Four years ago, as virtually an entire freshman team, Park City was drubbed by Uintah 14-1. Then as sophomores, playing in Salt Lake, the team took a lead into the third period only to tighten up and lose 4-3. As juniors back in Vernal, a ghost goal that didn't appear to cross the goal line but was credited to Uintah gave them a 2-1 victory.
So, when this year's state hockey schedule came out and, due to a scheduling snafu, the Miners had to travel to Vernal for the second year in a row, this was viewed as a time for redemption, especially for the 11 varsity seniors.
"Everyone was looking forward to going over there and beating them," said Miner captain Robbie Derber.
And the Miners did just that, earning a 3-1 victory to open Park City's Southern Division regular season, moving the team to 5-0 on the year.
But it was no easy task. Playing in Vernal is unlike playing in any other rink. The Western Park Arena is a tin warehouse with ice inside. The crowd squeezes 300 people into bleachers meant for 200; the glass is lined with the overflow. And the ice is small at 180 feet x 80 feet compared to the 200 x 100-foot ice Park City plays on everywhere else.
The result is aggressive claustrophobia. Miner Head Coach Aaron Dufford explains, "We didn't have the time or space that we're used to due to the smaller ice. Uintah uses this to smother opponents and, given their size, effectively tries to punish you with physical play."
In past years, the setting and physicality has intimidated Park City. Not so this game. "The biggest difference this year compared to the past was our response (to their physicality)," Dufford continued. "I think we not only accepted the physical play but turned it around and gave it right back, using their power against them, turning the tables."
As a case in point, late in the second period 5'6" Miner senior TJ Mayo took a run at a stocky 6'3" Ute and received a charging penalty along with a 10-minute misconduct for leaping into the check.
Park City opened the scoring midway through the first period. Working down low in the Uintah zone, Miner senior center Harry Hanskat grabbed a loose puck just below the end line and threw a pass out front to sophomore line-mate Sam Amidon who wristed it past the Uintah goalie. Score 1-0 Park City at 7:05 in the first.
The close quarters and physical play kept it that way through the second. But in the third, the Miners started to dominate. Particularly stellar was sophomore wing Will Miele. Miele deftly avoided big hits in the tight Western Ice Arena corners throughout the game and seemed to create more space than other Park City players. It paid off in the third as he broke free and scored unassisted to make it 2-0 Park City just two minutes into the third. Four minutes later, junior wing Derek Sederman brought the puck in over the Ute blueline, drew the defense to him, and found Miele camped out on the far post. Miele buried the open shot for a 3-0 Miner lead that sealed the game. Final score, Park City 3, Uintah 1.
Afterwards, one of the Miner moms in attendance was asked how she felt about the game. "It was a fracking beatdown!" she replied exuberantly, summing up the collective feeling of finally beating Uintah.
Next up, the Miners return home Wednesday for the regular season opener at the Park City Ice Arena against the Utah County Independent South Lone Wolves. Game time is 6:30 p.m., so make plans to be a part of the madness and catch the streaking Miners in action.