Max Tardy

After a convincing series against the Growlers last weekend, the Suns welcome a new challenge in the form of the Wilmington Wheels.

The matchup between the Sun Valley Suns Senior A Elite hockey team and the Wilmington Wheels has been years in the making, and this coming weekend, local hockey fans will be delighted to know the Wheels of Delaware are coming to Campion Ice House, with games Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m.

Originally scheduled two years ago, the series between the Suns and Wheels was canceled due to COVID-19, and it wasn’t until this year that general manager John “Cub” Burke and Wilmington’s Jeff Corey were able to get something together.

“I think we’ll give the Suns a good game,” Corey said. “We’re out to have some fun, and, hopefully, we’ll make this a yearly tradition.”

The Wheels aren’t a typical matchup for the Suns, but the team is full of serious talent. Corey is a well-traveled, well-trained forward who played four years at the University of Vermont before stints in the American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and overseas in Germany and Sweden.

The Wheels are full of this type of player. Defenseman Ken Trentowski also has a full resume: A four-year Yale University player, Trentowski played 24 games for the Idaho Steelheads during the 2012-13 season.

Both Corey and Trentowski are player/coaches that formed this true rag-tag crew. The Wheels are an “all-star” team of sorts, pulled from four different teams from the Corey Cup Hockey League (CCHL) in Wilmington.

The CCHL happened on a whim, out of a love for hockey and a 30-pack of beer in 2011.

“I got a bunch of friends who skate weekly, bought a bunch of beer and we scrimmaged,” Corey said. “Then in 2013, we had enough skilled players to form a league.”

And the league took off.

During the winter, the CCHL has four steady teams and in the summer, it expands to six. It comprises teams full of former NCAA Division I and III players who spent time in the pros. Corey added the league regulates itself, with no fighting.

“It’s a good way for us to stay in shape,” Corey said.

Corey, Trentowski and the rest of the CCHL began hearing about teams that would travel, like the Wissahickon Skating Club (Philadelphia), which played the Suns years back. So Corey was put in touch with Cub, and the two began forming ideas to bring a team from Wilmington out.

At first, Wilmington had plans to come out nearly five years ago, but things didn’t line up. Then in 2020, everything was scheduled, and plane tickets were booked. However, COVID-19 had other plans and the series was canceled.

This will be a test for Wilmington. The Wheels have only one game under their belts, a 4-2 loss to Wissahickon. Corey and Trentowski will have only 11 players on the active traveling roster, but neither think that’s an issue. The Wheels typically don’t play full-contact hockey, but the experience of the players should give the Suns a good matchup.

“One of the good things is that whole league plays together so we’re familiar with each other,” Trentowski said. “We’re used to playing light. Given the experience of Division I and III guys, we know how to play smart and clean hockey.”

The Wheels are also taking only one goalie, Matt Tendler, who is a Neumann University product out of Aston, Pennsylvania. He also spent time in the AHL and ECHL.

However, the Wheels will have their hands full with the 2022 Suns.

“We don’t know what to expect,” Corey said. “We’ve heard great things, and we’re expecting a couple of tight games. Our guys are committed and excited.”

Sun Valley is 6-2 this season and coming off a huge offensive performance against the Santa Rosa Growlers last weekend.

Max Tardy leads the Suns with 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists), while Spencer Brendel has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists). The Suns’ offense usually starts hot; Sun Valley has 17 first-period goals and 21 second-period goals. The Suns also have three solid goalies on the roster, with Bobby Bowden (3-2) and Matt Cooper (3-0) getting the majority of minutes. James Moskos got his first action last weekend.

Campion Ice House is now limiting spectators to only 500 due to the uptick of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

This weekend’s series benefits NAMI-Wood River Valley. 

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