Park City Ice Miners 16U team takes second in Tier II national championships
On April 9, most of the players from the Park City Ice Miners 16U hockey team returned home from Wayne, New Jersey, and the Tier II USA Hockey National Championships. They were tired, having played five games in five days, and ultimately had been defeated in the championship game by Team South Dakota, but it was a historic season for the club. The team had pushed farther into the national championship tournament than they ever had before.
“I knew at their first practice of the year they were going to be good, I didn’t know how good,” said Mike Adamek, coach of the 16U team. The team, possessing a core of Park City players, had seen an influx of talented Salt Lakers.
“We knew we had something special; I think we knew it after tryouts,” goalkeeper Andrew Pedersen said. “I feel like we all had that feeling we could go far.”
But teasing out just how far the Utah State Amateur Hockey Association team could go would take most of the season, especially because at the Tier II level the club had only one in-state competitor, the Davis County Eagles, based out of Bountiful. This meant the team spent most of its season traveling and hosting tournaments.
According to Pedersen, the team started its season with a tough loss in the finals of a tournament in Arizona.
“But I feel we really gelled after that loss,” he said.
His teammate, right winger Sam Willis, said the Miners’ raw talent was undeniable, but they had to build chemistry, and the early-season losses served as a catalyst to bring the team together.
In November, the Ice Miners hosted their first home tournament – the High Mountain Shootout – and defeated the Utah High School Activities Association’s High School All Star Team in the championship game.
After that, the team traveled to Minneapolis, where it played against much larger schools. The tournament served as another galvanizing experience for the Ice Miners, who were beaten badly in several games against teams from Chicago, Illinois, and Canada which were above the Ice Miners’ USA Hockey population division, which is arranged in a similar way to the UHSAA’s statewide classifications.
“We always try and play above our level a bit,” Pedersen said. “If we just ended up playing the Eagles, I don’t think we would have done so well at nationals.”
Pederson said the team improved greatly after the Minneapolis trip.
“Personally, I saw the puck better; I started stopping more shots,” he said. “By the end of the season our vision improved a lot; we started seeing each other on the ice better; we started finding the back of the net way easier, which is always good.”
In February, over President’s Day weekend, the Miners won the California State Games – an Olympics-style tournament in San Diego, then set their sights on the national championship tournament in Wayne.
To get there, the team had to beat the Eagles in a best-of-three series.
“They were pretty hotly contested,” Adamek said of the games. “We played them five times throughout the year in exhibition games and we won four times out of five. We were definitely the favorite. But we won the first game 2-1, second game 3-1.”
That left only the national championship tournament.
The Ice Miners took advantage of the opportunity in Wayne, dismantling the Bozeman Icedogs, of Montana, 7-1. The team then ground out a 4-3 win over the Las Vegas Jr. Golden Knights on April 6. The next day, the Miners beat the Charleston Jr. Rays, of South Carolina, 3-1.
“After that game we moved on to the Delaware Ducks, who also pulls kids from Philadelphia,” Pedersen said, adding that the Miners were predicted to lose that game by a large margin.
“We played our best game of the year to beat them 3-0,” Pedersen said.
That put the team in the finals against Team South Dakota, and in doing so pushed the Ice Miners into uncharted territory. According to club officials, never before had a Tier II Utah team pushed into national championship finals (though they have at both higher and lower divisions). Unfortunately for the Miners, winning the tournament would remain a goal for another season.
“I thought we played really well in the first period,” Willis said. “In the second it stayed 1-1, then within a minute they scored 2 goals, so it was 3-1 at the end of the second. But everyone stuck together, no one was on each other’s nerves. The third period was really hard.”
Team South Dakota went on to score four more goals in the third period, ending the game 8-1, which was tough for the Miners to accept.
“There was some disappointment,” Adamek said. “Toward the end, we knew it was over. The last five minutes we talked about playing for each other. Obviously there was some emotion in the locker room. But we talked it out, and I think everyone understood we did something special.”
Pederson said to go so far in the national championships was “a surreal feeling.”
“If you told me seven months ago we would be playing in the national championship game, I wouldn’t believe you,” he said. “I’m proud of my team, proud of my boys. … It was a hell of a season, I wouldn’t trade it for any other season.”