For the week of January 6, 1999   thru January 12, 1999  

Suns start New Year bagging some Moose

Benson’s saves, awesome forechecking throttle Jackson Hole 5-4, 6-3

Goalie Tony Benson showed the way with stubborn resistance, and some incredible forechecking put the Sun Valley Suns in the driver’s seat during an outstanding, two-game hockey series with the Jackson Hole Moose at Sun Valley Skating Center.

The Suns (4-2), showing the heart and killer instinct of a champion, rose to the occasion and fought off the challenge of the up-and-coming Moose (9-3) by scores of 5-4 and 6-3 over New Year’s weekend before a boisterous home gallery.

Ninth-year Suns goalie Benson was simply amazing Friday. He stopped 40 of 42 Moose shots in the first two periods alone and really ripped the heart out of a Jackson Hole sextet that had beaten the Suns 7-5 and 9-1 in Wyoming Dec. 11-12.

"Tony played an incredible game," said Suns coach Tim Jeneson about Benson, who finished his 78th career Suns win by denying 50 of 54 Moose shots. "Our forechecking in the second period was awesome."
Fueled by Benson’s heroics in the net and staked to a 3-2 lead by goals off the Middlebury sticks of Dates Fryberger, Dave McKenna and Harry Weekes after two periods Friday, the Sun Valley forechecking throttled the Moose the rest of the weekend.

By taking away the Moose breakout passes and controlling the neutral zone, the Suns reduced the number of Jackson Hole shots to a trickle. Meanwhile, nine different Suns scored goals including five on the power play over two games.

"It was a good team effort the whole weekend," said Jeneson, who said the reigning National Senior "A" champion Suns knew they had to sweep the Moose. "After we won Friday, I told them before Saturday’s game that Friday’s win would mean nothing if we didn’t win tonight."

Jeneson added, "It’s becoming a great rivalry. Jackson Hole is a good team, a good organization and a fun team to play. It was a series we had to win after losing two over at Jackson. Hopefully we’ll have a rubber match against them at nationals."

Riding a four-game winning streak, the Suns will compete at the Utah Winter Games this coming weekend. Next home games are Feb. 5-6 against the Powell River Regals from British Columbia, Canada.

Friday’s close game

Benson saw plenty of rubber in the first two periods and turned aside all but two shots—a rebound with 33 seconds left in the first period and a twice-deflected shot from the point one minute into the second. It was 2-2 when the Moose went on the power play at the 12:48 mark.

Two great Benson saves took the legs out of the Moose.

Jackson Hole forward Greg Gripentrog, who scored 7 goals against the Suns over at Snow King Center, found himself with the puck in the slot. It was an old-fashioned standoff, he and Benson, face-to-face, man-to-man, winner-take-all between two ex-St. Thomas College skaters. It was a sudden-death scenario—with half the game yet to play.

Benson didn’t flinch and blocked Gripentrog’s rising wrist shot off his shoulder.

And you probably could have heard the plexiglass-banging by appreciative Suns fans all the way over at The Duchin Room. Then, Benson was tested once more. He flicked out his knee and stopped a shot from the point by ex-Sun Mark Morningstar.

Amazingly, the Moose simply stopped skating, despite enjoying a manpower advantage. Sun Valley’s forwards worked and worked, forechecked and forechecked, and frustrated the Moose.

Jackson had one more chance, with 40 seconds left. Benson ranged far out to pokecheck the puck away from a Moose skater who had slipped behind the defense, then Tony covered two rebounds to a huge round of applause. Eleven seconds later, before the period expired, Weekes scored. 3-2 Suns.

Deep in the third period, ex-Sun Kevin Lynch took a hooking penalty and Suns captain Chris Benson made it hurt with a power play goal. A minute later, defenseman Kris Webster capitalized on some hard forechecking by Vilnis Nikolaisons and Jamie Ellison. Webster cruised in from the point and scooped home a low shot for a 5-2 Suns lead.

It was the eventual winner.

The Latvia Connection

Reluctantly watching Friday’s game was Suns newcomer Ivars Muzis, a 25-year-old left-shooting defenseman from Latvia who had come to Sun Valley because of his friendship with Suns wing Nikolaisons.

Muzis wanted to play, but had a tender knee. However, he saw how the Suns were hurting for able-bodied defensemen Friday, especially after Jake Glotfelty left the game with a gimpy knee.

"We’ve got to figure out a way to shore up the defense," said Jeneson after Friday’s narrow win. The coach broke into a broad grin when Muzis told him he was ready to play.

Muzis was one of two Suns newcomers Saturday. The other was St. Paul’s Tom Rother, a former minor league hockey goalie. It’s a long way from Toledo, and Rother was a little shaky in his first Suns start. He allowed two Moose power-play goals in the first period before settling down.

The difference between the Friday and Saturday games was in the number of Moose shots. They took 42 against Tony Benson in the first two periods Friday. They took 16, mostly long ones, against Rother in the first two periods Saturday. "We picked up their wings earlier coming out of the zone," said Jeneson.

Trailing 2-1 after one stanza, the Suns scored 4 unanswered goals in the second and got a big boost from the Latvia Connection.

A minute into the period, center Mikael Reijo dished a cross-ice pass to big Luke Smith. Smith muscled his way across the crease and tied the game 2-2, for his second goal.

Jeneson is always looking for a puck mover on defense, and Muzis showed some of those skills when the Suns went on the power play three minutes into the second.

Ellison won a faceoff in the Moose zone and Webster chased down the puck along the sideboards. Kris whipped it across the ice, to Muzis on the right point. Muzis saw something no one else did, which was a fellow Latvian on the doorstep. Muzis rifled a pass through the crease, onto Vilnis’ stick. Call it a goal.

The ability to move the puck and skate into open spaces was a pretty thing to watch all weekend for the Suns. It created a power play situation later in the second period. A bang-bang breakout passing play from Chris Benson, to linemates Nikolaisons and Ellison prompted a Moose high sticking penalty.

On the power play, Reijo made a centering pass in the Moose zone and Muzis floated in from the point and top-shelved a shot. 4-2 Suns.

The fifth Suns goal was simply hard work by Ellison and Nikolaisons, circling and circling like little pests in the Moose hide. Nikolaisons was credited with his team-leading 7th goal, making it Latvia 3, Moose 2, and, more importantly, Suns 5-2.

Chas Riopel added insult to injury by ricocheting a puck off the back of Moose goalie Bob Carruth and into the net late in the third period. But give Moose veteran Carruth tons of credit. He faced 55 Suns shots Saturday, and made 49 saves.

Jeneson said, "It was a lot more representative of our true team this weekend. Really, I have yet to see this Suns team come out flat, this year or last year. I was happy with our performance."


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