CULVER — “It’s always great when your school gets to bring home a state championship, but it’s really something special when your guys can bring home two state championships.”
That simple, understated sentence from Culver Military Academy varsity B hockey coach Alex Mies pretty much perfectly summed up the school’s accomplishment at the Indiana State High School Hockey Association’s Invitational Tournament last Saturday.
In a program where state championships are the norm, the Eagles found a way to redefine success as the CMA varsity B team started out the day with a 4-1 state championship victory over Fort Wayne Carroll in the 3A finals, and the varsity A team capped off the evening with a 5-2 win over area rival South Bend St. Joseph for its third straight state title in the 5A division at the Compton Family Ice Arena at Notre Dame.
Both games were closer than the final margins suggested as the A team entered the second period trailing 1-0, and the B team found itself locked in a 1-1 stalemate with Carroll after two periods.
Nerves were evident early, even for the Eagles A team, which may have entered Saturday’s 5A finals as the two-time defending state champ but boasted few carryovers from those two championship campaigns.
St. Joe outshot CMA 12-1 in the first period, and the Indians drew first blood on a Dillon Bond goal at the 10:34 mark of the frame. The damage could have been even worse but for goalie Jack Slifer’s save of a penalty shot in the opening stanza, and the Eagles found themselves trailing by a manageable 1-0 deficit going into the break.
CMA regrouped, and the defending champs took over in the second period.
Jimmy Callan scored the game-tier on a dual assist from Matt Moody and Nick Curtin on a power play 1:24 into the period, Phil Kreuser notched the go-ahead on a Corey Taylor assist on another power play at the 4:12 stop, and Moody added an insurance goal on a dual helper by Curtin and Charley Salk at the 14:23 mark of the frame to put the Eagles up 3-1 with one period left to play.
Pete Faulkner pushed the margin to 4-1 on a Matt Neufeldt pass early in the third, and, following a Will Beach goal that cut St. Joe’s deficit to 4-2 at the 13:45 stop, Callan put the exclamation point on the three-peat championship with an empty netter off a Caleb Jadrich assist to bring the score to its final margin.
“We were down 0-1, we were getting outshot 12-1 going into the second period, and we had four penalties in a row called on us, including a penalty shot. Our goalie played extremely well and kept us in the game, and that was great,” said CMA varsity A coach Jeff Badalic.
“Our players have never played in front of a crowd that size before, and our kids were nervous. The puck wasn’t rolling our way, and little simple plays that we’ve done hundreds of times, we couldn’t execute. They were a little bit tight, so we just did what we could to calm them down in between periods there and just kind of get back to the basics of what we usually play.”
While the CMA A team’s 5A title was the school’s third in a row, the Eagles B team’s 3A championship came as a bit of a surprise.
The team got off to a rocky start to the season, and although the squad was able to qualify for the ISHSHA’s 3A state tournament — which is divided up into class based on team records rather than the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s state series, which are based on school enrollment — the B team Eagles entered the tourney as sizable underdogs with seven players sidelined by injury during the homestretch of the year.
Locked in a 1-1 tie with Carroll with one period remaining, CMA finally settled in as Payton Frantti netted the go-ahead on an Alec Posner assist 2:27 into the final frame, Ben Bustria scored a pair of goals on assists by Posner and Frantti at the 4:37 and 10:14 marks, and the Eagles held on for the win and the B team’s first-ever state title at any level.
“I’ll be honest, we’re a motley crew,” said Mies with a laugh. “We have a bunch of strange guys who just love to have fun, and it was very apparent to us that they were nervous and they weren’t playing how they like to play, which is relaxed and having a good time. We essentially went in there and just settled them down. We said ‘Guys, listen, you’re not playing well because you’re afraid. It’s just another game; it’s a big game, but it’s just another game. We’ve won plenty of games before, we’ve seen this team before, we’ve played on this ice before. Let’s just go out there and have fun. It’s a state championship, what more can you ask for?’ The guys received it really well. You could kind of see them relax a little bit, and we walked out to give them a little bit of their own time. And Ben, he got up and he made a speech at that point. I’m not entirely sure what he said, but whatever he said, it definitely worked so I’m going to give the credit to him.”
It was a coup even for a storied hockey program like CMA’s, which had already racked up 22 state championships in the program’s 36-year history while seeing a total of 25 former players drafted into the NHL via the school’s top level prep team.
“For our varsity B team to win at the 3A level — which by the way my son plays on that team — was really a neat thing to see because they lost seven players down the stretch and yet they found some ways to win and qualify for the 3A level,” said Badalic.
In my mind that’s really the bigger story. My hat’s off to those guys because they really pulled it together at the end.”
“It was incredible, there’s not much more you can say,” said Mies. “It was just awesome to see how happy those kids were. We’re a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, and we’re playing against a bunch of juniors and seniors. To come out with a state championship, the guys were so happy, and I couldn’t have been more proud of them than I was when we hoisted that trophy up.”