In November 1998 Sun Valley Youth Hockey started its first-ever team for girls. The fact that 48 players showed up for the first practice session was a "pleasant surprise" for the organizers/coaches Tizz Miller and Sheila Naghsh.
Over the ensuing 11 years the girls' team has made an arduous yet steady climb up the ladder of learning through basic fundamentals and more tactical aspects of the game. On Sunday the Suns reached the top by winning the state title at the Idaho Amateur Hockey Tournament in Boise.
"The girls did a great job, head coach Dave Hennessy said. "We played good fundamental hockey."
Staged at Ice World in Boise, the tournament featured 49 games in six divisions: Midget A, Midget B, Girls, Bantams, PeeWee A and PeeWee B, with Gem State teams from Sun Valley, Idaho Falls, Coeur d'Alene, Boise, McCall and Salmon.
The Sun Valley girls laid claim as the best team in the state by sweeping the field, 5-0. Pivotal points, Hennessy said, were striking first in every game, and never letting up.
"We got the first goal in every game, which was key for us. We also played every game for a full 45 minutes," he said.
Indeed, the Suns, who were second in last year's state tilt to Coeur d'Alene by a 3-0 score, averaged the first goal a minute and 44 seconds into each game. The quickest was in 19 seconds. The "longest" was at the four-minute mark and the team launched rubber 144 times to opponents' 62. But the Suns weren't one-dimensional. Defensive pairs Tanner Dredge and Nellie Brown, Amie Evans and Kelly Hennessy held their opponents to an average of 12.2 shots per game, and goalie Emma Wilander, who oozes nothing but cool calm, came up with 56 saves.
Opening up against hometown Boise, Sun Valley bumped off the Herricanes 4-1. Defenseman Nellie Brown netted a natural hat trick. Forward Frannie Sensenbrenner tallied a goal and assist. The next game pitted the Suns against the defending champion Thunder, but Sun Valley's Evans threw down the first bolts, scoring twice in the first seven minutes, and the sextet rolled to a 6-2 victory.
"That felt really great," Hennessy said.
All the Suns needed to advance to the final was to beat Idaho Falls in their next game, which they did by a 3-2 score, holding off the Eagles after they rallied from a 3-0 deficit.
"Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene are good enough teams if there is a lull they will jump on you quickly and that is what they did," Hennessy said.
Goals by Dredge, Dylan Peterson and captain Ashley Hesteness held up for the win.
Wilander earned her first shutout, backstopping the team to a 9-0 victory over Salmon, and the Eagles clipped the Thunder 3-2 to meet the Suns in Sunday's championship.
True to form, the Suns scored in less than three minutes with Hesteness converting a pass from Brown. Dredge and Peterson teamed up for what turned out to be the game-winner with 58 seconds remaining in the first period. Idaho Falls cut the lead to 2-1 in the second, but the Suns dominated the final period, outshooting the Eagles 10-2, in a 2-1 final.
"Idaho Falls could not get the puck in our zone for the final two minutes to pull the goalie," Hennessy said. "Last year we were happy to be there. This year we felt we had a really good shot."
And the future looks good as well. The team is losing only three seniors to graduation, Amie Evans, Devan Annan and Mattie Griswold.
"We have a really good base and the girls are maturing and getting better every year," Hennessy said.
Game pucks for outstanding play were awarded to Brown, Dredge, Peterson and Annan. The team shared MVP honors for the championship match.
Scoring: Hesteness 4/3, Dredge 4/1, Daniela Stokes 3/2, Brown 3/1, Evans 2/2, Annan 2/2, Peterson 2/1, Sensenbrenner 1/2, Ellie Swanson 1/1, Elena Almquist 0/2, Maddie Miller 0/2, Hennessy 1/0. Also playing at state were Georgy Goodwin and Erin Hennessy. Other team members: Mattie Griswold, Morgan Pintler, Tate Reed-McDorman, India Emerick, Olivia Mason, Gina Rickling, Karlie Jeneson, Camille Bourret and Allison Fluetsch. Assistant coaches are Eddie Grimes and Jen Embree.
Sun Valley boys
The Boise Steelheads (3-1) were as sharp as their Mohawks, defending their state title by an 8-0 score against the Suns. It was the same championship matchup as in 2008, when the Steelies won 5-0.
In between two losses to Boise, the Suns (2-2) knocked off Idaho Falls, 3-2. It was the first time in four games the Suns have beaten the Eagles (28-6 scoring margin by IF). Two goals by Tommy Heinrich (Morgan Pike/David Dredge) and one by Pike made the difference. Netminder Cassidy Carson collected 27 saves.
Cody Levitan was the winning goalie in a 5-2 victory over Coeur d'Alene. Pike (Ian Murphy 2/Zac Sjoberg) recorded a natural hat trick in the first period, followed with goals by Zac Sjoberg (Latner Straley) and Murphy (Niels McMahon/Pike).
With coach Andrew Hebert at the helm, Sun Valley has appeared in every Midget state final since 2004, winning in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
The Sun Valley Bantams skated hard and played hard in compiling a 1-3 record over the weekend. Sun Valley beat McCall 5-2 Friday with scoring from Liam Jablonski 3/1, Parker Weekes 1/2, Drew Punnett 1/0, Drew Barsch 0/2, and Tom Crosby 0/1.
Barsch and Crosby teamed up on the team's lone goal in a 7-1 loss to the Boise Steelheads. The team did not manage to split the pipes in two losses to man-sized Coeur d'Alene, who beat Boise in the final 5-1, and outscored its opponents by a whopping 41-4 margin. Suns' goalie Gus Conrad backed up his team with 111 saves.
With several players appearing in their first state tournament, the PeeWee Suns got a feel for the grand stage in four games at Ice World. Sun Valley was 0-4. Ellie Punnett got the team's lone goal.
It was an all-Sun Valley championship in the Squirt Division at the Salmon Invitational Tournament. The Red Wolves beat the Black Bears 4-2. MVP's were Nick Swift and Brock Mary. Joseph Anderson and Henry Everitt backstopped a great weekend.
Sun Valley Youth Hockey will stage its season-ending banquet on Wednesday, March 11, from 6-8 p.m. at the Wood River High School Commons Area.