Friday, November 23, 2007

Suns? home ice has strong hold on team captain

Rhode Island native Chris Warrington muses on playing hockey in


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

The captain of the Sun Valley Suns men?s hockey team, Chris Warrington, moved to the Wood River Valley with the intention of only spending a single year out West. Four years later, he says he doesn?t think he will ever move away. Photo by Mountain Express

"I thought I would take a little sabbatical and be here for a year. It's now been four years and counting and I don't see myself leaving."

While these words have been so often repeated they've practically become a prerequisite for residency, in this instance they came courtesy of Chris Warrington, captain of the Sun Valley Suns men's ice hockey team.

For Warrington and a significant portion of the population, the Wood River Valley is a modern-day land of the Lotus-eaters, the mythical island that had such a strong hold on its visitors, Odysseus nearly lost his crew, as they "left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back."

However, despite the fact that many would see this as a stereotypical reaction from an East Coast transplant, Warrington is possibly the only one ever to drive directly to the Sun Valley Skating Center for Suns practice upon getting into town.

"I thought I was terrible on the ice because we had just driven for 10 straight hours," Warrington said of his first time skating with the Suns back in November 2003, when a lot more was unknown than just his teammates. "It was completely dark out when we got into Ketchum—we couldn't see the mountain and we had no idea where we were going to stay."

Warrington's connection to the area was tenuous. His good friend and fellow Rhode Island native Chris King had planned to move to Jackson Hole, but changed his mind after speaking with Suns defenseman Eric Demment, who knew King since childhood. Three weeks before King was set to leave, Warrington decided he had had reached his limit working as a financial advisor in Providence and that an extended trip out west was in order.

"It's funny and typical of this area—overeducated kids working for $10 an hour in order to enjoy everything the valley has to offer," said Warrington, who graduated from Brown University in 2001 and took a significant pay cut when he started working at Formula Sports soon after that first night, which the pair spent with their new teammate Paul Baranzelli.

Due to the nature of the sport, there are always characters on a hockey team, but Warrington found the make-up of the Suns entirely unique.

"Sure, I was impressed by the skill level, but the different personalities were hilarious," he said of the team made up of players ranging from Alaska to Latvia. "We have such a wide variety of players. Just look at Johnny Miller, who's the oldest guy on the team and by far in the best shape."

With a laid-back attitude and plenty of skill, Warrington quickly fit in with the team and was elected captain in 2005.

"Not that I really wanted any responsibility. I just happened to have a bit more free time to help out than some of the older guys," Warrington said of his role on the team.

His duties extend well beyond the locker room, as he helps the Suns partner with a number of local non-profit organizations every season, such as the Park Penguins and Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, to which the proceeds of every Saturday home game are donated.

"The Suns give people here something to do on Friday and Saturday night that's low-key and social," said Warrington, who moved back into the financial world two and a half years ago, taking a job with Hailey-based Campbell Consulting. "Sometimes the hockey is an after thought, but we get to keep living the dream and support a number of great programs at the same time."

This support was considerable, as the Suns rolled undefeated up to an overtime shootout in their final game of the season, garnering rekindled interest in the team and drawing sold-out crowds as the winning streak continued.

"I don't think that our record itself was really important, but it was great because it packed the rink, which, in turn, allowed us to raise a fair amount of money for the various charities," Warrington said. "It also happened to be the most successful season I've ever been a part of, considering my team won a total of four games in my senior year in college—yeah, that was pretty bleak."

Warrington said that it will be difficult to match the success of the 2006-2007 season, but that regardless of what happens, it's simply fun to get the opportunity to continue playing at a high level with the support of the community. It's yet another example of the amazing and unique benefits provided by the valley.

"This is probably the only place in the U.S. where ex-NHL stars come to play a bunch of washed-up college and minor pro players in front of 500 fans."




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