SALT LAKE CITY — Utah hockey, you’ve come a long way, sport.
At least that was the message at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex, which will host most of the games for the USA Hockey High School National Championships, March 21-25, 2012, it was announced Thursday. The Maverik Center will host the title game.
The media event of the announcement was made complete by a slap-shot hitting contest that included Salt Lake County mayor Peter Corroon and Utah high school hockey’s only NHL product, Trevor Lewis.
It was fun to see a polished longtime polition like Corroon gliding along the ice, slapping the puck into the net — decked out in a suit and jacket, no less.
“The suit makes me play better,” joked Corroon, who grew up playing hockey, which he calls the greatest team sport.
Corroon, a lefty, hit 56 miles per hour on the speed gun. The only celebrities to best him were Utah Grizzlies mascot Grizzbee (69) and Lewis (85).
It wasn’t a surprise to see Lewis doing so well, his steady rise to the NHL hit its highest mark yet with a strong showing for the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. See his player page here.
The 24-year-old, in just his first full NHL season, scored a goal and dished out three assists in just six playoff games.
Lewis moved up from the fourth line to the second line because of an injury to Kings top player Anze Kopitar.
“I was ready for the challenge,” he said. “It was a whole another atmosphere, it was crazy, but it was so much fun.”
It’s a whole new atmosphere for Utah hockey to be part of the national scene.
“It’s growing a lot,” Lewis said. “Only a couple of camps a year when I was playing. Now there’s a lot of camps, and I think it really helps. There’s a lot more coaches and a lot more teams.”
Corron said it’s only fitting that the state will be hosting about 1,100 players, coaches, referees, tournament officials and fans.
“Utah is the winter sports capital of the United States,” he said. “In the past (Utah) hasn’t been known as a hockey (hotbed), but now it is.”
Hosting the Olympics sure had something to do with it — and it sure made a difference for Lewis. He watched five or six games in 2002.
“That’s kind of the point where I really pushing myself to play professional hockey,” he said before hitting the ice and playing with a few dozen junior hockey players.
Does he have any advice for them?
“I would say: ‘Play everything, that’s what I kind of did, and I picked the one I loved. I say give it a chance. You never know what you’re going to be best at and what you’re going to love.”
Want more hockey? See Brad Rock’s column on the event.
Update: Click here to see video.
My fastest slap shot, by the way was 34 mph.