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The Salt Lake Tribune - Hockey returns to university after ban

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When J.M. Lecointre first decided to spearhead the organization of a club hockey team at the University of Utah, he realized the task would be nearly impossible.

The previous team had been shut down in March 2003 after committing repeated infractions of university rules. Convincing university administration and the campus recreation department his new team would be markedly different than the old one would be easier said than done.

"The first time we called in the summer, and asked about starting a hockey team, all we got was a resounding no," Lecointre said.

Despite being rebuffed, Lecointre persisted throughout the fall semester. He and fellow University of Utah student Jason Petho set up meetings with officials from the campus recreation department and university administrators. Lecointre and Petho used much of their spare time to sell their vision and plans for the team.

Ultimately, all the meetings paid off. This semester, the University of Utah approved forming a new hockey club team for the 2006-07 school year with Lecointre as club president.

Restarting a hockey team proved complicated largely because of the unsavory reputation the previous Skatin' Utes had built.

In March 2003, University of Utah administrators handed the team a two-year suspension and dropped hockey from its club sport ranks.

Administrators cited repeated violations of university rules and other detrimental conduct as reasons for their decision.

The decision proved costly. Utah was moving to Division I, the highest level of competition in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), for the 2003-04 season. The Skatin' Utes were also in the process of putting together a new league, Hockey West, that also included Arizona, BYU, Arizona State, Colorado, Weber State, Colorado State and Utah State.

In one of their initial meetings with administrators, Lecointre and Petho were presented with a list of infractions committed by the previous hockey team dating back two years.

The violations included team members allegedly fighting with fans in the stands, arrests on road trips, flying to games in private planes not covered by university insurance and the misuse of a rented van.

Administrators thought those actions stirred up negative publicity and cast the University of Utah in a bad light

"That's why we got a no the first time we called," Lecointre said. "They heard hockey and absolutely said, 'We're not putting up with that again.' "

Lecointre made it clear his plans were in line with what administrators wanted. He and Petho drew up a constitution for the club, which included language addressing critical issues in order to win support for the proposed team.

"Our constitution stresses in numerous different places our commitment to upholding the guidelines campus [recreation] has set for us, the university code of conduct, the player code of conduct and our own code of conduct. It's more than just not getting in fights when you're playing hockey," Lecointre said.

Ready to Skate

Lecointre and Petho succeeded in gaining permission this semester to field a new hockey club team next fall. But their work is far from over. They still need to secure funding from the Associated Students of the University of Utah and are recruiting players who will uphold the standards they have set for the club.

"We're on thin ice right now as it is," Petho said. "One screw-up and it could end our entire progress for the past few years."

Finding the right coach is a top priority as well. Lecointre said they plan to be equally selective in putting together a coaching staff as they are in recruiting players.

"That coach has to understand he works for the club leadership," Lecointre said. "His decisions - we're accountable for all of that. So finding a coach that knows it's our necks on the line - we're the ones who have put ourselves out there and that we're ultimately responsible for this - [is important]."

Both Petho and Lecointre have a strong enough hockey background to build a club that will prosper after they've graduated. Petho helped start a successful hockey team at Ramsey High in his hometown of Ramsey, N.J. Lecointre works as an assistant coach at Brighton - one of the most successful high school teams in the state.

Steven Kern, who is the faculty adviser for the new team, believes the new Skatin' Utes can succeed and grow under their capable leadership.

"The two students who are leading this effort are serious about creating a quality program and avoiding problems of the past," Kern said in an e-mail. "They will set the tenor for the club through their leadership. As long as the team maintains that commitment, I am happy to be involved."

The U. will resume play in the ACHA at a Division II level. Travel funds may be limited during the first season, so the team will likely focus on scheduling games with other in-state teams. Lecointre is working on arranging a three-game series with BYU, Utah Valley State, Utah State and Weber State.

Taking the ice again 

* University of Utah administrators approved a new club team for hockey nearly three years after shutting the previous team down.

* The old Utah Skatin' Utes hockey team received a two-year suspension and was disbanded after repeated violations of university rules.

* Utah will compete in ACHA Division II starting in the 2006-07 season.

Authors

John Coon
The Salt Lake Tribune
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