It was a blazing season opener for the Sun Valley Suns this past weekend as the home team routed the Park City Generals 7-4, 9-2 on the Utah's first trip to the Wood River Valley.
Suns forward Jamie Ellison was the offensive spark, igniting his team with four goals and three assists on the weekend, leading the Sun's offense with physical play and a fiery intensity that overpowered even far larger Park City players.
Ellison had two goals on Friday and Saturday night, and was assisted each time by a line-up of other major Suns contributors including captain Chris Warrington (2/3), natural goal scorer Paul Baranzelli 2/3), alternate captain Vilnus Nikolaisons (0/3) and Kris Webster (0/2). Scott Winkler was also instrumental with three goals and an assist.
Though Benson mixed up his lines throughout the series, the starting trio of Ellison, Baranzelli and Nikolaisons has already shown itself to be the leading assembly of Suns power as the season gets underway.
Despite the lopsided final scores, Park City was competitive, especially in each game's early going. On Friday night, the Generals established a 3-2 lead with a tie-breaking goal at 3:12 of the first period.
Ellison was the player who started the Suns' rally that night, scoring his first of two and the first of five unanswered Sun Valley goals as the team finally found their rhythm in the second half of the second stanza.
"It takes a little while to get the legs going," said defenseman Eric Demment of his team's slow start.
Following Ellison's lead, Caleb Baukol, Baranzelli and Winkler each found the net during Friday night's explosive second period.
Park City was far from absent, however. Sun Valley Head Coach Chris Benson was quick to point out that the Generals brought a good game to Sun Valley and were solid competition, but Friday night it was his goalie who made the difference. Suns goalie Ryan Thompson saw his best play just as his team was also stepping up, stopping 26 of 27 shots in the finals two periods.
Thompson "had big saves that kept it close when it could have turned in their favor," said Head Suns Coach Chris Benson.
The Generals would get one more goal halfway through the third, but it wasn't enough as the Suns were already basking in a 7-3 lead.
Saturday night saw events unfold in a similar, though even more flawless fashion for the Suns.
Sun Valley dropped the first goal just 13 seconds into the game, but again came back, this time with eight unanswered goals.
The early slip-up was a bad first impression for new Suns goalie Colin Zulianello who comes to Sun Valley with four years of professional experience under his pads.
Zulianello was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes and played two years with a Coyote farm team in Springfield, Massachusetts, before eventually landing in Boise last year as a Steelhead. He has also played with American Hockey League teams in Long Beach and San Diego, California.
With saves on the next 24 shots he faced after the early allowed goal, Zulianello proved his talent and the asset he should be for the 05-06 season.
But, he was quick to credit his new teammates for his success on Saturday.
"The guys played well in front of me -- they made it easy," he said. He added that he is excited to bring his game to Sun Valley, a team he described as "a classy organization."
Zulianello lives in Boise, but said he will be driving to Sun Valley for home games and hopefully for a weekly practice session as well.
Benson pulled Zulianello for the third period after the goalie was showing signs of stiffness due to a pulled groin muscle.
"It's been my nemesis for most of my professional career," he said of the nagging injury. Zulianello gave the sign to Benson when he stopped for a stretch near the end of the second period.
Zulianello's was, unfortunately, not the only Suns injury on Saturday evening. Ivars Muzis was taken off the ice with a gash above his left eye after he took a blow from the butt end of a Park City stick. Benson said that Muzis received 15 stitches, but showed no signs of concussion, only dissatisfaction that his recently ordered visor did not arrive in Sun Valley in time for the game.
Despite the injuries, the Suns cruised to a 9-2 victory on Saturday with multiple players chipping in. Demment scored the fifth goal on a hard shot from the point, assisted by Baranzelli and Ellison in a team effort typical of the team's second win.
Next up for the Suns is the annual alumni game on Friday, Dec. 23 featuring past, present and future players mixing it up in a fun exhibition.
The next Suns home series has McCall traveling to Sun Valley on Dec. 30 for a New Years face-off.
Scoring Results vs. Park City:
Ellison 4/3, Warrington 2/3, Baranzelli 2/3, Winkler 3/1, John Stevens 1/2, Nikolaisons 0/3, Ryan Enrico 1/1, Webster 0/2, Muzis 1/1, Demment 1/1, Kellen Chatterton 0/2, Baukol 1/0, John Bidon 0/1.