Is it any wonder the Indiana Ice (24-11-2) are having fun at the rink with a Russian phenom, a tall father figure on defense, a goalie who hates the cold, a 135-pound surprise and a California free spirit who fits with a newcomer sporting two tattoos?
Defenseman Joe Hartman and goalie Brett Bennett will be joined by wingers Stanislav Galiev, Brandon Richardson, Shane Berschbach and Mike Cichy at tonight's USHL All-Star Game in Sioux Falls, S.D. Each is a first-year Ice skater in the tier one junior league.
"Even though they have different aspects on life, they're able to get along very well," first-year coach Jeff Blashill said. "It's made for a lively locker room, for sure, and I think it helps us on the ice."
Here's what the All-Star six add to the mix:
Joe Hartman (6-4, 200, St. Cloud, Minn.)
The big guy with scars on his chin has played in juniors for a couple of years, so helping teammates is second nature. "I've been in the games and I know a lot of what these guys are going through," he said.
Hartman logs a majority of ice time as the blue-line backbone.
"There's times when I think he's more mature than me," Blashill said.
Brett Bennett (6-2, 185, Buffalo, N.Y.)
The quirky cold stigma aside, he has 21 victories in 33 games and a 2.57 goals against average. Phoenix liked his skill set enough to draft Bennett in the fifth round in 2006.
It helps that he rooms with Hartman, too. His buddy appeases by starting the car to get it warm.
"Joe is the type of guy where he puts the thermostat at 70 and I put my side at 85. I just don't like it cold. The muscles get tight."
All joking aside, Bennett says the Ice squad "is one of the closest teams I've ever been on."
Brandon Richardson (5-11, 197, San Clemente, Calif.)
Personality starts with the California kid who wears wacky shirts and shoes. Known as "Richy," the team's top point man (27 assists) has thrived on a line with Galiev and the recently acquired Cichy.
"I definitely have a little different style than everybody else," Richardson said.
He played in Canada juniors the past two seasons, and the experience shows with linemates who can put the puck in the net.
Stanislav Galiev (6-1, 177, Moscow, Russia)
He just turned 17 and is already on the NHL scout radar. But he made quite a first impression with a mullet haircut, wearing tight short shorts and not knowing enough English to do anything but nod or shake his head.
The mullet and shorts are gone and he's more vocal. He also leads the Ice with 17 goals.
"Moscow was so big and such a crazy town. A lot of people," he said. "(Indy) is a nice city. I like the city."
His teammates now needle him to bring back the mullet. He smiles, not knowing if they are serious. "New year, new style," he said, laughing about his shorter cut.
Shane Berschbach (5-8, 135, Clawson, Mich.)
He's rumored to be that weight soaking wet. But he removes doubt about his size on the ice, not necessarily because of his speed but with his intelligence.
"He plays like he's 200 pounds," Richardson said of Berschbach, who had 30 points in 37 games. "That kid has enough courage to knock down anything."
Adds Blashill, "A lot of people weren't sure he was ready to play at this level and he's obviously proved them wrong."
Mike Cichy (5-11, 188, New Hartford, Conn.)
Already an All-Star when the Ice acquired him three weeks ago, Cichy showed his stuff with 14 points in his first seven Ice games. That's not all he has shown. He rivals Richardson in the wild 'n' crazy guy department with two tattoos, one on his shoulder and the most recent body art the words "It's a fine, fine day (. . . )" on his butt.
He had been traded to the Ice and wanted to do something fun with his Tri-City teammates in Nebraska.
"I used the team fine money to do it," he said of the locker-room fund. "It was kind of a joke, a going-away present."
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