Fuel roster starts with energy, character

Fuel coach Scott Hillman

When Scott Hillman became the Indy Fuel’s head coach, he said he wanted a hard-working team that would be fun to watch.

So far, the five players signed to the team seem to fill exactly what he’s looking for.

The Fuel have five players signed as part of a roster that will eventually number at least 20 by the start of camp in October (with 6-8 of those being from the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster), and there’s no secret they’re following that personality.

Hillman has experience building a winner — he took the Missouri Mavericks from being an expansion team to being among the top teams in the Central Hockey League in his five-year stint there. And, with experience comes knowing the ingredients to finding a winner.

A quick look at the roster sees a group of high-character players who can fill different roles — a must for a hockey team, especially one in a league where teams are limited to 16 skaters per game, allowing for three forward lines.

So far, the Fuel have two rookies — forwards Pete Massar and Rhett Bly — and have added three players with professional hockey experience in the last few days. They inked center Kenton Miller and defenseman Anders Franzon, and then signed the first of their four allocated veterans on 6-6, 250-pound forward Garrett Klotz.

This team is full of guys who are Academic All-Conference selections in college, “Unsung Hero Award” winners and players who are popular in their respective locker rooms. That kind of character is critical in providing a foundation for a well-rounded hockey team.

The most recent signings produce three different needs in building a well-rounded team. The scorer is Miller. He tallied 30 goals in both the WHL — the second-best junior league in the world — and as a professional rookie in the CHL in 2012-13. He played for Coach Hillman that year in Missouri on loan from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. He skated last season for the Fort Wayne Komets, but 30-goal scorers at any level are difficult to find.

He was described as a favorite in the dressing room by the Komets players he played with last season.

“We are looking for players who have not yet reached the pinnacle of their careers. Kenton has a tremendous skill set and ability to score goals if put in the right situations,” coach Hillman said earlier this week. “We believe he will experience great success with the brand of hockey we will be playing in Indy. If he can approach the goal scoring I have seen from him in the past he will not only be a huge asset to our young team but also a fan favorite!”

But, for scorers to be able to do their work, they have to have space to operate. That’s where Klotz comes in. He’s huge (6-6, 250), a former NHL draft pick (Philadelphia, 3rd round 2007) and has significant experience at the AHL level. He has shown the ability to put up double-digit points as well as be someone tough to play against who can clear space, and if needed, provide a little bit of protection. His 257 penalty minutes last year led the CHL.

He also has a key intangible — championship experience, having won the CHL title last season with the Allen Americans.

“Garrett Klotz is simply not fun to play against,” Hillman said. “We are going to be a very hard working team. We want to lean on teams and be able to wear them down with constant aggressive forecheck and energy. Garrett is a physical player that can really get in on the forecheck and goes to the net hard.  His championship experience makes him an even bigger asset.”

The first defenseman signing, Franzon, is a sizable (6-3, 196) defenseman who is a puck-mover but also strong in his own zone, who put up 31 points in the CHL last season as a rookie and was on the Hockey East All-Academic Team at the University of Vermont. He doesn’t take a lot of penalties (just 21 minutes in 66 games last season). Franzon is a solid start to the blueline corps for the Fuel — a disciplined two-way defenseman who can consistently tally points, use his size to fetch the puck and make that first pass out of the zone.

Add that to the two rookies signed in June, who can be catalysts for the team.

Massar describes himself as a skill player, but was deployed on the University of Vermont’s checking line, a line that was described as a relentless forechecking unit that checked by keeping the puck in the offensive zone and keeping pressure on the opposing net, and can play all special teams. Bly is described as a strong skater who won Merrimack College’s “Unsung Hero” award for his “perseverance, enthusiasm, dedication and hard work throughout the season.”

One can see the Fuel’s blueprint. High-character, high-energy players coupled with a relentless forecheck. As more signings come in, expect them to fill that mold, too.

That’s the makings of a hard-working team — the type of team Indy fans have come to enjoy in all sports. And it’s one we’re looking forward to seeing take the Coliseum ice this fall.

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