The Indianapolis Redline have undergone a number of changes this season. They moved to a new city, as did their parent club (formerly the Dakota Rapids, now the Milwaukee Growlers). But the core of their roster was the same group that won the last two CHL titles in Idaho. The Redline continued their winning ways in this year’s Finals, downing the Cleveland Centurions in 6 games to bring the Howard Trophy to their new hometown.
“It feels great to be on top again!” said Redline LW Terry Cresson, one of several players who has been with the team for all three titles. “We’re starting to get good at this.”
The Finals matchup presented a battle of contrasting styles. The Redline were the CHL’s top-scoring team, while Cleveland has the same suffocating defense that the parent Michigan Gray Wolves made famous. “Whichever team drives the pace of play is going to have the upper hand in this series,” said Indianapolis coach Tony Hunt.
The series opened in northeast Ohio in crumbling Cleveland Arena. The Centurions got the early advantage, scoring three times in the first period and riding a shutout from goalie Eugene Looney to a 4-0 win. The Redline were unfazed by the loss, however; they also dropped the first game of last year’s Finals before rolling to a victory. In Game 2, Indy was able to push the pace a bit, and they broke the game open late in the second period, as C Tanner Brooks, RW Britt Cadmium, and D Jay Brewster scored goals in the span of just over six minutes on their way to a 5-1 win that evened the series at a game apiece.
The action shifted to Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis for the middle three contests. Game 3 was a bit of a slog, as the play was chippy and penalty-filled (11 infractions in all) and the teams combined for just 93 shot attempts. The Redline did a better job getting their shots on target, and this time it was netminder Brooks Copeland who posted the shutout in a 5-0 laugher. For Game 4, Indianapolis used its superior speed to make Cleveland look helpless, outshooting them 33-23 and scoring four times in the first on the way to a 9-2 shellacking that moved them one game away from the title. Looney, the hero of Game 1, was now the goat as Centurions fans called for a switch to backup Jeff Bingley between the pipes. Coach Blaine Thurmond stuck with his starter, saying: “He’s the one who got us here, and I believe in him.”
Looney rewarded his coach’s faith in Game 5, making a 26-stop performance in a 3-2 Centurion win to stave off elimination. D Gil Calvert got the visitors fired up early, dropping the mitts with Redline D Andy Ruger less than four minutes into the game. The charged-up Centurions promptly scored twice to take an early lead, but a pair of ill-advised penalties late in the first (including a high stick by Calvert) allowed Indy C Dale Wilcox to notch a pair of power-play markers to tie it up. Fortunately for Cleveland, Calvert came through with the game-winner in the third period on a slapshot through traffic.
Back home for Game 6, Cleveland fought valiantly to extend the series, with LW Carl Bleyer scoring in the first period to give them the lead. But the Redline managed to overwhelm the Centurions again with their speed. RW Dylan Alizarin scored twice in the second period to give Indy a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. In the third period, they outshot hapless Cleveland 16-5, with Cadmium adding an insurance goal down the stretch. RW Steve Brandon gave the Centurions hope with a goal in the final minute, but they never found the equalizer and bowed out with a 3-2 loss.
For all the goals that the Redline scored in the series, choosing an MVP was somewhat challenging, since the scores were so well distributed: every Indianapolis player except D Clark Blanchard scored at least once. The award ultimately went to Alizarin, for his game-winning heroics in the clincher. The winger argued that he didn’t really deserve the honor: “I wish I could cut this trophy into 20 pieces and give one to each of my teammates, because this was a total team effort,” Alizarin said.
The Centurions now face some important questions heading into the offseason. Owner Brad Pelwicki has stated he will move the team out of Cleveland unless significant upgrades are made to their ancient facility. The league, however, has indicated that they want to keep the Centurions in town, and believes that Pelwicki lacks sufficient capital to run the team properly. Thus far, no progress has been made toward upgrading Cleveland Arena, and Pelwicki has made no move to sell. The players declined to comment on the arena situation in interviews during the Finals.
“The way I see it, sometime before New Year’s, they’ll tell us where we’re going to play, and I’ll show up and play there,” said Bleyer. “If it’s somewhere that has hot water in the showers and where the lights work all the time, that would be awesome.”