In NFL exhibition games, the starters play a series or two, then check out the cheerleaders. In baseball, the pitchers throw an inning and then hit the links.
So Monday's "exhibition" game pitting the Park City High School hockey team against the Judge Memorial hockey team should have been just a casual affair, letting both teams get a feel for each other before the upcoming playoffs in February. After all, that was the intention of Utah High School Hockey — to have the top teams in each division play three exhibition games against their counterparts from the other division in January.
Evidently the two teams didn't get the memo. Monday's high-energy game was filled with big hits, sweet goals, momentum shifts, and ended in a 5-5 tie. You can kiss the obligatory sister now.
What could have been a preview of the finals of the state hockey playoffs began at the sleepy time of 10:30 a.m. Monday. Still, a good contingent of PCHS students was in the house and wasn't shy about making its presence known.
Park City's No. 1 line of center Harry Hanskat, and wings Casey Sederman and TJ Mayo was wide awake, too. Hanskat poked the opening faceoff through the legs of Judge center Nick O'Cain. Right wing Sederman then scooped up the puck, skated into the Bulldog zone, and passed to left wing Mayo. Mayo returned the pass and Sederman buried it for a 1-0 Miner lead just seven seconds into the game.
Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the first period for Park City. Judge, the defending state champion (also undefeated this season), pressured the Miner defense the remainder of the period.
"Even though we scored that early goal, we lost the first period," said Miner Head Coach Aaron Dufford. "We struggled to get out of our defensive zone."
And the Park City defense underestimated the speed of Judge's second leading scorer, Samuel Taylor. In the last minute of the period, as Judge was on a penalty kill, Taylor innocuously carried the puck into the Park City zone, but then accelerated around the Miner defenseman and in on goalie Brent O'Connell, beating him to tie the score 1-1. Taylor had two shorthanded goals in the game, with the other coming in similar fashion.
"Defensively, we need to respect the opposing players," Dufford said. "We can't be over aggressive."
Early in the second, at 11:24, Judge took the lead. However, Hanskat tied the score at the 6:31 mark, collecting a loose puck that Mayo deflected and stuffing it between the Judge goalie's legs.
Then, simultaneous Bulldog roughing and interference penalties at the 4:37 mark gave the Miners a two-man advantage. Park City made the most of the opportunity. First, Nixon Barber, center on the number two line, returned to his scoring ways of earlier in the season at 3:27, with linemate Carson Walker assisting. Twenty seconds later, defenseman Robbie Derber blasted a slap shot from the point that the Bulldog goalie thought he had stopped, but it trickled through the five hole, making the score 4-2.
At that point Park City had all the momentum. However, Taylor's second shorthanded goal two minutes later killed that, and the period ended 4-3 Park City.
As the third period opened, Taylor again knotted the score with his third goal of the game. It stayed that way until Sederman flew in from the left wing and scored with just 2:44 remaining. Hanskat assisted on the go-ahead goal.
Judge pushed to tie the score and the Park City defense took a penalty with 1:59 left. O'Cain, the Bulldog's leading scorer, worked free out of the corner and then roofed a shot to again tie it at 5-5 with just 1:31 left. That's how it ended.
Despite allowing the late goal for the tie, Park City should gain confidence from the game. The Miners were again playing without five starters and the ever-changing line combinations have sapped the scoring of the second and third lines. Hopefully, those absences are now over, as the playoffs are on the horizon.
"We have a championship team," Dufford said. "Without a state title I'd be disappointed. We need full commitment from everyone on board to achieve our goal."
Park City has one last exhibition game against Murray, the number-two seed from the Northern Division, on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. at the Park City Ice Arena. The team's first playoff game is set for Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m., also at home.