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Junior hockey: Blackbirds have eye on league title in second year

Updated: October 11, 2013 11:10PM



DYER — It doesn’t take a hockey genius to figure out that the Illiana Blackbirds junior league team jerseys look awfully familiar.

The basic color is red, just like the uniform of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. And the Blackbird logo features a headdress very similar to the Blackhawks’ famous Indian head logo.

And fittingly, the Blackbirds’ coach spent three years as a player on the Blackhawks.

More importantly to the Blackbirds would be duplicating the Blackhawks’ on-ice success last season.

While the Blackhawks took home Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Blackbirds, in their first year of existence, came close to making the finals of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.

This year, they are off to a 9-1 start, good enough for first place in the Great Lakes Division, with their home opener coming up Saturday at the Midwest Training and Ice center in Dyer against Fort Wayne.

And just like last season, there are plenty of Northwest Indiana skaters on the Blackbird roster.

“I don’t think there was ever a shortage of good, quality players here. I just think there was a shortage of good, quality teams for them to play on,” said Blackbirds coach Reid Simpson. “The more this team develops, the more you’ll see kids who want to play stay home.”

Case in point was last year when Crown Point’s Nicholas Townes, a late-season pickup for the Blackbirds, sparked them to a strong second half with 13 goals and 31 points in 16 games. This year, 6-2 forward Curtis Artuso, also from Crown Point, is a player Simpson is counting on.

“He comes to work hard every day and he’s one of those kids that doesn’t mind doing the work it takes to get there,” Simpson said. “He’s holding down a job, he’s going to school and he’s finding time to become a better hockey player.”

Simpson says the Blackbirds will carry three goalies this season, including Schererville native Larry Pezutto who is 4-0 this year with a save percentage of .876. His last game may have been his best this season, stopping 26 of 27 shots in a 5-1 win over Wooster earlier this month.

Hobart’s Joe Orosz has had a couple of two-goal games this season and has eight goals (second highest on the team) and 11 points in 10 games this season.

So, can the Blackbirds top last year’s performance?

“I expect everyone to work hard and if we do that, we will have the success we want as individuals and as a team,” said Simpson. “All I ask is for them to give 100 percent and everything else will fall in line.”



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