Much like the ever-burning fire pit next to the outdoor rink, the Sun Valley Suns maintained a steady flame during the Salmon Invitational Bantam (ages 13-14) hockey tournament last weekend.
In a field of seven teams, the Suns (3-1-1 weekend, 11-10-2 overall) claimed the third-place trophy by avenging an earlier loss to host Salmon. In their second game Sunday, and fifth of the weekend, the Suns dealt the Rapids a 5-3 loss, scoring three goals in the third period to best their tournament host.
Sun Valley coach Bob Crosby said, "We beat the only team that beat us and at the end of the day, that is all you can ask for. We came very close to making the championship, but we took what we could get."
On a moonless Friday night, the Suns eclipsed Missoula (Mt.) 8-0 on a 10-save shutout by goalie Gus Conrad (113 saves for the tournament).
Eleven minutes of scoreless hockey ended when right wing Parker Weekes dropped the puck to linemate Liam Jablonski. Jablonski found center Tom Crosby's backhand, and the senior captain wheeled all the way around, finding the five-hole for a 1-0 lead.
A minute and three seconds into the second, defenseman Drew Barsch nabbed the ensuing goal on what coach Tim Jeneson fondly referred to as a "hardware goal." Barsch went coast-to-coast putting the Suns up 2-0. One of most complete players on the team, Barsch maintained a steady presence in both zones, displaying great hockey sense in knowing when to step up or fall back.
Ten minutes later, the Suns averaged a goal a minute to close out the second. Center Jon Paris ripped two shots in the back of the net. Jablonski netted a shorthanded goal off a dish by defender Chase Hutchinson and Crosby added one. Weekes and Parker Morris rounded out the scoring with two goals in the third.
The Suns absorbed two lessons in games on Saturday—never underestimate your opponent or yourself.
Sun Valley's two challengers for the day were Salmon, a stalwart group of 10 players, whom the Suns beat 8-3 the week before, and Idaho Falls, consisting of some big bruising boys who like to thump their rivals with the subtlety of a heavyweight boxer.
Sporting white sweaters to Sun Valley's red, Salmon made the Suns feel blue, skating to a 2-1 upset to the delight of the home crowd. Goalie Taylor Dopson (23 saves) hung a goose egg on the Suns until Barsch broke through for a shorthanded goal with 3:03 left.
Later Saturday, Idaho Falls netted two goals in the first 12 minutes against the Suns, but the local boys maintained their intensity and turned it up a notch in the second.
Crosby cut the lead to one, picking his spot in the net off a pass by Weekes. Crosby returned the favor on a pass to Barsch, who rifled one off the goalie Jaeger Jensen's pads. The rebound was neatly slotted by Jablonski, who slipped through the box unnoticed, exploiting the Eagles' power-play coverage.
With the game tied 2-2, the players' adrenaline and intensity was clearly apparent on every push of the blade and thwack of the stick. Conrad (38 saves) was stellar between the pipes, making three consecutive saves on a blocker-pad-glove combination.
"We overlooked Salmon, but we learned the value of intensity halfway through the Idaho Falls game," Crosby said about the tie—which marked the first time the Suns have not lost to the Eagles this season.
Needing to beat Boise Sunday morning to advance to the final four, Sun Valley came out with a head of steam and carried the play in the first period, out-shooting the Boise Junior Steelheads 16-6.
A shot by the opportunistic Mason Noyes slipped through the Steelhead goalie's pads but was cleared out by his defender. Despite getting outshot 33-19, Boise opened scoring 12:30 into the second period. Roughly six minutes later, defender Karel Kaiser and wing A.J. Rierden teamed up, with Rierden tipping in Kaiser's perfectly launched laser for a bang-bang score and a 1-all tie.
Tenacious Parker Weekes, who absorbed more hits than former Idaho senator Larry Craig in late-show monologue, got the game winner, the Suns' second shorthanded score of the weekend. Barsch started the barrage by winning the puck on his knees at the blue line and snapping off two shots. Weekes rallied for the rebound at the 11:47 mark.
With 3:20 remaining, Jablonski won the face off in the offensive zone and passed to Crosby who snapped a one-timer and Boise's bravado in a 3-1 final.
The win vaulted the Suns into the third-place game and a return engagement against the Salmon Rapids.
For the Suns, payback was swift and sweet and sent a message—you may have gotten us once, but not twice.
Noyes found a soft spot in Salmon's coverage, converting two passes from scrappy Johnny Paris for a 2-1 lead after one. A power-play goal by Salmon was the only score of the second period for a 2-2 tie.
While the Zamboni cleaned off the ice, Crosby reminded the team what they had accomplished in the tournament.
"I reminded them how they had played the last half of the Idaho Falls game and the value of intensity," he said.
Given their skating orders, the team immediately went to work. On the first shift in the third period, Weekes scored the first of three goals for a natural hat trick and a 5-3 victory.
"I am happy with the way the boys played," Crosby said. "They all learned to position themselves better and all are playing with so much more confidence."
Also contributing to the Suns' success were defensemen Cameron Jenner and Drew Punnett, and forwards Peter MacMillan, Rickie Jeneson, Riley Sibbach, and Calder Zarkos, as well as assistant coach Chris Zarkos.
Undefeated Idaho Falls (4-0-1) edged Helena (4-1) 5-4 in the championship game. Tied 4-4, the Eagles scored the game-winning goal with 30 seconds on the clock.
The Suns resume tournament play at home, Feb. 14-15.