Thursday was already scheduled to be a big sports day in Utah, with the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University all scheduled to start their college football seasons.
But Trevor Lewis' arrival with the Stanley Cup is providing a nice boost for area hockey fans.
A prep hockey star growing up in Salt Lake City, the Los Angeles Kings center became the first Utah native to have his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup. So on his day with the trophy, Lewis decided to bring it back to Salt Lake City, where he starred at Brighton High School before joining the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League as a 17-year-old. And for a growing hockey community, it's a very big deal.
"I think it's exciting. The people who are in hockey in Salt Lake love the game and are very dedicated," said Steve Konowalchuk, the former Colorado Avalanche player and coach who became the first Utah player to skate in the NHL when he laced up for the Washington Capitals in 1992. "I hope it makes some headlines and gets some exposure for the sport in Salt Lake City."
Lewis' day with the Cup will include a lengthy public event at the Maverick Center, home of the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. A special day for Lewis and hockey fans across the state, it could prove to be a seminal moment for the sport, which has seen tremendous growth in the region.
"When I played [in Utah], there were three ice rinks. So the accessibility has definitely grown and the opportunity for kids is better," said Konowalchuk, who serves as coach of the Western Hockey League's Seattle Thunderbirds. "The areas that have really taken off in minor hockey are in Colorado and Phoenix, where they have an NHL team. The [2002 Salt Lake City Winter] Olympics helped. That was a big boost for getting more ice rinks out there."
With a member of a championship team bringing the Cup to Utah for the first time, there are signs of recent growth for the sport in the state. Last season, Utah State's club team posted its best record since joining the ACHA in 2006. The Utes will also be hosting the Pac-8 Championship in 2014.
With Salt Lake products Richard Bachman and Dylan Olsen seeing their first sizeable NHL action last season with the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively, every indication is that hockey is making waves in Utah.
Konowalchuk still sees room for more growth.
"Colorado and Arizona have programs that really have taken off and can compete with anybody in the country. Utah hasn't kept up," Konowalchuk told NHL.com. "With the Cup going there, [it shows] there is a way. If you want it, you can make it."
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