Luke Lewandowski dived headlong to the ice, waving his arms at his sides as though he were swimming down the rink.
Taking a cool dip in December never felt so good.
Lewandowski tapped in a loose puck in the crease 2 minutes, 45 seconds into overtime, giving Indiana an 8-7 victory over Hempfield in its wildest hockey game in a long time Thursday night at S&T Bank Arena.
His teammates joined him as he celebrated in front of the Indiana student section afterwards.
“It’s amazing,” the junior forward said. “It’s probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve experienced so far. Everyone’s yelling. Everyone’s just all over everywhere, just being around everybody and working so hard through that game to get to that last goal.”
The victory gives Indiana an 8-0 record and maintains its standing as the only undefeated team in the PIHL Open Division entering the Christmas break. The Indians took sole possession of first place in Section 3, knocking off their toughest competitors so far in Hempfield (7-2). Indiana tied the score twice after falling behind the Spartans 4-2, 6-4 and 7-5. The Indians never led until the very end.
“We had to find a test to develop some heart and character,” Indiana coach Dom Glavach said, “and we got that tonight.”
“We took it in on a 3-on-2 fast break and Cam (Lydick) dropped it off to Jess (Bartholow), and he let one go,” Lewandowski said of the play leading up to his game-winner. “He told me in the locker room he just didn’t want to get it blocked. It ended up rebounding off the back of the glass and coming right back in front. Their ‘D’ whiffed and I saw I had an opportunity on the puck. I just didn’t want to miss it, and I wanted to make sure I put it on the net, maybe get a rebound. I just hit it as hard as I could, and it happened to go through.”
Lewandowski’s score was the most celebrated goal of the game’s 15, but they all came together for a spectacular show put on by two of the Open Division’s best. Indiana scored the night’s final three goals after trailing 7-5.
Bartholow scored with 8:35 to go. He thought he was set to take a penalty shot after being taken down on a breakaway, but the officials instead called a standard 2-minute tripping penalty on Hempfield.
T.J. Petro cashed in on the man advantage to knot the score at 7 with 7:15 left in the third.
“We were kind of down, but we realized we could do this,” Petro said of being down two goals on three separate occasions. “We got one, then we got another, and it just went from there. We just kept believing.”
“It’s easy to quit in games like that,” Glavach said. “Good teams find ways to find that little crack and make it bigger. If you think about it, that’s what we did. We found opportunities to score. We generated offense. We got pucks. We did the right things at the right times.”
Indiana finished 3-for-7 on the power play, but Hempfield was 4-for-7. Three of the Spartans’ four first-period goals came on the man advantage as they took the upper hand.
“Both teams had a lot of penalties,” Hempfield coach Dennis Zeravica said. “That’s the most penalties we’ve had all year. Both teams capitalized. Both teams were playing strong on special teams, putting power play goals in the net, and that was the story of the game tonight. Both teams played hard. It definitely shows we’re two of the top teams in the division.”
“You take anything away from this, we definitely needed a test,” Glavach said. “We had guys that we depend on make mental mistakes, and I think it’s because we weren’t in that situation before. That’s great experience, and it’s even better when you come back from a two-goal deficit and win it in overtime.”
Dominick Glavach, Lydick and Bartholow scored for Indiana in the first. Glavach and Lydick also scored in the second. Lydick had six points (two goals, four assists) in the game.
Petro had three assists for four points on the night. He has 17 assists and 24 points on the season, good for third on the team in scoring.
“We’re talking a lot (on the ice),” Petro said. “We’re having fun, talking, just always keeping our heads up and making passes. … I just try to look for whoever’s open. They really do the rest. It’s not me. I just give them the puck and give them the best opportunity to score. My offense is fantastic. I love playing with it. I love moving the puck.”
Avery Lavella had a hat trick for the Spartans. Matthew Kalafsky gave Hempfield the 7-5 lead with his goal 3:07 into the third period.
Indiana outshot the Spartans 19-6 in the third period, though, controlling play through most of the period as it came back and threatened to win even in regulation.
“They got a couple power plays on us in the third, and after that we got a guy injured,” Zeravica said. “We had two guys on the bench who were sick. We were playing basically with two lines, if that — not even two lines. We were just piecing guys together. As that period went on, we got more and more tired.”
The clash of quality teams was a rarity for the Open Division’s regular season. Indiana had won by a single goal just once before Thursday night. The Indians’ other six wins came by an average of more than eight goals, with victories of 16-4 and 11-0 on their r￩sum￩. Hempfield’s only previous loss was to Section 4-leading Baldwin, which sports an 8-1 record, and the Spartans have had several blowout wins of their own.
“That’s a challenge with these guys to make sure they don’t fall into bad habits while playing teams that we’re obviously more talented than,” Zeravica said. “Maybe we needed a game like this, though. It’s always good to play a strong game. I wish we had more of these through the season. Indiana’s the same way.”
“Playing a good team and playing a good game brought us all together,” Lewandowski said.
The win came at a good time for the Indians, who don’t play for another two weeks. They visit Altoona on Thursday, Jan. 2. Their second game back is a rematch at Hempfield on Monday, Jan. 6.
“The holiday game is always scary, because if you lose it, it’s the worst taste at Christmas,” Dom Glavach said. “It just leaves a taste because it’s so long until you can come back and redeem yourself. It really builds momentum. We talk about heading upward in December and especially January. January is a hard month.”