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New U hockey team to skate into city

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

The Park City Ice Arena will open its doors to something new on Nov. 2 college hockey. The newly re-formed University of Utah hockey club team will face Colorado State University, last season’s runner-up on the collegiate club level in a game at the rink.

And this is more than just an opportunity for the rink to host some high-level hockey talent, among the teams there will also be some familiar faces. The Utes’ head coach is Bob Wilkinson, owner of PC Printink and the only freshman on the team is Park City High School grad, Dominic Strand, who plays as a wing.

The Utes’ club hockey team had been non-existent on the Utah campus for the past three years prior to this season due to indiscretions that got them effectively kicked off campus. Last year, two college-aged hockey enthusiasts approached the university about re-instating the team under new leadership. A few months later, Wilkinson, a former player for the University of Vermont and a long-time certified youth hockey coach questioned why the state’s most prominent university did not have a program. A call to the Utes athletic department and meeting with the interested students, and the program was back on its feet under Wilkinson’s direction.

Starting a new program has been a challenge, but Wilkinson is optimistic. He has a squad made up entirely of walk-ons who played in the Utah prep club program or similar programs regionally. As a non-sanctioned sport run by the university’s student affairs program, there is no funding for the program. That means that each player must pay $800 for equipment and ice-time. They must also practice three mornings a week at 6 a.m., and balance school work and, often, part-time jobs with the demands of travel and playing time.

The fledgling team has been on the ice for about three months and is slowly learning to become a competitor on the regional club hockey circuit once again. Stronger programs, such as those at Utah State University (USU), Weber State, Utah Valley State College (UVSC) and the BYU-affiliated Ice Cats have given the inexperienced Utes quite the challenge. Wilkinson said that in two games against the USU Aggies, Utah has lost 18-3 and 20-0. Still, the Utes remain undaunted and determined.

"It’s fine, because when we make the turnaround and improve, we’ll look that much better," Wilkinson said.

To keep the players’ attitude positive in the face of large losses, Wilkinson tells his team to just focus on each individual shift they play in a given game.

"I told the guys we were a start-up. All you have to work to improve is the next 35-second shift. That’s the only thing you can change," Wilkinson said.

He says he has already seen marked improvement. The Utes lost to UVSC 10-0 in a home game but just a few weeks later they skated to a much more respectable 4-2 loss on the Utah County ice.

"You can see something new every day, something right," Wilkinson said.

He is hoping that as the team improves, even more former high school players will come out of the woodwork to help the team. Right now, there are 20 players plus two goalies on the roster, with 13 playing on a regular basis.

Wilkinson is hoping with more practice and a strong focus on fundamentals, he can soon bring the Utah team back to the quality it once enjoyed. Against a team as good as CSU, he just hopes to be competitive and give an entertaining show to the Park City hockey faithful. Playing in smaller town should mean a bigger crowd to support the Utes, so even a big loss won’t seem so disappointing.

"It will be a good game," Wilkinson said. "That would be fun to have a big crowd."

The Utes and Rams will square off at the Park City Ice Arena on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. The Utes will also play at the Park City rink on Jan. 20 against the ice Cats and host UVSC on Feb. 3. All games are open to the public.


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