IUP finished third at the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II national club tournament by surprising three top-flight opponents.
But the team the Indians surprised most might have been...IUP.
Odds that coach Sam Kelly’s crew would reach the semifinals were slimmer than Olive Oyl. The Indians seemed more likely to place third in their four-team pool than third in the nation.
“To be honest with you, we weren’t expecting to do so well,” said goaltender Adam Curry, whose sparkling play spurred IUP to its highest finish ever. “I think if you would’ve told any one of us we’d end up No. 3 in the country, we probably wouldn’t have believed it.”
Front row: Sam Kelly, left, and Michael Irvin. Back row, left to right: Steve Rebovich, Adam Curry, and Jordan Haines.
The Indians defeated Colorado (3-1), SUNY-Stony Brook (6-1), and Michigan (3-2) in pool play to advance to the Final Four, a heady achievement for a team that had managed only one previous victory in four ACHA tournament appearances. Especially given the expectations.
“We’ve had some fantastic teams in the past that didn’t even get to nationals,” said Kelly, who led the Indians to a 24-11-3 record (IUP’s second team, coached by 1977 grad Mike Irvin, finished 22-10-3 and placed thirteenth at the ACHA Division III tourney). “Everybody thought we were going to make a run last year, because we had a very talented team, and we went 1-2 at nationals. I don’t think the guys thought this year’s team could compare to last year’s.”
But the underdogs overachieved during their stay in Rochester, Mich., scoring timely goals and riding the spectacular goaltending of Curry, who became the first IUP player to earn first-team ACHA All-America honors. The senior from Johnstown was also named the Southeast Region MVP and made the ACHA all-tournament first team. He was as impenetrable as Fort Knox at nationals, posting a .935 save percentage.
“I think it all started with Adam Curry,” said captain Bill George, a senior left wing who scored four goals in the tournament, matching senior center E.J. Greco for team honors. “He was the backbone of that team. He’s the calmest player there is, and that keeps everyone else calm. He made some incredible saves that kept us in the first game.”
The Indians quickly fell behind 1-0 in their opener against Colorado, but Curry was invincible the rest of the way. Senior right wing Greg Lausch snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:31 remaining and George added an empty-net goal with eleven seconds left to seal the victory.
“I think that was probably our best game,” said sophomore defenseman Jordan Haines, who joined Curry as a first-team all-tournament pick and a first-team All-Southeast Region selection (fellow defenseman Steve Rebovich earned second-team all-region honors). “That just set the tone for the whole week.”
The Indians walloped long-time nemesis Stony Brook a day later. IUP had managed nothing more than a tie in five previous games with the Seawolves, but the latest contest was, well, no contest. George and Greco each scored twice to trigger the rout.
“What happened against Stony Brook was just unbelievable,” Kelly said. “The guys were really up for that game, so much so that once they got going they just couldn’t be stopped. Their adrenaline was so high.”
That set up a showdown with Michigan for the right to advance out of Pool C. Curry made forty-two saves, including several on point-blank shots in overtime to keep IUP alive in the game and in the tournament. Junior right wing Sean Hopkins then intercepted a pass and buried the puck in the Michigan net to spark a frenzied celebration by the triumphant Indians and their fans.
“I don’t know how many of us could say we’d ever been in a game that big before, where a win sent you on and a loss sent you home,” Curry said. “It was a great feeling to win it. I think we sort of shocked ourselves.”
The Indians’ rollicking run reached a dead end in the semifinals when defending champion Oakland—the host school—struck for three goals in the opening 10:48 enroute to a 6-1 victory. But one setback couldn’t overshadow all that unheralded IUP accomplished.
A season highlighted by wins over high-profile schools like Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina State, Colorado, and Michigan culminated with the Indians placing third in the nation. Out of 134 teams.
“We made a name for ourselves,” Curry said. “We get made fun of a lot, get called a community college, get called a lot of names. When you have little IUP doing something like we did, it opens up some people’s eyes and gives us respect across the country. Finishing third at nationals was a big step ahead for IUP.”
The Indians got that far by surprising three top-flight foes. And maybe even themselves.