For the week of February 17, 1999  thru February 23, 1999  

Suns survive sudden-death shootout 8-7

Stone is a rock, Hebert scores winner

Thanks to assistant captain Phil Hebert, forward John Stevens and goalie David Stone, the Sun Valley Suns ended up on the winning end of a crowd-pleasing overtime shootout 8-7 over the Michigan Jets Friday at Sun Valley Skating Center.

The sudden-death triumph sparked the Suns to a two-game sweep over the Jets. Sun Valley spotted Michigan a 2-0 lead Saturday and poured in 5 unanswered goals for a 5-2 victory—the 400th win in the 24-year history of the Suns.

Suns coach Tim Jeneson was impressed with his team’s third two-game sweep of the 1998-99 campaign.

He said, "They were the best two games we’ve played this year. And Michigan was a good team. They won the national 35-and-over non-checking tournament championship last spring in Las Vegas."

Friday’s game had a thrilling finish, chiefly because Stevens fought off two Jets defenders on the power play and swept the puck past Michigan goalie Tom Nowland for a 4-4 tie with seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.

That’s the way the game ended. Instead of playing overtime periods, the Suns decided last year to resolve tie games with shootouts. Sun Valley lost its first shootout to the Bozeman Lumberjacks 6-4 a year ago, with Stone in the net. And Stone was the man on the spot again Friday night.

"David was strong in the goal, especially in the shootout," Jeneson said.

Indeed, Stone made five huge shootout saves for his first win of the season.

Michigan missed its first shot in the five-player shootout, then leading Suns scorer Vilnis Nikolaisons (14 goals and 14 assists) put the cap on his first 3-goal "hat trick" in a Suns uniform with a goal for a 1-0 Suns advantage.

Jets forward Charlie Waters finished his own hat trick for a 1-1 tie, then Chris Benson shot wide. Stone went to his knees to keep Don Krussman’s shot in front of the goal, and Billy Tryder couldn’t get good wood on his one-on-one try.

Two shooters remained for each team.

Michigan’s Chris Delabbio beat Stone high on the glove side. Home fans moaned when Jake Glotfelty just missed the corner of the Jets net.

All the Jets needed was one more goal. Dan Gardiner gave it his best, but Stone blocked Gardiner’s shot with his shoulder. The pressure was on fourth-year Suns utility man Stevens. He had to score or the game was over.

Stevens skated the length-of-the-ice, gathering speed and determination. His low, hard shot blasted through Michigan goalie Tom Nowland and into the net. Stevens pumped his fist as he circled the boards. His goal had evened the shootout 2-2 and sent the decision into sudden death.

Next, Stone used his glove to deflect Don Delabbio’s shot. Nowland stopped Mikael Reijo’s attempt with his stick.

Once again, Michigan seized the advantage when Doug Hervey skated left and deked Stone with a backhander. But Suns newcomer Ivars Muzis was the man, top-shelving a great shot that lifted Nowland’s water bottle sky high.

Crunch time.

Stone’s right leg was unmovable, kicking out Dave Roegner’s shot. It was Phil Hebert’s turn and he made no mistake, swinging to the left and beating Nowland on the short side.

Ball game.

"We’re still a step behind, but we’re finding a way to get it done," said Jeneson.

Saturday night, Suns goalie Tony Benson stopped all 24 Jets shots in the second and third periods while his teammates chipped away on the offensive end.

Nikolaisons (7 weekend points) got the ball rolling in the second period. First-year skaters Ben Allen and Johnny Bea put the Suns on top 3-2, Stevens feeding Bea for the eventual game-winning goal.

Chris Benson and Jamie Ellison finished the scoring as the Suns outshot Michigan 49-38. It was the 80th career win for ninth-year goalie Benson (5-0, 3.80 goals against).

Green Mill coming

The Suns (10-4) clash with another national tournament contender Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19-20 when Minneapolis Green Mill comes to Sun Valley ice. Opening faceoffs are 7 p.m.

Jeneson, realizing Green Mill will be tough, has good memories of Sun Valley’s only other meeting with the Minnesota sextet. Those occurred last April 3 at Fond du Lac, Wisc. during the USA Hockey Senior U.S. National Championship tournament.

It was a critical contest for Sun Valley, which had lost its opening game of the full-checking tourney 3-2 to Portage Lake—the Michigan team the Suns eventually beat 5-2 for the national title.

Jeneson recalled, "The game against Green Mill at nationals was the game we had to win to stay alive. It was probably the best game this team has ever played."

Nursing a slim 4-3 lead with 15 minutes to play, Sun Valley blew it open with 3 unanswered goals by Mich Michon, Hebert and Chris Benson in a seven-minute span. Sun Valley prevailed 7-3, then won its next two games 7-3 and 6-4 prior to the finale.

Jeneson said, "Green Mill won the Senior U.S. National tournament two years ago. We better pick it up a notch when we play them."


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