The Black Ice NARCh Pro Title Run in '14. Crazy, check it out.

by Daryn Goodwin

For almost 3 full decades, The North American Roller Hockey Champions have provided the best tournaments for the best players on the best teams to compete against each other.  By my estimation we’ve ran in the neighborhood of 150,000 NARCh Games through the years.

If you play NARCh and have been lucky enough to raise the NARCh CUP at the NARCh FINALS, you’re in very elite company. It’s the Pinnacle of the sport.   The PINNACLE of that Pinnacle is winning the NARCh Pro Division.

There are so many unbelievable stories and great games that we can reflect back on.  The history of NARCh is truly amazing, and the hard-fought battles run deep.  For those of you that can share a story in this legacy, we thank you for being part of it. Talking about old NARCh Stories always involves great memories and a smile on the face of the player, coach, ref, or parent sharing the story.

Today I’d like to focus on a journey that truly stands out.  I’m referring to the run that Mission Black Ice experienced to win the 2014 NARCh Pro Title.   To stereotype this group of players 3 things come to mind.  1) They’re young.  Half, if not more, were still 2nd year 18u players playing midgets.  2) They were close.  Jason Muro has a way of putting together teams with players that bond on and off the rink and would go through the boards for each other.  3) They’re very talented.

The general consensus at the time was that Mission Black Ice is an Up-And-Coming team, but definitely a few years away from being true contenders in the Pro Division.  Like many teams comprised of players this age, they play every division they possibly can that they are age eligible for.  In this case that meant 18u, 21u, D1, and Pro.  That’s a lot of hockey in a short period of time.

In 2014 the 21u and D1 Divisions started before Pro and concluded the day before Pro Playoffs started.   Mission Black Ice underachieved in 21u, as they didn’t make the playoffs.  In D1 they lost in the Semi-Final to Next Gen Vanquish, 2-1.  They would settle for 3rd in D1.

Playing so many divisions in a short period of time can work with you, or against you.   I’ve heard numerous conversations and arguments for both sides.  Nobody can argue the fact that you want to head into the Pro Division with momentum.   Not making playoffs in 21u and not making the D1 Final I’m sure was not part of Jason Muro's or Aaron Weiss's master plan.

Having said that, the most important division is the Pro Division, and they were still alive.  Black Ice snuck in the Pro Playoffs in the very last spot, the #9 seed with a 2-2 record.  They would have to play the #8 seed Alkali Surge.  The winner of this playoff game would have the daunting task of playing against the #1 Seed Mission Snipers early the next morning. 

Black Ice would prevail against the Alkali Surge in convincing fashion.  Facing the Mission Snipers in a do or die quarterfinal matchup is a whole different ball of wax.  The Snipers are intimidating, a bit mean really by roller hockey standards.  They usually max out their 15-man roster every tournament and make a point to outwork their opponents every shift.  Honestly, I thought they were unbeatable this tournament the way they rolled through EVERYONE they faced in the prelims, scoring 17 goals while only letting up 4.  They were the defending NARCh Pro Champions and no doubt the favorite to repeat.

The Pro Quarterfinals would take place in the morning.  It seemed early for a pro game.  I remember walking through the back of Germain Arena trying to watch the most exciting action between all 3 rinks.   We were in playoff mode for many divisions, not just Pro, so there would certainly be great action throughout the 3-rink facility all day.

In my mind I thought that the Snipers would take care of Black Ice in convincing fashion.  I didn’t think they would blow them out, but I would have predicted a 3-4 goal margin of victory.  Throughout this tournament the Snipers would always get an early lead, then strangle teams with their defense.  Forcing teams into turnovers and capitalizing on those turnovers.

Bouncing between rinks I expected to come back to the main arena and see the Snipers up on the scoreboard as the game played out.  It wasn’t happening.  Still tied 0-0 at half, the thought started to go through my head.  Could they possibly pull this off and upset the Snipers?  That would be the talk of the tourney.

Watching the game, I thought the Snipers carried momentum, puck possession, and it would just be a matter of time before they forced their will.  The Black Ice defense would bend but not break, and goalie Mike Maczynski made a number of great saves.

I had to run into the ref room.  As luck would have it, I would hear a roar as I re-opened the door to return to the rink.  Someone had scored and I missed it.  I figured it was Black Ice actually because of the noise.  I think everyone in the building was rooting for Black Ice, except for the Sniper players and families.  If you asked any team who they would rather play, they’d all answer Black Ice.  Nobody wanted to face the Snipers.

I was correct, K.J Tiefenwerth had scored with just over 4 minutes remaining in the game to put Black Ice up 1-0.  I still felt like the Snipers would likely come back and win, but there was a definite shift after that goal.  The Snipers weren’t used to playing from behind.  They would press and play what appeared to be a little nervous.  They were in the exact position they put every one of their opponents in up to this point in the tourney.  Some of their big guns like Jack Combs, Nathan Sigmund, and Kyle Kraemer all had scoring chances as the clock wound down.

With the Snipers pressing hard, a deep turnover in the slot created a 1 V 1 situation with PJ vs PJ, Dimartino VS Kavaya.  Dimartino went wide and cut in and Troy Redmond made the save.  The loose puck ended up on Kavaya’s stick for a second, but he mishandled and somehow it ended up in the back of the net behind Troy.  Such a weird play.  So unfortunate for PJ, who’s made a living on his stealth defensive play. 

They did it, Mission Black Ice defeated the Mighty Mission Snipers 2-0.  Story over, right?

I could envision the inspirational speech by Black Ice Coaches Jason Mura and Aaron Weiss going something like this. “We just beat the best team in the sport.  Who says we can’t win two more games and win this whole thing!”   I also envision some timely F Bombs in the message, but you get my point.

Black Ice would then face Mission Next Gen in the semi-final.  Next Gen defeated the Outcasts 4-3 in what was an the second of back to back amazing quarter finals.  John Schiavo scored the game winner in overtime and Next Gen won by a final 4-3.  If memory serves me right, the Outcasts had a couple goal advantage, and let it slip away late.

While I’d say the Snipers were the favorites, there was no question that if they faltered, it would be Next Gen’s tourney to win.  They also went 4-0 in the prelims and scored a whopping 29 goals in those 4 games.  To put in perspective, the next closest team scored 19 goals in the same amount of games.  They were loaded!  Chris Terry, Matt White, and John Schiavo to name a few.

You get it, Black Ice is definitely the underdogs again.  While I was tremendously impressed with what they pulled off against the Snipers, I thought that’s where it would end.  I remember thinking though at that time between games that Black Ice is a lot closer to winning a the NARCh Pro Title than I previously thought.  I also thought, there’s no way in hell they’re doing it today, but they’re close.  If I had to bet, I’d predict Next Gen wins this game by 3.   Black Ice was playing with the house’s money.

Reflecting back, this game would be the most non-predictable outcome of any Pro Game I think I’ve ever seen.   Nobody saw this coming, but that’s hockey.  Both goalies were unreal.  Mike Maczynski for the Black Ice and veteran Tommy Tartaglione between the pipes for Next Gen.  As I watched this game play out, I started to feel bad prematurely for one of these guys. They both played their hearts out, and one of them would unfortunately leave a loser.

Fast forward to overtime.  Overtime is not overly shocking.  Overtime tied 0-0 in a NARCh Pro Semi Final though?  Are you kidding me?  I remember a powerplay that Next Gen had in overtime and I thought, ok, this is it.  Terry, White, Schiavo and big Taylor Kane in front of the net.  I thought that was it.

For the umpteenth time in the same day, Black Ice would prove me wrong.  In very dramatic fashion Billy Pascalli would be the ultimate hero, scoring with 5 minutes remaining in the overtime.  Super quick release, partial screen, perfectly placed. Game over.   An unassuming 9-seed 24 hours prior, Black Ice would now be in the NARCh Pro Championship.

A non-believer when I woke up, now mid-afternoon I thought this young Black Ice Squad of up and comers could actually do this.  I gave them a 10% chance to beat the Snipers.  A 20% chance to beat Next Gen.  I was now up to 50% for the championship game.  It started to seem like destiny.  The most amazing stat to me was the fact that Mike Maczynski just faced the two most lethal offenses in the sport and let up zero goals.  Next Gen scored 29 goals in 4 games.  Zero in the semi.  Unheard of. 

In the NARCh Pro Championship 20k would be up for grabs.  Black Ice would face the Vanquish who defeated the Pama Cyclones 4-1 in their quarter-final, and Alkali RPD 2-1 in the semi (another amazing game).  Not the exact same team, but the Vanquish have won multiple NARCh Pro Titles in dramatic fashion of their own in ‘08 and ’12.  In ’12 they were the low seed that snuck in the playoffs and upset everyone through the playoffs.  Brandon Pirri scored the game winner in overtime that year in San Jose and had one of the best celly’s ever.  If you were there, I’m sure you remember.

The Vanquish deserved to be there.  A very balanced team.  Not the flashy guys that some of the other teams had, but a team of very sound hockey players throughout their lineup with an unreal AHL Goalie, Tom McCollum. 

This NARCh Pro Championship would be aired on NBC’s Universal Sports.  Throughout NARCh’s History we’ve always tried to get additional exposure for the sport and is something we still put a lot of emphasis on.  We want people that know nothing about roller hockey to see how exciting it is, and fun to play.  At the time, Nick Gismondi worked for NBC Sports and was instrumental in making this happen.  Nick also called the game, alongside Jeremy Ellis.

I didn’t care who won, I just wanted an exciting game.  We’ve been fortunate to have so many great NARCh Pro Championships with many of them going to overtime.  That’s what I was hoping for.   Goals.  Lots of goals!

At least to start this game, we got the opposite of a lot of goals.  Just like the prior playoff games for Black Ice, the championship would go into the halftime with neither team on the board, 0-0.  If you’re a defensive guy, or roller hockey purist, this is simply remarkable.  Justified or not, roller hockey often gets the rap that it’s super offensive.  Teams don’t play defense really.   Goalies get left out to dry all game and get shelled.

Well that certainly wasn’t the case in this game.  Both goalies were getting a fair amount of shots, but there was definitely a premium placed on defense.  A lot of blocked shots.  Sticks on pucks.  A possession game for sure.

I thought Revision was going to go on the board first at about the 12-minute mark with a quality shot on net, loose rebound that resulted in Maczynski losing his stick.  Another close call, but Black Ice would once again get the benefit of a bounce.

Both teams exchanged power plays with good opportunities.  Black Ice would finally get on the board with a power play goal by Billy Piscalli, assisted by Daniel Inouye.  Daniel really did the work with an inside out move on the defender and then a backhand pass as he was cutting back to the middle.  It landed right on the Billy’s stick, and he buried it.  To this day I don’t know if the pass was intended or if Daniel just lost the handle and it worked out.  I guess only Daniel really knows.  One thing I do know is that Daniel’s white helmet was ridiculous on a team where the rest of the squad had matching black helmets. He stood out for sure, which may have been by design, not sure.  Black Ice 1-0, 7:48 remaining in the game.

Not a minute later, Black Ice would get a 3 on 2 set up in their own end and as the pass came across for what would likely be a back-door goal, Chris Kendall tried to break up the pass.  It went off his stick and past McCollum.  In slow motion really.  You couldn’t help but thinking of how their morning starting, scoring their 2nd goal against the Snipers in somewhat fluky, similar fashion.

The game was not over, there was still time.  The Vanquish would get a powerplay just inside 2-minutes remaining in the game and at 1:32 mark they finally broke the seal.  With multiple shots on net a juicy rebound popped out right on the stick of Patrick Sebek.  He made no mistake with a nice snipe over Chinny’s shoulder.   Glove side, short side.

With just over a minute remaining, McCollum would head for the bench for the extra attacker.  The puck would end up on Sebek’s stick again with :50 seconds remaining and chance to tie.  A left hander, he let it rip, attempting to put it short side over Maczynski’s glove as he did the shot prior.  This time Chinny got a tiny piece of the puck with his glove, as it also nicked the top side of the crossbar.  I was behind the net at the time and may be the only person that saw how close this shot really was to going in.  

The puck would end up on the stick of PJ Dimartino in his defensive end.  PJ swiftly sent the puck 170 feet into the empty net, and Black Ice would seal the deal.  They added a 2nd pointless empty net goal for the final of 4-1, which was not indicative of how close this game was.

Black Ice would go on to win the NARCh Pro Title again in 2015, proving that this 2014 miracle run was not a complete fluke and they were a team on the rise, now considered one of the top teams in the sport that nobody want's to face.

Years later reflecting back I can say two things with certainty.  The Black Ice run of ‘14 was absolutely incredible!  We will likely never see a team win a NARCh Pro Championship like Black Ice did it that year at Germain Arena in Florida.

Second, we have never witnessed a goaltending display (with stellar defensive help) like we did that Sunday by Mike Maczynski.   Chinny played almost 3 full games (plus 12 minutes of overtime) against some of the best players in the sport and did not let up a single goal until the one minute mark in the very last game.