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2023-24 Power Rankings v5.0: Chargers Finish Off 2nd 15-0 Regular Season as Braun Cooks

After 15 rounds the regular season has come to an end. While it generally lacked suspense, there were still some fun moments throughout and the postseason almost always delivers the goods. Last year we ended up with a terrific championship game between Leo and Carroll and a great semifinal between the Vipers and Carroll that required overtime. We also had two local teams play for State Championships a couple weeks later. Could something similar be in store this year? Let’s hope.

1.) Carroll Chargers (15-0-0, 30 pts)

Dylan Braun. That’s really all that needs to be said about the last 3 games on the Carroll side of things. The Junior has been on another level lately and finished out the regular season with four straight hat tricks. Put another way, Braun scored 9 of Carroll’s 14 goals in the final rotation and 12 of 19 over the hat trick streak. We haven’t seen him be this dominant on the score sheet since the beginning of last season when he was the runaway scoring leader right from the first game. Braun finished the regular season with 23 goals and the next highest was…. 10 for Colin Robison. So after a much slower start, Braun was able to still match his goal output from last season but fell four points short of last year’s point total. By the time everything was all said and done, what looked like it was going to be a great points race turned out to not be so great after Braun caught fire and won his third straight scoring title, this time by five points over Carter Gnau who finished runner-up for the second year running. As for more of the on-ice details, Carroll was all over everyone this last rotation. Their respective shots on goal margin in each game was +37, +33, and +31. While the score lines were less dominant (especially against Homestead) the Chargers were able to convert those into a pair of comfortable wins against the Vipers and Leo. If there would be one nit to pick for Carroll at this point it would be that they should be putting up more goals given their dominance in possession. They put up seven against Leo so taking that out of the equation, Carroll only managed seven goals on 90 shots in their other two games which factors out to a 7.78% shooting percentage. That’s considered below average and when taking into account the context of that number it feels worse. Now these teams play each other five times each season and with that familiarity things can get wonky in a way they wouldn’t when playing teams that aren’t as familiar, but nonetheless Carroll was miles clear of everyone this season (more so than last) so that stat would be raising at least minor alarm bells to me.

Now even with all that said, as we saw last year nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. After needing overtime for a second time to beat Homestead in Week 15 the Chargers will faceoff against their cross-town rivals to open the Memorial Cup Playoffs and will need to bring their best to advance to another Memorial Cup Final. As for the State Tournament, the Chargers are yet again in 4A, this time as the #3 seed. That has them matched up with the sixth-ranked Southwest Michigan Blades in the opening round, a team that Carroll has some familiarity with. Based on results available on, the Chargers are 1-1 against the Blades and dropped the most recent meeting 5-4 back in December. Ranked above them are Culver A and Zionsville, which have both beaten Carroll this season. While we won’t go through Carroll’s record against every team in their class, it’s worth noting that due to Carroll’s robust crossover schedule they have played every team in their class except for Evansville at least once. By my calculation they’ve posted a combined record of 3-5-1 against those six teams with wins against St. Joe, SWM Blades, and HSE (A). Now for what it’s worth Carroll was seeded lower last season and made it to the State Championship without dropping to the losers bracket so they’re in theory better positioned this season but as always, only time will tell.

2.) Leo Lions (9-5-1, 19 pts)

For Leo I would say that this rotation wasn’t ideal but at the end of the day they got the results they were expected to and were easily the second best team in the regular season. They started the rotation off with a close win over Homestead. Through two periods the game was as even as we have had all season but with 6:27 left in the third the Lions finally got on the board. As Jonah Haines was going for a line change the puck ended up in his path and he just sent it towards the net probably not expecting much out of it. The same could be said for the Homestead goaltender as the puck fluttered past him and into the net and that was all it took as the Spartans couldn’t find the equalizer. The following week against Carroll went the same as it has in previous meetings, poorly. After the 1st period Leo was actually in control with a 2-1 lead and it looked like this might be the momentum building win over the Chargers they would want heading into a potential rematch in the Memorial Cup Final. That optimism rapidly evaporated in a disastrous five minutes to start the second period though. A 5-on-5 goal and a subsequent power play goal for Carroll were unfortunate but not back breaking as Leo was now down but just by one. Things really went south when the Lions scored a too-bad to be true three (3) short handed goals on one power play. That ballooned the score to 6-2 Carroll and brought in Drew Baumert to relive Xander Mulholland who was a merely a passenger in the meltdown. Leo was outshot 23-3 that period and then 11-2 in the third as the Chargers added another goal and got the running clock against Leo for the second time this season. Leo got back to their winning ways on Senior Day with a 5-3 win over the Vipers that got a little too close for comfort with a Vipers rally in the third period. Leo jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first on the back of two goals from Colin Robison who finished as the team’s leading scorer in city with 19 pts and was fourth in the league. Riley Murphy’s power play goal was the third and came 1:05 after Robison’s second. Caden Austin added his name to the scoresheet with a short-handed goal in the second period as Leo led 4-0 through 30 minutes. Things quickly became more intense in the third period as the Vipers scored twice in the first five minutes to make things interesting and then made it a one goal game with a late power play goal only for Austin to score an empty-net goal for his second of the game to seal the win with 19 seconds left.

Now looking ahead, Leo has to be happy about their #1 seed in 3A for state. They will open their tournament with a matchup against the Central Indiana Knights on February 23rd in South Bend. A win in that game would set the stage for a game against the winner of Carmel Gold/Adams, and based on the Lions are yet to play either team this season. On the opposite side of the bracket, the leading contenders are LSI and Bishop Noll who somehow Leo did not get matched up with in any of the crossover tournaments. So it would appear that the Lions face a unique challenge of having no head-to-head experience this season against any of the top teams they would have to face on a championship run. Leo has only played three games against other teams in 3A, all three being the lowest seeds in the class, and in those games went 1-2. Leo also went 0-4 by my count against 4A teams not named Carroll, so their #1 seed is a little questionable to me based on the evidence, but make no mistake this is certainly a 3A contender. This also all comes with the caveat that these are games that are posted into either MyHockeyRankings or the FWAHA website and I’m aware these sites could have games missing. Either way the committee put the Lions as the #1 seed for a reason and as we all saw at this time last year, with Baumert in net this team is a threat to win every game they play.

3.) Fort Wayne Vipers (4-10-1, 9 pts)

After pulling off the upset in Week 12 over Leo, the Vipers failed to build off that heading into the postseason. A 4-0 loss against Carroll is what it is but when looking back at it, going 0-for-9 on the power play will be a sore spot. The Vipers also conceded a short handed goal and two power play goals to Carroll in that game so special teams as a whole let them down in that one. Regardless of that they were still fighting an uphill battle as Carroll thoroughly outplayed them to the tune of a +37 shots on goal differential. Following that up was a loss to Homestead, that being a Spartans first league win since Week Two only added to the pain but with the standings set in stone the game was of little consequence beyond playing for pride. Homestead took a 2-0 advantage in the first period and the Vipers were able to cut the deficit to one with a power play goal from Cam Whisler at 14:22 of the second period. The third period didn’t see any more goals but did see penalties, most notable to Jackson Bertels, who with his fourth of the game was sent off which could’ve been costly to the Vipers comeback attempt. Had Bertels been available at the end of the game he could have provided a crucial goals as he so often has in his four years with the team. Instead the coaching staff opted to deploy him throughout the third despite being one penalty away from an ejection and subsequent ejection, served on his Senior Day to make matters worse. It was on that Senior Day that the Vipers suffered another set back, but without Bertels and Logan Ormsby. The Vipers again went down early as Leo put three past Brody Rosswurm in the opening frame and then gave up a short handed goal in the second. Facing down a four goal comeback the Vipers came out of the gates hot in the third and Nick Vanryn scored a power play goal 2:55 into the period and Dominick Gardt followed that up in short order to give the Vipers some life. Things slowed down until Vanryn scored another power play goal to make it a one goal game with 3:33 to play. From there the Vipers couldn’t find that last goal to force overtime and empty-netter for Leo sealed it, but the two are set for a rematch where the result actually means something in the Memorial Cup Semifinals Wednesday night.

Of all the teams in Fort Wayne I’d say the Vipers should be the most excited about their state tournament draw. Down the stretch they’ve shown to be fairly even with Leo who ended up with the #1 seed in 3A but the Vipers got the #1 seed in 2A. For what it’s worth, I’d say the Vipers are more accurately placed than the Lions who I think should have been 4-5 spots higher up the state rankings. Not only should the Vipers be happy to be down in 2A they also get to avoid the costs of travel not just financially but also in the unquantifiable factors like sleeping in your own bed each night. They open tournament play against South Stars Red who they beat 4-3 a few weeks ago back in Fishers over the MLK crossover weekend. Should they come out ahead in that Friday evening game they’d get to wake up bright and early for a Saturday morning game against one of two other teams they already beat once each this year, HSE B or Crown Point Red. From there they would face a team from the other side of the bracket but of course they could also lose one of their first two games and drop to the other side of the bracket themselves. Regardless, as the #1 seed they’re the favorite in 2A and their results against the other teams in the class show why, the Vipers are 4-1-1 with a loss to Brebuf (who they’ve beaten too) and a tie with #2 seed Columbus being their only blemishes. If you’re in Fort Wayne, I’d say you should be ready to be at the rink Sunday morning around 10:30, there just might be a local team playing for a chance to go to the State Finals.

4.) Homestead Spartans (2-10-3, 7 pts)

While this year has been a tough one for the Spartans there is serious hope of a strong finish. After not winning since Week Two, Homestead was finally able to notch another win by defeating the Vipers in Week 14 by a 2-1 score. Henry Loxton buried a power play goal early in the contest and Cam Hurley doubled the lead with 1:22 left in the first period. The Spartans nearly carried that lead through the intermission but Cam Whisler scored a power play goal of his own with a mere 38 seconds before the break. From there it was up to Connor Gould as the offense couldn’t restore the lead. Gould was able to stop all 12 shots he faced in the third period to make it 26 saves on 27 shots for the game. The relief at picking up another win was evident for both the players, who swarmed Gould after the final buzzer, and the coaching staff. Probably aiding in that relief was the angst of so many close losses in 2024. Aside from a 5-0 loss against Carroll, who has dominated everyone since the calendar turned, the Spartans had a chance to win every single league game. Three one goal losses in five weeks certainly stung as those games all were decided in the final moments. That might ring especially true in relation to their Week 13 loss to Leo. The game was evenly matched and it took 38 minutes before either team could find a goal. It was Jonah Haines for Leo that broke the ice with a goal that Alex Dougherty probably wants back. It was a bit of a floater from high in the zone that just got the better of the Senior goaltender. Not to be outdone though, given the final chance to stop Carroll’s back to back 15-0 regular seasons, the Spartans gave it their all on Senior Day and took the Chargers to overtime for the second time this season but again ultimately fell short. When Carroll took the lead early in the 2nd period Daniel Martinsky was right there to answer back just 1:26 later. Dylan Braun would put Carroll ahead again before the end of the period but Loxton came up big with a power play goal to tie the game again with 5:43 to spare. Braun wasn’t to be denied though and buried the overtime winner off a 3-on-1 rush. Alex Dougherty made 37 saves in the game to just seven for Cam Gnau.

Now Homestead is in great position to add a new banner to Rink 47. Homestead was placed in Class 1A and is the #1 seed which from early on in the season was always seen as the most ideal outcome. The Spartans chief competition will be Westfield, who based on results on, has beaten Homestead twice but the two clubs tied in their last meeting. Nonetheless that familiarity will be crucial and there won’t be any surprises should those teams meet up at some point in the tournament. Valpo is another team the Spartans will have to contend with and those two teams played back in October but the result wasn’t posted on the team’s website. Rounding out the 1A contenders is Lake Central Blue. The only listed meeting between the two was all the way back before city play even got started but for what it’s worth the Spartans took that matchup 4-3. Some decent results against teams in 2A will also serve as validation for Homestead’s title hopes. They’ll also have the added benefit of playing at home as 1A will be here in Fort Wayne and get underway on February 23rd against Northside with the hope that their season will be alive and well in the early afternoon of Sunday the 25th.

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