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Icemen juggle academics, late practices, busy weekends

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THE Columbus Icemen have won four state championships and finished runner-up four times, including the past two seasons.

But success didn’t come overnight for the local high school hockey program, whose roots date back to the 1974-75 season. The Icemen won their first state title two years later.

“It takes the commitment of not just the parents and kids but the entire sport staff,” Icemen coach Rich Gordon said. “It’s the team manager and the people at the rink. And it’s the community, too. With- out the support of the community,  it would be an uphill battle, but luckily, the community gives us a lot of support.”

Gordon, who is director of new business development at Cummins, has been head coach for six years. He led the Icemen to a state title in 2008 and runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012.

He said building a successful program takes commitment from players at an early age.

“Not always, but for the most part, you have to start early with mites at age 5 and working your way up,” Gordon said. “It’s countless hours. We practice late at night, so the kids have to balance school, academics and sports. They have to maintain grades. It’s just a huge commitment and speaks volumes to their ability to manage their time correctly.”

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Most of the Icemen’s games are on weekends. They practice from 9:05 to 10:35 p.m. Tuesdays and 8:20 to 9:50 p.m. Thursdays at Hamilton Center Ice Arena.

“Hockey practices are late, so usually you just go home and get everything done before,” junior goalie Braden Phelps said. “You try to get things done early so you don’t have to save it for the last minute or have the chance of not getting it done.”

The Icemen, who started practicing in August and will play through the state tournament in March, are members of the Hoosier High School Hockey Association. Most of the teams are from Indianapolis and its northern suburbs. They also travel to northern Indiana and out of state for games.

“The weekend travel is a little tough,” junior forward Tanner Bennett said. “I actually don’t mind the late practices because it allows me to go home and do my homework before I go to practice.”

Most of the Icemen’s 22 players come from Columbus North and Columbus East. The team has one player each from from Jennings County, South Decatur, Triton Central and Shelbyville.

This year, the Icemen are 18-5-3 and are ranked No. 3 in the state behind Culver Military Academy and Carmel.

“We’ve had a lot of significant injuries, but in light of that, I think it’s gone really well,” Gordon said. “I don’t think we’ve hit our stride yet. We have a lot of potential for the second half of the year.”

Bennett leads the Icemen with 27 goals and 28 assists. Senior forward Seth Burton has 17 goals and nine assists, junior forward Andrew Schwartz has 13 goals and 26 assists, and junior forward Drew Yeley has 12 goals and seven assists.

Phelps is 14-5-1 with five shutouts and a 1.93 goals-against average. Freshman Luke Fry is 4-0-2 with a shutout and a 2.77 goals against average.

Top defensemen are juniors Kody Wagner, Cameron Wiederhoeft and Camron Gregg.

“We’re still pretty young, so we’re still learning,” Bennett said. “The majority of our players are juniors, and we have a mixture of young players that we’re trying to incorporate in there. We haven’t been perfect by any means, but it’s going pretty good so far. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles with all the injuries.”

Culver has beaten the Icemen in the past two state championship games and is widely regarded as one of the top teams in the nation.

“We lost some good players,” Gordon said. “But we’re a good, quality team. I’ve said all along we have the potential to get back to the finals. We just have to go out and execute.”

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