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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

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For the week of December 19 - 25, 2001


Young legs give 
Suns a needed lift

30-game hockey season 
debuts this weekend

It’s been nearly a decade since the Sun Valley Suns men’s hockey team has welcomed such an infusion of new players and young legs.

Suns rookies, near-rookies and all-around young skaters gather Friday in front of the Averell Harriman painting in Sun Valley Lodge. Seated in front, left to right, are local product Scott Winkler and Paul Baranzelli. Back, left to right, are Joe Lawson, Ben Stauffer, Kit Hughes and Tom Forti. The four in back are holding up the goaltender they hope will be covering up some of their rookie mistakes this winter—University of St. Thomas product Matt Gershater. Express photo by Willy Cook

As the franchise enters its 27th season, Suns player-coach Chris Benson is happy to have nine new players, including five from Minnesota with an average age of 22.

Good thing, too, since the Suns are anticipating a 30-game schedule of games for the 2001-02 ice campaign that opens Friday and Saturday, Dec. 21-22 against the Boise Blades.

Opening face-offs are 7 p.m.

"It’s our best crop since 1993," said Benson, Suns captain and now the skater with the most Sun Valley longevity. It’s his 12th year.

Back in 1993, the Suns rookie class featured Dave McKenna, John Miller, Paul Kinnaly, Mike Cornell, Billy Tryder and Brian Watts.

They helped shape one of the best Suns teams—one that won its first seven games, and its last five, and finished 15-3-2, losing two games by a single goal and one more by two goals.

This year’s schedule is even tougher.

Not only do the Suns have home-and-homes against the Jackson Hole Moose, Sun Valley will welcome four Minnesota teams and three from New England to the 24-game home slate at Sun Valley Skating Center.

Benson said, "We had teams hungry to come out this year and we tried to accommodate them."

Two visiting teams over the next month are national champions.

They are the Seattle Indians, the 2001 U.S. National Open Champions, and Bucks Furniture from Bloomington, Minn.—the 2001 U.S. National Elite Champions. Seattle is due Dec. 28-29, the Bucks Jan. 25-26.

Leading the Suns into the fray will be the never-say-die forward who set a single-season scoring record of 28 goals and 49 assists for 77 points during last winter’s 17-6-2 season.

Sixth-year center Jamie Ellison (190 points) is poised to become the quickest Sun ever to 200 points and will likely move quickly into the top ten of all-time Sun Valley scorers.

Ellison will center Sun Valley’s very experienced first forward line with left wing Vilnis Nikolaisons (23 goals and 48 points for 71 points last season, 145 points career) and right wings John Miller and Luke Smith.

The second line has young legs and is moving the puck well, said Benson, a member of the line.

It’s the St. Thomas line.

The University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.) that produced former Suns goalie Tony Benson and his brother Chris Benson has contributed three players to the new crop.

First-year forwards from the St. Thomas hockey program are 23-year-old right shot Ben Stauffer from Edina, Minn. and 23-year-old center Tom Forti from Hibbing, Minn.

Stauffer will skate the left wing, Forti at center, Benson on the right.

One more Minnesota product is 21-year-old forward Joe Lawson of Taconite, Minn., a left-hand shot. Lawson is lined up to center a bruising third line with 11th-year left wing Chas Riopel and 7th-year right wing John Stevens (36 points last winter).

The defense starts with the goaltender. The Suns have a good one in Matt Gershater, 23.

He’s young and almost a Suns rookie but Gershater has been here before. He has played portions of two previous Suns seasons.

Gershater was a back-up, one of four goalies, on the Suns 19-12-1 national championship team of 1997-98. In nine games he went 7-1-1 with a 3.33 goals against average.

Then he went to college and played three years at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Last winter he played a game late in the Suns season.

"Matt is solid," said Benson. "He’s almost a third defender back there, like my brother Tony, because he can move the puck up."

Veteran defensemen are 8th-year Kris Webster (29 points last winter) and 4th-year Ivars Muzis (27 points).

New defenders include 21-year-old Paul Baranzelli of Virginia, Minn., a cousin of Suns Hall of Famers John "Bump" Finnegan and Jimmy Finnegan. A left-hand shot, Baranzelli measures in at 6-0, 185.

Webster will be paired with Baranzelli in the early going.

Another rookie blueliner is Kit Hughes, 23, of Lexington, Mass. Hughes, a 6-1, 195-pound left shot, came out of Belmont Hills prep school and went to Bowdoin College, where he played four years of lacrosse and two years of ice hockey.

Hughes will link up with Muzis.

Hotchkiss School has provided two new Suns. Tim Tracy, 23, a native of Detroit, is a 6-0, 180-pound defenseman with a right-hand shot. Cam Bennett, 24, from Atlanta, Ga., skated at Hotchkiss and also at Division II Life University in Atlanta. He's a left-hand shooting forward.

Tracy will be paired with 3rd-year blueliner Jon Bender as a third set of defensemen.

Glad to be the back-up goalie is 34-year-old Brian Ross from Princeton, N.J.

Ross said he got the nod "by attrition, because all the other goalies left town." His previous hockey background? "Pond hockey," he said.


"Beat the Suns" is back

The Suns are reviving the between-periods "Beat the Suns."

Each home game, between the second and third periods, two shooters will be picked to come out on the ice and take aim, from center ice, at the goal located under the balcony.

The goal will be covered with a piece of wood that has a center hole and two side holes. Targeting and hitting the center hole is the hardest thing to achieve, so the prize will be $100 cash or a $150 car detailing from Sun Valley Car Wash.

A shooter hitting one of the side holes will receive a gift certificate from a list of generous merchants.

Just for participating, shooters will get a Sun Valley Suns water bottle.

Figure skating and junior hockey exhibitions involving young people will be entertainment highlights between the first and second periods.


Sun Valley Suns 
Roster for 2001-02

Listed are player names, ages, years with the 2001-02 Sun Valley Suns team, hometowns and previous hockey teams. Average age of this year's team is 28.4, same as last year.


Matt Gershater, 23, 3rd year Flagstaff, Arizona Great Falls Jrs/Univ. of Saint Thomas

Brian Ross, 34, 1st year Princeton, N.J. Pond hockey


Kris Webster, 28, 8th year Ketchum, Idaho S.V. Junior Hockey Association

Ivars Muzis, 28, 4th year Riga, Latvia Juniors Riga

Jon Bender, 25, 3rd year Cleveland, Ohio Univ. of Idaho

Kit Hughes, 23, 1st year Lexington, Mass. Bowdoin College

Paul Baranzelli, 21, 1st year Virginia, Minn. Junior B, Minnesota

Tim Tracy, 23, 1st year Detroit, Mich. Hotchkiss School


Chris Benson, 34, 12th year Cottage Grove, Minn. Univ. of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.)

Charles "Chas" Riopel, 35, 11th year Manchester, N.H. Colby College

Brian Watts, 32, 10th year Melrose, Mass. Hobart College

John S. Miller, 38, 9th year Darien, Conn. New Hampton Academy

John Stevens, 29, 7th year Anchorage, Ak. Univ. of Scranton

Jamie Ellison, 29, 6th year Anchorage, Ak. Northern Arizona/Herferd Devils (Germ.)

Vilnis Nikolaisons, 27, 4th year Riga, Latvia Juniors Riga

Luke Smith, 35, 4th year Rye, N.Y. Dartmouth College

Caleb Baukol, 32, 3rd year Great Falls/Missoula, Mt. Univ. of Montana/WSU

John McGuone, 24, 2nd year Atlanta, Ga. SV Senior Hockey League

Scott Winkler, 20, 2nd year Sun Valley SUNY-Brockport/Boise State Univ.

Cam Bennett, 24, 1st year Atlanta, Ga. Hotchkiss School/Life (Ga.) University

Tom Forti, 23, 1st year Hibbing, Minn. Univ. of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.)

Ben Stauffer, 23, 1st year Edina, Minn. Univ. of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.)

Joe Lawson, 21, 1st year Taconite, Minn. Grand Rapids (Minn.) Yellow Jackets


Head coach—Chris Benson. Assistant coaches—Chas Riopel and Kurt Wenzell

General manager—Chas Riopel

Chief statistician—Sarah Benson

Director of Officials—Bobby Noyes

Team doctor—Dr. Frank Batcha

Security—Ketchum and Sun Valley fire departments

Merchandise—Sun Valley Sunsets and Fury

Captain—Chris Benson

Assistants—John Stevens, Chas Riopel


Sun Valley Suns 2001-02 Ice Hockey Schedule

Sun Valley's amateur men's hockey team, entering its 27th season of competition, has a 30-game schedule including 24 games on home ice. All 2-game home series are played Friday and Saturday nights at Sun Valley Skating Center. Home games denoted by (Home), away by (A).


December 21-22   Boise Blades (Home)

December 28-29   Seattle (Wash.) Indians (Home)

January 4-6   Utah Winter Games (Salt Lake City area)

January 11-12   Richtone (Minneapolis) Painting (Home)

January 18-19   Minneapolis (Minn.) Green Mill (Home)

January 25-26   Bucks (Minn.) Furniture (Home)

February 1-2   Jackson (Wyo.) Moose (Home)

February 8-9   Open date

February 15-16   Michigan Jets (Home)

February 22-23   New England Wings (Home)

March 1-2   Dallas (Texas) South Stars (Home)

March 8-9   Boston (Mass.) Hockey Club (Home)

March 15-16   Open date

March 22-23   Jackson (Wyo.) Moose (Away)

March 29-30   St. Paul (Minn.) Turtles (Home)

April 5-6   Connecticut Camels (Home)


All home games at Sun Valley Skating Center begin at 7 p.m. There will be three 20-minute periods. Games should last about two-and-a-half hours. Ticket prices are $6 general admission, free for children 12-and-under.

Spectators are asked not to bring alcoholic beverages into the arena. Refreshments and food are sold in the rink. Parking will be allowed in the two lots just to the western side of the rink, but no parking will be permitted on Dollar Road. In addition, spectators can park in the main Sun Valley parking lot by the village.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.