Friday, June 6, 2014

Suns anchor the new Black Diamond hockey league

Four-team loop will kick off in 2014-15

Express Staff Writer

John Burke

    The newly-formed Black Diamond Hockey League will begin in the 2014-15 winter sea-son featuring Senior “A” elite men’s teams from Sun Valley, Jackson Hole (Wyo.), Bozeman (Mt.) and Park City (Utah).
    Sun Valley Suns coach John Burke announced the new league Wednesday, following a conference call last Friday dur-ing which representatives from the ski resort towns outlined the parameters of the four-team league for the coming season.
    Anchoring the league is the Suns team, which has been playing full-contact men’s hockey since 1974. The Jackson Hole Moose started in 1997. The Park City Pioneers began in 2009. Bozeman Stingers is the newest hockey franchise.
    “Once Bozeman got up to speed, the impetus for the league got rolling,” said Burke, a pioneer Suns player 40 years ago. “The players on all the league teams will continue to get younger, but we’ll still have that ski town flavor.”
    Geographically, the four teams form the likeness of a diamond, and the term “Black Diamond” is familiar naming difficult runs at ski resorts. All four teams are in towns where ski hills are readily accessible, Bozeman with Big Sky Resort and Bridger Bowl nearby.
    From Sun Valley, it’s 240 miles to Jackson Hole (4 hour, 30 minute drive), 324 miles to Park City (5 hours) and 355 miles to Bozeman (5 hours, 15 minutes). The longest distance between cities is Bozeman to Park City, 440 miles (7 hours).
    Burke said, “I’m excited for the team, for the town and for the Suns legacy—to be doing something different that will be beneficial for everyone. We’ve survived for 40 years and would like to survive another 40 years. It will help our team grow and hopefully we’ll bring home a league championship.”
    Never have the Suns been associated with such a league. The team has played an inde-pendent schedule, hosting most of its games and traveling once or twice a year. “We’ve been asked to join a league, but we’ve always been ‘Notre Dame,’” Burke said.
    Burke, having struggled to find enough players to play out a full 22- to 24-game schedule the last few years, considered forming such a league to bring more stability to all the fran-chises and give the players “something to shoot for.”
    “I’ve been thinking about this for a while. There are a lot of Division 3 players who want to keep playing the game,” he said. “We want them to know there is good hockey out here if they just want to keep playing the game and having fun.”
    Burke gradually sold the idea to the principal organizers on the four teams—hockey player agent David Imonti in Park City, former Suns player Justin Cook in Bozeman and former Moose goalie Bob “Howie” Carruth at Jackson Hole.
    He said, “I put in David’s ear and in Justin’s ear, and I waited a bit on Howie. He liked it and saw its advantages.”
    Acknowledging that such a league would require at least three Suns road trips a season instead of the usual two, Burke went to his captain Ryan En-rico and asked him to feel out Suns players about the league. Burke said, “I left the room and Rico talked to them. They were supportive of the idea.”
    In the new league, the four teams will play home-and-home games with each other team—amounting to 12 league games. The remaining 12 games or six home weekend series for the Suns would be against tradi-tional rivals like Bobby Far-relly’s East Coast Snipes.
    All teams will qualify for the league championship tourna-ment set for next March 14-15 at Snow King Center in Jackson Hole. Subsequent league tour-naments will be staged at rotat-ing sites, he said.
    Though the league games will carry added weight, Suns hockey will look pretty much the same. Twice-weekly prac-tices start in early November. First games are set with Bozeman Dec. 5-6. Ticket prices will stay the same. Community benefits will continue, he said.
    Burke envisions the four-team league expanding to eight with the possible addition of teams in Vail, Boulder, Breck-enridge and Denver/Aspen. “Two divisions of eight teams is where I want to go, so that not everyone makes the play-offs,” said Burke.
    He added, “It’s exciting that even in this first year, we’re already talking expansion.” Burke said he hoped the league Web site would be set up some-time in the near future.

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