Miners skate to next round of the playoffs
It’s incredible what a little ice time will do for a team.
After losing 13 seniors to graduation last year, Park City High School head hockey coach Barry Graves knew he would have a hard road ahead of him this season. Luckily, this challenge coincided with the Park City Ice Arena’s first winter of being open. With multiple practices per week, the Miners went from a winless first half of the season to earning a third-place finish in the Utah High School Hockey Independent Division. From there, they won their first game in the playoffs and then on Tuesday, they continued their unlikely skate through the playoffs with a decisive 4-2 win against Cache Valley Independent Wild at the E-Center.
"The amount of ice time we devoted to the players is finally coming to fruition," Graves said. "We’ve seen guys that are marginal players become good skaters."
With many of his varsity players down with injuries, Graves was worried about how substituting six junior varsity athletes into the Tuesday’s game would affect the outcome. The game started off with a goal-less first period, but the Miners still managed to dominate defensively forcing the Wild into numerous turnovers. Graves said that it was just a matter of adjustment for the younger skaters before the goals would start going into the net.
"After the first period, we decided if we want to continue, we had to come together as a team and learn each other’s moves," Graves said.
The Miners seemed to have learned their lesson, with Austin Keller scoring a goal with five minutes left in the second period. A minute later, Greg Robbins added another goal off of an assist by David Paskoski. Cache Valley responded with one of their own with about two minutes left.
In the third period, Brandon BeeBe scored another goal at the 11-minute mark with an assist from Robert Repko. Five minutes later, Cache Valley was able to get the puck in the net again, but Park City was ready, and quickly responded with another Miner goal by Repko with help from Zack Fear with three and half minutes left in the game for the 4-2 victory.
"The offensive attack has been strong all season long," Graves said. "Having kids out with injury — everyone younger can really attack and create turnovers."
The Miners forced 11 turnovers in the match, which Graves said was indicative of how much control the team possesses.
Robbins, Keller and BeeBe were among the junior varsity players that stepped up at the forward position in the absence of the usual Park City starters.
The Miners will need to be ready to play without some of their best talent again next week, when they lose three more players to vacation over the President’s Day weekend. Luckily, starting forwards Colin Almquist and Greg Bois should return to the lineup by Wednesday’s semifinal game against the South Valley Independent.
Graves says that if his team can fight through next week, the chances of earning the championship trophy are very good. His team is very focused and determined this season. A positive attitude mixed with the return of the rest of the team, except Kyle Fraleigh, who is gone for the season with a fractured vertebra, should give the Miners a good chance of winning.
"I think they are more focused this year than I’ve ever seen," Graves said. "This is the first time we’ve made it past the first round and now we’re in the third."
Graves says that all teams that have won the state trophies in past years have year-round training and consistent access to a rink, so he feels confident about the next two games.
"If this attitude carries on to the next two games, we will be hoisting a championship trophy this year," Graves said.
The Miners will take to ice to meet the South Valley Independent next Wednesday, March 21 at 8:15 p.m. at the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo.
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