For Juan Diego Catholic High School hockey, this year was a case of the little team that could. The 14-member team manned mainly by younger players managed to keep up with the best of the competition throughout the season, ending in third place out of 29 high school hockey varsity teams with 14-3 record.
“We are the smallest numbered team in the state with just 14,” coach Moe van der Sluys said. “Technically we could join other schools, but we wanted to play as Juan Diego.”
In fact, for several years prior to the 2021-22 season, Juan Diego students were members of the unaffiliated Oquirrh team because there were not enough Soaring Eagle players to field a team.
This season, the Soaring Eagle players were dedicated to the team, but “whether it was commitments to other sports, or academics or injury or other reasons, we did not have one game this year where we had all 14 there, so we were playing shorthanded all year,” van der Sluys said.
This also meant that most skaters had to be on the ice much longer than is standard, he added.
Several of these challenges came together in the semifinal game against Park City Feb. 22 at the Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center, where the Soaring Eagle team was defeated 0-13.
“We were so shorthanded, with injuries, a suspension — it was in the middle of the snowstorm so some players couldn’t make it — so it was very difficult,” van der Sluys said.
Despite that finish to the season, van der Sluys couldn’t be prouder of his team for making it to the semifinals, he said. “To end third in the state was better than we thought we would do when we started the season, because we knew that the competition was so strong. That was the first time we reached the semifinals in a Juan Diego jersey since we won the state championship back in 2004. For us to go that deep in the playoffs was very, very impressive.”
Although Juan Diego lost to Park City, a three-time state champion, in that game, they had previously beaten them 2-1 in a shootout on Feb. 10. Van der Sluys and his team consider that the highlight of their season. “It went all the way through overtime, and it went into a 10-round shoot out and we beat them,” he said. “That was their first loss in four years.”
Several players contributed significantly to the team’s strong season, the coach said. Sophomore Wyatt Hanna, who was named the league’s MVP, finished highest in both goals (46) and points (60). “He is a commanding player; he really changes the dynamic of the team whether he is playing defense, whether he is playing offense because he can do both so well,” van der Sluys said. “He was really the go-to person when we needed clutch goals, when we needed goals at the right time.”
While senior Tommy Filidore battled illness this season, “when he was on the ice he was a difference-maker,” van der Sluys said, adding that “Matt Odell (junior) just really stepped up and helped keep the team going.”
Odell finished the season with 21 goals, the second-best score on the team. His younger brother, sophomore Jacob Odell, led the team in assists (21) and was the second highest in points (35). Goalie Aidan Janiga, a freshman, led the state with 14 wins.
All five players were named to the Allstar team along with William Conley (sophomore).
Juan Diego will lose two seniors to graduation – Tommy Filidore (captain) and Jackson Tenzer – so van der Sluys has high hopes for a better team showing next season, he said.
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