“Nobody can bug me out on the ice.” Meet Park City’s women’s hockey team
When it comes to women’s hockey in Park City, there is just one team in town – the Predators. But among recreational teams in Utah, it’s a choice pick.
There are certain things that set the Predators apart from other teams. Like, for instance, its loose affiliation with the Nashville Predators, which allows them to don the jerseys of the rising NHL team. Then there’s its volunteer coaching staff, which consists of Bobby Devaney and Cavin Holland.
Devaney is a Brown University hockey hall of famer, while Holland, who just started this season, made several appearances for his home nation of South Africa on junior national teams.
The team is also very good in their category. This season, the Predators went undefeated in the women’s B division, and had enough players to start a C team that also fared well, taking third in the Goal Diggers tournament in Salt Lake City in December.
But the team had humble beginnings, and at its heart maintains simple goals – to promote women’s hockey and to have fun.
Kathy Repko, who has played with the Predators since the team was founded, said she was first drawn to the Predators after watching her three kids play high school hockey.
“I wasn’t a big athlete,” Repko said. “I was just a mom. But it was really fun.”
Longtime player Marjorie Jaques said its common for parents to join after watching their kids play. She estimates that three quarters of the players are mothers. And the intergenerational influence goes both ways.
“We’ve got so many people here that were junior prospects and NHL prospects and they all started playing because their parents loved it,” Jaques said. “But the kids (who play at the Ice Arena) are here for themselves, not for mom and dad, just like we’re doing it for ourselves, not for the kids.”
For the players, the rink is a refuge.
“It’s time away that’s only for me,” Jaques said. “Nobody can bug me out on the ice.”
Founding member Leigh Stokes felt similarly.
“I was a single mom who worked at home,” Stokes said. “So I wanted another form of working out that didn’t involve pushing, pulling or carrying my two year old. This was just fun. I get out with a group of ladies, and it’s a better workout than going to the gym.”
Devaney said he started coaching women’s hockey around 15 years ago after attending a high-level clinic. When the Ice Arena opened, local players held a women’s exhibition game, which drew enough attention that Devaney and Jaques were able to host a women’s clinic that taught the basics of the game. That class had so much momentum that attendees decided to form a team. Stokes and Jacques shared a connection with owners of the Nashville Predators, who in turn gave the team some financial backing and official NHL jerseys. Later, a local family with ties to the Preds helped maintain the relationship get the team updated jerseys.
Jaques said the team still has strong ties with the Predators, and children of the Park City team sometimes go to Nashville and play with families associated with the professional team.
During their regular season, the adults play a game or practice on most Sundays from September until April, taking turns hosting or traveling to the five or so other teams around northern Utah.
Throughout the games, Devaney gives the team insights and strategy.
“The chemistry seems to have worked,” he said. “We have a lot of fun, and I just like to do it. It’s what I do.”
Holland is a new addition, joining the team this year after previously running skills clinics with Devaney, who said the South African has settled in well.
“I have been looking for an assistant and someone who might be the next in line to coach, so he agreed to come on board this year,” Devaney said. “He’s been great. Young guy, really cool, comes to all the games. It’s one of the things that’s really helped.”
The Predators have also benefited from bringing in talent on the ice, like Samantha Griswold, a former Division I goalie at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, who joined two seasons ago.
Griswold retired from collegiate hockey after a concussion, but couldn’t resist picking up a stick for the Predators after she moved to Park City to join her family in 2017.
“It was definitely a little bit of getting back, not being scared,” she said of retaking the ice. “It was just a different level. (College hockey) is so competitive sometimes you forget how much you love hockey, and when it slows down a little bit more you learn that you love the sport again and why you got into it in the first place.”
More members have joined the Predators’ lower-level C team, coming in after hearing about the team from friends or after seeing them at the rink.
“A lot of it is word of mouth,” Stokes said. “Hockey is a hard sport to get into. It’s not something that you just get a par of running shoes and go try it. Theres a lot of equipment, it’s sometimes scary for new people, so we tell all our friends. Some of them come by default because they see how much fun we’re having.”
The Predators finished their regular season on March 24, defeating the Bountiful Ice Vixens 5-0. But they will host their annual Muddy Puck co-ed rec tournament on April 25-28 at the Park City Ice Arena.
Stokes said the Predators will continue to keep an open door to anyone who wants to join, and the team still wants to grow, but the main focus will always be on enjoying the game they love so much.
“No. 1 mission is to have fun,” she said.
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