Editor's note: On Thursday evening, after this story was written, the Park City Miners were eliminated from the playoffs by a 2-1 loss to the Northridge Knights. Look for an update on the game in next Wednesday's issue.
Maybe it was having too much oxygen at the lower Salt Lake elevation. Maybe it was too much couch time on winter break. Maybe it was too much skiing and not enough resting.
Whatever the cause, the Park City High School hockey team played its worst game of the season Wednesday night, Feb. 20, at the Salt Lake Sports Complex and lost 3-2 to the Judge Memorial Bulldogs. The loss knocked the Miners into the losers' bracket of the double-elimination eight-team state high school hockey finals.
By the time you're reading this, the Miners will have played at least one, possibly two more games and could now be in the final of the losers' bracket. But as of press time, that was all up in the air.
Wednesday's game was the first of the two matchups of the state's final four unbeaten teams. From the opening puck drop it felt like Park City's previous games. The Miners aggressively forechecked and cycled the puck down low in the Judge zone.
Park City dominated the first period, outshooting Judge 12-3 and scoring on a typical play by the number one line of center Harry Hanskat, and wings TJ Mayo and Casey Sederman. The three jockeyed back and forth with the puck on the end boards behind the Bulldog net.
From there on, a combination of sluggish play and ill-advised penalties let Judge back into the game.
Hubie Rosch, a long-time Park City resident originally from hockey-crazed Minnesota, who drove down for the game, commented afterwards: "I've been to most of the home games this season, but tonight Park City looked slow, maybe a little tired. Their passes just weren't crisp. Even their shots didn't seem to have the usual snap."
Just 45 seconds into the second, Judge's main man, defenseman Sam Taylor (who rarely leaves the ice and, along with winger Nick O'Cain, accounts for virtually all of the Bulldogs' scoring), took advantage of lethargic Park City reaction times. He carried the puck end to end, deking through the defense and scoring at 14:15 to knot the score 1-1.
From there, undisciplined Park City penalties put the Miners on a seemingly continual penalty kill. A couple were particularly costly. Thanks to a late Park City hit during a scrum around the Bulldog net, the Miners received two concurrent penalties to Judge's one at the 4:06 mark in the second. The power play put O'Cain and Taylor out on the ice with additional space. It took but 21 seconds for O'Cain to score on a pass from Taylor. It was 2-1 Judge after two periods.
In the third, Park City had to overcome four two-minute minors and a 10-minute misconduct. The misconduct was particularly disruptive, as it reset the pairing of the second line for the final ten minutes of the game. Still, at 10:23, Hanskat dug a puck out of the corner and passed it back to Sam Groves at the point. Groves' shot was saved but the rebound bounced straight to Mayo at the right faceoff dot. Mayo's shot fooled the Judge goalie to tie the score 2-2.
Then came the backbreaker with just over five minutes remaining. All game O'Cain had been cherry picking out at the red line or even the far blue line, but the Miner defense intercepted most of the two-line passes intended his way. At the 5:33 mark, though, Taylor threw another pass that deflected off a Park City defender's stick just outside the Park City blue line. Unluckily, the deflection landed on O'Cain's stick. He didn't miss on the resulting breakaway to put the Bulldogs up 3-2.
From there, Park City took three more ridiculous penalties, so instead of pulling the goalie and applying offensive pressure, the Miners were forced to play shorthanded. In the end, they were never able to pull their goalie.
For more immediate updates, check and "like" the team's Facebook page, Park City Miners High School Hockey.