JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The return of Drew Akins from injury was a shot in the arm that propelled the Jackson Hole Moose to the final round of the Black Diamond Hockey League championships and a shot at reclaiming the coveted Joe Casey Cup.
Akins potted four goals in his first action since his 6-goal weekend against Cleveland back on January 18-19. His outburst helped Jackson Hole to a 6-2 win over the Bozeman Stingers to earn a meeting with the He looked right at home on the first line and so did his linemates.
AJ Sanders watched Akins take the season lead in goals from him (22 goals now, one better than Sanders’ 21) but AJ has proven to be the Moose’s top setup man with a team-leading 47 assists. He helped on all four of Akins’ goals Friday night.
The Moose took a one-goal lead into the dressing room at first intermission. Midway through the second frame, it was still close enough to be anyone’s game at 2-1. That’s when the Moose broke free with a 4-1 lead headed to the third.
Head coach Howie Carruth kept the troops fresh, rolling four lines throughout the game. The five rotating defensemen were outstanding, especially Chase Wharton (0G, 2A) and Sage Welch (1G, 1A).
Nick Krauss was solid. The Moose goaltender didn’t have to be spectacular. The Moose did a good job limiting odd-man rushes, and took away time and space from the Stingers when they did manage to set up shop in the offensive zone. And that was the one weakness the Moose will have to address tonight.
Too often, Jackson Hole spent an extended period of time trying to clear their own zone. The Stingers were able to sustain an attack for long stretches. Their cycle and puck-moving had the Moose chasing the play on a few occasions.
They can’t afford to struggle with that against the Suns. Sun Valley’s sharp passing and deadly sniping will shred the Moose if they get caught running around in their own zone to the point of exhaustion.
Tonight’s the night that will tell it all. The Suns have beat Jackson in 3 of their 4 meetings this season. The game’s have all been tight-checking, low-scoring affairs. There won’t be mistakes tonight. Every goal will be earned.
The top-seeded Sun Valley Suns come into tonight’s game rested after a bye yesterday. They are 15-7 on the season and 3-1 against the Moose in regular season play.
Keys to the game:
- Both team’s power plays are potent. The Moose need to stay out of the box and work hard enough (especially down low in in front of the Suns’ goalie) to draw penalties and get their own PP on the ice.
- The top lines matchup evenly against each other. Where the Moose could take advantage of a matchup is on their third and fourth lines. Expect a game-changing goal from a less likely source tonight. A Charlie Hagen, Ben Pullar, or Kyle Krauss could come up with a very big goal.