The Indy Fuel just ran out of time Friday night as they tried to mount a comeback against one of the ECHL’s top teams, the Florida Everblades.
The Fuel rallied from three three-goal deficits to close to one, but eventually fell 7-6 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in the first of three meetings between the two teams in the next eight days.
Florida scored twice in the game’s first 2:23 and took advantage of some fortunate bounces to repel every Fuel foray to cut the Everblades’ lead.
“Right from the start, it was just a strange night,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “More weird goals, particularly on our net, off skates, over backs. I’m proud of the guys for continuing to fight back. It would’ve been easy for them to get frustrated and pack it in. But we pushed hard to the end to try to get a point or two.”
Mike Duco scored twice and added an assist. Mathieu Brisebois and Nick Bruneteau each three assists for the Fuel. Dean Chelios also had a goal and an assist for the Fuel, who continued their hot offensive streak with their 16th goal in the last three games. A renewed emphasis on offensive creativity is paying off, as the Fuel have scored at least five goals three straight games and are playing with confidence in the offensive end.
“”We don’t want to be a sit-back shell kind of defensive team. We talked about it when we were losing games, that sometimes, you unintentionally start to become like that, so the guys, we’ve been harping on them to be creative, make plays and have more confidence. They’re all good hockey players. That end of it is moving in the right direction. Now, we’ve just got to get back to basics one more time, clean things up and get ready for a great hockey team tomorrow.”
“We just finally found our game and we’ve just been playing pretty good for the last few games,” added winger/defenseman Kirill Gotovets. “Even though we’ve only won two, we’re getting better every day.”
Indy will host the Eastern Conference’s other division leader — Fort Wayne — on Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The Fuel also continued their hot streak on the power play, converting 4-of-6 chances. Anders Franzon also scored a shorthanded goal in the third period for the Fuel.
“You may not see that happen again. You’ve got to have good luck for that to ever happen,” Hillman said. “(Florida is) certainly not a bad team on the penalty kill. They can’t be — they’re in first place. The guys are getting shots through and making a lot of good things happen.”
The Fuel spent much of the game fighting back, as Florida jumped out to a 2-0 lead 2:23 into the game on goals by Gabriel Desjardins and Cameron Burt – the first coming after a Fuel player blocked a shot, but it went to Desjardins, who was able to trickle it over the line. Garett Bembridge answered with a power play goal at 4:50 on a shot from the point that deflected over the pad of Florida goalie Daniel Altshuller to get the Fuel on the board. Florida’s Alex Lavoie scored at 9:12 to give the Everblades a 3-1 lead after a first period in which they outshot the Fuel 20-6.
Indy trailed 4-1 when Brant Harris scored an unassisted goal off a fortunate bounce, when Mike Duco answered by converting a perfect feed from Mathieu Brisebois in front of the net to cut the deficit to 4-2 at 6:18 of the second. Desjardins made it 5-2 with a power play goal at 9:03, but Pete Massar answered just 91 seconds later with his second goal of the year. The deficit was 6-3 going into the third after Chris Kushnerick’s shorthanded goal for Florida.
Jordan Tibbett came on in the third period to make his pro debut for the Fuel and backstopped a strong offensive period. Duco scored on the power play just 1:02 in, and then Anders Franzon scored shorthanded on a play that saw Rhett Bly blast the puck into Altschuller’s body. The rebound sat in the crease and Franzon was the first one there to convert. Fifteen seconds into a late power play, Dean Chelios tipped in Brisebois’ shot to cut the deficit to one. The Fuel had opportunities at the end of the game – outshooting Florida 17-6 in the third period – but Altschuller came up big.
Reichard stopped 25 of the 31 shots he saw. Tibbett stopped 5 of 6 shots in the third.
The Fuel are now 5-10-4 on the season. They close out a five-game homestand at 7:35 p.m. Saturday against Fort Wayne at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
“We believe we’re as good as anybody,” Hillman said, noting four of five games against division leaders have been one-goal contests. “But we need to finish and get two points more often. To these guys, that’s not much consolation right now.”
- Gabriel Desjardins (FLA) 2G
- Mike Duco (Fuel) 2G, A
- Chris Kushneriuk (FLA) G, A
- The power play was phenomenal – tallying goals on four of six chances. Only one of the Fuel’s goals — Pete Massar’s tally at 10:34 of the second — came at even strength. The Fuel are now 9-18 on the power play in their last four games for a whopping 50% conversion rate.
- Goaltender Jordan Tibbett made his professional debut in his hometown. Tibbett is an Indy native who signed a standard player contract with the Fuel this week — he had participated in the team’s training camp and dressed as an emergency backup earlier in the season. The rookie from Mercyhurst College becomes the first Indianapolis native to suit up for the Fuel. He stopped five of the six shots he faced in the third period. “It was cool. If I’d have had a choice of where I’d play my first pro hockey game, this would be it. It’s definitely an awesome experience. I’m very fortunate to be here,” Tibbett said.
- Captain Mike Duco had two goals — his fourth and fifth — and an assist for the Fuel. He now has 10 points on the season. “He’s made a living at this game being physical, playing in front of the other team’s net, deflecting pucks, picking up rebounds and scrapping in that area, making teams work hard around their own net. His game seems to be coming back in a big way right now,” Hillman said.
- Two defensemen – Nick Bruneteau and Mathieu Brisebois – had three assists each. Brisebois had the first assist on both of Duco’s PPGs and also took the shot that Chelios tipped in on the PP to cut the deficit to 7-6. Bruneteau assisted on the team’s first three goals, two of which came with the man advantage. “Bruneteau is just a guy that has gone from being a healthy scratch at times at the start of the year and needing to learn a lot about defensive hockey at this level to picking all those things up. He takes a lot of pride in learning the game and wanting to be a big contributor,” Hillman said. “He plays with a big heart. He’s been leading our power play and is one of the reasons we have two really solid power play units right now.”
- Another defenseman, Anders Franzon, scored his first career goal — a third-period shorty.
- Pete Massar’s skill & speed are evident as he has returned to the lineup. He wired in a shot from the point for a goal, but had a couple of other excellent scoring chances that were stopped.
- We keep mentioning the third period as being a key factor. The Fuel won the third period 3-1 (and 17-6 in shots) and have now won or tied the third period in four straight games. They’re 2-1-1 in those four. The Fuel got better as the game went on – Coach Hillman noted Florida’s speed – the Everblades are the fastest team Indy has played so far – took a period to get adjusted to, but said the Fuel players adjusted well and came out of the game a better team for having done so.
- The Fuel had 32 shots. Duco and Robert Czarnik – who had a six-game scoring streak snapped – led the way with five shots each.
- Garett Bembridge extended his goal-scoring streak to four consecutive games with a first-period tally. He now has five goals and two assists in the last four games.
Again, as things went on, the lineup changed a bit – especially with the centers mixing & matching and Dean Chelios getting a number of shifts with Czarnik and Bembridge – but here’s how things started.
Next up: The Fuel host Fort Wayne on Saturday before embarking on a three-game Sunshine State road swing that will see them play Florida twice and Orlando once.