HS HOCKEY: Indians set to meet familiar foe in Chiefs Cup final
By ELI NELLIS
Indiana and Ford City have been two of the best teams in PIHL Open Division hockey over the last two seasons, and they’ve had some heated battles in that span.
However, they’ve never met in the playoffs — until now.
Both teams advanced from Tuesday night’s Chiefs Cup semifinals, second-seeded Indiana beating Greensburg Salem, 9-2, and top-seeded Ford City edging Hollidaysburg, 4-3. The Section 3 foes will square off in Thursday’s Chiefs Cup title game, set for 8 p.m. at the Island Sports Center on Neville Island.
It’s a matchup that’s been building for two seasons, even if the teams want to avoid the hype.
“It’s rare,” Indiana coach Dom Glavach said. “You play each other like that in the regular season and you don’t have a chance to square off in the playoffs, but to me, we’re heading on the road to a very nice venue to win a Chiefs Cup. Opponent? Indifferent. We’re there to play Indiana hockey.
There happens to be a team dressing against us, and we’re preparing just as we have every week.”
Ford City captured its second straight Section 3 title, matching Indiana’s 17-2-1 regular-season mark and taking the head-to-head tiebreaker, thanks to a 7-5 win at Indiana’s S&T Bank Arena on Jan. 2. The teams also tied, 2-2, at Kittanning’s Belmont Complex in November.
One thing Indiana hasn’t done against the Sabers, though, is win, going 0-4-1 against them in the two seasons since reinstating its varsity program.
“I’m pretty sure the rest of my teammates, as well as I am, are just sick and tired of losing to them,” Indiana goaltender Austin Moody said. “So I think it’s time to give it back, and I feel it. I feel our rolling play. I think we can give it to them.”
The team’s last meeting was also Indiana’s last loss, one of just two on the season. The Indians’ win Tuesday night extended their winning streak to 10. The victories kept the pressure on Ford City, which had the inside track to the section title, but had to keep winning to remain a step ahead of the Indians. The Sabers did that, winning their last seven in the regular season, then two more in the playoffs.
The meeting in early January also marked a change in Indiana’s focus. The Indians lost their heads, getting engaged in post-whistle spats and heading to the penalty box — a contributing factor to the loss. Since then, Indiana’s penalties have come largely in the course of play, and the Indians seem to have matured in terms of avoidable infractions.
“You kind of bottom out,” Glavach said. “We watched that film after that game and you look at it from top to bottom, and from a hockey perspective and just man-for-man we had the better play. We just took too many penalties. … It’s one of those games that I think we had the better of the play and the worse of the discipline. It’s a bump on our road. You play a regular season to set yourself up for playoffs, and although it was not a notch in the win column, it was just another game. I don’t read much into it. We got past it. We learned a valuable lesson about discipline in that game.”
“You’ve got to just put it behind you and play them like any other team,” said Indiana forward Pat Hunter, who was ejected from the January game after a scrap with Ford City’s Joshua Oliver, “because if you dwell on everything from the last game, you’ll just get in trouble.”
Of course, Indiana is the team with the larger, shinier championship belt, as the defending Chiefs Cup champions. They didn’t face Ford City in last year’s playoffs, after Greensburg Salem knocked the Sabers out in the semifinals.
“Teams still have to beat us,” Glavach said. “Ford City’s not going to be a cakewalk, but they’ve got to prepare for us. We’re going to keep moving forward with that kind of pace and go right at them.”