Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Suns pull out all stops, nearly upset the Moose

Jackson Hole sweeps 8-3, 6-5, but Suns don't back down

Express Staff Writer

Underdogs all the way, out-manned and carrying a short bench, the Sun Valley Suns men's hockey team lost two games but did itself proud last weekend during a visit to Jackson Hole to play the Moose.

Simply put, the mismatch was like a 14th seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament going up against a third seed and expecting to win. Jackson Hole was certainly the favorite and Sun Valley was really up against it.

The Suns, down seven players including their starting goalie and five others with a combined 45 years of Suns experience, were a little embarrassed by Friday's 8-3 loss to the Moose. Saturday was a different story in Wyoming.

Saturday's game at Snow King Center, the season finale for the Moose and the retirement game for Moose goalie Mark Morningstar, went down to the wire before Jackson Hole prevailed 6-5. But the Suns out-shot the Moose 23-9 in the third.

Vilnis Nikolaisons (4 goals weekend) and Ryan McDonald each scored two goals Saturday, and defenseman Chris Warrington added a great shorthanded tally, as the Suns (11-5-1) rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to put a major scare into the Moose (14-7-1).

Suns captain Frank Salvoni said, "I'm so proud of everyone on the team for bearing down—down seven guys and everything and all of a sudden it's a one-goal game. The defense played great, in fact, everybody stepped up and did not only their own jobs, but helped out the others as well."

Coach Chris Benson said, "We could have rolled over but everybody showed huge heart."

On crutches but helping the team in Jackson, injured captain John Stevens added, "I couldn't be more proud of our team." Assistant coach John Ellison Sr. said, "The boys showed great heart—they just came up a little short."

Probably no Suns player had more of the weight of the world on his shoulders than 24-year-old John Bidon, the 6-2, 230-pound back-up Suns goalie from St. Paul, Minn. who got the start with #1 goalie Ryan Thomson (knee) sidelined.

Bidon had played only one game in the net for the Suns this season, on Jan. 14. He had skated on a forward line more than he had played between the pipes. Suddenly, the Moose were bearing down on him.

"Jackson Hole is really fast. Their team speed is outstanding. They move the puck well and fly around the ice and always seem to have a screen guy," Bidon said. "It was tough to lose Ryan Thomson, but I wanted to come in and do my best for the team."

Bidon had a rough introduction Friday. The Moose scored twice in the first two minutes and ended up with six different scorers in their 8-3 victory. Several of the scores were so-called "soft goals," pucks bouncing or sliding that somehow went into the net.

"It took a while to get the cobwebs out," said Bidon. After the tough loss, Bidon had the option of sitting down Saturday and handing the reins to veteran David Stone. But Bidon wanted to play and told Benson just that. "I wanted another shot at them," he said.

Bidon, eager for the challenge, stepped up big time with 32 saves, many in key situations. He said, "We had a short bench and were short-staffed with only four defensemen, and Jackson had a full house, but we took it to them Saturday.

"You have to be physical with Jackson Hole and you have to be able to knock them off their routes. And our players did that.

"Jake (veteran defenseman Glotfelty) made some great hits. Chris (Warrington) made some great rushes and carried the puck well. Vilnis (Nikolaisons) and Ivars (Muzis) were very physical. We got out of the weekend with a little respect."

Warrington earned the weekend's "George Jacket," for his work and Glotfelty, in his final games of the 2004-05 season before going up to Alaska, earned a salute from his coach.

Benson said, "It was great having Jake back this year. He didn't miss a beat from his back injury three years ago. He's tough as nails and deceptively fast—definitely one of the more solid defensemen I've played with during my time with the Suns."

On offense, Nikolaisons stepped up after being shut out on the scoresheet during the 5-1 Suns loss and 4-4 tie at McCall March 11-12.

Vilnis was feisty and scored twice Friday. He moved from line to line, going from the veteran line to the youth corps, and scored two more Saturday.

With the Suns trailing 3-0 Friday, Nikolaisons popped home a pass from Salvoni making it 3-1. Trevor Thomas, fore-checking from side to side, caused a rare Moose turnover that Nikolaisons turned into an unassisted goal cutting the Moose lead to 4-2. But the Moose scored the next four to ice it.

Doing much of the Moose damage was the line centered by captain Joe Casey, the Denver University product who traveled but didn't play due to a blood clot in his leg when the Moose dropped 8-0 and 4-1 decisions at Sun Valley Jan. 7-8.

Casey's line with wings Sean Hannafin and Bryan Hannafin accounted for 15 of the 30 Moose points—Sean Hannafin getting the hat trick Friday.

Saturday was the swan song for former Suns player Morningstar, 30, the Pennsylvanian from King of Prussia and Canisius College who had been so good in the net when the Moose have beaten the Suns in the past. And "Star" needed all of his glitter to win Saturday.

Terrific forechecking and crack Suns defense that stopped the Moose in the neutral zone kept the game scoreless until the final minute, when a tipped shot by Sean Hannafin caromed past Bidon for a 1-0 Moose lead.

Casey's line struck twice more early in the second, but McDonald got his team on the board with a nice head fake to wing Scott Winkler and a blast from the center of the ice for a 3-1 game. With seven seconds left in the second, Nikolaisons waited until his teammate was in the crease and whipped a high shot past Morningstar from just inside the blue line.

"We decided that the way to beat Morningstar was to put someone in front of him that he had to worry about," said assistant coach Ellison.

Early in the third, long and lanky assistant captain Warrington streaked in and beat Morningstar for his team-leading third shorthanded goal of the season, and a 4-3 game. The Suns pummeled Morningstar with shots, but "Star" held his ground until his teammates broke through with two goals on a turnover and a one-timer.

Less than a minute remained when first Nikolaisons, and then McDonald, slipped behind the Moose defense for a pair of hanger breakaways that made the final 6-5 in favor of the Moose.

"It's still a loss, but hopefully this effort will carry us for our last four games," Salvoni said afterwards.

For the hockey line score and more details on the weekend series in Jackson Hole plus updated Suns season stats, check today's Express Web site.

Moose 8, Suns 3

Sun Valley Suns 1 1 1 3
Jackson Hole Moose 3 3 2 8

FIRST PERIOD—(1) Moose, Sean Hannafin 15 (Bryan Hannafin, Aaron Ackley), 0:16. (2) Moose, Bryan Hannafin 16 (Ackley, Sean Hannafin), 1:50. (3) Moose, Sean Hannafin 16 (unassisted), 11:32. (4) SV, Vilnis Nikolaisons 9 (Chris Benson, Frank Salvoni), 13:30.

SECOND PERIOD—(5) Moose, Sean Hannafin 17 (Joe Casey), 3:49, power play and hat trick goal. (6) SV, Nikolaisons 10 (unassisted), 7:24. (7) Moose, T.J. Thomas 6 (Dustin Stolp, Ben Parkin), 9:31. (8) Moose, Aaron Hamby 2 (unassisted), 13:19, power play goal.

THIRD PERIOD—(9) Moose, Stolp 5 (unassisted), 2:12. (10) Moose, Casey 18 (Ackley), 15:28. (11) SV, Scott Winkler 18 (Nikolaisons, Josh Jacobson), 16:49.

SHOTS ON GOAL—Sun Valley 8-12-9 for 29; Jackson Hole 12-15-9 for 36.

GOALIES—SV, John Bidon (28 saves, 1-1-0 season record); Jackson Hole, Ryan Fredericks (26 saves).

NOTES—The final score was 8-3, but it was only 4-2 when the Ryan Mcdonald forward line applied tremendous pressure on a power play midway through the second period. McDonald and Ryan Enrico had excellent chances, but Moose goalie Ryan Fredericks came up big. If the Suns had scored, it would have been 4-3 and possibly a different game....Suns coach Chris Benson argued unsuccessfully that Bryan Hannafin should have been thrown out of the game and ejected for Saturday because of his tussle with Vilnis Nikolaisons late in the second period. Nikolaisons picked up a rare 10-minute penalty and Hannafin got only the five-minutes fighting major. Later in the game, in the third period, Bryan Winkler of the Suns and Dustin Stolp of the Moose were tossed for fighting, but high-level negotiations ensued and only Stolp was prevented from playing Saturday—and he wasn't going to play anyway because he had to work downtown in the bars....Goalie John Bidon made some excellent saves in the third period to prevent a blowout.....Suns forward lines were Ryan Enrico-Ryan McDonald-Scott Winkler, Frank Salvoni-Chris Benson-Vilnis Nikolaisons, Trevor Thomas-Bryan Winkler-Caleb Baukol. Defensemen were Ivars Muzis-Jake Glotfelty, Chris Warrington-Josh Jacobson. The Suns were playing without Kris Webster and Normunds Krepss on defense, and Jamie Ellison, John Stevens, Paul Baranzelli and John Miller up front......Moose lines were Bryan Hannafin-Joe Casey-Sean Hannafin, Dustin Stolp-T.J. Thomas-Ben Parkin, Adam Kaping-Chris Demarco-Gregg Gripentrog. Defensemen were Aaron Ackley, Aaron Hamby, John Bradford, John Curry and Tim Gibbons.

Moose 6, Suns 5

Sun Valley Suns 0 2 3 5
Jackson Hole Moose 1 3 2 6

FIRST PERIOD—(1) Moose, Sean Hannafin 18 (Aaron Ackley), 19:12.

SECOND PERIOD—(2) Moose, Joe Casey 19 (Aaron Hamby), 3:30. (3) Moose, Casey 20 (Bryan Hannafin, Sean Hannafin), 6:14. (4) SV, Ryan McDonald 10 (Jake Glotfelty), 14:28. (5) Moose, T.J. Thomas 7 (unassisted), 19:15. (6) SV, Vilnis Nikolaisons 11 (Chris Warrington, Glotfelty), 19:53, power play goal.

THIRD PERIOD—(7) SV, Warrington 6 (McDonald), 6:14, shorthanded goal. (8) Moose, Sean Hannafin 19 (Casey, Hamby), 14:37. (9) Moose, Thomas 8 (Ackley, Hamby), 16:20. (10) SV, Nikolaisons 12 (Glotfelty, John Bidon), 19:14, shorthanded goal. (11) SV, McDonald 11 (Scott Winkler), 19:46.

SHOTS ON GOAL—Sun Valley 5-6-23 for 34; Jackson Hole 10-19-9 for 38.

GOALIES—SV, John Bidon (32 saves, 1-2-0 season record); Jackson Hole, Mark Morningstar (29 saves).

NOTES—During the third period, Nikolaisons decided he'd like to skate on the right wing with Ryan Enrico and Ryan McDonald, so Scott Winkler moved to the right wing on center Chris Benson's line with left wing Frank Salvoni. Winkler, still hurting from his recent hyperextended knee, played bravely against the Moose and didn't shy away from much. One of his buddies, James Keller, provided the Suns with a little more depth tonight......Suns season point leaders through 17 games are Ryan Enrico (12-18 for 30), Vilnis Nikolaisons (12-17 for 29) Jamie Ellison (9-19 for 28), and Scott Winkler (18-8 for 26). Check this week's Express Web site for up-to-date Suns season statistics (11-5-1 overall) through 17 games......The Moose (14-7-1) improved their advantage to 24-11-1 over the Suns in the eight-year, 36-game series. Tonight's was only the eighth 1-goal decision among the 36 games, and the Moose have a 5-3 edge in that department. Overall they have outscored the Suns 201-157 (5.6 to 4.4)....When the Moose visited Sun Valley in January, they played without Joe Casey, Chris Demarco, T.J. Thomas, Dustin Stolp and Gregg Gripentrog.....Top Moose scorers on the weekend were Sean Hannafin (5 goals and 2 assists), defenseman Aaron Ackley (0-5) and Casey (3-2). For the season, Moose leaders were Bryan Hannafin (16-26 for 42), Joe Casey (20-16 for 36), Sean Hannafin (19-14 for 33) and Gripentrog (22-10 for 32)......The Suns did a good job keeping Gripentrog off the scoresheet this weekend....Suns coach Chris Benson, mystified all weekend with some of the officiating, couldn't believe that Gripentrog didn't get the gate for a third-man in, during the first period. Gripentrog drew a roughing minor instead.....The Suns are winless in their last four games after a nine-game mid-season winning streak.....Update on Suns career statistics. Linemates Nikolaisons (114 goals and 181 assists) and Jamie Ellison (110-190) have 295 and 300 points respectively. Ellison was expected to test out his injured shoulder at tonight's Suns practice to see if he can play against the Minnesota All-Stars this weekend....Morningstar had 14 goals and 10 assists in one season playing for the Suns—which happened to be Sun Valley's 19-12-1 national championship winter of 1997-98. His mother and wife Becky, with five-month-old daughter Marin, watched 30-year-old Morningstar play his final game for the Moose. His mother said Morningstar had played hockey since he was five and goalie since he was seven. He played minor league hockey in Jacksonville, Fla. and Indiana before heading west. The first couple of years in Jackson Hole, 6-0, 200-pound Morningstar played forward, but returned to his spot between the pipes in the winter of 2001....Suns defenseman Jake Glotfelty ended his season with 3 assists....The Moose out-pointed the Suns 30-19 and outscored their visitors 14-8, quite a difference from back in January, when a shorthanded Moose team was outscored by the Suns 12-1 and out-pointed 33-3.

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