For the week of December 23 thru December 29, 1998  

Suns make gains with two home wins

9-5 triumphs over St. Paul Fury Motors

Moments after the 11th-seeded University of Massachusetts upset Georgia Southern 55-43 for the Division 1-AA national football championship Saturday, someone asked a Minuteman linebacker about the prospects for next year.

He said, "We’ll have to work hard, maybe harder, because people are going to be looking for us."

That’s pretty much the situation of the Sun Valley Suns hockey team. They’re on top. Second-year coach Tim Jeneson knows they’ll have to work harder to stay there.

The Suns are the defending national Senior "A" tournament champions. Four tough games into the 1998-99 season, the Suns realize they’re not in Kansas anymore.

Last weekend’s two-game series against St. Paul (Minn.) Fury Motors was a good example of the tougher season schedule Jeneson has arranged to challenge the Suns.

The Suns (2-2) swept the series, 9-5 and 9-5, securing their first wins of the season after two road losses at Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Dec. 11-12.

But they were playing a good hockey team, not an early-season scrimmage partner like the Oregon Frontier. At times the Suns didn’t look so good in their home debut.

After Friday’s victory, Jeneson called a post-game team meeting and informed his players that everyone was still fighting for positions.

He said, "St. Paul is a good team, all quality hockey players. They were a step faster than us tonight. It’s nice to have a win. But we could easily have lost 5-4."

Saturday’s final result was identical but it was a better hockey game and Jeneson felt better about the Suns’ effort.

"We hung in there and had a good third period, which we needed with Jackson Hole coming here in two weeks," said Jeneson, referring to a Moose sextet that beat the Suns 7-5 and 9-1.

Saturday’s game watched by 100 spectators on a cold night was a very good hockey game, a fast-skating and clean 4-4 tie after two periods that the Suns broke open with a 5-goal third period—captain Chris Benson scoring his 11th career hat trick in the final 20 minutes.

The Suns debuted a potentially high-scoring line in left wing Vilnis Nikolaisons from Latvia, center Mikael Reijo and right wing Chris Benson. They piled up 17 of the 48 Suns weekend points and scored 7 of 9 goals Saturday.

Nikolaisons had a 6-point night Saturday including 2 goals and Reijo added 2 goals.

Good team defense fueled Saturday’s win, Jeneson said.

Suns goalie Tony Benson kept his team alive, stopping 26 of 30 Fury shots in the first two periods including a great stop on St. Paul’s Sterling Black after a mad, goalmouth scramble with five seconds left in the second period.

Having secured the 4-4 tie, the Suns outshot the Fury 20-5 in the final period.

And they put the puck in the net with fine scoring plays.

Center Billy Tryder, who never stopped hustling all game, controlled the puck with his skates in the offensive zone on the power play and centered quickly to Chris Benson. Fester fired low and hard and it was 5-4 Suns.

The next goal was a great Nikolaisons feed from the right wing boards to Reijo in the slot. Reijo top-shelved it for a 6-4 lead.

Preceding the goal was an excellent forechecking sequence during which Dates Fryberger and John Stevens, and defensemen Kris Webster and Jake Glotfelty, pinned the puck in the Fury zone.

With six-and-a-half minutes left in a one-goal game, Nikolaisons’ quickness created another penalty shot, his second successful one-on-one in two weeks for a 7-5 lead. Then the Suns put together a pretty bang-bang passing play, from Nikolaisons behind the Fury net, to defenseman Harry Weekes coming in from the point, to Benson in the slot.

Afterwards, Jeneson said he’s looking to solidify the Suns roster by the end of the year, possibly with a wing from St. Paul named Jeff Volkman and a Russian defenseman who is a friend of Nikolaisons.

Three practices remain before the Moose arrive Jan. 1-2 for a rematch of the recent Suns setback, and the Suns will be working hard to get into top shape for the big clash.


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