They were about a team concept – and clutch play.
The 2018-2019 Central Indiana Knights also were about season-long improvement, all of which coach Kevin Karlander said made a championship season all the more special.
“This group came together all season long,” Karlander said.
The Knights, made up of players from Cathedral, Bishop Chatard, Guerin Catholic, Noblesville, Park Tudor and Pendleton Heights high schools, made their third consecutive state final appearance in 2018-2019. They capped the season with 4-2 victory over Evansville in the Class 3A Indiana State High School Hockey State final.
The Knights, who won the Class 3A state title in 2016-2017 and were state Class 4A runners-up in 2017-2018, lost a slew of veteran talent from ’17-’18. Karlander said observers had low expectations for the Knights, with some expecting them to be placed low in Class 3A or even in 2A in a state-tournament process that places the strongest teams in 4A, the next-strongest in 3A and so on.
Qualifying for the 3A tournament made the season a success.
Winning it made it even more so.
“We had a lot of young guys who were hungry to learn and to get better,” he said. “They were having fun. They were part of a group. They were lighthearted until it was time to really focus in. When things really got serious, I think everyone realized, ‘OK, know your role.’
“The group came together all season long.”
The Knights rolled through the postseason with a series of clutch victories, beating Columbus 4-3, the Perry South Stars Red 4-1 and Bloomington 4-3 to advance to the title game.
“We had young guys who didn’t care who scored and didn’t care who got the points,” Karlander said. “They weren’t worried about their stats. They were worried about winning and that’s the kind of character we had.”
Karlander said the Knights peaked in the postseason, with players such as Cathedral junior Vince Tomich – who scored the game-winning goal in the state final – developing as the season continued.
“The entire team rallied around the idea that, ‘Hey, state tournaments end up being one-goal games,’’’ Karlander said. “To win, it’s the team that’s going to block the shots and get the puck outside the blue line – those types of things.
“All season long, we preached a lot of these things about what it takes to win. It wasn’t until the last eight games of the season until we really started seeing guys focused in on what was necessary.”
The Knights entered the 3A state tournament as the No. 2 seed, but had lost to Perry two weeks prior. They also had split four games during the season with Columbus.
“The parity was fantastic,” Karlander said. “It wasn’t that we weren’t confident that we could win. It was more that we knew we could, but it was going to take a lot of commitment. We had good character. We had great kids. We had great parents. We had a lot of guys who enjoyed playing hockey.”
Multiple Cathedral players contributing significantly throughout season, including:
*Sam Bedich, a junior center/forward and assistant captain who won 78 percent of his draws in the state final and who led the Knights with 200 hits. “He’s a great player who plays smart and can be very physical when the team needs it,” Karlander said of Bedich, who finished the season plus-29 with 1.24 points per game.
*Joey Bell, a senior four-year forward who won the team’s Unsung Hero award. He finished second on the team to Bedich in hits with 198, was sixth in scoring, first in penalty minutes and sixth in blocked shots. “Throughout the state tournament, no matter what we asked, he did exactly what we needed,” Karlander said “He was a character guy.”
*Tomich, a junior defenseman whose role changed to offense after Christmas. “It wasn’t an easy transition, but he figured it out and realized, ‘Hey, this is what needs to happen,’’’ Karlander said. “He’s a hard worker.”
*Grayson Trede, a freshman forward who Karlander said had good individual talent and speed. “He was quick to pick up our systems and contribute,” Karlander said of Trede, who finished the season fifth on the Knights in scoring and who moved from wing to center to defense. Karlander called Trede “vital to our depth and run through the tournament.”
*Owen Wright, a sophomore center who received consideration for the team’s Most Improved Player award. “Owen was a player that could see a developing play and get himself into position to support,” Karlander said. “He has great hands and ability to get the puck in to the holes.”
*Jake Challand, a strong and fast skater who Karlander called “a physical player that generated havoc for the opposing defense” who “could change the momentum of a game with his intensity.” Challand moved into the starting lineup in the postseason and provided a spark.
*E.J. Hofmann, a sophomore goaltender who saved 489 of his 554 shots for an 88 percent save percentage. “In games he wouldn’t back down to opponents and from time to time instigated and got in the heads of opposing players,” Karlander said. “No team wins a championship without solid goaltending.”
And while there will be losses from this year’s team, Karlander said the foundation remains strong.
“The experience of our freshman and sophomores that we’ll be moving forward with is good,” he said. “I’m optimistic. If we get underclassmen to buy in and be the character players they have been year over year, we’re going to continue to be close to the final – if not in the final – every year.”