Indy’s title teams: The 2014 Ice

This is the final piece in a nine-part series reviewing all nine of Indianapolis’ championship-winning hockey teams. Previously: the 2009 Indiana Ice (USHL), the 2000 Indianapolis Ice (CHL), 1990 Indianapolis Ice (IHL), 1983 & 1982 Indianapolis Checkers (CHL), the 1958 Indianapolis Chiefs (IHL), the 1950 Indianapolis Capitals (AHL) and the 1942 Indianapolis Capitals (AHL).

The 2014 Clark Cup champion Indiana Ice. (Photo by Whiteshark Photography)

When the Indiana Ice convened for the 2013-14 season, a lot looked to be in place for a solid team. Head coach Jeff Brown was in place for his first training camp. A handful of holdovers –led by defenseman Josh Jacobs and captain Tyler Pham — gave the Ice a foundation. The roster would have a significantly new look, bolstered by several deals during the 2012-13 season that had an eye on the future.

The Ice had five picks in the first 16 in the USHL’s Entry Draft, and used four of them on Aidan Muir, Brian Pinho, Scott Conway and Jason Pawloski. In addition, they tendered youngster Denis Smirnov, and picked up winger Jacob Pritchard in the third round of the draft and defenseman Tim Shoup at the end of the fourth round.Those five would become key pieces of the roster going forward, joining the holdovers — defensemen Matt Roy, Jake Cass and Vince Pedrie, and forwards Pham, Alex Talcott, Patrick Newell, Mitch Hults and Jason Salvaggio — and players from the affiliate list, such as Dwyer Tschantz and Austin Kosack.

But the Ice had finished dead last in the USHL the year before, and championship teams often are built on a two-year cycle in the junior ranks. Not only that, but the Ice were in their second straight season of playing home games in two different rinks on opposite ends of Georgia Street — the state-of-the-art Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the tiny Pan Am Pavilion, just adding another stepping stone along the path of building a champion. Adding to the adversity the team faced, it found out late in the season that Pan Am Pavilion was slated for redevelopment, and therefore, the team would be suspending operations for the 2014-15 season due to the lack of available home ice.

Championship teams start with leadership, and that came from Brown, who began building the roster as soon as he arrived in the middle of the 2012-13 season.

The 2013-14 Ice bought into Brown’s philosophy quickly, developing a defense-first team that is responsible in its own zone, but one that’s fast in transition and activates the points on offense, giving defensemen the freedom to pinch low and keep the attack alive. Having a stable of mobile blueliners led by Jacobs and Kosack certainly helped carry out that vision.

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Scott Conway checks a Waterloo player during the Clark Cup Final. Conway led the Ice with 33 goals and 35 assists during the 2013-14 season. (Photo by Whiteshark Photography)

Yet, this was still a last-place team, playing in the ultra-tough Eastern Conference — where the previous five Clark Cup champions resided. Simply making the postseason is a feat. They showed some promise in three preseason games, going 2-0-1 and allowing just two regulation goals in the three games. And when the season started, things looked like they had picked up where they had left off the previous year — when they went 21-37-6 and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years. They started 0-3-1, opening with a 2-0 lead against Team USA on Sept. 21 on goals by Muir and Hults, but quickly finding themselves on the wrong end of a 4-2 score. A 4-2 lead and a two-goal game by Joe Sullivan became a 6-5 loss in the home opener against Sioux Falls. After a 3-2 OT loss to Muskegon and a 5-3 loss in Ann Arbor to Team USA, the Ice needed something to go their way.

They showed the defensive posture they had put forth in the preseason on Oct. 4 in Ann Arbor, beating Team USA 4-1, with Jacob Pritchard scoring twice and adding an assist and Samu Perhonen making 24 saves in net. The team took a bit to get its stride, dropping two of the next three to go 2-4-2 on the season, but once it did, the Ice were impossible to stop.

It came on Oct. 26, when the Ice hosted Dubuque at Pan Am Pavilion. They trailed 3-1 midway through the second when Alex Talcott scored, and then Aidan Muir, Denis Smirnov and Dwyer Tschantz scored third-period goals against Dubuque goaltender Hayden Stewart to lead the Ice to a 5-3 victory. The Ice launched 41 shots, but more importantly, seemed to turn things in the right direction, and would go 5-0-1 in the next six games. Scott Conway followed up the Dubuque come-from-behind win with a three-point game in a 6-1 win over Des Moines. Jake Cass stole a point by scoring with 16 seconds left in an eventual OT loss to Cedar Rapids, the only blemish in the streak.

The season really went into hyperdrive when Sioux City came to Pan Am Pavilion on Nov. 15-16. The Musketeers had been considered one of the favorites in the West and showed it when they took a 3-0 lead on Friday night. But a pane of glass behind the net was shattered, and it being the one pane of unusual size in the rink, a new one could not be secured in time, so the game had to be postponed. A new pane came from the State Fairgrounds Coliseum — which was cut from the old Zamboni doors — and the third period resumed the next night. Scott Conway scored early, but the Ice still trailed 3-1 with three minutes to go. Smirnov scored with the goalie pulled with 2:44 left. Scott Conway tied the game up in a goalmouth scramble with 48 seconds left. And, with OT looking likely, Tyler Pham fed Tyler Andrew for a goal with 20 seconds left to give the Ice an improbable 4-3 win. A few minutes later, the regularly-scheduled game began, and the Musketeers again took a 3-2 lead midway through the third. Brian Pinho tied the game with a power play goal and then Patrick Newell won it with 3:50 left, taking a feed from Aidan Muir to give the Ice two come-from-behind 4-3 wins in the same night. The two wins put the Ice above .500 for the first time — at 6-4-3 — and they’d never look back.

After another loss to Sioux Falls, they wouldn’t lose a game in regulation for the next five weeks, going 9-0-1 to climb the ladder and vault Dubuque and Green Bay into first place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. A shootout win at West leader Omaha started the streak, followed by a third-period rally from 3-1 down to beat Youngstown 4-3 on Tyler Pham’s OT goal on Nov. 27. The streak was marked by the season’s first shutout — a 24-save performance by Jason Pawloski in Youngstown on Dec. 27, and the goal of the year — a sliding, behind-the-back tally by Aidan Muir while being tripped in a 5-4 victory on the same rink the next night. Pawloski was getting most of the work in net, and was doing solid work — allowing one goal three times and none a fourth in the 10-game streak.


Aidan Muir goal vs. Youngstown

The Ice entered 2014 with a 16-5-4 record and first place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. They’d go 11 games before another regulation loss, opening the year with a 9-0-2 streak that gave them a 25-6-6 record (and an amazing 22-2-4 mark since dropping six of their first eight). The January streak was highlighted by a 2-0 win in Fargo that saw Jason Pawloski make only 12 saves. The next night, Jan. 18, the Ice beat the Force 4-1 behind Denis Smirnov’s two goals, and 11 saves from Hayden Stewart — a waiver pickup in early January that paid off nicely for the Ice.

Stewart made 11 saves in his first start, and then went on a streak where he won his first 13 starts, and allowed two or fewer goals in the first 12, with four shutouts. He and Pawloski made a solid 1-2 tandem in net that made the Ice a difficult team to score against. The fact that the Ice led the USHL in fewest shots allowed made their jobs relatively light. Back-to-back seven-goal games the next weekend — the first, a 7-4 win in Youngstown, saw seven different goal scorers. The next, a 7-1 win over Des Moines, saw Jacob Pritchard score twice.

On Jan. 29, the Ice made the third of three significant moves they made during the regular season — trading Jake Cass to Sioux City in exchange for defenseman Ryan Mantha, who would provide size and mobility to the Ice blueline. He had his coming-out party with three assists in a 4-3 shootout win over Cedar Rapids on Feb. 7. They also added Sam Kurker in early January, a former second-round pick of the St. Louis Blues who would bolster the forward corps.

Captain Tyler Pham celebrates a goal against Youngstown. (Photo by Whiteshark Photography)

February saw the Ice keep rolling. A four-game stretch where the Ice allowed one goal highlighted things — including back-to-back shutouts by Hayden Stewart against Youngstown — 17 saves in a 3-0 win in Indy and 34 in a 2-0 victory in Youngstown the next day. His shutout streak ended at 183:54 when Tri-City’s Kevin Kerr scored midway through the third period on Feb. 14, but the Ice won that game 4-1 on goals by Jason Salvaggio, Dwyer Tschantz, Scott Conway and Aidan Muir. Not to be outdone, Pawloski stopped 15 shots to shut out Tri-City the next night, with Brian Pinho scoring twice. Another solid point streak (5-0-1) was snapped with a 4-1 loss to the Team USA U18 team on Feb. 22, but Jacob Pritchard scored 22 seconds in, and Matt Roy and Tyler Andrew making it 3-0 5:32 in. The Ice would hold on for a 5-4 win against the U18s, a big two points that made the Ice 30-8-7 on the year and put them squarely in the Anderson Cup race with Western Conference leaders Omaha and Waterloo.

The Ice had their most impressive win of the regular season on Feb. 26 at Pan Am Pavilion against Waterloo, beating the Black Hawks 6-2, as Ryan Mantha, Austin Kosack, Aidan Muir and Brian Pinho made it 4-0, and Pinho later had an empty-netter. The Ice beat Chicago 4-1 in front of 12,100 at the annual Pack the House Night on March 1, with Denis Smirnov scoring twice and Hayden Stewart making 19 saves.

Scott Conway had led the team in scoring all season, but got on a roll late in the year. On March 7, he had the season’s first hat trick with a four-point effort in a 6-1 win at Lincoln. He followed with a goal and an assist the next night, while Stewart posted his third shutout with 26 saves in a 4-0 win over the Stars. Brian Pinho had four assists in a 5-2 win at Green Bay on March 14, and Jason Pawloski had a 32-save shutout the next night to blank the Gamblers 2-0. Not to be outdone, Stewart stopped all 15 shots he faced March 21 in Muskegon, giving the Ice a 5-0 win and back-to-back shutouts for the second time on the year. Conway again had a four-point game with a goal and three assists. Pinho had a natural hat trick in the second period on March 22 to beat Youngstown 4-3, and followed with two goals the next night in a 5-2 win over Muskegon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, giving the Ice a 39-9-7 record. The win streak would be capped at eight games the next weekend in a 5-4 win in Dubuque that saw Stewart allow more than two goals for the first time in an Ice uniform, but two goals from Sam Kurker pacing the offense in the victory.

The Anderson Cup race was on, although the Ice’s firm grasp of the Cup slipped when they dropped a two-goal lead and fell to Dubuque 3-2 on March 29, and dropped a 4-2 decision to Green Bay at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 4.

In-between, though, they had a whale of a game. On April 2, the final regular-season game at Pan Am Pavilion saw the Ice explode, led by Scott Conway. In the franchise’s 10-year history, no player had scored more than three goals in a game. Jacob Pritchard and Dwyer Tschantz gave the Ice a 2-1 lead after a period, but the fireworks began in the second. Conway scored at 1:59 of the period to make it 3-1, Aidan Muir made it 4-1 at 5:37 to chase Dubuque starter Kevin Reich. Conway scored his second 61 seconds later, and Brian Pinho made it 6-1 46 seconds after that. Conway finished the hat trick with a power play goal at 11:47 of the second to cap a five-goal second period. He scored his fourth goal midway through the third to make the score 9-1 and record the first four-goal game in Ice history. Conway also had an assist for five points. His right wing, Tschantz, had a goal and four assists, and left wing Patrick Newell had three assists. Not to be outdone, linemates Pritchard (G, 3A) and Pinho (G, 2A) also had big nights. The Ice won the season finale 5-2 in Chicago on April 5 to finish the season 42-11-7, good enough for the top seed in the east. With Waterloo winning that night, the Ice finished second in the Anderson Cup race to the Black Hawks.

The regular season ended with Conway tallying 33 goals and 68 points, and leading the USHL with a +40 rating. Pinho had 28 goals and 28 assists, and the Ice had a third 20-goal scorer in Tschantz (24 goals, 20 assists). Austin Kosack tied Conway with the +40 mark, and his defense partner Josh Jacobs was +36. Stewart had a 1.29 GAA in 14 starts with the Ice, and he and Pawloski each had four shutouts.

Brian Pinho scored the Clark Cup-winning goal with 2:15 left in the third period. (Whiteshark Photography)

Brian Pinho had a strong finish to the season with 56 points. He scored the Clark Cup-winning goal with 2:15 left in the third period of Game 5 on May 20. (Photo by Whiteshark Photography)

But a bigger Cup awaited — the Clark Cup. The Ice had won it in 2009, then fielded some tremendous teams in the following years, yet saw Dubuque and Green Bay split the next four championships. The road to the title would likely go through those two teams, starting with Green Bay. The Ice were rolling with depth — led by the trio of Patrick Newell-Scott Conway-Dwyer Tschantz, which entered the postseason red-hot. Denis Smirnov’s return from injury bolstered the lineup by adding another scorer, and he would later take Newell’s spot on left wing on the Conway line. Jacob Pritchard-Brian Pinho-Aidan Muir was a puck-possession machine that was strong on the forecheck. That allowed coach Jeff Brown to mix-and-match the lines. As things went along, Alex Talcott-Joe Sullivan-Tyler Pham became a solid checking line that would pay huge dividends as the playoffs went along, scoring several key goals during the Clark Cup Final. Mitch Hults and Sam Kurker were a part of several trios and were among the Ice’s leading playoff scorers. Kosack and Josh Jacobs were one defense pairing, with Tim Shoup and Ryan Mantha often playing together, with Mike Preston and Matt Roy a forbiddingly strong pairing. The Ice had depth, scoring and goaltending, and looked every bit a Cup contender.

The first round saw the Ice against old nemesis Green Bay, but Stewart was up to the challenge, turning aside 22 shots in a 2-0 Game 1 victory. Game 2 wasn’t as good — the Ice fell behind 4-1, including an own-goal on a delayed penalty — but nearly rallied in the third before succumbing 6-5. In that game, Matt Roy and Sam Kurker both came up big, with Roy scoring twice and Kurker adding a goal and three assists. Tyler Pham nearly tied the game at the closing horn, which would’ve completed a comeback from three down with three minutes to play, but Green Bay goaltender Jared Rutledge was able to keep the puck out and tie the series at 1-1. Jason Pawloski took over in the net for the third period, earned the start in Game 3, and never looked back. He had to make just 12 saves, and Denis Smirnov scored midway through the second to give the Ice a 1-0 victory in Game 3, and his 22 saves made Mitch Hults’ power play goal out of a first-period scramble stand up in a 1-0 series-clinching Game 4 win. The Ice became the first team in USHL history to win a series with three shutouts.

Jason Pawloski, the playoff MVP, makes a save during the Clark Cup Final. (Photo by Whiteshark Photography)

Jason Pawloski, the playoff MVP, makes a save during the Clark Cup Final. (Photo by Whiteshark Photography)

Dubuque was next, and the Ice made quick work of the Fighting Saints, playing a strong, disciplined game that saw them put on a clinic in a 4-1 Game 1 win — one that started with Jacob Pritchard’s high-slot snipe on the power play to tie the game at 1 in the first period, and later saw goals from Conway, Pinho and Ryan Mantha and 22 saves from Pawloski. Game 2 saw Kurker score twice and Smirnov tally a goal to give the Ice leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in an eventual 3-2 victory. In Game 3, the Ice trailed to the midpoint of the second period, where Conway, Alex Talcott and Joe Sullivan scored consecutive goals to give the Ice another 3-2 victory — and become only the second road team to win a playoff game in Dubuque.

That set up a much-anticipated Clark Cup Final series between the league’s two best teams — the Waterloo Black Hawks and the Indiana Ice. Waterloo featured the USHL’s top defenseman in Brandon Montour, an NHL draft pick in net in Waterloo native Cal Petersen, and a host of high-scoring forwards that would present a tough matchup .The two teams had split their regular-season matchups, and it looked to come down to the wire.

The series did just that, with five games of intense, fast-paced hockey marked by outstanding goaltending and very little space for either team to maneuver. In Game 1, the Ice jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Scott Conway and Josh Jacobs, but the Hawks tied the game by the middle of the second period. The Ice had a goal inexplicably disallowed early in the third that would’ve given them a 3-2 lead. Instead, Waterloo’s Blake Winiecki scored on a counter-rush on a puck that bounced in the air and somehow trickled behind Pawloski. An empty-netter gave Waterloo a 4-2 victory in Game 1. The next night, Jacobs gave the Ice a 1-0 first-period lead again, but the team found itself behind early in the third period when Waterloo’s John Wiitala scored a shorthanded goal 39 seconds in to make it 2-1. With the Ice still on the power play, Mitch Hults powered the puck in from the low slot less than a minute later to knot the game at 2-2. The Ice had a handful of ten-bell chances later in the period and in overtime — including a goalpost hit by Brian Pinho — but things stayed at 2-2. The Ice continued to pepper the Hawks’ net in OT, but Petersen stood up tall. Finally, in the second overtime, Austin Kosack pinched behind the Waterloo net to keep a play alive. He dug the puck free and got it to Joe Sullivan, who popped out on the left side of the goal and slid the puck under Petersen’s pad to give the Ice a 3-2 win and tie the series at 1-1. Petersen made 59 saves in the loss, and the 86:49 game was the longest in Indiana Ice history.

The Ice were dominant when the series returned to Pan Am Pavilion in a 4-1 Game 3 victory. Tyler Pham scored in a goalmouth scramble and then fed Patrick Newell with a cross-ice pass for a snipe from the circle to give the Ice a 2-0 lead, and they simply kept the Black Hawks’ push at bay from there. Hults scored a late power play goal in the second to make it 3-0, and Conway had an empty-netter to seal the victory, with Pawloski making 27 saves for his seventh win in eight playoff starts — and his fourth time allowing one or fewer goals. With a chance to clinch the Clark Cup the next night, the Ice went ahead early when Josh Jacobs skipped a puck from behind the blueline over Petersen’s shoulder just two minutes in, and Mitch Hults made it 2-1 with a power play goal later in the period. But despite dominating the first period — with a 15-2 shot advantage — the lead was only 2-1 after one. A desperate Waterloo team got two goals from Zach Sanford to take a 3-2 lead after two, and then poured it on to a 7-2 victory in Game 4, sending the series back to Iowa for a winner-take-all Game 5.

To say Game 5 is one of the greatest games ever played in the history of Indianapolis hockey would not be hyperbole. A winner-take-all championship game, on the road, between the two best teams in the league? That hadn’t happened before. Indy teams had captured titles in winner-take-all games in 1942, 1958 and 2000 — the latter two on the road. But only one (1958) had gone down to the wire, and none had featured the league’s two best teams in the regular season. This one featured everything, including a very hostile cowbell-ringing capacity crowd in Waterloo’s Young Arena.

The Ice skate the Clark Cup on May 20 in Waterloo. (Photo by Andrew Smith)

The Ice skate the Clark Cup on May 20 in Waterloo. (Photo by Andrew Smith)

It didn’t take long for the Black Hawks to stake an advantage. A turnover at the blueline allowed the Hawks to pour into the Ice zone. Jason Pawloski stopped Peter Krieger’s shot, but as he reached to cover the rebound, Patrick Russell poked it in just 3:40 into the game. However, some good hand-eye coordination by the Ice tied the game at 1-1, as Brian Pinho shot the puck from the slot. Petersen stopped it, but Hults — standing at the doorstep — batted it out of the air and over Petersen’s shoulder into the net for his fifth playoff goal. An inexplicable delay of game penalty on Petersen for intentionally dislodging the net came seconds later, and a power play gave the Ice a ton of chances. They didn’t score on that, but they carried the play for the remainder of the first period. However, it was Waterloo that would overcome the charge and take a 2-1 lead when Jake Horton intercepted a clearing pass at the line and slap-passed it to Zach Sanford for a tip-in goal past a helpless Pawloski at 11:35 of the period. Moments later, Patrick Newell had a breakaway, but his backhand was stopped by Petersen to keep the game at 2-1.

The Ice had chances on an early third-period power play, but couldn’t solve Petersen. Finally, midway through the period, Joe Sullivan won a puck battle along the boards and threw it on net. Petersen stopped it, but Alex Talcott was on the doorstep for the rebound. He flipped the puck to his backhand and reached it around Petersen to tie the game at 2-2. Suddenly, with 8:48 left, the Clark Cup was hanging in the balance, and it certainly felt like the next goal would win it.

Both teams would put on the pressure. Sullivan had a breakaway chance that Petersen deflected over the net. Pawloski made a handful of key stops on Waterloo. Ice coach Jeff Brown took his timeout to diagram a play before a defensive-zone draw and settle things down in the final two and a half minutes. It was a stroke of genius.

Brian Pinho won the draw, and the Ice broke out of the zone. Ryan Mantha skated out of the zone and fed the puck up the right side to Aidan Muir at center. Muir skated into the zone up the right wing, drew the defense, and dropped the puck to a trailing Pinho at the faceoff circle. The drop pass changed the angle just enough to allow Pinho some open room at the far post.

Pinho fired. The puck disappeared behind Petersen’s pad. For a moment, nobody reacted. Then, the red light went on. With 2:15 left, the Indiana Ice had a 3-2 lead and were just 135 seconds away from a Clark Cup championship.

They’d need to withstand another Black Hawk firestorm — and did, including several shots with Petersen pulled. Aidan Muir made a key play by intercepting a pass in the slot and firing it the length of the ice — slowly — in the closing seconds, bleeding away the final precious few ticks. With one second left, Pinho drew the puck back to the back wall and white-clad Ice players poured over the boards to mob Pawloski and celebrate the franchise’s second Clark Cup championship.

Captain Tyler Pham dropped to his knees when he was handed the Clark Cup, and the Ice skated the hardware around the Young Arena ice in front of a hostile crowd. Coach Jeff Brown noted the Ice won with nearly the entire team that they had broken camp with — essentially only making one major trade and adding just three players during the season. The players all cited pride in being “worst-to-first” and winning the championship after starting 0-3-1. There were plenty of heroes. Pawloski was named playoff MVP for his efforts in goal. Hults scored a goal in each of the last four games of the playoffs. Conway had 11 points — and was the team’s lone double-digit point getter in the 12-game playoff run. Newell had four goals. Defenseman Matt Roy had six points in the playoffs, nearly equaling his regular season output. Sullivan factored in on two of the biggest goals of the season. Thirteen different players scored postseason goals, and 18 registered multiple points in the postseason. It was a complete team effort, and a fitting sendoff.

It was a perfect finish to a tremendous season — a beautiful goal to finish a well-played series between not just the USHL’s two best teams in 2013-14, but teams that posted two of the best records in USHL history. After the year, Josh Jacobs (New Jersey), Ryan Mantha (NY Rangers) and Dwyer Tschantz (St. Louis) would be picked in the NHL Draft, joining previous draftees Aidan Muir (Edmonton), Brian Pinho (Washington) and Sam Kurker (St. Louis). The Ice players would be spread throughout the USHL, Canadian juniors and college hockey for 2014-15. But they had a special season, with a special finish, in their final year together as a group.

Special thanks to John & Kelly Wikman of Whiteshark Photography — the official photographers of the Indiana Ice and Indy Fuel — for providing photographs for this retrospective.

Clark Cup Game 5 highlights

Clark Cup Game 3 highlights

Clark Cup Game 2 highlights

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  1. July 22, 2014

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