Green might not be in the Indy Fuel’s color scheme.
But the Green Mountains certainly have a big influence on the team’s roster.
The Indy Fuel’s first player to be signed this summer was forward Pete Massar, a native of Vermont who finished his collegiate career as a member of the University of Vermont Catamounts hockey team. And, when the team convened for training camp, three of Massar’s college teammates had joined him — defenseman Anders Franzon signed with the Fuel in mid-summer. Later in the summer, defenseman Nick Bruneteau was added through a trade, and his roommate at Vermont, forward Matt White, signed the next day.
As the Fuel came to training camp, four former teammates from Vermont were a key part of the roster.
“I honestly cannot recall, in my 21 years of coaching college hockey, a situation where more than two players from our program have gone on to play pro hockey for the same team,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said this week. “Four players is almost unheard of!”
They’ll be part of the lineup as the Fuel open the regular season Friday night at the Fairgrounds Coliseum against the Fort Wayne Komets, with a 7:35 p.m. puck drop (TV: WRTV-6, radio: WXNT-1430). The Fuel then travel to Fort Wayne on Saturday (Radio: WXNT-1430).
Of the 28 teams who will compete in the ECHL this year, Indy is the one team starting with a clean sheet. Playing in a circuit that stresses development, youth is the norm. As a result, many such expansion teams are bringing young players in from all over and building chemistry during the two weeks of training camp. Having four Vermont players together, the Fuel already have a core of players who know each other well.
“It’s great,” said Massar, who became the Fuel’s first signee in June. “Having a lot of familiar faces in the locker room makes the transition easier. We can kind of lean on each other a little more. I’ve known these guys for three, four years. We’re good friends, we talk all the time. It’s pretty seamless.”
Massar is the one of the quartet who hails from Vermont — he is a native of Williston, Vt. Franzon is from upstate New York, Bruneteau from Omaha and White from McMurray, Pa.
Franzon, a 6-3 defenseman who is towering on skates, is the veteran of the group and one of the veterans of the team. He finished his career at Vermont in 2013 and played the full 2013-14 season with the CHL’s Missouri Mavericks, playing for coach Scott Hillman.
Franzon said, from the perspective of being a defenseman, having chemistry with forwards he’s played with has helped — but that chemistry comes quickly with newer players, too.
“You definitely know their tendencies and where to put the puck,” Franzon said. “You learn that from everyone pretty soon after a couple of practices.”
Massar, White and Bruneteau played together at Vermont last season. Bruneteau had 16 points in 38 games from the blueline, and played the end of the season with the Reading Royals. Massar had six goals and nine points, then flew to Missouri, joined the Mavericks in the CHL playoffs, and had two big goals in his first pro game. White had seven points in 35 games for the Catamounts last season.
Their college coach said the four were all high-character players.
“Allow me start off by talking about this group of players as I think the one common thread they share is the strength of character they each possess,” Sneddon said. “Franz, Whitey, Bruno, and Mass uphold the strongest of team values; they were an absolute treat to coach in college.
“Anders is a steady stay at home defenseman who can be relied on in key game situations. Matt is a big forward who can skate extremely well and should contribute offense for the Fuel. Nick is a highly skilled defenseman who gives up some size, but plays far bigger than he is. Lastly, Pete can flat out shoot the puck better than most college players. If he continues to have a shooter’s mentality in the ECHL, he will certainly help the Fuel by scoring some big goals.”
Franzon — who describes himself as someone who likes to “be a smart defenseman that moves the puck well,” and get into the rush and get the puck forward — has a year’s experience under his belt. He had 10 goals and 21 assists in 66 CHL games playing for Hillman’s Missouri Mavericks. They won the CHL’s regular-season championship. The familiarity with Hillman was a draw for him to sign with the Fuel this year. Like Massar, Franzon was one of the first players to sign with the Fuel.
“I had a great time with Coach Hilly last year,” Franzon said. “We had a great time in Missouri, with all the success we had. What he brings to the table as a coach is pretty impressive. It was a pretty easy choice.”
The three rookie Catamounts aren’t the only players looking to make the transition to pro hockey — a significant number of players on the Fuel roster are in their first professional season. There’s a different feeling from college hockey — where everyone is on the roster and fighting for ice time — to the pros, with its tight roster limits and significant roster movement.
“It’s a bit of a different mentality here,” Massar said. “It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Once you’re a pro, you’re on your own to get things taken care of and do your own stuff. It’s a little less structured. Every day, your job’s on the line. In college, you have a little bit more of a cushion, but here, you’ve got to prove yourself all the time.”
But while the quartet had been a part of continuing a college tradition that includes Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas and Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis, they now have a chance to build something new in Indy, by starting and creating a new tradition.
“I’ve never had that chance before,” Franzon said of being part of the franchise’s first team. “To have that is pretty cool, to start history off for the Indy Fuel.”