Rebuilding momentum

INDIANAPOLIS — As the Columbus Icemen stood lined up across the blue line following Saturday’s 6-3 loss to Penn in the Indiana State High School Hockey Association Class 3A final, they ventured to center ice one by one to collect their runner-up medals.

Although they weren’t the championship medals they desired, the Icemen were nonetheless pleased with a late-season push that saw them reach the 3A state title game at the newly-renovated Indiana Farmers Coliseum.

“It’s ending on a sour note, but I told the boys despite this game, it was a fantastic year,” first-year Icemen coach Andy Cesarski said. “Just to get here was quite an accomplishment.”

Columbus (20-24-2), which entered the 3A tournament as the No. 8 seed before posting three consecutive shutouts in pool play to reach the final, gave up its first goal of the tournament just 2:34 into the game. But a little more than two minutes later, the Kingsmen (22-15-6) were called for a penalty, and three seconds into the power play, Robert Ferguson scored the tying goal off an assist from Sean Bowman.

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“It was time to go to work — maybe get a goal on the board and get some momentum going for us,” Ferguson said.

Unfortunately for the Icemen, whatever momentum they picked up was taken back by Penn a little more than three minutes later. The Kingsmen scored two goals in a span of 49 seconds to take a 3-1 lead with 5:51 left in the first period.

“I felt we got a little rattled early on when they scored so quick because last weekend, we went three games without giving up a goal,” Cesarski said. “It took us awhile to regain our composure after that. We were on our heels early.”

Penn added to the lead when freshman Tyler Seroczynski scored the second and third of his four goals to make it 5-1.

“Give them credit,” Cesarski said. “Penn came out to play. They came at us hard. They threw pucks at the net, and they got some bounces that we didn’t.”

“I think we played decent,” Ferguson said. “We could have played better. We just have to watch the man in front of the net and get some forechecking. We didn’t forecheck very hard.”

Ryan Cesarski cut the lead to 5-2 just 28 seconds into the third period when he fired one in from just inside the blue line for a power play goal off assists from Christian Corbin and Ferguson. After Seroczynski scored his fourth goal for the Kingsmen, Ryan Cesarski scored off an assist from Dustin Rodgers with 9:05 remaining.

Although the Icemen, who were outshot 24-9 over the first two periods, outshot Penn 7-3 in the final period, that was as close as they would come.

“We dug ourselves a big hole right out of the get-go,” Ryan Cesarski said. “We stayed out of the box all right. We just couldn’t generate enough shots, and we couldn’t get out of the hole we dug ourselves. We rallied, but we couldn’t get there.”

“We fought until the end,” Andy Cesarski said. “The third period, we told the team, ‘Hey, you have to play very aggressive. We’re four goals down. You have nothing to lose. We need shots and goals.’ We came back there in the third period and made it a game, but it was too-little, too-late.”

Luke Fry recorded 23 saves for the Icemen, who had played in the 5A final four each the past three seasons, reaching the 5A title game in 2012 and 2014. Eleven seniors graduated from last year’s squad.

“I think we had a really good season from our rebuilding stage,” Ferguson said. “We defied our odds. No one really thought we’d get here, but we did. We got back to the state finals, and playing in this facility was awesome.”

“I was proud of the guys,” Ryan Cesarski said. “We didn’t know what to expect at first, so to bounce back off that season and to come out here and play in the 3A finals was a big surprise. It was a good season.”