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Murray Journal

Murray High School’s hockey club team claims state title

Mar 31, 2017 09:57AM ● By Bryan Scott

The Murray High School hockey club team claimed the 2017 state championship, with a 6-4 win over Park City in the title game. (Shutterspeed)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected] 

A group of ice skating, stick swinging, puck chasing Murray High School athletes is in Cleveland, Ohio this weekend, competing for a national championship.

The school’s hockey squad—a “club” team not officially sanctioned by Murray High or the Utah High School Activities Association—claimed its first state title in 17 years in February.

Now they are big underdogs, competing against the best programs in the nation, from places that live and breathe hockey such as Minnesota.

The Utahn natives were guaranteed at least three games in the tournament (March 30, 31 and April 1), with more to follow if they advance. The games were completed after press deadline.

“Honestly, I’d be thrilled if we can win one game against that talent level,” Murray Head Coach Tim Hale said. “But we’ve already accomplished our season goal by taking the state title.”

The Spartan skaters upended Park City in a back and forth championship game, 6-4, at the Steiner Ice Rink near the University of Utah. The win capped a 15-2-2 season, with Murray’s first title since winning back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000.

“Our kids played great,” Hale added. “We trailed twice in the game (1-0 and 2-1), and we also blew a two-goal lead, before finally bouncing back to win.  The kids were thrilled and I was very proud of them.”

A couple of weeks later, Hale was named his league’s Coach of the Year, an honor at least one of his player’s parents believes is very well deserved.

“He’s only been the boys’ head coach for two seasons,” said Jeff Elwell, who has two sons playing in the Murray program.  Younger son Sam is age 13—on the middle school team—while Jake, 17, has now completed two seasons for Hale.

“The amount of time he volunteers for these kids is incredible,” Elwell added. “On Mondays, for example, the players have dinner together, review video of upcoming opponents and then practice on the ice, JV and varsity both.  It’s pretty common to be at the practice rink from 7 p.m. to past midnight.”

Spartan star goalie Mike Richins agrees. “He’s a great coach,” the junior goalkeeper said. “He saw the potential in us before anyone else, and then pushed us hard to reach the top.”

A year ago Murray also advanced to the state title game, but came up just short, losing the championship to Viewmont. This season the Spartans knocked the Vikings off in a playoff semifinal game, decided in an overtime shootout.

In the title game, Murray trailed 1-0 after one period, but scored three goals in the second—and three more in the third—for the victory.

Four was an unusual number of goals for goalie Richins to give up. “He is probably the best goalkeeper in the state,” Hale said. “I call him ‘Superman.’  He averages giving up only one to maybe one-and-a-half goals per game.”

Offensively in the championship game, senior Jake Elwell and sophomore Daxton Nielson each scored two goals. Juniors Dillon Hale and Stewart McKenna added one goal each.

The Murray hockey team this year is made up of six seniors, nine juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen. Two of them are girls.

“We’re always looking for new talent and encourage parents to look into the sport if their kids enjoy skating,” Hale added. “As long as they can skate, we welcome absolute beginners to join us to check out the sport.”

Hale admits getting kids into hockey can be a little more expensive than many sports. But he says there are ways to save on used equipment.

Jeff Elwell was a member of the very first Murray Spartan hockey team, created in 1984.

“I believe ours is the longest running, uninterrupted Utah high school hockey team there is,” he said. “But as far as I know, this year’s team is the first to go to nationals.”