Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sun Valley PeeWees capture state hockey title

Wee bit of a Miracle on Ice

Express Staff Writer

Prior to last weekend's Idaho State Youth Hockey championships in Boise, most observers would have said "fat chance" to the probability of the Sun Valley PeeWees winning the state hockey title.

But the 11-12 year-old Suns exemplified their motto of "one chance" in shocking the Idaho hockey world assembled at Ice World in Boise Sunday.

The Suns stunned opponents Boise 2-0 and Idaho Falls 6-2 in winning the championship. They didn't allow a single goal in the final five periods they played. History just magnified the extent of the upset.

Just two weeks prior to the state finals, Sun Valley had lost to Boise's Junior Steelheads 2-0 and 9-1 and had opened state play Friday with an 8-2 loss to the Steelies. The scenario was very much the same against Idaho Falls. The Eagles were 3-0-1 against the Suns coming in.

After the 8-2 opening round loss, PeeWee coaches Mike Punnett, Bobby Noyes and Tony Benson went back to the drawing board and drew up the formula for success.

"We needed to be smarter about the little things," Punnett said. "We went back to basic simple hockey that works when you do it right. Nothing fancy."

Those tenets coupled with aggressive forechecking, relentless backchecking and some highlight-worthy checks vaulted the Suns to a decisive 6-2 victory over Idaho Falls.

Wing Parker Weekes had a three-goal hat trick. After surrendering two goals in the first, netminder Willis Sanchez-Dupont settled in for the first two of five ensuing scoreless periods.

The win put the Suns in the championship against Boise. While most parents were probably happy enough for their kids to play another game at state, the players, having tasted the sweetness of victory, were eager for another helping, with a side order of revenge.

"Tony told the kids they had one chance," Punnett said. "One chance to score. One chance to check. One chance to win the game. For the second-year players, it was their one chance to win state, and for the first-year players, this chance might not come again. It was a great speech."

The message hit home for the Junior Suns. The forward lines and defensive pairs played every shift like they might not see the ice again, and dealt out enough punishment as to make the Boise players wish they would not.

The shock in the Boise bleachers was palpable as the Suns scored first.

Center Mason Noyes picked up a clearing pass from defender Cameron Benson and pocketed in the far corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead at the 6:27 mark in the first period.

The disbelief on the Boise side and hope among the Sun Valley crowd grew with every passing minute. Still, the thought among all fans was exactly the same: Is this really happening?

The answer was yes. With less than four minutes remaining, Riley Sibbach stuffed the rebound on a shot by Johnny Paris, and the Suns locked up the PeeWee State championship by a 2-0 score over the Steelheads.

"We worked harder than both of the other teams," Punnett said. "We were more physical and they didn't like it."

It was the icing on a banner weekend for Sun Valley Youth Hockey at the state finals.

Three of the four Suns teams in attendance advanced to A Division championship games with the Girls U-19 team falling to Coeur d'Alene, 3-0, and the Midgets losing to Boise, 5-0.

Still, the Girls (3-2) set new benchmarks by winning more than one game at state and beating nemesis Idaho Falls for the first time in recent memory.

The Midgets (1-2-1) played an outstanding game against Idaho Falls, scoring with 35 seconds remaining to tie the Eagles 3-3 and then shutting out Coeur d'Alene 2-0 to skate in Sunday's championship.

The Sun Valley Bantams went 0-2-2 with draws against McCall and Idaho Falls.

"We have such committed coaches, managers, and parents, and our kids are really dedicated to the sport," SVYH board president Mike Hanley said. "I think Sun Valley has really put together a fantastic program."

For a complete state wrap-up, including photos, please see the Friday, Feb. 29 edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.

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