Murray hockey places second, but several players advance to national finals with their comp team
Apr 09, 2018 04:43PM ● Published by Carl Fauver
Murray senior Dillon Hale led his hockey league in scoring and now hopes to play at the next level. (Tim Hale)
The Murray High School club hockey team advanced to their state championship game again this winter, for the third straight year. But just as they did in 2016, the Viewmont Vikings defeated the Spartans for the title.
In between those two second place finishes, a year ago, Murray put Viewmont out in the semifinals, and claimed their first state hockey title in 17 years, with a win over Park City.
But Viewmont got revenge this season, three times over.
“We only lost three games this year, all to Viewmont,” said third-year Spartans head coach Tim Hale. “We finished the season 18-3, losing to (the Vikings) once in the regular season, and twice in the playoffs.”
The final score of the championship game was 5-2. But Hale said it was a little closer than that.
“We scored with about eight minutes left to make it 3-2,” the coach said. “But then they scored a little later…and their final goal was an empty-netter, after we pulled our goalie.”
The loss means the Murray hockey club will not return to the national finals, where they went a year ago. And the majority of the team will never pull on a Murray Spartan jersey again.
“Nine of our 16 players are seniors,” Hale added. “Next year is going to be a real challenge. The league may even drop us down to a lower division because we will be so young.”
However, the majority of those seniors still went out as state champions. Just days after losing the high school championship, five of the nine Murray 12th-graders swept two games from Park City to claim their competition team championship. On that team, the top Murray and Viewmont hockey players are teammates, rather than rivals.
It seems the Utah hockey world can be a small place at times.
“Our comp team is called the Golden Eagles, after the (Salt Lake) professional team we had before they moved and the Grizzlies came in,” said one of those Murray seniors, Hale’s son, Dillon. “Five of us seniors from the high school team are on the comp team, along with one junior.”
And on the Golden Eagles team, five of the Murray players’ teammates were on the Viewmont team that beat them for the high school title.
With those players – and a couple of others – teaming up, the Eagles swept a pair of games from the Park City comp team, to earn a trip to their national finals – in Green Bay, Wis. – April 5 to 9.
A year ago, both the Murray High School team and the comp team qualified for nationals. That forced several players to get from the Salt Lake valley to Cleveland, Ohio… and a week later, to Dallas, Texas.
“We had one player’s family drive the whole thing,” Hale said. “They were gone from Utah two weeks and drove about 5,000 miles.”
His son Dillon is pleased with where they are going, because he’s been invited to tryout in June for the Green Bay Gamblers, a Tier I junior ice hockey team. That level of play is considered a stepping stone to a college hockey scholarship or possibly even the National Hockey League.
“Hopefully, some people from the (Green Bay Gamblers) team will be able to see some of our national tournament games,” Dillon said.
Certainly some of Dillon’s fellow graduating Murray High seniors might also be eligible to try out for a junior ice hockey team. But goalie Mike Richins and offensive player Stew McKenna will instead be leaving for their LDS missions not long after high school.
“It’s bittersweet to see the high school season end,” Richins said. “I’m sad it’s over, because my teammates are family. But I’ll always have the memories of four great seasons.”
“We played pretty well overall, and really bonded as a team,” McKenna added. “We didn’t quite accomplish our goal (of winning a second straight high school state hockey title). But we came close, it was fun.”
After serving his LDS mission McKenna hopes to play hockey for the University of Utah. His father, Jim McKenna, is the head coach of the Golden Eagles comp team, while serving as an assistant to Tim Hale for the Murray High School team.
“Then it’s the opposite for me,” Hale said. “I’m his assistant with the Golden Eagles.”
In addition to Dillon Hale, McKenna and Richins, the other three Murray High players who also play for the Golden Eagles are Mike’s twin brother Nate Richins, Nathan Fetzer and Daxton Nielson.
A junior, Nielson is the only one of those six who will return to what will be a depleted Murray High School club hockey team next winter.