There was nothing like a little New Year’s weekend jaw-boning to get the bleacher bums and Jackson Hole Moose visitors fully engaged during Friday’s barnburner of a men’s hockey game on resort ice.
It all came to a head after the Sun Valley Suns finally found a way to solve brilliant Moose goalie Dan Amborski (49 saves) and score the equalizer 2-2 in a dandy of a hockey match-up in front of a totally packed house at Sun Valley Skating Center.
The Moose finally won 4-3 in a shootout, Amborski stopping two of the three Suns shootout attempts to keep Jackson Hole (7-0) unbeaten on the season.
What came before turned up the atmosphere a few notches.
Amborski, fifth-year Moose goalie from Rochester, N.Y. and Norwich (Vt.) University, had stopped 38 of 39 shots before Suns sniper Bryan O’Connell swept down ice and beat the Moose defense with pure speed trying to close the 2-1 gap midway through the third period.
Instead of shooting, like O’Connell did on a John Miller pass late in the first period for his eighth goal in seven games, the scoring threat from Taunton, Mass. swiveled and threw an amazing backhand pass across the crease where his center Jon Duval was standing.
Meanwhile, Moose defenseman Miller Resor fell trying to hip-check O’Connell and slid full-force into goalie Amborski. The net came loose with the collision, but official Chris Benson watched the bang-bang play very closely as Duval put the puck in the back of the net just as the cage was dislodged.
The goal was good, Benson signaled. Hogwash, the Moose players hollered. The mass of Suns fans hanging over the mezzanine let loose with a barrage of taunts when Amborski protested vigorously. The enemy goalie amplified the volume by taunting the crowd himself. Insults flew and middle fingers came out in force.
Unfortunately for the Suns, the last laughs went to Amborski and another prominent heckler of the Suns crowd, bulky Moose defenseman Brian Upesleja from Fairbanks, Ak.
Amborski stopped O’Connell and Jamie Ellison in the three-player shootout while allowing a goal by Chad Levitan.
Upesleja, who has scored 35 goals with the Moose over five seasons, got his first of the current campaign to finally decide the shootout. Spencer Morton, 30, from Stowe, Vt. and the University of Vermont had started the Moose off with a solid goal as the first shooter.
Suns goalie Cody Levitan used his chest to prevent Moose sniper Brian Hannafin from scoring on the second Jackson shot—but Upesleja’s booming slapshot found the five-hole and gave the Moose its win.
For all the raucous noise, it was a fairly clean game. Officials Benson and John Heinrich whistled only 26 penalty minutes, split evenly. But Sun Valley’s frustration on the power play continued, 0-for-7 Friday and 3-for-32 on the year. The Moose jumped to its 2-0 lead on two power-play goals.
The Suns (3-4) out-shot the shorthanded Moose, who brought only 11 skaters, by a hefty 52-23 margin.
“It was a barnburner of a game, actually a carbon copy of the game at Jackson (a 6-5 Suns shootout loss Dec. 7) when the Moose also went up 2-0,” said Suns coach Steve Morcone.
He added, “The Moose are a smart team. They didn’t have the manpower, so they kept chipping the puck out of the zone and icing it. We didn’t do what we have to do—dump the puck in and beat them to the puck. It’s simple hockey. We’ve got to be smarter ourselves.”
Lost in the shuffle was a key shootout goal by Morton that set the tone of the shootout as the Moose went first.
Morton, a rangy 6-1, 190-pounder, has scored quietly and consistently for the Moose over five seasons—41 goals and 41 assists in 60 games.
He’s also become one of Jackson Hole’s best all-around athletes, indeed, last year’s Triple Crown winner of the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club’s contest featuring the 30-kilometer Moose Chase, the Town Downhill and the Pole Pedal Paddle. Morton repeated as the men’s champion of the PPP last March 31.
And, on Dec. 28 in Sun Valley, Morton put the Moose on the track to winning another game for coach Bryan Korpi, the former Suns sniper who once shared forward line duties with Suns coach Morcone.
Having lost six of their last seven meetings against the Moose, the Suns tried to get back on the winning track Saturday night in the finale of the two-game series—played after press deadline. Check today’s Express Web site for an update about Saturday’s game result.
Last weekend’s benefit was Sun Valley Adaptive Sports.
Next: The Suns entertain the Rebels of Salt Lake (Utah) for the second time in three weeks. Opening faceoffs are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 4-5 at Sun Valley Skating Center.
The Utah Rebels (11-5-0) are the Mountain West Hockey League leaders to this point, but the Suns swept a shorthanded Rebels squad 10-3 and 6-2 on Dec. 21-22. This weekend’s benefits are Girls on the Run on Friday and Sawtooth Pony Club on Saturday, Jan. 5.
Benefit nights are set
Suns coach John “Cub” Burke has formalized the remaining season schedule for the Suns’ community benefits.
( Jan. 11-12, The Sage School of Hailey for the series against Missoula (Mt.) Cutthroats;
( Jan. 18-19, Sawtooth United F.C. for the series against the Las Vegas (Nev.) Hookers;
( Jan. 25-26, Atkinson Park Penguins for the series against Bobby Farrelly’s Northeast Moose Knuckles;
( Feb. 15-16, Camp Rainbow Gold for the home series against New York St. Nicks;
( Feb. 22-23, Wood River Baseball and Softball Assocation for the series against Hockey Source HC from Kennewick, Wash.
Burke said the Suns are looking for a replacement team for the Vancouver, B.C., Canada Moto Ice squad that has canceled its March 1-2 engagement at Sun Valley—a series due to end the Suns’ season.
Suns Hockey Summary
MOOSE 4, suns 3 (shootout)
friday, dECEMBER 28
Sun Valley Suns10113
FIRST PERIOD—(1) Jackson Hole, Brian Hannafin 5 (Joe Casey), 5:48, power play goal. (2) Jackson Hole, Nick Dolentz 2 (Brian Upesleja, Luke Smith), 14:32, power play goal. (3) SV, Bryan O’Connell 8 (John Miller), 16:32.
SECOND PERIOD—No scoring.
THIRD PERIOD—(4) SV, Jon Duval 5 (O’Connell, Miller), 10:17.
OVERTIME (5 minutes, 4-on-4)—No scoring.
SHOOTOUT—(5) Jackson Hole, Spencer Morton 4. (6) SV, Chad Levitan 4. (7) Jackson Hole, Upesleja 2, game-winning goal.
SHOTS ON GOAL—Jackson Hole 7-7-4-2-3 for 23; Sun Valley 7-18-18-6-3 for 52.
GOALIES—Jackson Hole, Dan Ambroski (49 saves); Sun Valley, Cody Levitan (19 saves, 3-3-0 record).
OFFICIALS—Chris Benson and John Heinrich.
NOTES—Suns forward lines featured John Miller-Jon Duval-Bryan O’Connell, Scott Winkler-Jamie Ellison-Chad Levitan, and Jack Morgus-Charles Friedman-Doug Yeates/Taylor Rothgeb….The Suns played six defenseman with Ivars Muzis, Trevor Thomas, Danny Ward, Bryan Winkler, Jamie Knight and Rob Morgus. Back-up goalie was Tony Benson……Jackson Hole brought only 11 skaters (the Suns had 17) and the Moose played mainly two forward lines. They were Brian Hannafin-Joe Casey-Ryan Tufte along with Spencer Morton, and Winston Feyereisen-Luke Smith-Ben Pullar…. Defensemen were James Dudley, Miller Resor and Nick Dolentz….. The Moose didn’t bring leading scorer Alex Biegler (8 goals, 5 assists in 6 games), who burned the Suns for a hat trick in the 6-2 Moose victory at Snow King Center Dec. 8. In that two-game Moose sweep, the Jackson Hole skaters were 3-for-5 on the power play, compared to the Suns’ 0-for-7. Spencer Morton and Brian Hannafin, who made the Sun Valley trip, each had 3 goals during the Dec. 7-8 Moose sweep in Wyoming…..Rob Morgus absorbed a serious shot to the head crossing the goal mouth in front of Dan Ambroski three minutes into the third period and immediately went down. When he got up, Morgus was groggy. Official Chris Benson guided him to medical help in the penalty box and Morgus didn’t play the rest of the game…..