No one ever said defending a championship is easy. And seven games into this year's United States Hockey League's (USHL) playoffs this year's Indiana Ice squad has shown that they are up to the challenge.
After finding themselves down two-games-to none in the first round of the USHL playoffs the Ice came back to win three straight games against the Cedar Rapids Roughriders and moved on to the East Division finals against the Green Bay Gamblers.
"It was an incredible series with two evenly matched teams," said Ice head coach Jeff Blashill of the team's five games against the Roughriders. "I definitely thought our team showed a lot of resilience especially being down 2-0 in the series."
Goalie Casey DeSmith was spectacular in the final three games of the first-round series, stopping 107 of the 111 shots he faced. The 18-year-old netminder received plenty of support on the offensive end of the games, as seven different Ice players contributed goals during those contests: Max Cook (three goals), Shane Berschbach (two), Nic Dowd (two) and Anthony Bitetto (two) led the offensive portion of the comeback for the defending Clark Cup champions.
For the second year in a row, Indiana faces Green Bay in the second round of the USHL playoffs; last season, the Ice eliminated the Gamblers in four games. This year's Green Bay team finished first in the USHL's East Division with a record of 45-10-5 (95 points), while the Ice finished the regular season in third place with a record of 33-24-3 (69 points).
Game one of this year's Ice-Gamblers playoff series found the Ice winning their fourth straight contest in the post season 2-1. Chris Martin and Alex Wideman scored for the Ice while DeSmith turned back 29 of 30 shots taken by the host Gamblers.
The Ice's winning streak came to a halt in game two as the Gamblers won 9-4. DeSmith and Cab Morris split netminding duties in the loss, while Kevin Goumas, Bryon Paulazzo, Alexander Kuqali and Berschbach scored for the Ice.
Games three and four of the USHL East Division finals will be at the Pepsi Coliseum this weekend.
WHO: Green Bay Gamblers vs. Indiana Ice
WHAT: USHL Eastern Division Finals
WHEN: Friday and Saturday (April 23rd & 24th), 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Pepsi Coliseum, Indiana State Fairgrounds
TICKETS: Pepsi Coliseum box office, all TicketMaster locations, www.ticketmaster.com