| Sun Valley coach John Burke was behind the bench guiding the Suns 50-and-over team to the USA Hockey Tier 1 tournament championship Sunday near Tampa, Fla. Express photo by Willy Cook
The Sun Valley 50-and-over men’s hockey team celebrated Sunday night near Tampa, Fla. after winning the championship game of the USA Hockey Adult National Championship tournament earlier Sunday.
Consisting of 11 former Sun Valley Suns skaters and valuable pick-up players, the Sun Valley squad came out of the third seed in the playoffs of the Tier 1 Over-50 class to dominate the title game by an 8-1 score over Old Tyme from western New York State.
Tournament games were played at the Ice Sports Forum and Ellenton Ice Sports Complex in the suburban Tampa cities of Brandon and Ellenton.
Earlier Sunday, Sun Valley earned a berth in the championship game with a 2-0 shutout over the second-seeded North Carolina Eagles in the semi-final contest.
One of the Suns goals came from native Montreal skater Randy Velischek, 51, who played 10 National Hockey League seasons from 1982-92 for three NHL teams including the Minnesota North Stars.
Posting the semi-final shutout in the Suns net was Boise-based goalie Ken Hilgert, 48, from St. Paul, Minn. and a former collegiate star for Mankato State and Minnesota State.
All players in the Over 50 No Check National Championships must be 50 years of age or older except for goalies, who may be 45 years and older.
Former Suns on the national championship team coached by John “Cub” Burke were Dave Reichel, Joe McCarthy, Dave Hutchinson, Brad Dredge, Dale Johnson, Tom Maroste, Glenn Hunter, Tim Rappleye, Johnny Miller and back-up goalie Bobby Farrelly.
Hunter and Burke did double duty. Hunter skated on defense for the Heartland team in the Men’s 60-and-over tournament and on the forward line for the 50-and-over champs, and Burke skated on a forward line for the Heartland 60s squad and went behind the bench to guide the 50s to the championship.
“It’s a real feather in the cap for the Suns organization to win this tournament, which was intense and physical brought right to the limit of the name of ‘no check,’” said coach Burke. “It’s literally the Stanley Cup for adult summer hockey in the U.S.
“We had a lot of fun. It was a blast.”
Former Suns players, nicknamed “Setting Suns,” have been competing in the adult nationals for the past three years, winning the trophy, banner and championship watches for a first time Sunday.
Other pick-up players besides goalie Hilgert and Velischek were Winnipeg native Doug Baran, 50, a former minor league pro at Tulsa and Peoria, along with Scott Holden, Barney Corning, Tony Trace, Frankie O’Brien and Lester McKinnon.
Sun Valley finished second in its four-team Pool “A” of the eight-team tournament.
Thursday, the Suns defeated Team Sten 6-0, then Sun Valley lost 4-2 to the Heartland Hockey Club on Friday.
On Saturday, the Suns lost 3-2 to the Michigan Sting in an overtime shootout—but the point obtained in the overtime loss launched Sun Valley into the four-team playoffs.
In Sunday’s Tier 1 playoffs, Sun Valley ousted North Carolina 2-0. In the other semi, No. 4-seeded Old Tyme won 2-0 over No. 1 seed Heartland.
Although Old Tyme boasted a 19-6 goals-against in four games compared to Sun Valley‘s 12-7 goals against, it was no contest in the title game. Sun Valley breezed 8-1 and enabled coach Burke to insert back-up goalie Farrelly in the closing moments of the 15-minute stop-time third period.
“Probably the first time ever a goalie has changed on the fly,” said Burke, headed to New Orleans Monday to caddy in the PGA’s Zurich Classic tournament April 25-28. “I couldn’t get a whistle.”