By JON DUVAL
For the Express
Never had I imagined that senior league hockey could be this fun.
Sure, the few times I skated with my brother's company team there was a certain amount of enjoyment, yet something was missing.
Playing with the Suns for the first time it instantly became clear what that was: the National Anthem, crowded stands and nicest uniforms I'd donned since college.
Rather than using hockey as one more excuse to escape from employers or spouses and imbibe a number of mid-week drinks, here was a group of talented players who found a unique opportunity to continue playing the game at a highly competitive level.
It's like a beer league on steroids.
Amazingly, almost all of this is made possible by the fantastic support of the surrounding community.
You would be hard pressed to find another men's team anywhere in the world that receives as much assistance from people with no direct connection to the team.
What other team in a comparative league gets a single fan, let alone sells out games?
It was not always like this.
Veteran Suns tell of how they used to pay a substantial fee for the privilege to play. Or how they often were unable to field an entire team on the road, as some members couldn't afford to make the trip.
Last weekend, at the season opener in McCall, we skated with four full lines and the magnitude of the squad's appreciation was evident.
Before moving to the Wood River Valley four months ago, I had been forewarned that I would discover a depth of character here rarely encountered back east. Despite the words, I was ill prepared for the openness and generosity that is clearly the modus operandi for the county.
The Suns are an embodiment of this spirit that makes the valley a place we are comfortable to call home, regardless if we are from New England, Alaska or Latvia.
It took my previous ignorance, along with our first two games, to understand that I had been let in on a great secret.
Here's a fact that the average layperson may not know: there is no better way to start a hockey season than with a road trip.
It's like one of those corporate teambuilding retreats only the ubiquitous trust fall exercise has been replaced with shared stories of past humiliations, several straight hours of 'Caddyshack' quotes, and one teammate doing a perfect Michael Jackson imitation. Well, if Michael Jackson hailed from a former Soviet-bloc country.
And it's these moments—the long car rides, the nervous minutes in the locker room before the game, and the rowdiness after the win—that expose the soul of the team.
These are the moments that help you realize how lucky you are to be part of something this special and rare.