Pulling the strings and kick-starting the Black Diamond Hockey League five years ago, Sun Valley Suns head coach John Burke had a long-range master plan of expansion for the new ski resort league.
Burke wanted to expand from the original four teams of Sun Valley, Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Moose, Park City, Utah and the Bozeman (Mt.) Stingers. He wanted to bring teams from Colorado into the fold, although distances were great.
Yet, after the Suns won their second consecutive BDHL tournament title last March over the Jackson Hole Moose, the Moose made it known they had no intention to continue with a league that had dwindled to three teams.
“We finally pulled the plug in May,” said Burke.
In its Nov. 13 pre-season Moose report, the Jackson Hole News & Guide pronounced the BDHL “kaput” and said it wouldn’t exist.
Since then, helped by the intervention and mediation of Vail (Co.) Yeti owner and coach Chris Huntington and a series of conference calls, the BDHL has been revived because it is still valuable as an advertising platform that motivates players and teams with top-level competition.
“The guys and the teams want to play for something,” said Burke, entering his 15th season as Suns coach with a combined 208-74-9 record.
The eight-team league will include Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, Bozeman, Park City, Vail Yeti, Breckenridge (Co.) Vipers, Aspen (Co.) Leafs and the Texas Titans out of Dallas.
Whichever team accumulates the most points (2 points for a win, 1 point for a shootout loss) in games played against BDHL opponents will be declared the BDHL champion. No tournament will be staged in this first eight-team go-round. Burke said, “It will be eight teams racing for the points, with a possible 28 points based on 14 games. It puts more emphasis on the regular season. We’ll revisit the playoff idea after this first season.”
In this first year, the schedules will be unbalanced, for instance, the Suns have 16 BDHL games on their 22-game schedule, including four apiece with Bozeman and Park City. Vail has 14 BDHL games on its 30-game slate. Jackson Hole has 12, four with Vail. Burke said the Texas Titans are loaded and should be considered the pre-season BDHL favorite. The Dallas team is due on Campion ice in Hailey for two games Dec. 6-7.
Sun Valley opens its schedule Friday and Saturday, Nov. 29-30 with 7 p.m. home games against Bozeman at Campion Ice House in Hailey. Sawtooth Pony Club is the benefit group.
Although the Suns lost defenseman Tyler Lovejoy and forward Rasmus Andersson from last year’s 16-7 league title squad, Sun Valley returns two goalies, Matt Cooper and Bobby Bowden, and most of its scorers topped by Dylan Shamburger (10 goals, 28 points).
Joey Sides, 33, a well-traveled forward who grew up skating on his Hailey backyard pond, has joined the Suns after spending 2018-19 with the ECHL Kansas City Monarchs, where he scored 19 goals and 46 points in 57 games.
Sides, a Wentworth Institute of Technology star with 32 goals and 85 points in 90 games there from 2005-09, roamed the ECHL minors starting in 2011 with the Colorado Eagles, Rapid City Rush, Wichita Thunders, Reading Royals and Tulsa Oilers.
Nick Curry, 30, from UMass-Lowell, will be spending a full season with the Suns joining brother Mike Curry. Princeton’s Kevin Kaiser, 32, will play in December, and former Suns star Matt Puntureri is expected to rejoin the Suns later in the 2018-19 campaign.