On Wednesday night, The Wasatch Back made its return to competitive prep hockey with a very lopsided loss to the much more established North Ogden based Swagg Hockey Club.
Despite the excitement of those closely involved with the first game of the season, there is no need to go into the 13-1 loss Wasatch suffered on this night because the story goes much deeper than one game.
Unlike its rival, Park City, who is just up the hill in Summit County, hockey has not thrived in Wasatch in recent years. There is no state of the art ice arena and no budding youth hockey league from which to grow. But that is all changing now thanks to growing support from the community.
Like the willingness to fight for your side that embodies the sport of hockey on the ice, the men and women who believe it can be a success in a town where it took the soccer team two state championships to finally get in the same mention of football, basketball and wrestling, are taking off their gloves.
Coaches Ryan “R.C.” Shuflin and Volker Ritzinger, longtime coaches of youth hockey in the area, and team organizer James Soderborg, have put together Wasatch’s new prep-aged hockey club with hopes of creating a buzz.
“We created this team with the intention to grow it,” said Soderborg. “In Utah high school hockey, you’re allowed to create what is called and ‘Independent Team’ with kids from your high school and some from surrounding counties. But it starts with the youth programs… which we are trying to establish.”
Wasatch County has an outdoor ice rink owned by the city of Midway. Up to now, management has resisted allowing a hockey league to use the facility for competitive hockey.
“We’re working with them,” added Soderborg. “The previous managers were not cooperative and made changes to the rink not condusive to hockey, but we continue to make ourselves available to them in hopes of working something out with the new management coming in.”
It was obvious in Wednesday night’s lopsided defeat that Wasatch has its work cut out in growing the sport in their community. The team was undersized and lacked the skill and speed to compete with the more experienced club from Ogden. That won’t stop Shuflin from trying.
“We have a group of kids that are showing a commitment to work and get better,” stated Shuflin.
“We are basically made up of six players that are experienced players from the Summit/Wasatch and other youth program, and some players that are new to the sport and are going to be developing their skills this season,” added Soderborg.
Hockey is, and can be, a pricey sport. Beyond finding arenas to play and practice in, like the facility in Park City, there are equipment costs and paying referees for games—in which three are needed.
“We are grateful to the many folks who have been very generous in their support for the team,” Soderborg said. “We have had most of our team fees covered from donations of businessess in the community, including a $4,200 donation from the Heber Valley Medical Center. We have also had equipment donated from some very generous people in our community. We’re still actively fundraising and welcome anyone who would like to help us grow.”
Wasatch took the ice in its first contest wearing light blue sweaters and socks. Not their usual school colors of black and gold, but new uniforms are on the way.
“We just want to establish a good, competitive team,” said Shuflin. “We’re young. We’re so inexperienced on the ice right now, it will take some time,” he added. “We have one senior on the team—that’s it. Our goal is to keep getting better while growing the sport here. I think we will be able to do that. We’ve got a bunch of young players from our youth leagues coming in next year… so we’ll be much better.”
Wasatch has a road game on Monday for its next test and about a dozen more games confirmed on the schedule. The team would love to get some support from the local sports community, especially from the fans of other sports at Wasatch High School.
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