Even with a 2-0 series lead over the Dubuque Fighting Saints, there are some losses for the Indiana Ice.
The Ice lost forward Cristoval “Boo” Nieves (Michigan) for the remainder of the USHL Playoffs as he returned to school to complete his coursework, his father Rafael said in a text message on Sunday morning.
“It is a simple matter of priority to ensure Boo graduates in the spring so he can be at the U of M (University of Michigan) in the fall,” Rafael Nieves wrote in a text message.
Losing Nieves, who is projected late first-round selection to early-second round choice, is the second loss the Ice have suffered this month. Forward Kirill Lebedev returned to Russia earlier in the month, according to his Twitter account.
Lebedev signed a contract to play with Metallurg Magnitogorsk back in his native Russia.
Lebedev was a big part of Indiana’s offense late in the season scoring 17 points in 23 games forming a strong partnership with fellow Russian Daniil Tarasov, the league’s second-leading scorer.
As for Nieves, the 6-2, 190-pound forward came to the Ice from The Kent School (CT-HS) where he was regarded by scouts as the best high school player in the nation. Nieves scored 39 points (7 goals, 32 assists) in 26 games this season.
Nieves was already a high-profile draft-eligible player watched his stock soar with his strong high school season which was later boosted by what he did in the USHL. He was ranked as the No. 27 top eligible North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final list.
Nieves, who is from Baldwinsville, N.Y., a Syracuse suburb, was drafted by the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL but his rights were later acquired by the Saginaw Spirit, which do not appear to be an option given his desire to complete his high school coursework.
He played 13 games for the Ice scoring 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) helping the Ice take the No. 2 seed in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. It gave the Ice a first-round bye giving them a week off to prepare for the second round.
Getting rest appears to have worked with the Ice getting a 6-3 win on Saturday over defending league champions, the Fighting Saints. A win Wednesday would send the Ice back to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since the 2008-09 season when the team won the Clark Cup.
The departure of Nieves and Lebedev comes at a time where changes have been a theme for the Ice.
Head coach and former Yale assistant, Kyle Wallack, was fired two games before the playoffs start and was replaced by former Ice head coach and former NHL veteran Charlie Skjodt.
Weeks later the team announced it would be playing the majority of its home games the next two seasons at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which is home to the Indiana Pacers. A limited number of games will also be played at Pan Am Plaza, which holds up to 1,000 people. The move comes after the Ice’s home, The Pepsi Coliseum, will be undergoing renovations.