PCHS wins independent division title
It was a long skate to get there, but somehow the Park City High School hockey team managed to make it.
Saturday night, the team hoisted the Utah High School Hockey Independent Division championship trophy high above their heads a testament to a young team that had trouble giving in or giving up.
"We started 1-7 and after that we turned around," starting goalie Kevin Walsh said. "Overall, it’s amazing."
"It’s an amazing feeling," agreed Park City head coach Barry Graves. "It’s been a long time coming."
The Miners competed in the Independent Division tournament this year rather than the Varsity Division playoffs, which they have been a part of in past years. The switch worked, because the Miners turned a frustrating early season into success that continued to the final game.
On Saturday night, the Miners faced the South Valley Independent Ice Dogs for the second time in two games in the double elimination state tournament. Having already shutout the ice Dogs on Wednesday, the game might have seemed easy, but Park City assistant coach said it was no cake-walk to the title.
"This is such an emotional game of momentum," Decker said. "That team [the Ice Dogs] were playing on fumes."
"It was a much different game," Graves said. "They gave us a run for our money tonight."
With a fully focused opponent, it was up to the Park City defense to continue the relentless play that allowed the Miners to be undefeated in the postseason.
"Our defense was solid," Graves said.
It was once again anchored by Walsh, a senior, who earned his second straight shutout of the playoffs in the final game. Walsh logged 23 saves on the night. According to Graves, Walsh, who rode the bench for two years before securing the starting spot this season, has been playing some of his best hockey in the last few months.
Walsh put the success back on his coach and team.
"It’s a combination of a lot of things ice time, an amazing coaching staff. We weren’t very good at the beginning of the year," Walsh said.
The Miners used five defensemen on the ice on Saturday night. A scheme that effectively silenced the Ice Dogs.
"They really shut the guys down tonight," Graves said. "Our defensive core is extremely strong."
Offensively, both teams struggled to get on the board in the first period.
"We got off to a slow start," Graves said. "You never know when you get to the finals."
The Miners came back early in the second with a goal by Brandon Beebe off a Matt Hinman assist with 11:26 left in the period. In the third, Colin Almquist sealed the win with a goal in the waning seconds of the game off of an assist by Walker Dunavent.
"The whole team stepped up," Walsh said.
Park City is no stranger to success. For years, the Miners have fielded very competitive teams, but never took the final step to the championship game. This year, the young and experienced team looked like they would suffer an even worse fate. Luckily, with the addition of a home rink for regular practices and a motivation to do their best, it spelled success for the Miners.
"It just shows how much heart these guys have and their decision to play as a team," Graves said. "Everyone took the responsibility to win the last four games."
The Miners’ sweep of the tournament up until Saturday actually earned them two chances to win the state crown. Even if the Miners had lost on Saturday, with the double-elimination tournament style, they still would have had a chance to win the title later this week, but the Miners were focused.
"We just came together as a team," Walsh said. "We were able to do what no other Park City team was able to do."
The Miners lose only four seniors to graduation, so Graves expects the Miners to be the team of the future. With a strong junior varsity squad, a home rink and local development programs already up and running, Graves expects the team to continue to be successful.
"We’re looking forward to next year," Graves said.
The championship trophy will be displayed in a case at the Park City Ice Arena.
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