Thanks to COVID-19, the Park City Ice Miners lost their chance at competing in the national tournament
For three years, the Park City Ice Miners had hoped to be the only high school team in the state of Utah to be playing at the end of March. But in order to be granted that opportunity at the national tournament, the Miners would first have to win the Utah High School Hockey state championship each February.
After losing in the state title game in 2018 and 2019, Park City had another chance in 2020.
“Losing those two games in the championship were pretty brutal. … Like you to go through the handshake line as the end and they’re all happy, and then you have to skate by the trophy,” said senior Jackson Ehlers. “There was definitely a little bit of jealousy, but everyone worked really hard over the summer to make sure that didn’t happen again. Everyone got that message that we were so close so next year had to be our year and we made it our mission.”
Park City took down rival Farmington 5-1 on Feb. 24, accomplishing its multi-season goal and looking forward to what was coming next.
“In the history of Park City High School, we had yet to win a state championship in ice hockey so obviously that was our goal,” Miners coach Josh Angevine said. “As a coach who had been there often and had yet to win, I was always looking for ways for us to improve or for me to do better. … And we did that as a team. No matter what happened the rest of the way, the boys will always have that championship.”
Unfortunately, the Miners never got that chance to compete among the nation’s best. Once the coronavirus pandemic hit, the 2020 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships in Mansfield, Texas, were canceled.
It was a day that senior Connor Schulz won’t forget anytime soon.
“It’s weird because I remember the day perfectly. … It was the day that Rudy Gobert tested positive and the President of USA Hockey made a statement and sent out an email that the national championships were canceled,” Schulz said. “It hurt a lot, and that night kind of broke me a bit. We’d already had a few practices, something was just clicking for us and we felt we were getting ready for it. … But that’s when it became clear that things were going downhill from there.”
That meant that unlike any of the other teams at Park City High School that had their seasons canceled, the Ice Miners at least earned the distinction of being state champions. But it wasn’t quite enough considering how their goals changed midway through the season.
Park City entered the 2019-20 season with the goal of winning the Division I state title, but a three-game stretch showed the Miners that maybe they had to extend their goals a bit.
After taking down Farmington 7-2 on Dec. 18, the Miners were riding high after blasting their biggest competition — but then a 2-0 loss to UCI-North on Jan. 8 had Park City making sure they were getting overconfident. A refocused effort had the Miners taking down Bountiful 11-1 the following week, and that’s when things began to come into focus more.
“Clearly being state champs was the biggest goal for us entering the season but then we realized we had a bigger one after smacking Farmington around and then losing next,” Schulz said. “Then we won after that and things started to become into more focus and we realized we could do some real damage this season. After that, things started to change for us as a team and that’s when our goals started to change a bit.”
But according to Ehlers, there was more motivation behind the Miners making it to the national championship than just winning the state title.
“It was a good feeling knowing we were the only team in the state of Utah still practicing, but no high school team from the state of Utah had won a game at the national championships so that became our goal,” Ehlers said. “We knew a lot of other states are a lot better than Utah hockey-wise, but we definitely we feel we had a good enough team to win a game or two. Winning there would’ve definitely been a success for us, we feel we would’ve been better than any other team to go before.”
In the end though, Schulz and Ehlers can revel in the fact that they won a state championship. And if that was the last time they played competitive hockey, or even at all, they’re fine going out on top.
“I’m going to the U next year and I don’t I’ll play hockey freshman year, but may play later on,” Schulz said. “I would be fine if this was the end of my career because I went out on top. Nothing will match this year and this group of guys.”
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