Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Nice sweep!

Suns never trail in 5-3, 4-3 sweep of Moose

Express Staff Writer

Veteran wing John Miller had a great weekend leading the Suns forward troops to the 5-3, 4-3 sweep over Jackson Hole. Photo by Willy Cook

Rest assured, members of the Sun Valley Suns Nation, the local senior men's hockey team continued a 31-year legacy of winning and partying last weekend during its annual visit to Snow King Center for a two-game series with the Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Moose.

The winning was unprecedented—and the silence in the normally boisterous Moose rooting section was as sweet as the post-game oyster feed. Sun Valley led all the way and took crowds numbering about 1,000 each night out of the game.

Never trailing at any point, the Suns swept the Moose 5-3 and 4-3. Terrific defense and great goaltending by Colin Zulianello and John Bidon lifted the Suns. Ryan McDonald, 22, posted his first three-goal hat trick in six years, since he was a prep player, on Friday night.

It was the first-ever Suns sweep of the Moose at Snow King Center after eight years of being beaten badly on the Wyoming sheet. And beaten badly is the right characterization. The Suns had lost eight straight games on the Moose's home ice by a 56-27 margin.

This isn't the best winter for the ninth-year Moose (7-9), losers of seven of their last nine. And they certainly didn't like losing to a Suns franchise they had owned at Snow King—a 15-2-1 record and 123-68 goals-against prior to last weekend.

But that's hockey. You can't blame goalie Bidon for "sweeping" the ice behind the goal with his stick after the 4-3 victory—in full view of the Moose fans—and then doing his "George Jacket" naked dance in the locker room after surviving Jackson's last-gasp rally.

Coach Chris Benson's current Suns squad (13-3), winners of eight straight games, started a whole new tradition in Wyoming. After gorging on the impromptu post-game feast at The Bistro Saturday, they jumped in Matt Gershater's little yellow school bus and took late-night Jackson Hole by storm.

Twenty-one players and other delighted hangers-on disembarked from the bus driven by Bidon at the town square, and, yes, they did find a broom and roared approval as defenseman Josh Jacobson swept the boardwalk across the street from the famous antler park.

"Nice sweep!" toasted the Suns' 14th-year wing John Miller during the feast, and 40 glasses were raised.


Benson patched together his forward lines in the absence of players like Jamie Ellison, John Stevens and Ryan Enrico at Jackson. The defense with the exception of Kris Webster and goaltending were intact. Team spirit was unflappable.

"Coming over with a deep bench and five solid defensemen was a huge thing for us," said coach Benson. So was the communication on the Suns bench. The players were into it.

Getting the lead and keeping it were other big factors, enabling Sun Valley to capitalize on its quicker and stronger defense to thwart whatever attacks the Moose unleashed.

The Suns struck first Friday.

Defenseman Ivars Muzis stepped in front of a Moose pass in his defensive zone and skated up ice on a three-on-one with Bidon, who was playing up on the third forward line. Muzis scored with a blast three minutes into the game.

Recent Middlebury College player Levi Doria of the Moose beat Zulianello with a screeching power play slapshot midway through the first period for a 1-1 tie. It was Jackson Hole's first power play of the weekend. But the Suns penalty killers did the job the rest of the way, killing off the final eight Moose power play attempts.

"It was mainly Scotty Winkler, Ryan McDonald, Johnny Miller and Vilnis (Nikolaisons) doing the whole load with our defense," said Benson about his penalty-killing units.

You can't underestimate the contribution of Zulianello, who stopped 39 of 42 Moose shots while fighting through his recurring groin injury. With six minutes left in the first, Zulianello (7-1-0 season, 2.58 goals a game) stopped Moose forward T.C. Harris twice after a Suns turnover—big-time saves.

The Suns escaped with a 1-1 tie, despite being outshot 12-3 in the first. Zulianello added two monster saves in the second—on Brian Hannafin with his glove and on feisty Moose defenseman Chris DeMarco at the corner of the net. Benson said, "Colin came up huge in the second. We should have been down two goals."

Instead the Suns led 3-2 after two periods thanks to the first two goals by McDonald.

Co-captain Frank Salvoni started the go-ahead goal with a pass from the neutral zone up ahead to leading scorer Vilnis Nikolaisons (8 goals, 19 assists). Vilnis finished the bang-bang play with a beautiful feed to his center McDonald.

Forechecking with a purpose and kicking the puck away from the Moose defense, Miller set up the third goal by keeping the puck in the offensive zone. McDonald collected it and passed toward the net. It hit a Moose skate and went in.

McDonald said, "I got a great pass from Villie, but I also got a couple of lucky bounces. The main thing was our defense, though. They won it, even though everybody stepped up. And Zulie was out of his head."

The Zulianello save everybody was talking about afterward was with his glove on Jackson Hole's Ben Parkin with two minutes left in the second period. It meant the Suns carried a 3-2 lead into the third instead of being tied 3-3.

However, DeMarco of the Moose made it 3-3 with a great individual rush along the left wing 50 seconds into the third.

Muzis got things rolling on the eventual winner by bringing the puck into the zone and letting McDonald and Winkler clean up for the hat trick. The one-goal lead meant Sun Valley could play more conservatively on defense and go to "the 10-foot rule," McDonald said.

"If the puck is within 10 feet of the blue line, you just get it out of the zone," he explained.

Coach Benson said, "We broke up quite a few things in our zone just by getting someone between their forwards and our goalie. We tightened it up in the third period and moved faster into our zone. We had to, because we'd been doing a lot of spectating in the second period and not a lot of backchecking."

You have to eliminate the odd-man rushes to beat the Moose forwards, who are always looking for the uncovered "floater," Benson said. Making sure of the location of the other two forwards was a big factor. "You have to isolate the floater," the coach added.

In each game, coach Benson stayed conservative to preserve the leads and changed the Suns' forecheck to a 1-2-2 in the third period. "We kept the crowd out of the game. All five defensemen did a great job," he said.

And Zulianello stopped the final 14 Moose shots for the huge win, punctuated by Nikolaisons' empty netter.

"The boys came out determined in the third period," said Benson. And, for the first time ever, rink officials gave the three stars to Suns players--#1 to McDonald, #2 to Muzis and #3 to goalie Zulianello.

Sun Valley could have mailed it in Saturday night, but the Suns were on a mission.

With Bidon in the cage, the Suns won battles in the corners in the defensive zone and had a good night on faceoffs. Sun Valley's defense also did a good job in front of the net and kept most shots on the perimeter.

Winkler chased a puck along the right wing boards and started the first goal, scored by Salvoni at the 13-minute mark. A quick rush and shot by co-captain Chris Warrington gave Sun Valley a 2-0 lead after one period. Winkler cleaned up.

Benson said, "We came out hard. Everybody was moving their feet and we had a few great scoring chances. It was great to jump on them early."

Back after enjoying himself at the Winter Olympics, Demment made it 3-0 by pounding home a slapshot from the middle of the ice four minutes into the second period. You could see it the whole way. Former Suns wing Steve McCoy called it a goal from behind the plexiglass, as Demment wound up.

The Suns weathered a few storms in the second. Pushed ahead 4-1 in the third on a crackling-good individual effort by Warrington, the Suns weathered one major storm at the end of the third, but Bidon was steady between the pipes.

"What can you say about Bidsy? Another win. He's 4-0 the last four times he's been out there," said Benson.

The shots were pretty even Saturday, 31-29 in favor of the Moose, but Jackson Hole outshot the suns 15-5 in the third. Bidon (28 saves) stopped 13.

The home-and-home series with the Moose continues March 10-11 when Jackson Hole makes its annual visit to Sun Valley. The Suns are idle over the March 3-4 weekend.

For updated Suns season statistics and a complete hockey summary plus notes, check the Express Web site. See the March 8 Local Life for more photos from Jackson Hole.


Suns 5, Moose 3

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

FIRST PERIOD—(1) SV, Ivars Muzis 5 (John Bidon), 2:44. (2) Jackson Hole, Levi Doria (goalie Ryan Fredericks), 8:33, power play goal.

SECOND PERIOD—(3) SV, Ryan McDonald 4 (Vilnis Nikolaisons, Frank Salvoni), 4:43. (4) SV, McDonald 5 (John Miller), 13:58. (5) Jackson Hole, Brian Hannafin (unassisted), 16:50.

THIRD PERIOD—(6) Jackson Hole, Chris DeMarco (unassisted), 0:50. (7) SV, McDonald 6 (Muzis, Scott Winkler), 7:21, hat trick and game-winning goal. (8) SV, Nikolaisons 8 (unassisted), 19:58, empty net and power play goal.

SHOTS ON GOAL—For Sun Valley 3-8-10 for 21; for Jackson Hole 12-15-15 for 42.

GOALIES—SV, Colin Zulianello (39 saves, 7-1-0 record); Jackson Hole, Ryan Fredericks (16 saves).

NOTES—Last season the Suns had eight hat tricks, three by Paul Baranzelli. But Ryan McDonald's hat trick tonight was only the second in the 2005-06 season, joining one other by Vilnis Nikolaisons against the Minneapolis Gorillas Feb. 18.....Defensemen Ivars Muzis and Chris Warrington drew penalties in the final five minutes but the Suns kept the Moose at bay. Coach Chris Benson said, "It's tough having two of your top four defensemen in the penalty box at the end of the game.".....Colin Zulianello stopped a point-blank power-play slapshot by Lee Cooper of the Moose midway through the third. The next time out, Cooper checked Scotty Winkler into the Moose bench and drew an interference penalty that gave the Suns a critical power play with 8:42 left.....One last time Zulianello came up huge, making the save on a T.J. Thomas slapshot with Levi Doria bearing down with only 1:40 left in a 4-3 game. Tom Katis of the Moose drew a penalty after the shot, giving the Suns a power play for the final two minutes and helping the Idaho cause....Suns forward lines were Frank Salvoni-Ryan McDonald-Scott Winkler, Vilnis Nikolaisons-D.W. Cook-John Miller, Trevor Thomas-Bryan Winkler-John Bidon with Rian Timmons rotating in on the third line. Defensemen were Chris Warrington, Eric Demment, Ivars Muzis, Paul Baranzelli and Josh Jacobson.....Top Moose forward lines were T.C. Harris-Levi Doria-T.J. Thomas, Brian Hannafin-Joe Casey-Josh Theken. Doria, 24, who scored the first Moose goal with a blistering slapshot, is a first-year Jackson Hole player who played for back-to-back national championship teams at Middlebury College in Vermont.....Moose all-time leading scorer Gregg Gripentrog from Stillwater, Minn. and the University of St. Thomas is out for the season after breaking several bones in his face crashing into the net during the Moose's Jan. 13-14 home series with the Chicago Chargers. Gripentrog entered the season with 149 goals and 316 points in 165 Moose games since 1998, and he was always a thorn in the Suns side, but he was also one of the first Moose to congratulate the Suns after the weekend sweep....Scott Winkler was busy text-messaging back to Ketchum watering holes after tonight's win.....Attending the game was Mark Morningstar, former Suns skater and Moose goalie who has retired from the Jackson Hole cage. He and his wife Becky have an 18-month-old child with another on the way in July.....

Suns 4, Moose 3

Sun Valley Suns 2 1 1 4
Jackson Hole Moose 0 1 2 3

FIRST PERIOD—(1) SV, Frank Salvoni 6 (Scott Winkler, Ryan McDonald), 13:06. (2) SV, Scott Winkler 9 (Chris Warrington), 15:23.

SECOND PERIOD—(3) SV, Eric Demment 5 (McDonald), 4:31. (4) Jackson Hole, Joe Casey (Brian Hannafin), 13:33.

THIRD PERIOD—(5) SV, Warrington 6 (unassisted), 6:31. (6) Jackson Hole, Josh Theken (Brian Hannafin, Aaron Ackley), 14:03. (7) Jackson Hole, Chris DeMarco (Ackley, Levi Doria), 19:38.

SHOTS ON GOAL—For Sun Valley 9-15-5 for 29; for Jackson Hole 8-8-15 for 31.

GOALIES—SV, John Bidon (28 saves, 4-1-0 record); Jackson Hole, Brian Spitulski (25 saves).

NOTES—The individual effort by Chris Warrington on the critical fourth Suns goal was something to see. He gave up the puck in his own zone, but determinedly got it back away from three Moose players and quickly headed the other way. Warrington carried it into the Moose zone and unleashed a winner for a 4-1 Suns lead. The Suns needed it, as the Moose scored twice in the final six minutes and were knocking at the door at the end....."George Jacket" winners for the weekend were goalie John Bidon and also Tucker Hall back in Ketchum. Hall worked for Eric Demment, allowing Demment to make the trip to Wyoming.....Wielding his rule book, Suns coach Chris Benson tried unsuccessfully before the game to get the game officials to rule Brian Hannafin ineligible to play in tonight's contest. Hannafin drew a five-minute roughing penalty against Vilnis Nikolaisons with two seconds left in Friday's game, on Nikolaisons' empty-net goal that ended it 5-3....In their eight-game winning streak, the Suns have never allowed more than 3 goals per game. In fact, the only times they've allowed more than 4 goals in a single game were the 9-6 and 5-4 losses to reigning national champion St. Nick's Jan. 13-14 in Sun Valley.....Suns forward lines were Frank Salvoni-Ryan McDonald-Scott Winkler, Vilnis Nikolaisons-D.W. Cook-John Miller, Trevor Thomas-Bryan Winkler-Caleb Baukol with Rian Timmons rotating in on the third line. Defensemen were Chris Warrington, Eric Demment, Ivars Muzis, Paul Baranzelli and Josh Jacobson.....Top Moose forward lines were T.C. Harris-Levi Doria-Jeff Zelazoski, and Brian Hannafin-Joe Casey-Josh Theken. T.J. Thomas, 30, from Eveleth, Minn. had the night off because he was coaching the Moose high school team. Entering this season Thomas had played 153 Moose games since 1998......Jackson Hole Moose president and founding father Skip Wright-Clark was beside himself after tonight's loss, muttering bad things about the Suns tactics. Only 24 hours before, he had been singing praises of a possible regional hockey league including the Moose, Suns, Trail Senior Smoke Eaters and another team from Rossland, B.C., Canada....Sweeping its sixth series of the season, Sun Valley outscored Jackson Hole 9-6 and out-pointed the Moose 19-12 on the scoresheet led by McDonald (3 goals, 2 assists) and Scott Winkler (1-2). But the Moose outshot the Suns 73-50..... For the weekend the Suns (24 penalty minutes) were 1-for-4 on the power play (27% season) and Jackson Hole (15 penalty minutes) was 1-for-9 (opponents 13% season on the power play).....Among Suns players who didn't make the trip were Ryan Enrico (coaching the SV Bantams in Boise), John Stevens (off on a Fiji family vacation), Jamie Ellison, Kris Webster and Kellen Chatterton. John Ellison Sr. was behind the bench as an assistant coach. Charles Friedman (shoulder injury) and goalie Ryan Thomson (knee) also made the trip, and former Suns player Steve McCoy came to Saturday's game....Chris Benson's wife Sarah Benson was a little incredulous that John Stevens had the interest and devotion to keep calling on his cell phone for Suns-Moose updates—even as he was getting on the airplane for Fiji.....The Moose saw their advantage sliced to 24-13-1 in the nine-year series, but Sun Valley has won four of the last six meetings. Prior to last weekend, the Suns had scored only 11 goals in the last four games against the Moose at Snow King Center including 8-3 and 6-5 losses last March 18-19....In the first season of Moose-Suns meetings, 1997-98, the Suns won 7-6 at Snow King Center but also tied 4-4....Jackson Hole had the top three stars tonight--#1 Joe Casey from Vail, #2 Chris DeMarco from Binghamton, N.Y. and #3 Brian Hannafin from Medford, Mass.


2005-06 Sun Valley Suns Season statistics

(13-3-0 overall: 11-3-0 home, 2-0-0 away)

Vilnis Nikolaisons 16 8 19 27 8.0
Chris Warrington 16 6 15 21 14.0
Ryan McDonald 14 6 13 19 8.0
Scott Winkler 16 9 9 18 0.0
Jamie Ellison 12 8 9 17 78.0
Paul Baranzelli 14 8 6 14 26.0
Eric Demment 12 5 9 14 24.0
Ivars Muzis 16 5 6 11 16.0
John Stevens 14 5 6 11 2.0
Ryan Enrico 9 4 6 10 12.0
John Miller 14 2 8 10 18.0
Frank Salvoni 15 6 3 9 8.0
Kris Webster 11 3 5 8 24.0
Caleb Baukol 15 3 4 7 24.0
John Bidon 13 0 4 4 15.0
D.W. Cook 12 3 0 3 19.0
Trevor Thomas 14 1 2 3 32.0
Charles Friedman 8 1 1 2 0.0
Kellen Chatterton 6 0 2 2 2.0
Bryan Winkler 9 1 0 1 0.0
Ryan Thomson 3 0 1 1 0.0
Blake Jenson 2 0 1 1 0.0
Josh Jacobson 16 0 0 0 16.0
Rian Timmons 10 0 0 0 2.0
Normunds Krepss 2 0 0 0 2.0
Colin Zulianello 8 0 0 0 4.0
David Stone 1 0 0 0 0.0


Colin Zulianello 7.75 20 7-1-0 2.58
John Bidon 5 17 4-1-0 3.40
Ryan Thomson 3 12 2-1-0 4.00
David Stone 0.25 2 0-0-0 4.00


Shots—Zulianello 292, Bidon 155, Thomson 118, Stone 6.
Saves—Zulianello 272, Bidon 138, Thomson 106, Stone 4.
Shootout saves—0.
Shootout goals allowed—0.
Shutouts—Zulianello 1.
Empty net goals—0.


Opposition 13 21 17 0 51, 3.2
Sun Valley 29 25 28 2 84, 5.3



Two-goal games (10)—Jamie Ellison 2, Vilnis Nikolaisons 2, Scott Winkler 1, Chris Warrington 1, Paul Baranzelli 1, Frank Salvoni 1, D.W. Cook 1, John Miller 1.

Hat tricks or more—Vilnis Nikolaisons 1, Ryan McDonald 1.

Game-winning goals—Ryan McDonald 2, Chris Warrington 2, Eric Demment 1, Frank Salvoni 1, Paul Baranzelli 1.

Power play goals (18-66, 27%)—Jamie Ellison 4, Vilnis Nikolaisons 2, Eric Demment 2, Chris Warrington 2, Scott Winkler 2, Paul Baranzelli 2, Kris Webster 1, Ryan Enrico 1, John Stevens 1, Frank Salvoni 1.
Power play goals (opposition): 11-82, (13%).

Suns shorthanded goals (4)—Frank Salvoni 1, John Stevens 1, Jamie Ellison 1, Vilnis Nikolaisons 1.
Shorthanded goals (opposition): 1.

Season penalty minutes: SV 360, opponents 283.



Total record: 13-3-0
Record in 1-goal games: 5-2
Record in overtime: 2-0-0
Games scoring 9 or more goals: 2
Games scoring 7 or more goals: 4

December 9 (H) Sun Valley 7, Park City Generals 4
December 10 (H) Sun Valley 9, Park City Generals 2
December 30 (H) McCall Mountaineers 4, Sun Valley 3
December 31 (H) Sun Valley 4, McCall Mountaineers 0
January 6 (H) Sun Valley 5, Weyburn Devils 4 (OT)
January 7 (H) Sun Valley 3, Weyburn Devils 2
January 13 (H) N.Y. St. Nick's 9, Sun Valley 6
January 14 (H) N.Y. St. Nick's 5, Sun Valley 4
January 20 (H) Sun Valley 4, Boston ReMax Rangers 3
January 21 (H) Sun Valley 7, Boston ReMax Rangers 2
February 10 (H) Sun Valley 5, Philadelphia Independence 3
February 11 (H) Sun Valley 5, Philadelphia Independence 2
February 17 (H) Sun Valley 4, Minneapolis Gorillas 3 (OT)
February 18 (H) Sun Valley 9, Minneapolis Gorillas 2
February 24 (A) Sun Valley 5, Jackson Hole Moose 3
February 25 (A) Sun Valley 4, Jackson Hole Moose 3

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