Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sending out 2011 with a "W"

The Ice and Phantoms play in the second period at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Possessing two of the league's top scoring lines and one of the top 2012 draft prospects in net, the Indiana Ice have had aspirations of being one of the USHL's elite teams this year.

At the end of 2011, they've been proving it.

The Ice capped off 2011 with a textbook-perfect 3-0 victory over the Youngstown Phantoms at the newly-named Bankers Life Fieldhouse, extending their year-ending streak to 6-0-2 in the last eight games.

Included in that are two weekend sweeps against the top challengers in the four-way race for the top spot in the USHL's Eastern Conference -- one against Dubuque in early December, and now back-to-back victories over Youngstown, with whom the Ice were tied in the standings going into Friday night's game. The Ice outscored the Phantoms 7-2 in the two games.

Ice goaltender Jon Gillies made 26 saves for his second shutout of the year and his franchise-record fifth of his USHL career. The defense kept the number of tough chances to a minimum, blocking several shots and keeping much of the Phantoms offense on the perimeter. Gillies had to make a point-blank save late in the second -- not long after the Ice defense broke up a 3-on-1 and turned into a Daniil Tarasov breakaway on the other end, one that was also stuffed by Youngstown's Michael O'Connor.

The Ice did have to kill off six Youngstown power plays, including an extended 5-on-3 situation. They were successful in all six.

The offense got going early for the Ice in this one -- just 1:42 in, Sean Kuraly fed John Doherty in front of the net. Doherty made a nice move and slipped the puck past Youngstown goaltender O'Connor to open the scoring. It was Doherty's second goal since coming from Dubuque nine games ago, and his second in as many nights.

Less than four minutes later, penalties to Youngstown's Michael Gunn and Ryan Lowney gave the Ice a prolonged 5-on-3. Robert Polosello's shot from the slot deflected off O'Connor and trickled over the goal line to make it 2-0. It was his sixth goal of the season.

That would be all the offense Ice netminder Gillies and the Ice defense would need.

The Ice carried the play in the first two periods, outshooting Youngstown 28-15. The Phantoms held a significant shot advantage in the third, but had very few strong scoring chances.

Sean Kuraly added an insurance goal at 7:05 of the third by blasting a shot from the right faceoff dot through a small 5-hole opening, converting a feed from Robbie Baillargeon from the high slot to the right circle. R.J. Boyd started the play from the left point.

The goal was Kuraly's team-best 18th goal of the year, and his fifth straight game with a goal -- the longest such streak for an Ice player this season. The San Jose Sharks draft pick has five goals and two assists in the last five contests.

The Ice played the final two periods without top-line center Jacob Fallon, who wasn't seen in uniform on the bench during that time. Youngstown was also a bit shorthanded, as second-leading scorer Austin Cangelosi was scratched from the lineup.

The two teams will see each other again at the Pepsi Coliseum next Saturday night -- a day after the Ice travel to face the Waterloo Black Hawks.

The game was the first of three scheduled at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The annual Pack the House Night will be held Feb. 10. The Jan. 27 game -- previously scheduled to be at the Pepsi Coliseum -- has been moved downtown to accommodate Super Bowl festivities taking place at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Indianapolis Star story story
USHL boxscore

3 stars
1. Jon Gillies (Ice), 26 saves, shutout
2. Sean Kuraly (Ice), goal, assist, +2, 2 shots
3. Robbie Baillargeon (Ice), 2 assists, +1, 1 shot

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