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Another chapter in Sun Valley-Moose rivalry

Suns’ third-period goal sinks Jackson in Joe Casey Cup final.

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Moose Hockey

Jackson Hole, WY News

The Sun Valley Suns made history in the young Black Diamond Hockey League on Saturday night, retaining the Joe Casey Cup with a win over the Jackson Hole Moose in front of possibly the largest crowd the hockey team has ever drawn to the Snow King Sports and Events Center.

Not an inch of bleacher remained unclaimed once the puck dropped, and the boards surrounding the ice were four rows deep with fans trying to get a look at their Moose taking on the bitter rival Suns.

The championship followed Friday night’s play-in game between the Moose and Bozeman (Montana) Stingers, with the Moose finding a 6-2 victory to meet Sun Valley in the championship game. Saturday’s game began with a quick Moose goal before the Suns settled in, and a 4-4 tie heading into the third period gave way to a DJ Robinson goal midway through the period that ultimately sealed the Suns’ 5-4 win.

It made them the first team to win back-to-back Joe Casey Cups, and the first team to win the cup on the road.

“It wasn’t pretty, but hard work can get you goals,” Robinson said, champagne bottle in hand. “We’re thrilled man, we’re happy to be on the road and win in Jackson. It’s awesome.”

Moose hockey playoffs

Jackson’s Kevin Sunde is tripped up next to Sun Valley’s Doug Yeates during Jackson’s loss to Sun Valley. The rivalry between the two teams that dominate the Black Diamond Hockey League is only growing stronger.

Robinson’s winner came after Moose goalie Nick Krauss came out of the net to play a deep puck. With Suns forward Marty Flichel pressuring, the puck came loose, and Robinson one-timed it past Krauss.

Jackson pressed hard over the final eight minutes, with a number of close looks that never made it across the goal line. When the clock hit zero, the rivals exchanged greetings and put a cap on another volume in the longstanding, sometimes bloody, rivalry between the two sides.

“We battle with that team,” Robinson said. “It’s a love-hate thing but there’s a lot of respect. We love the rivalry and we love coming here.”

In a series known for its chippiness, only one scrap broke out during the game, resulting in minor penalties for both teams. The fight started along the Sun Valley bench, with Jackson’s Kevin Sunde and Sun Valley’s Nick Curry quickly taking each other to the ice midway through the second period.

“I don’t think there was anything that was dirty out there,” Sunde said. “But it’s a championship game, guys are playing hard, the refs let us play. That’s kind of how hockey works.”

There will be another year before the Moose can take another crack at bringing the Joe Casey Cup home, but the weekend of hockey wasn’t without promise that the Moose will be right back in contention come next March.

Forward Drew Akins, a Minnesota native, returned to the lineup after six weeks away nursing a fractured vertebrae he suffered on the ice. He began his comeback with a four-goal performance Friday night and followed it with a goal and three assists in the championship game.

“Most of all I was just happy to be a part of the team for the last weekend of the year,” he said. “As soon as I got injured I kind of knew I’d be very close to being able to come back for the playoffs, and that was my goal. I was just happy to be back playing with the boys.

“It’s kind of bittersweet, because a lot of these guys, we don’t know who’s coming back next year, who’s retiring, who’s coming in, so it’s always a slightly different group year to year.”

Sunde has been with the Moose just two years, and while the championship losses to the Suns in both those campaigns have stung, the turnout for the Moose week in and week out hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Sunde recalled a family approaching him as the Moose left the ice for the final time Saturday night and headed for the locker room.

“I was walking out and some guys from Idaho Falls had one baby in a carrier and one other kid, and they said, ‘You have a lot of fans in Idaho Falls,’” he said. “The fact we’re able to reach out that far is awesome, and the support we have is unparalleled.”

Moose hockey playoffs

Jackson's A.J. Sanders and Sun Valley's Max Tardy (4) compete for possession of the puck during Jackson's 5-4 loss to Sun Valley in the final round of the Black Diamond Hockey League playoffs at Snow King Sports and Events Center on Saturday.

The rivalry with Sun Valley, too, is unparalleled as far as the Black Diamond Hockey League is concerned. They’re the only two teams to have won the cup.

Those two teams and Bozeman are the only mainstays of the tournament, with Park City, Utah; Missoula, Montana; and Vail, Colorado, teams having come and gone throughout the years.

It’s a rivalry that’s become heated enough at times to cause a hiatus in their meetings, but from the bleachers — aside from the one fight and some chirping — the championship seemed to be mostly about hockey and less about the bad blood.

On the Sun Valley side, Robinson heaped as much praise on the Moose as he admitted antagonism between the two.

Some of the chippiness might not have been seen by the fans, but it was sure felt by the players.

“There’s a lot of things people don’t see,” he said. “When I was shaking hands, four or five guys had bloody noses from each team. There’s little stick work, little punches, little elbows — but like I said, even if we hate each other, there’s a ton of respect.

“And that comes from the rivalry. We love it, and it makes it fun to play.”

Moose hockey playoffs

Chase Wharton, left, signs Kieleigh Davis' jersey, 7, in the locker room after Jackson's 5-4 loss to Sun Valley in the final round of the Black Diamond Hockey League playoffs at Snow King Sports and Events Center on Saturday.

Contact Chance Q. Cook at 732-7065, sports@jhnewsandguide.com.

Sports Editor Chance Cook has lived in rural Pennsylvania, upstate New York and Butte, Montana. He is no stranger to spending time in the woods chasing animals. If you see him out, challenge him to a game of pool. Send tips and questions.

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