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Uintah Utes Seek to Maximize Nationals Experience

By Jim Smith, 04/01/17, 3:05PM MDT

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Utah high school hoping to have fun and grab a win or two

It’s obvious that the ultimate goal of playing in the USA Hockey High School National Championships is to come home with the title.

But another perhaps equally important goal is to provide players with what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.    

The Uintah Utes of Vernal, Utah, traveled to greater Cleveland, Ohio, in hopes of providing their players with that memorable experience and perhaps a victory or two.

“Every Utah team that has come to Nationals has walked away with a [single] win,” observed Utes head coach Michael Williams. “That is about as far as we typically get. We’re at least shooting for that. If we can get a win out of the three games we play here, I feel like we have done a pretty good job. On a national level, just the fact that we are here says a lot about our program. I don’t expect that we are going to walk away with a national championship — we’re not that kind of team yet — but hopefully we will compete this week.”

“[Nationals] is a big deal for some of the players. We have two kids that have never been on an airplane. For some of the players, it’s their second time [on a plane] because they were at Nationals last time. For about half of the team, this is their trip for the year to go do something they wouldn’t do normally. This is a really good experience for them,” said Williams.

Chelli VanLeuvan, one of the first-time fliers, said she was “scared” of the prospect of flying but was enjoying the camaraderie of discussing the tournament with her teammates.     

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to play for Utah,” added Kylie Larsen, a senior on the team who is active in student council at Uintah High School. “I expect to see a lot of good hockey.”

“We have four girls and one is a senior [Larsen] who has been to Pittsburgh [for the Showcase Tournament]. She is a fantastic player, a defender, and a smart player,” Williams said.

Uintah goaltender Devin Bain brings experience to the national championships, having been the back-up netminder the last time the team appeared at Nationals.

“I am hoping we can win a couple of games and play to the best of our ability. We have a lot of good kids,” added Bain, who has participated in showcase events in Pittsburgh and owns aspirations of playing junior hockey next season.

“Bain is the best in the state,” Williams said. “He really wants to move on and is ready to go [to the next level].”

While Bain noted he came for some “great hockey,” he had some off-ice plans as well, saying he was hoping to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while visiting Cleveland.

According to Williams, the Utes program is about 30 years old and, in the beginning, held its practices and games outdoors.

“Our local program in Vernal started on a pond and we have worked our way up to a county facility. We have a really good youth program that has at least 200 kids in it,” offered Williams, who has about a dozen years of history with the team. “Our kids are all local and we are starting to market to towns about 30 minutes away.”

“We are in the northeastern corner of Utah about a half an hour from Colorado. Our youth program has played in both Colorado and Utah leagues and that has helped us develop,” Williams said.

In summing up the Nationals experience, Williams proclaimed, “this is our celebration and we will play every kid.”   

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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2017 USA Hockey National Championship Sites

Division Location Host Dates
Youth Tier I (14U) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (16U, 18U) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Penguins Elite April 6-10, 2017
Girls Tier I Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Women's A, B, C Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-9, 2017
High School Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland Suburban Hockey March 30-April 3, 2017
Girls Tier II Troy, Michigan Troy Youth Hockey Association April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (14U) Coral Springs, Florida Florida Panthers Ice Den April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (16U) Frisco, Texas Texas Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (18U) Lansing, Michigan Lansing Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Sled San Jose, California Sharks Ice April 6-9, 2017
Adult Rec Men's Wesley Chapel, Florida Florida Hospital Center Ice April 20-23, 2017
Adult Rec Women's Ellenton, Florida Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex April 27-30, 2017