Sun Valley Suns defenseman Kris Webster has laced up the skates for 220 games over his 12-year blueline career in the rink he grew up playing in.
Busy with work and family and looking forward to some long-distance desert racing with his Honda 650 motorcycle, "Webbie" was looking forward to cutting back to part-time Suns defensive duty in 2006-07.
Last year's Suns co-captain Frank "The Tank" Salvoni from Natick, Mass. had essentially retired, cognizant that his all-time great quote "Today is the tomorrow I was worried about yesterday," had arrived at age 39 for a family man with a Bruins sense of humor.
Didn't miss the game a bit.
But when Sun Valley Suns coach Chris Benson needed some help last weekend, Webster and Salvoni threw the hockey bags over their shoulders and saddled up—giving the Suns a shot in the arm for the New Year's holiday series with McCall's Mountaineers.
Indeed, bench depth and great goaltending provided the difference as the Suns recorded their first-ever four-game season sweep of the Mountaineers by scores of 11-7 and 4-3 before two packed holiday houses at Sun Valley Skating Center.
The Suns (6-0) got off to their best start since 2001-02—a hockey season when they started 15-0 and enjoyed a franchise-best 22-game, two-season win streak en route to a 28-2 finish behind the goaltending of Mat Gershater and James Moskos and a 211-goal attack.
Benson said after Saturday's one-goal decider, "McCall was missing some of its better players and played with a lot of heart tonight—but the depth of our bench really helps.
"Webbie has that nice, long reach and Frankie, he played great Friday. I had called him up and said, Frankie, I need you on defense, I need someone who can skate backwards."
Benson was without four starting defensemen Friday, Chris Warrington, Paul Baranzelli, Eric Demment and Josh Jacobson. "I was scrambling," he said. He needed Webster and Salvoni, who usually plays a wing. Benson also needed scoring and goaltending.
He got what he wanted from a team that is fast shaping up as one of the better Suns units.
With 750 fans filing in and out of the rink Friday and good cheer filling the crisp air, the Suns and Mountaineers exploded for six goals in the first period and made it 4-4 with offsetting goals in the opening minutes of the decisive second.
At that point, Suns goalie Ryan Thomson (35 saves) clamped down with a series of quiet, marvelously effective stops. His teammates took a cue by breaking the puck up ice and putting enormous pressure on young McCall goalie Tony Davenport, not far removed from Boise's Eagle High School.
"We started moving our feet a little more and spreading the ice," said Benson about the surge of four unanswered Suns goals that gave the home team an 8-4 lead after two periods.
Thomson robbed McCall's Brett Gallagher with his pad and then took a puck off his chest, giving always-watchful Vilnis Nikolaisons a chance to send his best man Jamie Ellison in alone with an absolutely great break-out pass, 5-4.
Somehow, someway, Thomson closed the five-hole with McCall's all-time Steelhead star Cal Ingraham lurking after a forechecking steal, and somehow Thomson got the pad on the deflection. The Suns killed off the subsequent penalty and promptly went back on offense, who else but Webster breaking it up the ice with Jami James.
Rookies Blake Jenson and Adam Swain thought it was a good idea to follow Suns defensemen Webster and James up the ice. Jenson got off a shot and Swain pounded home his second goal in eight minutes.
Ellison drew a slashing penalty, putting Nikolaisons and Ryan Enrico on the penalty kill and they only took 11 seconds to make it 7-4. Nikolaisons was there when a cross-ice point-to-point McCall pass went awry. He skated the other way with Enrico and finished the play for his second shorthanded goal.
The Suns were two men down for 86 seconds and Thomson was huge again, thwarting Gallagher with his shoulder in the crease. "Ryan made some great saves," said Benson.
Sun Valley's flurry reached 8-4 after Webster absorbed a big Mountaineer check behind the Suns cage and the puck went the other way. Jenson accelerated down the wing and centered to Ryan McDonald, who also took a hit but tipped it in.
Nursing a knee injury, McCall's leader Ingraham was just good enough to play but, as Webster said, "McCall is always dangerous—they have a few guys you have to watch every second. If you give them time to shoot, they'll put it in."
The Mountaineers (2-6) netted two goals early in the third for an 8-6 game, but Enrico got the insurance the Suns needed. He stole the puck in the McCall zone and launched a quick wrist shot off Davenport's glove. Enrico charged in and poked home the rebound, 9-6.
"It was a great second effort by Rico," said Benson.
Saturday night's crowd was smaller but not by much. Fans enjoyed a close game that ended in Sun Valley's 4-3 victory over McCall. It was Sun Valley's first one-goal win over McCall after four straight 4-3 losses to the Mountaineers.
Second-year wing Charles Friedman scored his first Suns goal for a 1-0 lead. McDonald and Enrico upped the ante to 3-0 early in the second. In the Suns net, former Colorado College (1997-01) and Idaho Steelheads (2005) goalie Colin Zulianello, 28, from Thunder Bay, Ontario was solid as a rock.
Jon Duval's wraparound, shorthanded goal made it 4-1 and the Suns needed his score down the stretch. It was a dangerous game, one the Suns could easily have squandered.
Playing with only seven on the bench and missing Canadian defenseman Jeremy Mylymok—ejected with Swain after a Friday fight—McCall smelled the upset after losing three straight to the Suns. The visitors cut the lead to 4-3.
But the Suns weathered the storm and turned the heat on McCall goalie Davenport, who made a handful of spectacular saves to keep it a one-goal game. He stopped Warrington's backhand and stoned Ellison's breakaway and made a glove save on Johnny Miller and denied Nikolaisons on the doorstep and McDonald in tight.
Benson said, "Their goalie played great. So did we. We weathered the storm in our zone. I told the guys to get the puck deep and make them come 200 feet at us, and don't turn it over. That's what they did."
With their four-game season sweep over the Mountaineers after going only 1-3 last winter, the Suns cut into McCall's once-huge dominance in the four-year rivalry. McCall (7-5 away, 6-5-1 home) now leads 13-10-1 in the series.
Sun Valley resumes action Friday, Jan. 5 on home ice against the Philadelphia (Pa.) Independence. The Suns maintain a 4-0 advantage in the two-year series including 5-3 and 5-2 wins last February and 8-1 and 7-6 (OT) wins back in 2005.
Check the Express Web site for updated Suns season stats and a complete hockey summary from the McCall games.