Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Indy's title teams: The 2000 Ice

The Ice celebrate with the Miron Cup (Indianapolis Ice photos)
Of the nine championship teams in Indianapolis, some looked like contenders from the start of the year -- the Checkers mini-dynasty and the 1990 Ice squad that steamrolled the competition come to mind. Some, like the 1950 Capitals with the great Terry Sawchuk in goal, were obviously contenders once we look at the roster in hindsight.

But none was as unlikely as the 2000 Indianapolis Ice. On May 12, 2000, they hoisted the Miron Cup, emblematic of the league championship. A mere 12 months earlier, the team didn't exist. Five months earlier, it had a losing record and looked like a longshot to make the playoffs.

Today, we look back at the 2000 Ice as we review the Indianapolis championship hockey teams.

Previously: the 2009 Indiana Ice

So how did it happen?

Start with the top. The Ice, who had competed in the International Hockey League for the previous 11 seasons, moved into the Central Hockey League in the fall of 1999. The CHL -- no relation to the circuit the Indianapolis Capitols opened in 1963 and the Checkers closed down in 1984 -- was formed  in 1992 as a lower-level developmental league, with all teams owned by the league. One of the key people in the league's formation was Horn Chen -- who also owned the Ice throughout their IHL history. In fact, the CHL home office shared the same space as the Indianapolis Ice front office for several of those seasons.

Naturally, with the IHL shedding teams (it would eventually meet its demise two years later, with a handful of surviving franchises absorbed into the American Hockey League), it made sense for Chen to move the Ice into a circuit he already had a stake in. He sold the team to a local ownership group led by Gary Pedigo and Jim Hallett -- the latter of which would become the owner of the ECHL Indy Fuel -- and suddenly, the Ice were a team with a front office, but no players, no coach and a league full of new opponents -- all located in the Southeast or the Great Plains states.
Jamie Morris with the Miron Cup.

Rod Davidson -- a veteran of coaching at the "AA" minor pro level -- was brought in to coach. With a friendly demeanor, one of Davidson's biggest skills was in recruiting players to this new expansion team. Quickly, a core came together. Defenseman Mike "Bullet" Berger -- a former Checker who possessed a 104mph slapshot -- was lured from Tulsa to play one more professional season. Bernie John, another veteran who had played in the UHL the previous year, also joined the team and would become a mainstay on the blueline. High-scoring forward Yvan Corbin, a veteran who had scored 60 goals in the WCHL the year before, came to Indy. So did Chris MacKenzie, who had put together four 20-goal seasons in his eight-year career and had played against Davidson in the WPHL the year before. Benoit Thibert came with Davidson from the WPHL's Alexandria Warthogs to play goal. Jamie Morris was signed out of college as a backup. Enforcer Ken Boone helped round out the core by providing the ability to pot double-digit goals and triple-digit penalty minutes.

And slowly, a team came together. It wasn't overnight, though. The CHL era began on an odd night at the Coliseum against the Fort Wayne Komets, who had also moved from the IHL, going to the Midwestern-based United Hockey League, a game that was cut short due to high heat and humidity in the Coliseum causing thick fog to envelop the playing surface. The next week, the first official game was played, and it was a 4-2 loss in Columbus. On Oct. 23, the first game played in the Coliseum was a 6-3 victory over the Memphis RiverKings, with Benoit Cassan scoring the game-winning goal. Wins didn't come easy early, though, as a 4-10-1 stretch put the team at 12-17-2 at the close of 1999.

The Ice continued to massage the roster, bringing Jan Jas in from Macon to join his brother Peter on what would become a potent second line with rookie Blaz Emersic on left wing -- both Emersic and Jan Jas would score 20 goals. Lubos Krajcovic and Sebastian Pajerski also had 20-goal potential, giving the Ice three high-scoring lines as the season went on and the team began to gel. Dan Cousineau and Mike Torkoff helped provide two-way play on the back end, and suddenly, the Ice were a serious contender.

Things began to take off on New Year's Day. Jan Jas scored a shootout winner to beat Topeka 3-2 at the Coliseum, kicking off an unbelievable 22-4-0 stretch that not only put the team in playoff position, but turning it into a serious contender for the newly-minted Miron Cup. The streak included several big performances -- a five-point night from Corbin in a 7-4 win over Wichita on Feb. 4; four goals from Corbin and four assists from MacKenzie on an 8-3 Feb. 8 win over San Antonio; a five-point game from MacKenzie and a hat trick by Emersic during an 8-3 pasting of Memphis in front of 12,979 at Conseco Fieldhouse on Pack the House Night Feb. 12; another 8-3 win the next day with Corbin potting another hat trick; Corbin and Jan Jas posting a double-hat trick two days later when the Ice beat Tulsa 7-3.

When the regular season finished, the Ice had a 39-28-3 record -- including 27-11-1 in 2000 -- and were in a three-way tie for second in a competitive Western Division race, four back of champion Oklahoma City. Corbin was named league MVP, and he and MacKenzie shared the league's top scorer honors with 127 points. Corbin had 62 goals and 65 assists, MacKenzie 47 goals and 80 assists. Jan Jas (26), John (21) and Emersic (20) also topped the 20-goal mark, with Krajcovic scoring 19.

The team looked poised to make a long playoff run, and had home-ice advantage against the Tulsa Oilers -- a team with which the Ice had an identical regular-season record with 81 points. Things looked good early. Peter Jas scored in OT to give the Ice a 3-2 win in Game 1, and the Ice dominated Game 2 by a 4-1 count. But two games in Tulsa netted two losses, sending the best-of-5 series back to Indy. Yet, the top players hadn't scored -- Corbin, MacKenzie and John had three assists between them in the first four games. They'd combine for 10 points in a wild Game 5.

In Game 4, Davidson swapped goaltenders, putting Morris between the pipes. He played a hunch in Game 5 and gave the rookie Morris his first playoff start. The rest is history. Morris stopped 27 shots, but the winner-take-all game became a low-pressure one. Jan Jas, Mike Berger, Yvan Corbin and Bernie John scored goals in the last 11 minutes of the first period to give the Ice a 4-0 lead at intermission. Corbin, Berger and Chris MacKenzie would later score to make it a 7-0 game. That would all be overshadowed by a wild third period that saw 312 penalty minutes called, starting with a fight between the Ice's Eric Landry and Tulsa's Mark Scott 2:31 in. With 6:50 left, one brawl would break out that featured six fighting majors and seven misconduct penalties. Less than three minutes later, Tulsa's Curis Voth was called for a match penalty, inciting another brawl. Out of it, five Tulsa players were sent off for fighting, a sixth was given a misconduct penalty. In addition, all 10 players on the ice were given game misconduct penalties. Tulsa's Doug Lawrence drew an extra penalty for fighting the linesman trying to escort him off the rink. For the final 4:05, each team had one skater remaining on the bench. The Ice dominated the game, outshooting Tulsa 49-27. When the dust cleared, CHL records were set with 322 total PIMs and 312 in the third period. And the Ice were moving on.

Things got a bit more conventional after that. And it became Morris' show. He stood on his head in Game 1 in Oklahoma City, beating the Blazers 3-2. Two nights later, he made 49 saves, setting the stage for Corbin's overtime winner to beat the Blazers 2-1 and bring the series back to Indianapolis with a chance to sweep. It would be a formality, as Morris again would allow just one goal. Bernie John scored the game-winner in a 3-1 series-clinching victory that put the Ice in the Miron Cup Final.

The championship series was epic. The Ice faced a Columbus Cottonmouths team that had totaled 89 regular-season points and finished second both in the East Division and in the overall league standings. They had CHL Goaltender of the Year Frank Ouellette, and a number of top scorers led by 25-goal men Matt Martens, Marcel Richard and Per Fernhall. The best-of-7 opened in Columbus with another fine Morris performance, allowing one or fewer goals for the fifth straight start. Ken Boone's only goal of the playoffs proved the game-winner in a 2-1 victory. Columbus tied the series up in Game 2, but the Ice had squared the series on the road and were heading home for three games. All three would be epic. Chris MacKenzie scored in OT to mark a 3-2 win in Game 3, but Fernhall answered with an OT goal in Game 4 to square the series. When Ouellette shut out the Ice in Game 5 -- making Kevin Plager's goal stand up in a 1-0 Cottonmouths win -- the Ice had their backs to the wall. Columbus was heading home with a 3-2 series lead, needing just one win in the last two games.

It never happened.

A strong start gave the Ice a 5-2 win in Game 6, with MacKenzie netting another game-winner, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7. Blaz Emersic scored early in the first, and with the way Morris was playing, it was going to be enough. He made 27 saves for his second shutout of the playoffs, and the Ice players poured off the bench to celebrate the Miron Cup championship. They became the first to hoist the new trophy, which weighed 60 pounds, and became an unlikely champion.

MacKenzie totaled 21 points -- seven goals, 14 assists -- in the 15 playoff games. Corbin and Peter Jas also had seven goals. Jan Jas tallied 10 points. But it was Morris' playoff performance -- allowing 18 total goals in 11 playoff starts, with two shutouts in series-clinching games and an 8-3 record -- which was spectacular. Only once did he allow more than two regulation goals in a game. As a result, he was named playoff MVP and became the team's primary goaltender the following season. The Ice kept much of the core together -- Corbin followed with a 70-goal season, MacKenzie had another 100-point year, John remained an Iceman throughout the duration of the franchise's five years -- but were unable to repeat the magic they discovered in 2000. Yet, the 1999-2000 team stands as a testament to a well-put together team that gets everything right at the perfect time -- and was a celebrated champion.

2000 Indianapolis Ice
CHL Western Division semifinal: (2) Ice vs. (3) Tulsa Oilers
April 4: *Ice 3, Tulsa 2, OT
April 5: *Ice 4, Tulsa 1
April 7: *Tulsa 3, Ice 0
April 10: *Tulsa 5, Ice 1
April 12: *Ice 7, Tulsa 0
CHL Western Division final: (2) Ice vs. (1) Oklahoma City Blazers
April 14: Ice 3, *Oklahoma City 2
April 16: Ice 2, *Oklahoma City 1, OT
April 19: *Ice 3, Oklahoma City 1
CHL Miron Cup Final: (2W) Ice vs. (2E) Columbus Cottonmouths
April 27: Ice 2, *Columbus 1
April 29: *Columbus 5, Ice 1
May 5: *Ice 3, Columbus 2, OT
May 6: Columbus 3, *Ice 2, OT
May 9: Columbus 1, *Ice 0
May 11: Ice 5, *Columbus 2
May 12: Ice 3, *Columbus 0

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