The Central Indiana Knights so far this season have exceeded expectations.
“We’ve surprised a lot of teams,” Knights coach Kevin Karlander said recently. “I’m happy with where we’ve developed at this point.”
The Knights, a year after finishing as the state-runner-up in the competitive Class 4A division, likely will compete in Class 3A in the 2018-2019 postseason. Karlander said the key to how the Knights will fare come the postseason is simple:
A young, talented team must become a productive one.
“We’ve been trying to develop younger players,” Karlander said. ”When we shorten the bench in the second half of the season, we’ll start to see exactly what the team’s really capable of.”
The Knights, an Indiana State High School Association hockey team of players from Cathedral, Bishop Chatard, Guerin Catholic, Noblesville, Park Tudor and Pendleton Heights, advanced to the Class 4A state final in 2017-2018. That’s the highest classification in Indiana high school hockey and the Knights’ runner-up finish was the best 4A finish in program history.
The Knights entered this season with many observers expecting them to be in rebuilding mode following the loss of key players from that team.
Through early January, they were 12-11-1 with an overtime loss in the Hoosier League and ranked No. 14 in the state.
Karlander said the Knights because of their record likely will compete in the Class 3A state tournament this season. Teams in Indiana high school hockey are separated into classes for the postseason tournament, with 3A being the second-highest classification.
Karlander said he expected the Knights to continue developing, and to contend come the state tournament. Developing depth and gaining experience before the postseason will be key.
“To win a 4A state [title], you need a fourth line that can contribute,” Karlander said. “To win a 3A state, you need a third line that can contribute. I knew going into the season we were going to have a very good top end.
“In the last two minutes, when I’ve got my five guys on the ice, we can play with anyone.”
Cathedral players once again have made key contributions to the Knights’ season:
*Sam Bedich, a junior center/forward and assistant captain who Karlander called the team’s best overall leader. Through 24 Hoosier League games, he had 16 goals and 11 assists. “He’s a great kid,” Karlander said. “His plus-minus is one of the best on the team. He’s taking faceoffs in the final minute. He’s a fantastic hockey player.”
*Joey Bell, a senior forward and former defensive player who Karlander called “a great utility guy who can change momentum with effort and physical play.” Through 20 games, he had seven goals and three assists.
*Vince Tomich, a junior defenseman who Karlander called a “solid hockey player with a tenacious attitude towards defense – a utility player that can be used as a forward or defenseman and a hard worker that will play the role the team needs.”
*Grayson Trede, a freshman forward and the team’s top-scoring newcomer. Through 25 Hoosier League games, he had four goals and four assists.
*Owen Wright, a sophomore who Karlander called a “shifty player with great hockey sense.” Through 22 Hoosier League games, he had an assist.
*Jake Challand, a physical sophomore with one goal and one assist in 21 Hoosier League games.
*E.J. Hofmann, a sophomore goaltender who had a 4-5-1 record and 179 saves in 21 Hoosier League games. “He’s been consistent and has us in position to win this year,” Karlander said.
Karlander said the primary issue for the Knights has been offensive consistency. Being a talented team, the Knights often play their way into opportunities. Being a young team, they sometimes don’t advantage of those opportunities enough.
“That’s where we’re struggling,” he said. “We’ll get 50 shots and tie or win by a goal. We’ve got a lot of young guys who do a lot of great things and create offense, but they just haven’t figured out how to finish yet. The game’s a little faster and goalies are bigger. There’s less room to shoot, less time to get the shot off. It’s composure. You have to be in that situation a couple of times before you feel comfortable enough to get your head up and find the back of the net. It’s very common.
“We’ve got to start scoring on our opportunities. We make some good plays, and get a lot of opportunities. We outshoot most teams. If we can start scoring goals on our opportunities and tighten up our defensive zone and not give up a lot of shots, we’ll be in good shape.”
Whatever the Knights lack in experience, Karlander said they more than make up for in desire and effort – the combination of which will give them a chance come the postseason.
“This team has the most heart that I’ve coached yet – the most guys willing to block shots, the most guys willing to go through the extra effort,” he said. “Every team gets banged up. The season gets long. I’ve got guys willing to play any position and willing to step up and do any role that’s asked of them. That’s what I like about this team. That’s the kind of team you want going into year end.”