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Image: David Imonti

Park City’s dizzying array of after-dark diversions includes fine dining, live music, and theatre to name just a few. But for a slightly less high-brow (and spendy) evening in the Park, head over to the Park City Ice Arena (600 Gilmore Way, 435.615.5700) to cheer on Park City’s hometown stick handlers, the PC Pioneers. 

The team, co-founded by the current manager David Imonti, first took to the ice in 2009. “We felt there was a need for some sort of winter entertainment between dinner and closing time at the bars in town,” Imonti says. “Ice hockey is both family-friendly and appealing to the bar crowd. And we do sell beer at the games,” he adds.

The Pioneers are a “senior elite” club, meaning they are a semi-pro team made up of top amateurs, collegiate, and minor league players from the US, Canada, and Europe. “We get our share of ‘ringers’ as well, pros coming out of the NHL ranks looking for a way to wind down their careers before transitioning into reality and having to grow up,” grins Imonti.

The Pioneers also play teams as part of the larger Mountain West Hockey League, which includes clubs haling from Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. Games against sister ski town teams—bearing colorful names like the Jackson Hole Moose, the Vail Yetis, the Aspen Leafs, and the Bozeman Stingers—are particularly entertaining. “They’re our best and biggest competitors,” Imonti says.
For the players, the team fills the fairly wide gap between professional and minor league play. “They’re tired of playing for 200 bucks a week on a low-level, minor league team. We give them a solid place to play for a full season at a higher level and make a little money, too. We help them find jobs at local ski resorts and retail shops. Some of our guys work as teachers in the school district. About half the Pioneers players live and work in Park City,” Imonti says.

As you might expect from their pedigree, the Pioneers play a fast and very physical game—much to the delight of the 300-plus fans who come out for every home game. “We’re in a sport where we’re skating really fast and running into people at full speed. Tempers are bound to flare. We do get into a few fights on the ice,” Imonti admits. He says players come to blows about once a game, and sometimes more often against traditional rivals. “It’s just one of those things that settles differences really quick and keeps players honest. Hockey players are quite willing to stand up for their teammates.” However the Pioneers get it done, their strategy seems to be working: they’ve been ranked as state champions for the past four years. 

Admission to PC Pioneers hockey games is $8 for adults, $5 for children, and $3 for resort workers with ID. For schedule details, visit pcpioneershockey.com.

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