It didn't take long for the Sun Valley Suns senior men's hockey team to find out how its young players were going to fit into the picture this season.
They are fitting in just fine, bolstering another outstanding effort in the Suns net by eighth-year goalie Ryan Thomson.
Second-year Suns defenseman Danny Ward scored his first-ever Suns goal at just the right time Friday night—tallying the game winner with four minutes remaining in a come-from-behind 6-5 Suns win over the Utah County Blizzard.
It was a great end-to-end individual effort by Ward that made the difference capping a three-goal Suns rally from a 5-3 deficit—after rookie forward Chad Levitan made a similar end-to-end rush for the equalizer at 5-5 earlier in the third.
Assistant captain Ryan Enrico's shorthanded goal from captain Vilnis Nikolaisons early in the third period got the Suns comeback going. Utah had scored four consecutive power play goals in the second to erase a 3-1 deficit and take a 5-3 lead into the final 20 minutes.
If the New Year's Eve game at Sun Valley Skating Center was a satisfying humdinger for home fans, the New Year's Day nightcap benefiting Hailey Ice was even closer and better.
Saturday in a tight 1-1 game, third-year Suns forward Jordan Pritchett stood in front of the Utah net and waited for linemate Jon Duval and defenseman Blake Jenson to complete their digging and passing work in the Blizzard zone.
Jenson finally made a great centering pass, with Duval neutralizing two Blizzard defenders in front of goalie Oliver Freij, and Pritchett slapped home the power-play game winner for the 2-1 Suns victory.
Thomson stopped 30 of 31 Utah shots Saturday and added 34 saves in Friday's opener. He kept the Suns in the game during the penalty-filled second periods of both contests when Sun Valley played mostly shorthanded. Utah outshot Sun Valley 19-5 in the second period Friday, and 15-11 Saturday.
With the weekend sweep, Sun Valley (4-0-0) remained unbeaten on the season. Playing its inaugural season, Utah County Blizzard (4-4-0) evened its season record about halfway through its 18-game schedule.
Pritchett, a local junior hockey product like Ward and Levitan, has played only eight games in his three Suns seasons, but he's already shown a remarkable nose for the net. He leads the Suns (5 goals, 2 assists) in scoring through four games this season. In his eight career games, he has 9 goals and 7 assists for 16 points.
He got the Suns on the board first Friday with a power play goal, from Levitan and Matt Ward. Utah tied it 1-1 with the first of its five power play goals for the game, but Nikolaisons tallied his first goal of the season on the power play, from Duval and Enrico for a 2-1 lead.
The Suns have shown a propensity for drawing penalties in the second periods of their games this season, and Friday's opener was a perfect example. On three occasions, the home team was down two men, in five-on-three situations. Thomson yielded four power play goals in four minutes.
Thomson was hot under the collar, and so were captain Nikolaisons and the rest of the Suns, feeling referee Bobby Noyes was looking a little too hard at the Suns for infractions. There were 27 penalty minutes whistled against the Suns in the second and third periods, to none for Utah.
Sun Valley cooled down and regrouped in the locker room between the second and third periods. And the Suns came out of the locker room with a vengeance, turning their anger into fierce forechecking and determined runs like those undertaken by Ward and Levitan.
Levitan's game-tying effort down the right wing came after a little break-out pass from Pritchett deep in the Utah zone.
Ward's game winner was even more dramatic because it came with the Suns facing another five-on-three penalty kill. With Utah pressing the action in the Suns zone, defenseman Austin Holmes committed from the point and Ward picked up the puck and skated past him.
He kept going and going, finally shoveling a shot past Blizzard goalie Travis Pierce. "Danny really elevated his game this weekend," said Duval about Ward's performance.
Starting Saturday's rally from a 1-0 deficit was a great, subtle play by 19-year Suns right wing John Miller on a backcheck late in the second period. He checked the puck away from leading Blizzard goal scorer Tommy Champi just as the ex-Brigham Young University MVP was lining up a slapshot on Thomson.
The puck skidded harmlessly away, and the Suns skated quickly into their offensive zone where center Jamie Ellison scored for a 1-1 game.
Just before Pritchett' game winner, Enrico's rugged forechecking against two Utah defensemen resulted in a rare Blizzard penalty and Suns power play. Jenson, usually a forward who had a great weekend on the blueline, then made his perfect pass to Pritchett.
Thomson, meanwhile, preserved the Suns win with two amazing saves on Utah breakaways—the first with his glove on Utah's Zeph Fagergren late in the second period, the second on Kyle Welty on a two-on-one behind the Suns defense with less than a minute to play.
The Suns embark on their only scheduled road trip of the 2010-11 season Friday and Saturday, Jan. 7-8 with a two-game series against the Park City Pioneers (3-4) in Utah. Park City has played once since its 5-2 and 7-1 losses at Sun Valley Dec. 10-11—beating the visiting Utah Dawgs 14-4 on Dec. 18.
suns 6, BLIZZARD 5
friday, DECEMBER 31
Utah Blizzard 1 4 0 5
Sun Valley Suns 2 1 3 6
FIRST PERIOD—(1) SV, Jordan Pritchett 4 (Chad Levitan, Matt Ward), 8:53, power play goal. (2) Utah, Tommy Rupp 8 (Jeff Jiron), 10:13, power play goal. (3) SV, Vilnis Nikolaisons 1 (Jon Duval, Ryan Enrico), 12:35, power play goal.
SECOND PERIOD—(4) SV. Sinjin Thomas 1 (Blake Jenson, John Stevens), 5:36. (5) Utah, Tommy Champi 12 (unassisted), 7:06, power play goal. (6) Utah, Champi 13 (unassisted), 9:04, power play goal. (7) Utah, Rustin Hocker 4 (Kyle Becci), 9:41, power play goal. (8) Utah, Rupp 9 (unassisted), 11:41, power play goal.
THIRD PERIOD—(9) SV, Enrico 2 (Nikolaisons), 0:21, shorthanded goal. (10) SV, Chad Levitan 2 (Pritchett, Jenson), 3:38. (11) SV, Danny Ward 1 (unassisted), 15:51, shorthanded and game-winning goal.
SHOTS ON GOAL—Utah UC Blizzard 11-19-9 for 39; Sun Valley 11-5-11 for 27.
GOALIES—Utah UC Blizzard, Travis Pierce (21 saves); Sun Valley, Ryan Thomson (34 saves, 3-0-0 record).
OFFICIALS—Bobby Noyes and Tyler Hanson.
NOTES—This is the first year for the semi pro Blizzard (4-4-0), playing out of Peaks Ice Arena in Provo, Utah. The Blizzard is playing an 18-game schedule this season from Nov. 5 through March 11. Utah's most recent win was a 14-1 home thumping of the Cache Valley (Logan) Trappers on Dec. 18. The Blizzard have split this season with Park City Pioneers, losing 5-2 at home Nov. 27 and winning 8-5 at Park City Nov. 20. Most of the Blizzard games this winter are against Park City Pioneers, Utah Dawgs and Cache Valley Trappers.....Blizzard skater Tommy Champi, 22, had a couple of power play goals in Utah's 4-goal second period tonight and looked like he was on his way to another big scoring effort against the Suns. Last Feb. 19, the 6-0, 205-pound right shot Champi scored 4 goals for the Utah Dawgs in an 8-4 Dawgs victory on Sun Valley ice. Champi was a former Most Valuable Player for the Brigham Young University Cougars hockey team. Growing up in California, he played AAA hockey and then skated for the Utah Junior Wildcats. After high school he played for the Butte (Mt.) Roughriders and also for a team in Manitoba, Canada. Many of the Blizzard skaters played for Utah Dawgs last season.
suns 2, blizzard 1
Saturday, JANUARY 1
Utah Blizzard 0 1 0 1
Sun Valley Suns 0 1 1 2
FIRST PERIOD—No scoring.
SECOND PERIOD—(1) Utah, Tommy Rupp 10 (Jeff Scofield), 4:09. (2) SV, Jamie Ellison 2 (John Miller, Vilnis Nikolaisons), 18:15.
THIRD PERIOD—(3) SV, Jordan Pritchett 5 (Blake Jenson, Zak Greenawalt), 1:50, power play and game-winning goal.
SHOTS ON GOAL—Utah UC Blizzard 5-15-11 for 31; Sun Valley 10-11-18 for 39.
GOALIES—Utah UC Blizzard, Oliver Freij (37 saves); Sun Valley, Ryan Thomson (30 saves, 4-0-0 record).
OFFICIALS—Chris Benson and Eric Wingard.
NOTES—Vilnis Nikolaisons is this year's Suns captain, assisted by Ryan Enrico and Ryan Thomson.....Suns forward lines were Ryan Enrico-Jon Duval-Jordan Pritchett, Vilnis Nikolaisons-Jamie Ellison-John Miller, Cody Proctor-Chad Levitan-Matt Ward, Noah Loyd-John Stevens-Taylor Rothgeb. The defensemen were Ivars Muzis, Blake Jenson, Zak Greenawalt, Bryan Winkler, Danny Ward and Josh Jacobson. Back-up goalie was Bobby Farrelly......The Suns were 3-for-6 on the power play this weekend, and Utah Blizzard was 5-for-22. The Suns had 64 penalty minutes and Utah 24.....Through 4 games, the Suns have 116 penalty minutes and opponents have 47, while the Suns are 5-for-12 on the power play and opponents 6-for-30.
2010-11 Sun Valley Suns final statistics
(4-0-0 overall: 4-0-0 home)
PLAYER GAMES GOALS AST. PTS. PMIN
Jordan Pritchett 4 5 2 7 4.0
Ryan Enrico 4 2 3 5 14.0
Blake Jenson 4 1 4 5 2.0
Chad Levitan 4 2 2 4 6.0
Jon Duval 4 1 3 4 11.0
Jamie Ellison 2 2 1 3 2.0
Matt Ward 4 1 2 3 4.0
Sean Rynes 3 1 2 3 2.0
Vilnis Nikolaisons 2 1 2 3 4.0
Taylor Rothgeb 3 2 0 2 4.0
Zak Greenawalt 4 0 2 2 0.0
Danny Ward 2 1 0 1 6.0
Sinjin Thomas 2 1 0 1 4.0
Cody Proctor 4 0 1 1 6.0
Charles Friedman 2 0 1 1 0.0
Eric Demment 1 0 1 1 0.0
Josh Jacobson 3 0 1 1 8.0
John Stevens 3 0 1 1 7.0
Trevor Thomas 2 0 1 1 26.0
Ivars Muzis 4 0 1 1 2.0
John Miller 1 0 1 1 0.0
Bryan Winkler 1 0 0 0 2.0
Noah Loyd 1 0 0 0 0.0
Kris Webster 2 0 0 0 0.0
Mike Connor 3 0 0 0 0.0
Bobby Sloper 1 0 0 0 0.0
Ryan Thomson 4 0 0 0 2.0
GOALTENDER GAMES GOALS W-L AVG.
Ryan Thomson 4 9 4-0-0 2.25
Shots—Thomson 128. Saves—Thomson 119. Shootout saves—0. Shootout goals allowed—0. Shutouts—0. Empty net goals—0.
SCORE BY PERIODS 1ST 2ND 3RD OT TOT
Opposition 2 7 0 0 9, 2.2
Sun Valley 7 4 9 0 20, 5.0
Two-goal games (1)—Jordan Pritchett 1.
Three-goal hat tricks (or more)—.
Game-winning goals (2)—Danny Ward 1, Jordan Pritchett 1.
Power play goals (5-12, 42%)—Blake Jenson 1, Taylor Rothgeb 1.
Power play goals (opposition): 6-30, (20%).
Suns shorthanded goals (4)—Ryan Enrico 2, Matt Ward 1, Danny Ward 1.
Shorthanded goals (opposition): 0.
Season penalty minutes: SV 116, opponents 47.
Total record: 4-0-0
Record in 1-goal games: 2-0-0
Record in overtime: 0-0-0
Games scoring 9 or more goals: 0
Games scoring 7 or more goals: 1