Of Indianapolis' eight championship teams, some -- notably the 1950 Capitals, 1983 Checkers and 1990 Ice -- dominated the postseason and never really came close to letting their grip slide on a series. Others had to survive some hair-raising moments just to survive.
The 2009 Ice were one of those teams. They had finished third in the USHL's East Division -- matter of fact, the 2008 team was probably a more likely Clark Cup favorite, as it won the division title with a team led by future Washington Capitals mainstay John Carlson and NHL draft pick Garrett Roe. The 2009 Ice had solid goaltending with Brett Bennett and a fairly deep team, but it wouldn't have home-ice advantage in its first two playoff series, including the opening round against the Cedar Rapids Roughriders.
The teams had split the first four games of the best-of-5 in an epic series. Two of the games had gone to overtime. The Ice won the opener 7-2, but Cedar Rapids won back-to-back OT games to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Facing elimination, the Ice skated away from the Pepsi Coliseum with a 5-1 victory in Game 4.
That set the stage for Game 5 in Cedar Rapids -- a winner-take-all game on April 18, 2009. A crowd of 2,229 showed up for what they hoped would be a Roughrider victory.
They were pretty happy in the opening period. After CR's Mike Seidel and the Ice's Mike Cichy scored PPGs midway through the first, Kyle Flanagan and Tobias Nilsson-Roos scored two goals in the final five minutes of the period to put the Riders up 3-1. Flanagan's goal came just 26 seconds after Cichy tied the game.
This game would just get wilder. Trailing by two halfway through the game, Brandon Richardson -- who would total eight postseason goals -- begun the comeback by cashing in on assists from Cichy and Shane Berschbach with 7:54 left in the second. With 4:26 left, Ben Albertson converted an assist from Garrett Kennedy to tie the game. It took just 94 seconds for the Ice to take the lead, as their top line converted. Brent Gwidt cashed in on an assist from NHL prospect Stanislav Galiev.
Suddenly, a bleak two-goal deficit was a 4-3 lead late in the second.
Nilsson-Roos scored just 44 seconds after Gwidt's goal to tie the game.
The Ice's Brett Bennett had carried the team much of the year. Mike Johnson had led a pretty solid Cedar Rapids attack. Whichever goaltender came up biggest in the third period would win.
But it belonged to the offenses. A heavyweight boxing match had broken out.
The Ice needed just 2:04 to build a two-goal lead, as Richardson put the visitors ahead with his second goal of the game -- assisted by Anthony Bitetto, who would become an Ice hero in the same rink in the same Game 5 situation a year later. Exactly one minute later, Richardson fed Will MacDonald for a goal.
Johnson stayed in net for Cedar Rapids. His team would come back. For the third time, an Ice goal was answered within a minute, thanks to Kyle Flanigan's tally.
Yet, the Ice kept trying to hold onto the lead. Finally, Seidel broke through -- assisted by Flanigan -- and with 8:37 left, the game was tied.
Who was going to be a hero? The game had already seen the lead swap hands twice, both teams rally from two-goal deficits, and two pretty good goaltenders getting shelled by great offenses who weren't willing to see their seasons end.
Torey Krug became the answer.
With 15 seconds left, a play started by Cichy ended up with the puck on Shane Berschbach's stick. Krug ended up poking the puck past Johnson. Suddenly, the scoreboard showed a 7-6 Ice lead and just a quarter of a minute left.
It wasn't an overtime goal, but it might as well have been. The final seconds ran out. The Ice had survived one of the wildest playoff series in recent USHL memory.
Krug had a pretty good day prior to the goal -- four shots, +3, but his blast was icing on the cake. It would be his only goal of the postseason, but he would have a big playoff with six assists.
Suddenly, Cedar Rapids' quest was over. Suddenly, the Ice were headed to Green Bay to take on the top-seeded Gamblers. The Ice would win that series in four games, and then go on to beat Fargo in four games to win the Clark Cup. The championship wouldn't have happened without Krug's heroics.
A lot of championship runs have the early "close shave." For the Ice, trailing by two goals in the first period of a clinching game, losing a two-goal lead in the third and rallying to hold on in the other team's building was the character test that sprung a championship run.
Boxscore: April 18, 2009 at Cedar Rapids Ice Arena
CR-Seidel 2 (Rowe, Bergman), 13:21 (pp)
IND-Cichy 3 (Richardson), 15:28 (pp)
CR-Flanagan 5 (Costello), 15:54
CR-Nilsson-Roos 2 (Robinson), 18:48 (pp)
Penalties: Aneloski (C) high-sticking, 4:58; Blakey (I) hooking, 13:07; Aneloski (C) holding, 13:35; Blakey (I) interference, 17:10
IND-Richardson 3 (Cichy, Berschbach), 12:06
IND-Albertson 3 (Kennedy), 16:34
IND-Gwidt 4 (Galiev), 18:08
CR-Nilsson-Roos 3 (unassisted), 18:52
Penalties: Donovan (C) holding, 8:36
IND-Richardson 4 (Bitetto), 1:04
IND-MacDonald 1 (Richardson, Gwidt), 2:04
CR-Flanagan 6 (Lynch), 3:00
CR-Seidel 3 (Flanagan), 11:23
IND-Krug 1 (Berschbach, Cichy), 19:45
Shots on goal: IND 14-17-8 -- 39 (Johnson 32 saves); CR 11-12-10 -- 33 (Bennett 27 saves)
Power play: IND 1-3, CR 2-2
Officials: R-Curtis Marouelli, L-Aaron Mills, Judson Ritter