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Icing on the cake

Courtesy Dave Decker
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The Las Vegas Hookers had given the Park City Pioneers problems all season.

In four games, the Pioneers were 1-3 against Vegas, despite each team having scored 26 goals in the series.

A 13-3 win on Dec. 29 at the Park City Ice Arena was the only time the Pioneers had beaten the Hookers heading into Saturday night’s inaugural Mountain West Hockey League championship game, also at the PC Ice Arena.

But with a full squad dressed for the game and a title on the line, the Pioneers shook off their struggles against Las Vegas, thoroughly dominating the game through the first two periods en route to an 8-2 victory.

A day after defeating the Rebels of Salt Lake 11-3 in an MWHL semifinal match at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex, the Pioneers overcame a couple nagging injuries and general fatigue to jump out to a 2-0 lead after the first period Saturday night.

"That’s what playoff hockey is," Pioneers captain David Imonti said. "It’s about who perseveres when there are some obstacles in your way."

Two quick goals late in the second period gave Park City a comfortable 4-0 cushion heading into the final 20 minutes of action.

After the Pioneers extended their lead to 5-0 in the third, Las Vegas scored two straight goals halfway through the third period, closing the gap to 5-2 and threatening to climb back into the game.

But Brian Gibbons, who had played in just five games for the Pioneers before the weekend, decided he’d put a stop to Las Vegas’s comeback, scoring three straight goals in the last six minutes of the game to seal a Park City victory.

Goalie Kyle Gover, who recorded the first shutout in MWHL history against Aspen on Jan. 26, once again played at a high level for the Pioneers, making 45 saves and winning the battle with fellow MWHL Goalie of the Year candidate Mike Katz of Las Vegas.

Time after time in the first two periods, Gover stopped wide-open shots from Las Vegas players.

"He’s huge," Imonti said. "Without him, I don’t know where we’d be."

"He’s really our MVP," Matt Long added. "That kid shows up every night and he kills it. We play a lot better when we know he’s on his game."

The Pioneers’ other goalie, Eric Moldenhauer, was between the pipes for Friday’s win and also earned Imonti’s praise.

"He’d be the No. 1 goalie on any other team in this league," he said.

Gibbons finished with four goals on the weekend. Brian Babbitt had two goals and three assists, Nick Liotta had three goals and two assists, Long had two goals and an assist, and Mike Adamek and Braxton Green each had one goal and two assists.

Josh Angevine, Imonti, Dax Hobbs, Tommy Rupp, Michael Spawton and Tom Gatta each had one goal and one assist, Eric Milliron dished out two assists, and P.J. Nelson, Billy Berner and Levi Wegleither each had one assist.

After the Pioneers started the year with a disappointing 1-7 record, Imonti said he’s proud of where they ended up.

"We started off slow," he said. "But I guess all that matters is how you finish."

After the game, Long was named the MWHL MVP for the season.

"The whole team played really hard this year," Long said. "I wouldn’t have gotten this award without their hard play as well."

"He deserves it," Imonti added. "He might not have the most skills, but he has the most heart of any hockey player I know."

Gover won several awards, including a spot on the MWHL All-Star team, the Goalie of the Year award, and the MWHL Playoff MVP award. Gatta also earned a spot on the All-Star team.


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