INDIANAPOLIS — Fred Knipscheer admitted it was bittersweet watching his Indiana Jr. Ice team win the Tier I 14-and-Under district title at the Mid-American tournament Sunday, advancing them to the USA Hockey National Championship tournament April 3-7 in Pittsburgh.
The Indiana Jr. Ice scored six points in pool play, tying them with the Cleveland Barons, but the Jr. Ice beat the Barons 5-4 during pool play to take the crown.
Knipscheer has been coaching his team since they were Midgets. Two years ago, the same group of players won the Tier II national title as the Indianapolis Racers. However, the players will be going separate ways after this season.
“It’s kind of sad to see it all come to an end,” Knipscheer said. “I watched these kids from the time when they could barely skate to where they are now. This has really been special.”
It’s the first time an Indiana-based team has reached the Tier I national tournament in about 20 years, officials said Sunday. Knipscheer said he believes his team will have an advantage because his group has been together for so long. Twelve of the 18 players are from the Indianapolis area.
“It’s rare to keep a core group of kids like this together for so long,” Knipscheer said. “Even our out-of-town kids have played with us for the last four to five years. It helps when you play against teams that have been just thrown together.”
Jr. Ice left winger Justin Whited said they hope to bring back a national title like they did two years ago.
“Because of what we did then, I think we’re going to play with a lot of confidence,” Whited said. “We know we’re going to have work really hard and not give up. We have a lot of chemistry on this team and we’ll have to carry that chemistry into nationals and let it work for us.”
Barons capture dramatic 18U title
The Cleveland Barons and Culver Academy battled it out in the 18U final game of the day in The Forum at Fishers.
After losing the lead within the final minute in regulation, the Barons returned the favor, scoring in the first minute of overtime to capture the 18U title 4-3 and advance to the USA Hockey National Championships in April.
Culver’s Yannick Vedel punched in a goal with 24.3 seconds left in the third period to tie the contest at 3-3. Culver had led 1-0 and 2-1 early in the contest only to see the Barons rally back and tie the game. But Trey Bradley only needed a slap shot 23 seconds into the overtime to give Cleveland the victory.
“We just came out of regulation with a lot of intensity,” said Bradley, the son of former Tampa Bay Lightning player Brian Bradley. “It just went on my stick and I shot it. I didn’t know that it went in and then everyone started jumping on me. I figured I must have done something right.”
Both teams combined for 26 goals going into the championship game, but defense ruled most of the contest. Cleveland coach Tim Alexander said he told his team that patience would be the key to victory.
“Our team has always scored a lot of goals, and I told them to keep doing what we do,” Alexander said. “I told them to keep fore-checking and the goals will come. Getting the lead in the third period was huge and it gave us the momentum. Everything shifted, though, after they got the tying goal.”
Culver Academy knocking at the door
While Culver Academy lost its championship games in the 16U and 18U divisions, it looked like the program might only be a year away of breaking through to the Tier I national tournament.
The overtime loss to the veteran Cleveland Barons team in the 18U title game showed just how close Culver is. The military academy from northern Indiana played some of the district tournament’s most impressive hockey during pool play.
“I think our senior class is a pretty special class. They have been with the team for three and four years,” said Culver 18U coach Ryan Miller. “They’ve built a good, solid foundation in the locker room. I think our juniors will take the baton.
“We have a lot of good kids who will be moving up from the U-16 teams. This gives them a taste of what it’s like to come up a little bit short. We can use that as motivation for next year.”
Culver Academy goalies gave up two goals between the 16U and 18U teams during pool play. Miller said the 18U team’s effort to tie that game within the final minute to force overtime showed their resiliency.
“We were down 3-2 for most of the third and we didn’t give up,” Miller said. “I’m happy with the character of our kids and the ability to overcome adversity. The fact is that we didn’t quit and had a chance until the very end. That will carry over to next season.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Youth Tier I
14U: Indiana Jr. Ice
16U: Cleveland Barons
18U: Cleveland Barons
Girls' Tier I
14-U: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
16-U: Team Pittsburgh
19-U: Team Pittsburgh
Girls' Tier II
16-U: Steel City Selects
19-U: Columbus Blue Jackets