After all, every other rink the Miners play on is Olympic size at 200 feet x 100 feet. The Vernal rink is 200 x 85, maybe even a bit smaller. And that 15 feet can make a real difference when you're playing a team that can skate and forecheck like the Uintah team does.
"Vernal is a tough place to play," Miner head coach Aaron Dufford explained afterwards. "It's a small ice surface and your decision-making time is cut in half. Plus Uintah has a big tough team with great skaters. With that combo, you need to make quick decisions and move the puck up ice."
What the Miners really needed was some "fracking" of the hockey variety to free up some scoring. Crowded and outshot 28 to 11, and the team's high-flying offense of the first five games notoriously absent, Park City suffered its first loss of the season 2-1.
The atmosphere in the small, relatively dark Western Park Ice Rink can be intimidating, especially for younger players. And missing four varsity players for the game, the Miners were relying on a younger lineup for the Uintah game.
Still, the game was close from start to finish. In the first, Park City looked jittery, often rushing clearing attempts in the defensive zone, resulting in turnovers and chances for the Utes. Park City's junior goalie Brent O'Connell kept the game close. In the first period he stopped 12 of 13 Uintah shots (26 of 28 for the game). Meanwhile, the Miners could manage only three shots in the period, (11 for the game, by far the team's lowest output of the season).
The game remained scoreless until the final 19 seconds of the period when Uintah scored to go up 1-0.
However, the down vibe that comes from a late-period goal was quickly erased by the game's best performing line of juniors TJ Mayo and Harry Hanskat and senior Casey Sederman. Hanskat scored just 27 seconds into the second period on a feed from Mayo in front of the net. Sederman had the second assist.
But that momentum swing to Park City quickly swung back as a defensive lapse allowed the Utes to answer with a goal just 16 seconds later. Score: 2-1 Uintah just 43 seconds into the second period.
The score stayed that way through the remainder of the period. The Miners carried the play through much of the period, although they were again outshot, but this time by a tenable 8 to 6 margin.
In the third period, the Ute defensive mindset really got claustrophobic for the Miners. The Mayo/Hanskat/Sederman line created two good scoring chances off a determined cycling behind the Ute goal. But they were just that, chances, and the game ended 2-1.
"You score there and who knows what will happen," Dufford said.
Park City is now 5-1 on the season and is tied with 10 points atop the Southern Division standings with Alta, Timpanogos, and Uintah (which has played one fewer game). There's not much time for the team to get its mojo back, as the 4-1 Bingham Miners come to town tonight for a 7 p.m. game. Make plans to bring the visiting in-laws to the Park City Ice Arena for some pre-Turkey Day hockey action!