The Sun Valley Suns high school hockey team hosted the Idaho Amateur Hockey Association (IAHA) High School State Championships at Sun Valley over the past weekend.
Sun Valley Youth Hockey president Pat McMahon said the four-day, 14-team tournament was the largest in state history. The host team of 15-to-18 year olds was up to the task.
The Suns displayed hearty play, key goal scoring and won a shootout that sent the Sun Valley into the finals.
It was a great showing for the host Suns (4-1-0 tourney play), who won their pool and pulled off an upset victory over the eventual champions in a preliminary contest.
Sun Valley played Canyon County in Sunday's championship, but the Coyotes were too strong for the Suns and took the tournament title 4-2.
Coach Chris Benson said his team's performance was a pleasant surprise. Benson said he wasn't sure the Suns would make it to the semi-final game, but the Suns showed a lot of character over the weekend and played hard.
"I was very pleased with what I saw," said Benson. "Our boys battled hard."
The Suns started pool play Thursday defeating Salmon 4-3. Captain Tom Crosby scored a three-goal hat trick and Rickie Jeneson added a single goal. Assisting were Jack Swanson, Riley Sibbach, Liam Jablonski and Drew Barsch. Goalie Cassidy Carson made 11 saves.
The victory put the taste of winning in the mouths of the Suns as they steadily improved through the rest of pool play.
In the second game on Friday night, Sun Valley battled a bigger and faster Canyon County team; however, the Suns upset the Coyotes 3-2.
"We played a near perfect game," said Benson. "We had great execution all night."
The Suns got things going early in the game with a power-play goal by Crosby (assist from Mason Noyes). The momentum carried over a few minutes later as the Suns scored again when Liam Jablonski scored on a one-on-one breakaway (assists to Crosby and Karel Kaiser).
The Coyotes scored their first goal in the second period on a Taylor VanHalder goal (assists from Austin Truex and Luke Carleton).
Ahead 2-1 in the third period, the Suns secured insurance when Erik Wilander scored (assist by Eli Conrad). The Coyotes scored a late goal at the end of regulation from Jake Bernard (assists Caleb Flowers and Bobbie Rowell).
The Suns escaped with a win despite Canyon County out-shooting Sun Valley 30-15.
Big saves came aplenty for the Suns as there wasn't much doubt as to who was the most important player in game. It was goalkeeper Carson. With the onslaught of pucks being shot against his net, Carson was a wall all night.
With that win, Sun Valley headed into Saturday's pool play with two big wins to help carry the momentum. Up next was Borah/Capital, and the Suns didn't waste much time by scoring in the first period by Jablonski (assist by Drew Barsch and Jeneson).
Borah/Capital scored in the second period tying the game 1-1 on a goal by Christian Harfmann (assist Shawn Grove).
The Suns pulled away in the third period by scoring two goals. The first goal came from Noyes (assist from Jablonski) and a power-play goal from Barsch (unassisted). Borah/Capital put one more puck in the net before time expired.
Sun Valley played a clean and disciplined game, letting all the mistakes come from Borah's end. Borah/Capital spent nearly the entire game in the penalty box, out-gaining the Suns in penalty minutes. Borah/Capital spent 16 minutes in the box compared to the Suns' four minutes.
"We kept our composure pretty well all weekend," said Benson on his team's lack of penalty minutes. "We didn't have many power-play goals, but we didn't have many (penalty) minutes either."
The 3-2 win over Borah/Capital ended pool play and put Sun Valley in the driver's seat as a pool winner.
Sun Valley faced Meridian in the semi-final, which proved to be hard-fought as Sun Valley won 5-4 in a shootout. In the shoot-out, Sun Valley scored three goals to none for Meridian. Goals came from Eli Conrad, Crosby and Jablonski.
Sun Valley and Meridian exchanged goals all game. The match was like a teeter-totter—each team had a shot at winning. In the end, Sun Valley's talents provided the win. Neither team scored in overtime and the Suns won the shootout.
In regulation, the Suns' goal scorers were Jablonski (unassisted), Noyes (Crosby and Jablonski), Conrad (Riley Sibbach) and Crosby (Jablonski).
With the win over Meridian, Sun Valley faced a rematch with Canyon County in Sunday's championship game. But the Coyotes proved more physical and more opportunistic, winning the title game 4-2.
Seeking revenge for their earlier loss to the Suns, the Coyotes (45 penalty minutes) were more aggressive. They scored twice in a 13-second span in the first period, goals from assistant captain Bobbie Rowell and Jake Bernard.
Jeneson tallied Sun Valley's first goal in the second period (assisted by Hagan Barsch and Peter MacMillan). The Coyotes answered with a power play goal by Bernard for a 3-1 lead after two periods of play.
Rowell scored one more goal for 4-1 Coyotes lead in the third. Drew Barsch added a goal near the end of the third period.
Both teams were on the heavy attack, each amassing 25 shots on goal. Sun Valley actually led in shots in the first period, which was a different version from the previous game. Ironically, the Suns won the first meeting with fewer shots and lost the second meeting with more shots.
Coach Benson said the biggest difference between the two games between Sun Valley and Canyon County was that his team made a few more mistakes than before, which hurt the Suns' chances.
"We didn't have a very deep bench in the second game," said Benson. "I pushed my guys a little more Friday. My boys kept battling to the end, though."
In the first game, Benson did an excellent job matching Canyon County's line changes. In the second game, though, it was tougher because of the lack of depth on the bench.
The Suns scored 19 goals for the weekend. Jablonski led the Suns in scoring (4 goals/4 assists for 8 points) along with Crosby (6/2 for 8). Others:
Drew Barsch (2/2); Noyes (2/1); Jeneson (2/1); Conrad (2/1); Sibbach (0/2); Wilander (1/0); Swanson (0/1); MacMillan (0/1); Hagan Barsch (0/1); and Kaiser (0-1).
Carson (74 saves) held his own in the net as one of the top goalkeepers in the tournament.
Peewees enjoy McCall hockey trip
The Sun Valley Peewee youth hockey team (ages 11-12) competed in the six-team McCall Icebreaker last weekend—finishing a great season with a fun weekend of hockey.
The Suns came out of the chute hot Friday, beating Coeur d'Alene Thunder 7-1. Jett Erickson led the way with a three-goal hat trick. Also scoring for the winners were Tiernan Naghsh (2 goals), Matt Galgano and Alec Broman.
In their second game, the Suns knocked off the hometown McCall Mountaineers 8-1. Leading goal scorers were Ike Buxton and Tiernan Naghsh with two goals each. Nick Smith, Alec Broman, Henry Raff and Jett Erickson also found the back of the net.
Saturday night's action had the Suns meeting season rival, the Boise Junior Steelheads.
Coach Chris Zarkos said the Suns, "skated their best game of the season." Game MVP James Everitt made 24 saves in the Suns goal but came up just short as the Steelheads netted the game winner with 1:26 left on the clock to seal a 4-3 victory and a trip to the finals.
The Suns went on to the third-place game against the Lewiston Lightning but fell 5-2.
Sun's players attending the McCall tournament and their weekend scoring totals were: Tiernan Naghsh (6 goals/2 assists), Jett Erickson (4/0), Ike Buxton (2/2), Alec Broman (2/2), Henry Raff (3/0), Nick Smith (2/0), Matt Galgano (1/0), Sam Ballard (0/2), George Prekeges (0/1), Flynn Stewart (0/1), Anik Zarkos, Barrett Ott, Klayton Douthit, Ziggy Slanetz and goaltender James Everitt.