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Predators build on success in Boise

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

When Juli-Anne Warll decided to attend a Learn-To-Play-Hockey class at the Park City Ice Arena, she had no idea where it would lead.

Being of Canadian descent, her brothers had always played hockey, but she had chosen skiing instead. The class seemed like her chance. Turns out it would become a lot more than a short instructional session.

Warll, along with a number of other women that have played in past or decided to take up the sport when the rink opened, came together last year to form the Park City Predators women’s hockey team. It was a difficult venture though, as they lost every game. But this past weekend in Boise at the Harvest Classic Tournament, the diverse group of Park City females took second place, beating out women’s teams from all over the West.

"It felt good to get on the map," Warll said.

They agree that coaching has made a huge difference. Last year, coaching was devoted to teaching this mostly rookie group the fundamentals of the game. This year, the women enlisted the help of Paul Kehoe, the head of the Park City Youth League. Having never coached a women’s team Kehoe took on the challenge with relish.

"He’s so enthusiastic," Warll said.

Both women suspected that he wasn’t aware of their losing record before agreeing to coach, but say he has risen to the challenge.

"He probably didn’t know what he was getting into," Warll said with a smile. "He’s has a very direct approach with us and great energy."

Kehoe coaches with the help of his son Kalvin. This year, the team spent a lot of time working on strategy and the finer points of the game, which showed in Boise.

"Everyone’s getting better as whole," teammate Leigh Stokes said.

The women’s march to the top in Boise was interesting. They started out with a loss after facing one of the most physical teams they had ever played, but the challenge proved to make a difference. The Predators went on to win the next three games to earn a spot in the finals against the same physical team. Warll, who says she never scores, even recorded three goals in the tournament.

In the championship game, both teams were tied until the third period when the Predators pulled their goalie to try and get an edge. The plan didn’t work and Park City lost 5-3, but the confidence the tournament gave the women was invaluable, Warll said.

"After we got all the way to the final game, we felt we could beat them," Warll said. "It was close. It just didn’t work out."

The Predators pride themselves on their diversity. Some have played competitive hockey before, while some were athletes in other sports. The players are a mix of mothers, wives, artists, doctors, firefighters, business women and students. Without an outlet for high school girls’ hockey, the Predators have even allowed prep players to join. The team is actually named Park City Women’s Hockey, but a generous donation from the National Predators women’s hockey team allows them to play as the Park City Predators.

The team plays in the B/C, mid-level division of the Park City Hockey League and also tries to mix in regional games to gain experience.

"We’re mostly a C team with some B-level players," laughs Stokes.

The team is now preparing for play in the Goal Digger Tournament coming up Dec. 7-9 at the Park City rink. Right now the all-women’s event is hosted by another squad, but the Predators hope to eventually host the tournament, since it is played on their rink.

"Hopefully next year," Warll said. "It’s a great idea. We want to get more support, build community presence."

They also hope that people will come out and watch their games. Right now, they say they play to a mostly dad/boyfriend/child audience, but would love to have some community support. They play on Sundays from 5-6:30 p.m. with a drop-in hockey session afterwards.

Both say that the team is finally developing a strong chemistry, which they hope to build on. At some point they also hope to influence more female play in Park City. Whether it’s encouraging the retired player who hung up her skates after high school or college to come back and join the team next year or encouraging young girls to take the Learn-To-Play-Hockey class, they are focused on building the sport n the area.

"I see the longevity of it, that some of our younger girls will keep playing it and keep it alive," Warll said.

The team has created a website to showcase what they have been accomplishing. Warll says her favorite part is the "Who’s got the Gloves" link, which highlights the most valuable player of the week. The weekly winner is awarded a pair of hockey gloves lined in faux fur and leopard-print material.

The Park City Predators play through April. For a complete game schedule and more information visit http://www.parkcitywomenshockey.com .


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