The Indy Fuel had a solid performance Saturday night, but a power play goal in the final minute of the second period pushed the Reading Royals to a 3-1 victory over the Fuel at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The Fuel had an excellent defensive game, and generated a number of outstanding scoring chances, but Reading goaltender Martin Ouellette stopped 28 of the 29 Fuel shots, including a flurry in the third period. Reading scored on a screened shot in the first and a power play scramble late in the second.
“We battled real hard, we don’t bury our chances, and they find a way to get the toe of the blade of the stick,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “It’s inches. We had some quality scoring chances at times and we just find a way to not put them past the goalie.”
Reading drew first blood 15 seconds after a strong kill by the Fuel on the game’s first penalty. The puck came to Michael Caruso at the point, and he skated up to the slot and went top-shelf past a heavily-screened Mac Carruth to make it 1-0 at 10:02 of the first period.
Indy responded 4:13 into the second period, when Anders Franzon took a hard shot from the point. Garett Bembridge deflected it toward the net. The initial shot hit the post and rebounded into the crease, where Bembridge was the first to the puck and poked it into the open side to tie the game at 1-1 and delight a spirited crowd of 5,227.
“It was a great play by the defensemen,” Bembridge said. “Brisebois used our D, and it was a great shot by Franzon. He got a puck through to the net, it hit the post, and it just sat there for me.”
Reading got the game-winner on the power play with 42 seconds left in the second period, when Sean Wiles was able to get his stick on a puck in a goalmouth scramble.
After Friday’s loss to Toledo, Fuel coach Scott Hillman stressed getting to the tough areas of the rink to generate scoring chances.
“I think we responded pretty well,” captain Mike Duco said. “We had a good jump in the pregame skate, we came in with a good attitude and everyone was pretty positive. It wasn’t the result we wanted”
Those came in bunches, as the Fuel came out with a spirited physical game. Five minutes in, a solid net drive led to a scoring chance. Midway through the second, Duco had a point-blank one-timer from the low slot that Ouellette was able to get a pad onto. In the third, Johnny McGuire had a solid chance on a goalmouth feed from Matt White, but the puck hopped over his stick. Dean Chelios had a turnaround shot from the mid slot midway through the period, Robert Czarnik had a wraparound opportunity and White a close-in shot on the rebound with six minutes left, and Bembridge nearly potted his second goal in the final two minutes after a Reading icing, with a shot from the low slot.
“We can count the quality scoring chances we’ve had the last two nights and to think we’ve had two goals, it’s frustrating,” Hillman said. “Great goaltending, missing the mark by a few inches, it’s a matter of both.”
Reading’s Bryant Molle scored an empty-netter with 10 seconds left to set the final score.
Another one of the keys for the Fuel was to improve the backcheck after giving up several goals off the rush on Friday. In Saturday’s game, Reading didn’t have a single odd-man rush as the Fuel forwards were covering for pinching defensemen, staying on checks and being defensively responsible, slowing the Reading attack.
“We did a great job with that,” Bembridge said. “That was a key thing. That wasn’t good the last game, and we pointed that out in some meetings today and took care of that. Guys put their head down, they came back hard a lot of the time. They had none of those goals (off the rush). We just had a couple of bad bounces – we just need to turn those bounces around and start getting them for us.”
- Sean Wiles (REA) GWG, +1, 5 shots
- Martin Ouellette (REA) 28 saves, 1 GA
- Garett Bembridge (Fuel) G, 6 shots
- The Fuel came out with a very, very physical game, with players finishing their checks all over the ice, and captain Mike Duco providing a physical spark, in getting to the dirty areas of the ice. “We had to come out and play a physical game and make it hard to play against. We tired them out, but unfortunately, we came up short again. We’ve got to find a way to not do that,” Bembridge said.
- The veterans – Bembridge, Duco and Robert Czarnik – were helping set the tone with their physicality and their play. All three had solid scoring chances in the contest. Bembridge had a game-high six shots, Czarnik had four, and Duco drew two four-on-four situations mixing it up with Reading players. “I thought we had an incredible response by Czarnik, Duco and Bembridge in the last half of that game, really pressing, really trying to bring their teammates along with them, really fighting to try to get that tying goal and win the hockey game,” Hillman said. “We’re proud of those guys.”
- Hillman also said he’s seen players getting tighter to their checks on the forecheck and elsewhere on the ice: “We can always be more physical, but I think what we saw way more than we’ve seen recently is the guys up on a tighter gap, even in the offensive zone, and disrupting the play before they get anything generated. It’s a tough skill to learn, it’s a confidence thing.”
- Mac Carruth was solid in in net, stopping 26 of 28 shots he faced.
- The Fuel PP was 0-for-2 on the night. The PK killed off 2 of the 3 Reading chances.
- The “Blackhawks Night” was a success, with 5,227 fans in the rink and a long autograph line for Blackhawks announcer Gene Honda and anthem singer Jim Cornelison after the game. Bobby Hull also celebrated his 76th birthday with the Fuel, and made his way to the locker room after the game. “It’s awesome. He’s obviously one of the most recognizable figures in the history of our game. we’ve got a lot of young guys in our locker room. Everyone knows his face. That’s exciting for these guys to get the chance to meet someone with that sort of history in this great game,” Hillman said.
Two changes from last night – Johnny McGuire and Klarc Wilson were on the forward lines, replacing Pete Massar and Kirill Gotovets.
Mike Duco-Robert Czarnik-Rhett Bly
Garett Bembridge-Patrick Cullen-Mathieu Brisebois
Dean Chelios-Matt White-Klarc Wilson
Dan Ford-Anders Franzon
Dillon Fournier-Justin Holl
Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau
Next up: The Fuel will next play Friday at home against Cincinnati at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.