Troy Brouwer’s power play goal for the Washington Capitals against the Chicago Blackhawks with 13 seconds to go in the NHL Winter Classic sparked my television with a great ending to justify watching hockey when college football was on.
Brouwer going five-hole on Corey Crawford to beat my favorite team made me sad, but the game started 2015 on a positive note for hockey.
It’s certainly a niche sport, and growing it in Southern Utah will take some time. I’ve only been a true fan for the last five years, which is not even close to the actual ice time experience of some of the high school players on the Southern Utah Yetis — the independent high school hockey team with players representing almost every school in the area.
So far I’ve met just a handful of the Yeti players — five exactly. They’re excited to be playing a fun sport against other teams, and people in Cedar City seem to enjoy watching them, too. The Yetis hockey game I attended Dec. 19 had an attendance comparable to a mid-season girls basketball game, and that was even in sub-freezing temperatures.
What impressed me most was that the team they faced — Viewmont — had superior talent and size, but the Southern Utah players knew what they were doing. It wasn’t like “The Mighty Ducks” where the kids in the movie barely knew how to skate; the Southern Utah hockey players seemed comfortable and confident on the ice.
They also had a high volume of players. About 20 high school students put on those thick blue jerseys and lined up against the Viewmont players. And right from the get-go, the Yetis showed no fear against their opponent. Team captain Courtney Morgan — who stands 5-feet-2-inches tall — lined up for the center ice faceoff against a Viewmont player a foot taller than she.
You’ve got to hand it to Kerry Fain and Chad Fain — the masterminds of this operation. They trained the players well and inspired them in a positive way. You can’t fake the bright personalities and smiles these players have.
Rugby at Snow Canyon High School is a good example of what could happen with hockey in Cedar City. The sport exploded, and suddenly SC became not only one of the premier rugby teams in Utah, but also one of the best in the country.
Now, hockey is more mainstream in the United States than rugby, so I don’t expect Southern Utah in 10 years time to suddenly be able to roll into St. Paul, Minnesota, and make it a game with Como Park Senior High School. But, growing a competitive high school hockey program in Iron County doesn’t seem farfetched when you consider the amount of success rugby had in Washington County.
Southern Utah Independent is taking a sport that, even though I’m still kind of new to the party, has grown into one of my favorites over the last five years and giving me — selfishly — a chance to write about it.
If you haven’t been to a game yet, go check out the team. It plays at 8 p.m. Friday at Cedar City Community Center.
Follow Richard Briggs on Twitter, @BriggsRich.