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For the week of March 27 - April 2, 2002


Suns (24-2) spoil Moose’s finale 5-4

Hard-fought win ties 
franchise win record

Express Staff Writer

They were two great hockey games—two rivals flying up and down the ice, fighting tooth-and-nail for territory and writing their little morality plays before packed houses at the foot of Snow King Ski Area.

Suns defenseman Kris Webster (left) wards off Jackson Hole’s Gregg Gripentrog during Friday’s 3-2 Suns loss. Gripentrog scored twice, and Webster was ejected in a third-period fight that gave him a nice bloody nose to show his in-laws in Florida. Express photo by Willy Cook

Plenty was at stake when the Sun Valley Suns and Jackson Hole Moose clashed Friday and Saturday at the Wyoming resort. Each team had its own objective, but both played for one overriding goal—respect.

The Moose hoped two wins over the Suns would help the fifth-year franchise reach 20 wins and salvage a frustrating winter that began with the lofty goal of playing in the USA Hockey Senior Nationals for a third straight year.

On the verge of establishing 27-year franchise records for single-season wins and goals, the Suns have blended young recruits with hard-working veterans and answered nearly every challenge in an outstanding 2001-02 campaign.

But the Suns hadn’t won a game in Jackson Hole for five years and had been outscored 57-29 in the eight-game winless skid at Snow King dating to 1997. They had tolerated two years of Moose trash talking and wanted suitable revenge.

John Miller, who played hurt and played one of his best games Saturday, looks for the tip in front of Moose goalie Bob “Howie” Carruth during the 5-4 Suns win. Miller scored a power-play goal. Watching are linemates Luke Smith (left) and Joe Lawson. Express photo by Willy Cook

The Suns got it Saturday night with the rooting help of 75 fans who yelled down the 500-plus Moose faithful.

Playing with composure they lacked in Friday’s 3-2 loss, the Suns parlayed four power-play goals into a 5-4 win that ruined the Moose season finale.

Sun Valley junior hockey product Scott Winkler scored the game winner, his 15th goal, midway through the third.

The Suns (24-2), with four games to play, thus tied the team mark of 24 wins achieved twice, in 1979 and 1980.

Suns player/coach Chris Benson said, "The Moose had been talking about sweeping us and reaching 20 wins. We wanted to prevent that. And now we want to sweep our final four games and finish up with 28 wins for the season."

The loss was a blow for the Moose (19-8), the 2000 national runner-up team that had bragged about winning a national title in October before player losses and injuries took their toll and caused Jackson Hole to abandon plans to travel to Wisconsin for nationals.

In the five-year rivalry the Moose lead 12-7-1 but the Suns have made inroads—going 2-2 this season—after two years of lopsided losses to the Moose.


Gut-check weekend

Benson called Friday’s 3-2 Suns loss something of a debacle. "We were flat after not skating in two weeks," he said.

The younger Suns players were a little intimidated by the large, rowdy Jackson Hole crowd, the referee had a quick whistle and Suns veterans Jamie Ellison and Kris Webster didn’t help by getting thrown out of the game for fighting.

Still, Suns goalie Matt Gershater (38 saves) was simply great. His goaltending, the reliable Suns penalty killing and two individual goal scoring efforts by Winkler and Webster kept the Suns close.

Wing Luke Smith hit the post early in the third period in an excellent attempt to tie the game 2-2. Seconds later Jackson Hole’s Gregg Gripentrog beat the Suns defense down the right wing and whipped home a wrist shot for a 3-1 Moose lead.

Benson said, "For the most part we played well defensively all weekend. But we had a little chat after Friday’s game about how to conduct ourselves.

"And we talked about improving our power play. Jackson Hole’s penalty killers were overloading the side with the puck, the strong side. On Saturday night we tried to work it down low, then out high, to get their box to move and get the puck in the alleys."

Not surprisingly the Suns fell behind 1-0 Saturday. They’ve played 26 games, and opponents have scored first 13 times in the 2001-02 campaign.

Then the Suns scored on their first of nine power plays.

Center Tom Forti fought off two Moose in the corner and sent the puck back to Paul Baranzelli on the left point. Baranzelli wasted no time, with big Luke Smith standing in front of the goalie. He blasted a slap shot for his 17th goal.

Cracks in the Moose armor first surfaced when former Suns skater Bryan Korpi lost his composure and was ejected for spearing with just 28 seconds left in the first period.

The Suns, given a nice, long five-minute power play, struck quickly in the second when power play quarterback Vilnis Nikolaisons rifled a pass across the middle of the ice and found John Stevens barreling in from the point. Stevens scored, 2-1.

Except for a couple of bad bounces, the Suns might have scored a couple more on the long power play. They were passing well, the best in a month, invading the Moose box and causing tons of problems.

The Moose tied it 2-2 with a slap shot, but the hosts gave it back when former Suns defenseman Wade Clarke went off for elbowing.

"George Jacket" winner John Miller, playing with a sore shoulder, faked a cross-ice pass to Baranzelli and beat goalie Bob "Howie" Carruth with a slap shot for another power-play goal and a 3-2 lead.

Getting a two-goal lead was a luxury in a rivalry that has tightened up considerably this winter. Four of the last five games between the two teams have been settled by one goal.

But the Suns built a 4-2 cushion with their only even-strength goal—an excellent combination that started when Chas Riopel hurdled over a Moose defender’s stick, fell down and then got back up with sheer determination.

Left wing Riopel went hard into the corner boards with a Moose and freed up the puck. Center Joe Lawson was right there to pick it up. With one glance Lawson threw a pass in the slot to wing Chris Benson, who buried it past Carruth.

A formidable foe, the Moose battled back for a 4-4 tie two minutes into the third period. But that’s all they got, because Suns goalie James Moskos (40 saves) was equal to every test, making big save after big save.

The final crack in the Moose armor appeared when 6-3, 190-pound native Minnesotan Carruth was thrown out of the game for going after Miller. "Johnny gave him a little whack and Howie just snapped. It was stupid," said Benson.

Ironically it was the second time in four games between the two teams that a Moose goalie has been tossed, first Marc Morningstar in Sun Valley, then Carruth in Jackson Hole.

The Suns needed only 15 seconds into the power play to score the eventual winner. It came, fittingly, from Winkler, who felt so bad after coughing up a pass that helped the Moose win 2-1 in Sun Valley Feb. 2.

"Everybody was pretty happy about the win," said Benson. "Both of our goalies played real well. And it was nice to have a lot of fans there."

Next, the Suns try to break the franchise’s all-time single-season win record Friday and Saturday, March 29-30 at 7 p.m. when the St. Paul (Minn.) Turtles come to Sun Valley Skating Center.

Last March the Suns (17-6-2) capped a season-ending seven-game winning streak with 12-3 and 5-4 wins over the Turtles.


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.