At 10:08 Noah Pranschke took a pass from Will Radovan and wristed a laser past Ramirez. But just over a minute later, a weird play got the goal right back for Viewmont. Jeremy Wiser put a shot on O'Connell that the Miner netminder deflected up into the air with his stick. Park City defenseman Zac Polukoff and O'Connell then tried to grab the descending puck, but instead it deflected into the PC net for a Viking goal. The period ended 1-1.
Radovan was the highlight of the second period, as he broke free on two breakaways. Unfortunately, neither found the back of the Viking net. The score remained 1-1 through two.
In the third, Park City's Derek Sederman led a swarming Miner assault. All night, Park City players scrapped for loose pucks in front of the Viking net, but were unable to get them free and past Ramirez. This time, however, Miners Will Miele and Harry Hanskat battled the Viking defenders and Miele pushed the puck between Ramirez's pads for the go ahead goal at 9:47.
Park City looked to be heading toward the title. But the referee whistled Miele for goalie interference at 1:21, although it appeared that the Viewmont defender pushed Miele into Ramirez. On the ensuing power play, Viewmont's leading scorer, Alex Barrus, stole the puck behind the Miner net and looked to be heading for a wraparound attempt. Instead, he veered out to the short side and fooled O'Connell who had already moved to the far post, tying the score with just 51 seconds left in the game.
In the first overtime, the Miners dominated, but the closest they came to the winning goal was Pranschke's crossbar shot. It stayed knotted through a second OT period, and was finally decided just nine seconds into the third overtime period.
This was the final game of Park City's huge 15-player senior class. "This is the best class in PCHS history in terms of character, playing ability, and success," said Park City Hockey trustee Scott Benson. "All 15 have added to the building of one of the best hockey programs in the state."
Dufford chimed in on that theme. "It's going to change this program quite a bit next year, losing all these seniors. I think we'll have a strong team, but it will be a very different team," he said. "Our seniors are a great group and are off to bigger and better things. I know that they will be respectful, contributing young men to our society."
The Miners would like to thank all the fans who made the trips down to Salt Lake throughout the playoffs and who have fueled the team's three-year home unbeaten streak. We'll see everyone again in September!