HS HOCKEY: Indians bow out in Chiefs Cup final
NEVILLE TOWNSHIP — Indiana wasn’t ready to end its playoff run when it fell behind by three goals, so the Indians fought back.
The Indians certainly weren’t ready to end their season one step before the final intended destination, either, but a better team showed up to the Island Sports Center with designs of taking the Chiefs Cup from Indiana, and Ford City did just that, holding off the Indians, 7-4, in the PIHL Open Division Chiefs Cup final Thursday night.
Ford City (20-2-1) advances to face Nailers Cup champion Wheeling Park in the Open Cup final, but after the game, Indiana (19-3-1) proceeded only to a dejected atmosphere in the locker room.
“After the game is miserable,” Indiana coach Dom Glavach said. “It’s a ton of emotion because you’re saying goodbye to guys that you’ve been with for three or four years. … Hockey’s just one of those sports, you put so much into it. That type of game where it’s up and down, there’s a lot of emotion, and when the horn goes off, everything just drains.”
“It’s dismal,” senior goaltender Austin Moody said, “because we didn’t want to go out like this and it’s the last time I’ll ever get to play with those guys. It’s tough. I’m going to miss them.”
Indiana trailed by three goals three times. After falling behind 3-0 and 5-2, the Indians pulled back to within one goal. The third time Indiana was down three was when Ford City’s Jesse Valasek hit a three-quarters-rink empty-netter to seal the game and complete a hat trick.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking,” senior captain Austin Jasper said. “You start from behind, you work your way back to within one goal, and then you get it taken away from you again. You get your hopes up just to get it taken away. … I’m really proud of them, it just sucks. It sucks to lose.”
The Sabers, who have owned Indiana in regular-season play the last two seasons, wasted no time taking it to the Indians in their first postseason meeting, buzzing around the net almost all first period and opening up a 3-0 lead. Were it not for strong play by Moody in net, Indiana could have been down by even more.
“That first period was about as good of a period as we could play,” Ford City coach Glen Kilgore said.
“We dominated. We got a strong cycle going. It didn’t seem like they could handle it.”
“They were really forcing us to make decisions that we weren’t normally put in positions to do,” Glavach said.
“They did that all first period and then we adjusted. We pretty much controlled play the second and third period. We just didn’t control the scoreboard.”
Jess Bartholow scored Indiana’s first goal late in the first period, less than a minute after Ford City’s third goal. That stopped the bleeding, and in the first minute of the second period, Noah Moody scored on an odd-angle shot from the corner with Indiana on the two-man advantage to cut the deficit to 3-2.
“They came at us pretty hard and I don’t think we were quite ready for that kind of tempo,” Glavach said. “Things settled in and we just started chipping away and climbing back out.”
Ford City restored its three-goal lead with another pair of goals in the period. Luke Gross and Josh Oliver, Valasek’s linemates, had two goals each.
Indiana’s big charge came just before the second-intermission cut, when Camden Lydick took a feed from Pat Hunter, who was behind the net, and scored with 2:16 left. Then, Bartholow tapped in a rebound on the power play with 27 seconds to go, sending the Indians into the break on a high, trailing just 5-4.
Indiana would not score again, though it got a few chances in the third, including Hunter’s short-handed breakaway on which he hit the post.
“The third period we had four breakaway attempts and just hit posts,” Glavach said. “We gave them inches all night, and you need momentum and a little bit of a bounce when you’re down like that. Our guys played with a ton of heart and all night long we just didn’t get the bounce we needed. We kept coming and coming. Games like that when you’re down and you’re climbing out of a hole, if you don’t get a bounce, it makes it hard.”
Even harder, perhaps, for the Indians to face is the fact they had a squad that was in many ways better than the one last year that won the Chiefs Cup and nearly took the Open Cup title, too. Fueled by a double-overtime loss in the Open Cup final on the very same rink it played on Thursday, Indiana’s mission all season was to take that next step.
“Our goal definitely was to make it past what we did last year,” Jasper said. “We were dead-set on winning.”
“Our goal was to go back to the Open Division championship, and that’s really what we had our eyes on,” Glavach said. “It’s disappointing in a sense, but also, there are only two teams playing tonight from our side of the division and we were fortunate enough to be here.”
Hunter, who finished as Indiana’s leader with 51 goals and 79 points over the regular season and playoffs, got his chances, but Ford City held him in check, particularly in 5-on-5 play. Hunter scored six goals against Altoona in the Chiefs Cup semifinals on Tuesday.
“It’s a big thing coming in when you’ve got last change, we’re the home team,” Kilgore said. “So when he was seeing the ice, Johnny Phelps and Joe Cippel, my top ‘D’ pairing was on the ice. They made him go wide, they forced him wide, they were hitting him. And I tried to get that top line of Jesse Valasek, Josh Oliver and Luke Gross on against him, because now if we’re going on the offensive, he’s got to play defense.”
Also frustrating for Indiana was that it played one of its most disciplined games in some time, taking only five minor penalties, but still couldn’t get over the hump with Ford City. The Indians are 0-5-1 against the Sabers in the past two seasons since Indiana brought back its varsity program. A lack of discipline had done Indiana in against the Sabers previously, but Ford City beat the Indians straight-up on Thursday.
“We had a great season,” Austin Moody said. “We worked hard, we pushed. In the end we lost to the better team. They played better, they got the better bounces and they beat us.”