“This team really has the will to win,” said Sun Valley Suns coach John Burke after the Suns completed a 5-4 (overtime) and 6-5 senior men’s ice hockey sweep of the Connecticut Bantam Beauties on Saturday at Campion Ice House.
Outshot by a lopsided 109-57 margin for the weekend, the Suns nevertheless built a 5-1 lead Saturday and held on for the 6-5 victory behind the 53-save effort of goalie Matt Cooper before 456 Hailey fans.
A shorthanded goal by Suns top goal scorer Max Tardy (24 goals in 15 games) late in the second period was the only score interrupting a flurry of four Connecticut goals during a 12-minute span of the second and third periods.
“George Jacket” weekend recipient Sean O’Grady, the fifth-year Suns defenseman, gave the Suns an early 2-1 lead with a pair of first-period goals, then Spencer Brendel, Nick Curry (14 goals, 26 assists) and blueliner Doug Yeates upped the ante to 5-1.
“For a while we played just good enough to win, and then we competed like crazy when we needed to,” said Burke, who agreed with a spectator’s view that the 2019-20 Suns team has the heart of a lion.
Indeed, the Suns (15-1 overall) continued a trend shown during the two-year rivalry with the Bantam Beauties that the home team leads, and then scrambles to preserve the lead. Overall, the Beauties have outshot the Suns 208-134.
The Suns have won all four games with the New England visitors in 2019 and 2020, but three of them have been one-goal verdicts, and the other game settled by two goals. The Suns have outscored the Bantams 6-1 in the first periods, and the Beauties have owned the third periods 9-4.
On Friday before 511 spectators, the Suns were fortunate to make it into overtime.
Faced with a five-minute shorthanded assignment and leading only 4-3 with five minutes to play, the Sun Valley penalty killers allowed a quick Connecticut power-play goal for a 4-4 tie, and then killed off the rest of the time.
Just 42 seconds into the five-minute, three-on-three overtime, Burke kept his opportunistic wings Dylan Shamburger and DJ Robinson on the ice after a Beauties line change and it paid off.
Shamburger chased down a puck in the offensive corner and, with Robinson jamming up the crease, Shammy’s tough-angle centering shot slipped past Beauties goalie Nano Heilbron for the game winner that settled the first Suns overtime game of 2020.
It was the second OT winner for third-year forward Shamburger, last year’s Suns scoring champ who seemed snake-bit the rest of the game. He clanged a puck off the post in the third period, after Robinson and Mike Curry did the same in the second.
Taking a pass from Robinson, Shamburger also shot wide on a shorthanded break on goalie Heilbron midway through the third, and he couldn’t get good wood on a backhander across the crease on another shorthanded try with 98 seconds remaining.
But he scored in extra time, giving goalie Bobby Bowden (47 saves) his ninth win of the season, without a loss.
Said Burke, “Bobby was phenomenal, and Dylan’s line played great with DJ and Marty (center Flichel) serving as a pivot between them. And I was really happy with Dustin Pierce’s line all weekend.”
He’s been happy all season with the amazing forward line of center Tardy and wings Nick Curry and Brendel. They have 100 points between them, Tardy and Curry leading with 40 points apiece on what has become a high-scoring team.
By comparison, Shamburger led the 16-7 Suns last season with 28 points in 23 games. That Black Diamond Hockey League repeat championship squad scored 106 goals in 23 games and yielded 86 goals. There were two 20-point-or-more Suns.
This season, the Suns are outscoring opponents 102-49 in 16 games and have five players with 20 points or better. Tardy and Nick Curry topped the Suns again with six points apiece last weekend, and Yeates was next with four.
Leading the Bantam Beauties with four points apiece were Trinity College alums Jackson Brewer, 27 (103 Trinity games, 38 goals and 84 assists) and Sean Orlando, 25 (64 goals and 131 points in 114 Trinity Bantam games from 2013-17. Their linemate Pat Curtis from Hamilton College had three weekend goals.
The Suns have won 19 of their last 21 games since they dropped a 5-4 (OT) and 5-2 home series with the New York Midtown Mafia last Feb. 15-16. And the Big Apple skaters are due in town for Presidents’ Day weekend again, starting Friday, Feb. 14.
Check out Friday’s Express for a look at the Mafia skaters expected in town. And check out the Express web site today for game summaries of last weekend’s sweep and up-to-date Suns season statistics.