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For the week of February 21 through 27, 2001

Suns (10-4-1) await Jackson Moose

Smith, Nikolaisons score hat tricks against Jets

They had one letdown.

But the Sun Valley Suns (10-4-1) also benefited from hat tricks by Luke Smith and Vilnis Nikolaisons during the visit of the Michigan Jets for a two-game series last weekend.

It was a hard-fought twinbill, one the Suns needed with their toughest rival, the Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Moose, coming to Sun Valley Skating Center for games Friday and Saturday, Feb. 23-24 at 7 p.m.

Former Dartmouth College skater Smith (12 goals, 12 assists season) tallied three goals in Friday’s 5-5 overtime tie with the Jets. Nikolaisons (17-28 for 45) scored three in Saturday’s comeback 7-4 win over Michigan.

With Saturday’s victory, the Suns made it eight wins in 11 games since their 11-4 and 7-4 New Year’s losses at Jackson Hole Dec. 29-30. They also exceeded the victory total of last winter’s 9-14-1 Suns squad.

And, if not for Friday’s third-period letdown when the Jets scored three goals in a three-and-a-half minute span to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead, the Suns might have swept their third series of the season.

Suns coach Chris Benson said after Saturday’s 7-4 triumph, "The Jets have a good hockey team and it was a good tune-up for us with the Moose coming in. Tonight we had a very good second period."

Trailing 2-0 and 3-2, the Suns took the lead for good early in the second when Nikolaisons scored twice in 15 seconds to complete his hat trick. Goals by Kris Webster, John Stevens (shorthanded) and Smith made it five unanswered goals and a 7-3 lead.

Friday, the Suns outshot the Jets 50-24 but ex-Michigan State goalie Tom Nowland (45 saves) was a big factor in the overtime tie that was cluttered up by a crowd-pleasing rash of fist fights and ejections in the third.

Squandering a comfortable lead with porous defense, the Suns seemed ready to lose their second straight one-goal Friday night game before Webster, Jamie Ellison and John Stevens took exception to some Jets high sticks and started throwing fists.

The fights fired up the Suns, who outshot the Jets 19-5 in the third period and in the five-minute OT.

But it was the patience of Nikolaisons on the point of a Suns power play with nine minutes left in regulation that helped force the tie.

Instead of blasting a shot, Nikolaisons waited and waited until his teammates lined up, then he slid a pass ahead to Jake Glotfelty. Glotfelty put a shot on goal that Smith tipped past Nowland for his hat trick.

The Suns, unbeaten in their last six games with the Michigan sextet, improved their advantage to 16-7-4 in the 14-season rivalry with the Jets.

But they’ll have their work cut out against the Moose.

Jackson Hole improved to 16-2 on the season with two 7-2 whippings of the reigning National Senior Elite champion Minnesota Bucks Feb. 9-10.

The Moose, runner-up team in the 2000 National Senior tournament, have owned the Suns recently, winning six straight by a 49-28 margin and hiking their advantage to 8-5-1 in the four-year series.

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