Having played four early-season games against the Jackson Hole Moose, the visiting Manchester Mountaineers from McCall were a little more battle-tested than the Sun Valley Suns hockey team Friday.
It showed in the final score, as McCall overcame a 2-1 deficit and scored the game winner with less than three minutes remaining to beat the Suns 4-3 before a sold-out house of nearly 600 snow-saturated fans at Sun Valley Skating Center.
Sun Valley lost its first game of the 2005-06 season after 7-4 and 9-2 season-opening victories against Park City Dec. 9-10.
Cal Ingraham, McCall's sturdy former All-America college hockey star and Idaho Steelheads Hall of Famer, created the winning goal on the only Mountaineer power play of the game late in the third period. Ingraham also scored the first goal early in the first.
Team officials, ranging from John Burke of Suns Foundation Inc. to head coach Chris Benson, appreciated the fan support on New Year's weekend in a two-game set against one of the Suns' chief rivals.
Rarely is the resort rink sold out for a hockey game. "We ran out of tickets. The rink was at capacity, 600 fans," said Burke.
They saw a good hockey game but coach Benson was a little disappointed with the outcome despite a better-than-average two-for-six Suns performance on the power play.
"We started as slow as molasses. It took us seven-and-a-half minutes to get a shot on net. We did have good puck movement on the power play. We had to, because we knew Blair (McCall goalie Allison) was not going to give up any soft goals," said Benson.
Former University of Maine and Canadian National Team goalie Allison ended up facing 43 Suns shots and making 40 saves. He was at his steady-as-a-rock best with the Suns applying pressure around the net.
The three Suns goals were good ones, but McCall scored first and grabbed a 3-2 lead with two goals in the second.
McCall scored on its second shift when Dave Ingraham skated quickly into the Suns zone and fed brother Cal Ingraham just 55 seconds into the game. The Suns didn't do much until their first power play.
That's when they got going.
Allison was equal to three great Suns power play chances—an Ivars Muzis slapper that Vilnis Nikolaisons deflected into Allison's pads, then John Stevens flipped over the net; a solid Allison stop on Nikolaisons, in tight; and an Eric Demment scorcher that clanged off the post.
Sun Valley finally equalized at 1-1 after one period when co-captain Frank Salvoni cleaned up for his first goal of the season. He was in the right place after another Muzis blast from the point that was tipped by center Blake Jenson in the slot.
Center Jamie Ellison drew a hooking penalty and fittingly scored on the power play late in the first for a 2-1 lead. Nikolaisons chased down the puck and circled it around the boards to Kris Webster on the point. Webster put it on the ice and Ellison tipped it past Allison.
In the second Allison stopped the two best Suns chances, by Scott Winkler. Then the Mountaineers tallied two goals in just over two minutes—the second on a suddenly-developing three-on-none that hung Suns goalie Ryan Thomson (34 saves) out to dry.
Demment, his team trailing 3-2, rifled another close call off the crossbar midway through the third period. Persistence paid off for the fourth-year Suns blueliner when Demment skated in on the power play and nailed the top corner, with Winkler crowding the crease.
The 3-3 game seemed headed to overtime, but the Suns took an untimely penalty—only their second infraction of the contest—with 3:38 left in the third. Ingraham jumped on the ice with 36 seconds left on the power play and quickly set up the game winner on a pass to defenseman Scott Davis.
Benson acknowledged that the Suns played a little soft against McCall and didn't finish their checks like they usually do. The new, stiffer rules against fighting may have had an effect but, as Benson said said, "You still have to play the game, I don't care what the rules are. You've got to take the body, pass the puck, skate and get shots on net to score."
Junior hockey benefit
Suns Foundation Inc. chief John Cub Burke said that the Dec. 23 exhibition game between the "Rising Suns," and Suns squad raised $2,460 for Sun Valley Youth Hockey.
The game officials—John Heinrich, Curt Martin, Scott Winkler, Eric Wingard and Dave Petrie—donated their services, as did scorekeeper Pat McMahon, Burke said.
Suns benefits coming up at Sun Valley Skating Center are: On Saturday, Jan. 7 against the Weyburn Devils, money goes to the city of Ketchum's junior golf program; and on Saturday, Jan. 14 against the New York St. Nicks, money goes to the Atkinson Park Penguins.