By Brandon Judd
Darkness and a foot of snow shipped them out on a bus, and the same darkness welcomed them home.
In between, the IceCat hockey team plastered three Southern California teams and spent this past weekend bonding and enjoying life in sunny California.
Lucky for me, I had a front-row seat.
After traveling with the Cats on the four-day trip, I learned a lot about the heart of this team. The IceCats are dedicated to their game. Though I knew the players pay for their own equipment and have to fend for themselves on road trips, I didn”t know how big of a heart each and every player had.
During the three-game sweep of USC, UCLA and Long Beach State, the IceCats never trailed for a second. Against the Bruins, the Cats outshot UCLA 73-29. The IceCats outscored their opposition over the three days 13-5. From someone who has watched literally over a thousand BYU sporting events in my lifetime, I have never seen such a dominating stretch of games – ever.
Most impressive, however, was the game against USC. The Trojans came into the game on a 24-game winning streak and boasting a No. 3 ranking in the West Region of Division II. But that was no problem for the Cats, who dismantled the talented USC squad, outskating and outhustling the Trojans on their home ice. IceCat head coach Walt Mehr said it was by far the best game of the year.
Ever heard of Hockeygiant.com? These guys have, and it was exciting being there with them as the players searched the store. Their eyes lit up as they checked out the skates and hockey equipment, in addition to other hockey paraphernalia. I caught the fever, nearly buying a $100 throwback hockey jersey of the Toronto St. Pats. I somehow resisted the urge, but I have their Web site address just in case.
After making the trip, it is also obvious that the players on this team are dedicated to their religion and living it. I”ve been on trips with other teams before, and never have I been so welcomed and accepted.
I felt a part of the experience when the team went to the opening of Miracle, the Disney movie about the 1980 USA hockey team. Every time we stopped for food, I was surrounded by hockey players who weren”t afraid to converse and share their life with a shy journalist from Utah. I was particularly impressed with how the team was adamant about making it to church Sunday, and grateful for IceCat Randy Kannas for being willing to lend a shirt and tie to a forgetful packer like me.
These men treated everyone they met with respect and displayed the type of behavior that all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should. They showed the class and dignity many people assume isn”t a part of a hockey player”s psyche.
The crowds that welcomed the IceCats were amazing. All three nights, BYU fans outnumbered fans for the home teams. After the Long Beach State game, young fans stood outside the locker room waiting for autographs, and family members cherished every moment they had with their boys before they made the trip back to Utah.
A particularly impressive trio of fans traveled from Provo to go out and support the IceCats on the road. These girls were loud and proud of their team at every game, a perfect example of devoted fanship.
Before going any further, I have to admit hockey families rock. I enjoyed watching the Burkart parents cheer on their two sons; Jon Burkart, the father, standing out in his classy BYU hockey jersey and voicing his expertise on the game.
Seeing the light in the eyes of Chris and Mary Hexberg was special after they saw their son, Chris “Haws” Hexberg, get a shutout of UCLA in the hockey rink that he played in growing up.
Of course, there were the lighter moments, too. For example, it was a kick to see Daren O”Bray teach Owen Beaudry, one of the assistant coaches sons, and Jessica Shelley, the massage therapist, how to climb a palm tree when the team visited the ocean. Watching videos on the bus was also a treat as I became educated on how entertaining the Don Cherry Rock”em Sock”em video series is.
Then there was the bus driver, Jim. Not only was he willing to carry the team to wherever they pleased – sometimes having to backtrack to get to the desired destination – Jim always had a smile and something funny to say. I”ll never forget his council that you should be careful what you choose to do because you are going to make memories.
After a trip like this, the IceCats have the utmost respect from this sports journalist.