Community December 20, 2017
Hockey Town
Players young and old take to the ice

Sun Valley’s claim to fame may be that it is home to America’s first destination ski resort. But underneath the manicured ski runs and hidden pockets of powder, there’s an undercurrent of hockey running through the Valley.

“This is a hidden gem of a hockey community,” said John Burke, head coach of the Sun Valley Suns amateur hockey team. “We’re not in the stronghold of hockey in Minnesota or Canada. But Sun Valley is pretty unique as a ski resort area with strong support for hockey. It’s a ski town, but it’s also a hockey town.” Burke moved here in 1975 from Duluth, Minn., lured by milder, sunnier winters and Sun Valley’s world-class skiing. He and other transplanted Minnesotans, including Charlie Holt, Alex Orb and John Weekes, started the Suns with the help of San Jose Sharks owner George Gund III, who had helped fund the building of an ice rink in Sun Valley.

Now in their 42nd season, the Suns have played hockey in Japan and Europe, and they pack the house for rivals like the East Coast Gutter Snipes and Jackson Hole Moose. They have won a plethora of championships, including a league championship two years ago. And they will host the Black Diamond Hockey Playoffs March 9-10, 2018, hoping this year’s strong new recruits will take them to the top again.

“Fans have gotten to see some famous hockey players, and we’ve been able to champion some pro players, like Joey Sides and Cody Lampl,” Burke said.

Burke and new Suns forward Robbie Murden are among those who hope to nurture even more youngsters who will go on to play hockey in college and the pros. Murden is the new director of Sun Valley Youth Hockey, which involves more than 200 Valley youngsters from 5-year-olds to high school seniors.

“It’s the perfect marriage,” said the 25-year-old Murden. “I can play with the Suns and grow the game I love.”

Murden grew up in Georgetown, Ontario, and studied economics at Hamilton College in New York where he played hockey. Not playing hockey has never been an option.

“It’s part of my DNA, coming from Canada. My dad played, my grandpa played. I started playing competitively when I was 5, and I can’t remember a single kid in middle school who didn’t play hockey,” he said.

Playing hockey gave Murden lifelong friends, skills, and values that he has applied to other parts of life. And that’s what he wants for the youth in Sun Valley.

“I learned about commitment to teammates, working hard, sacrifice, dedication,” he said. “We can use the sport as a medium to cement lifelong values that can help in the workplace and with family relationships. It’s amazing to me how many people in this valley are passionate about hockey. I think we’re poised to pop.”

The opening of the Campion Ice House provided a boost for youth hockey, as teams now come from Boise, Idaho Falls, Salmon, McCall, and Coeur d’Alene to play in tournaments.

And it doesn’t hurt that Hilary Knight, considered one of the best hockey players in the world, teaches clinics here when practicing for her third Olympics with Team USA.

Women’s hockey in the Valley took root about 18 years ago during a winter when there was no snow and the temperatures were “cold, cold, cold.” A group of women began pushing a hockey puck around the Big Wood pond with brooms. As they got into it, they graduated to hockey sticks and began playing on Sun Valley’s ice rink.

Over the years, the women called themselves the Sunsets, then the Five Stars, and made the rounds of hockey tournaments in Boise, Park City, Jackson and Seattle. Difficulty securing ice time for regular practices and coaches has kept them from becoming ultra competitive, but they’re hoping to remedy that this year with regular Tuesday practices at Sun Valley’s Ice Rink and Thursday practices at Campion Ice House.

Players range in age from 22 to 67.

“It’s one of those sports where you’re getting incredible exercise but you don’t notice until you sit on the bench and then you realize how exhausted you are,” said Ketchum resident Jineen Griffith. “We play largely for fun, although the younger women who grew up playing hockey are definitely more serious and aggressive. They want to win, whereas the rest of us want to chase the puck around and, if we score, whoopee!”

The newest sport on the ice block is curling, which started last year at Campion Ice House. Men and women playing on teams named the Molar Rattlers, Curls Gone Wild and Read ‘Em and Sweep looked like housewives gone wild, as they vigorously swept the ice with curling brooms trying to affect the trajectory of their stones.

The Monday night leagues filled up quickly this year with more than a hundred players and others on a waiting list.

“We’re going to try to have more curling clinics this winter,” said Sarah Benson, director of Hailey Ice. “But, as always, we only have so much ice time.”

Pond hockey

Christina Potters Outdoor Ice Rink, Ketchum Courtesy City of Ketchum

Pond Hockey

For those who can’t get ice time inside, there’s always pond hockey at Atkinson Park in Ketchum and the flooded rink outside Campion Ice House in the rodeo grounds. Pond time is free, with hockey and figure skates, helmets, sticks, pucks, balance and assist devices and even broomballs available for the borrowing. Warming temperatures in February, when the sun is higher in the sky, usually put an end to the outdoor hockey season, but ponds can usually count on about 55 days.

The two-acre Christina Potters Outdoor Ice Rink in Atkinson Park, now in its 21st year of operation, attracts an estimated 5,000 skaters each season. About 75 youngsters take part in the city’s After School Program and another 30 in the Park Penguins Hockey Club. Higher Ground Sun Valley holds sled hockey games there. And the City of Ketchum fields up to 30 teams with 180 competitors coming from throughout southern Idaho and even neighboring states for its annual Idaho Pond Hockey Tournament. The outside rinks depend on the weather, of course. The City of Ketchum begins work on its rink, believed to be the largest in the Pacific Northwest, as soon as there’s enough snow to create a 4- to 6-inch base. Following five or six days of clear, cold weather, the snow is compacted with a roller and additional layers of water are added. Once the base is solid enough to handle the weight of a Zamboni, the ice is groomed every morning.

In addition to providing skating on its outdoor pond, Campion Ice House also holds occasional free skate nights and discounted ice time for school groups, all of which make it easier for wanna-be hockey players to get started. “Open skate is just $5 for children and $7 for adults—cheaper than a movie is what I like to say,” said Benson. “Someone from Nashville just asked how much we charge to rent the ice for a private party. When I said $220 an hour, he said, ‘Wow! In Nashville it would cost $365!’ ”

The outside rinks depend on the weather, of course. The City of Ketchum begins work on its rink, believed to be the largest in the Pacific Northwest, as soon as there’s enough snow to create a 4- to 6-inch base. Following five or six days of clear, cold weather, the snow is compacted with a roller and additional layers of water are added.

Once the base is solid enough to handle the weight of a Zamboni, the ice is groomed every morning.

Warming temperatures in February, when the sun is higher in the sky, usually put an end to the outdoor hockey season, but ponds can usually count on about 55 days.

In addition to providing skating on its outdoor pond, Campion Ice House also holds occasional free skate nights, and discounted ice time for school groups, all of which make it easier for wanna-be hockey players to get started.

“Open skate is just $5 for children and $7 for adults—cheaper than a movie is what I like to say,” said Benson. “Someone from Nashville just asked how much we charge to rent the ice for a private party. When I said $220 an hour, he said, ‘Wow! In Nashville it would cost $365!’ ”

 

This article appears in the Winter 2017-2018 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.