For the first time in the PIHL Open Division, Indiana is a section champion.
The Indians celebrated that fact, and the careers of their seniors, Thursday night with a 12-1 victory over winless Connellsville in a non-section game at S&T Bank Arena.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Indiana coach Dom Glavach said. “We kind of downplay it because our goal isn’t to focus on (regular-season) accomplishments, but the whole season long we were talking about doing the little things and everything else taking care of itself, and that’s the net result.”
Indiana has had its share of playoff success since reinstating its varsity program in 2011-12, but it fell short of the Section 3 championship in the last two years. Indiana has reeled off a 17-0-1 mark this season to earn the section honor.
Indiana officially got the title based on point percentage after its game Wednesday with Keystone Oaks was wiped out. The Indians visit Baldwin (17-1-1) this evening to close the regular season and decide the top seed in the Open Division’s Northeast Conference.
In any event, Indiana will have a first-round playoff game at home Sunday evening.
“It’s been great,” senior defenseman Jacob Miller said of his career. “We’ve had a lot of success, so we’ve had a lot of fun here. Last year I got hurt right before playoffs. I broke my leg and I didn’t get to play, and it was a heartbreaker. So, this year I’m really determined to get back out there and win it all.”
There wasn’t much drama in winless Connellsville visiting unbeaten Indiana. The Indians outshot the Falcons an amazing 73-7 and put them away with a five-goal second period.
Jess Bartholow and Ethan Boyer each had hat tricks, Andrew Roth scored twice, and Tyler Mulac, Camden Lydick, Tony Lenzi and Dominick Glavach added a goal each. Bartholow added four assists for a seven-point game. Seniors Keldon Spicher and Bo Anderson shared goaltending duties.
Connellsville concluded its season at 0-20.
Indiana juggled its lineup throughout the night. Mulac, a freshman defenseman, ended up at forward in the third period. He found himself in front of the net when the puck squirted right to him.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “I used to be a forward, but this year on varsity I play defense, so that was a big change, and I’ve actually enjoyed it. Back at forward, getting my first goal in varsity, it was just a great time.”
The big showdown is tonight. Officially, Baldwin and Indiana tied 5-5 on Jan. 9 in Indiana. The Highlanders, though, left the rink that night with a 6-5 victory that was overturned by the league because the curfew clock should have expired and ended the game before the winning goal was scored.
The teams could very well meet in the Chiefs Cup playoffs, too.
“The section championship is definitely quite an accomplishment, but you’ve got to put it behind you because Baldwin’s a good squad,” Dom Glavach said. “They’re the only ones that really have us numbers-wise, matchup-wise. They have an answer for everything we have; we have an answer for everything they have. … It’s a throwaway game as far as the big picture goes, but no one’s throwing anything away. I guarantee you their coach did nothing more than watch our film, the same thing we did (with Baldwin’s) last night.”
The regular season is basically a warm-up for playoffs anyway for a team like Indiana. It’s almost time to work on avenging tough losses the last couple years, in the Open Cup final two years ago for the championship of the PIHL Open Division, and in the Chiefs Cup final last year.
“What better situation do you want than to play the second-best team in the league before you go into playoffs?” Dom Glavach asked. “Win, lose or draw, it’s a great way to warm up for playoffs. We lost a game that we shouldn’t have lost in the finals. We know what the pain of defeat feels like. We know how poorly it tastes, and that’s what we’re going to grasp onto. There were big tears at the end of the season last year, because we didn’t quite do what we wanted to do, and that taste doesn’t roll away. It certainly hasn’t gone away in my mouth.”