New additions finding quick chemistry with existing players has been the Indy Fuel’s modus operandi for 2015.
So, with a critical four-point game against the team directly ahead of them in the standings looming Wednesday, that happened again.
Forward Chris DeSousa, who was playing his first professional game Wednesday a day after joining the team, scored a goal that gave the Indy Fuel a first-period lead, then assisted on Rhett Bly’s game-winner that put the Fuel up for good on the first shift of the third period, leading Indy to a 5-2 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Bly and Vincent Arseneau each had an assist and the Fuel dominated possession and shots on goal in the victory. Indy outshot Kalamazoo 17-3 in the opening period and 43-21 for the game.
“We talked about before the game, yesterday, the last couple of days of practice that’s the team that’s ahead of us. That’s a four-point game for us We did not want to be denied,” Fuel veteran Garett Bembridge said. “You could see that tonight, especially that great first shift of the third period with that goal. It was huge. We’ve got to keep it up, with that mentality that it’s a live-or-die situation right now.”
“It’s a big night, for sure. We had a really good start to the game and a really good finish,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said.
The win moved them within one point of Kalamazoo for fourth place – and the final playoff spot – in the ECHL’s North Division. Indy is now 21-23-8. Kalamazoo has 51 points and two games in hand on Indy. The Fuel are now just three points back of third-place Cincinnati, which has 53.
The Fuel dominated the first two periods, but two counterattack goals by the K-Wings’ Ludwig Blomstrand had the game knotted up at 2-2. However, Indy’s having controlled the play allowed the team to regroup going into the third.
“We said, ‘let’s take a deep breath. We’re outplaying this team really well right now and playing a good system game, we’ve just got to stick with it,'” Bembridge said. “We were getting great opportunities. It was just bound to happen.”
That didn’t take long to change. On the first shift of the third, DeSousa pounced on a fumbled puck at the Fuel blueline, then outskated a Kalamazoo defenseman into the offensive zone and cut right to the goal to challenge Wings goaltender Joel Martin. DeSousa then slipped the puck across the top of the crease to Bly, who tapped it into the open side to make it 3-2 just 57 seconds into the third.
“The puck got rimmed up to the point. I was expecting to get up there and take away the D’s time, but he kind of bobbled it,” DeSousa said. “I just picked up the loose puck and saw (Bly) driving to the net and put it on his stick.”
Just 2:15 later, captain Mike Duco scored on a weak-side rebound, punching in the carom from Nick Bruneteau’s point shot. Garett Bembridge added an insurance goal with four minutes left on a feed from Arseneau in the mid-slot. Kalamazoo, playing with a shortened bench and several key players unavailable due to injuries, was unable to muster much of a response.
Responding was what the Fuel did – after a strong start that saw them pepper Martin’s net, Blomstrand gave the Wings a 1-0 lead on a rebound 2:28 into the game. Indy continued to come in waves at the Kalamazoo net, and it paid off at 12:18 of the first, when Justin Holl took the puck right to the net and Arseneau jammed it in for his eighth goal. Just 1:22 later, Bly took the puck to goal. It deflected to DeSousa, who reached for the puck sitting in the crease and jammed it into the net for his first professional goal.
“If you look at stats, that’s where people score from, right at the top of the paint,” DeSousa said. “I like to get there and I was lucky to bang one in.”
DeSousa’s route to Indy included a snowstorm in Prince Edward Island, multiple travel delays, and even an airplane’s engine breaking down on the runway, but he was happy to be in Indy a few days after finishing his college season.
The Fuel’s cycle and forechecking game led to several extended zone entries and scoring chances. Evan Vossen had a strip-and-chance out of the forecheck midway through the second, and Bly had two chances off faceoffs in the opening two periods.
“We’ve realy been focusing on trying to get a more aggressive forecheck and trying to do that and trying to stay safe defensively. We saw some signs tonight,” Hillman said, noting that Kalamazoo also had a lineup missing several key players, but pleased the Fuel got off one of their highest shot totals of the season.
Four of the Fuel’s five goals came from right in front of the net, three off rebounds and loose pucks, and two off the rush.
“We talked about that the last couple of weeks – get in those hard areas to score,” Bembridge said. “You’re not just going to be straight perimeter all the time. We’ve got to get in there, we’ve got to battle, we’ve got to get those greasy goals, and we got those tonight.”
Fuel goaltender Mac Carruth was solid, making 19 saves. He had to be excellent as the Wings responded in the second. He stuffed Wings captain Jean Bourbeau on a partial breakaway and then got the follow-up shot from Zach McCullough as the Wings broke up with a 4-on-2 counterattack six minutes into the second. Later in the period, he again stopped Bourbeau on a breakaway and got to the rebound.
Blomstrand broke through shorthanded, catching the Fuel in a change and sniping a shot top-shelf from the slot for his second of the game, tying things at 2-2, but Indy responded.
“We got stuck with men in the wrong positions, it happens,” Bembridge said. “The guy had a heck of a shot. We gave him that little opportunity but we came back and snuffed that momentum.”
- Chris DeSousa (Fuel) G, A
- Rhett Bly (Fuel) GWG, A
- Vincent Arseneau (Fuel) G, A
- DeSousa’s play in his debut impressed his teammates, but to get a goal in the first period of his first pro game was even better. “That’s what you dream of,” Bembridge said. “When you’re coming out of college, that’s what you want to happen. He had that energy. He was finishing his checks, played a great game tonight, he had a heck of a goal. When you’re coming out of college, coming to a new team, guys respect that a lot. He played a heck of a game tonight.”
- As far as role for DeSousa: “I pride myself on having a well-rounded game. Whatever role they want for me, I’ll do it.”
- Goals came in quick succession for the Fuel. Arseneau and DeSousa scored 1:22 apart in the first, and Bly and Duco scored 2:15 apart in the third.
- Although he only got an assist on one, Justin Holl was key in both of the Fuel’s first two goals, starting the play with possession and taking the puck deep into the offensive zone.
- The Fuel’s 43 shots were a season high. The previous high was a 40-shot performance against Reading in a 2-1 loss in November.
- Carruth was good when called upon again. He won for the 11th time in his last 12 starts, and allowed two or fewer goals for the 10th time in that span.
- The right wings had a lot of success getting shots on Martin – Pete Massar had seven shots, Rhett Bly six and Garett Bembridge five — 18 of the team’s 43 shots.
- Rhett Bly had his first multipoint game since Jan. 24, a win over Evansville. It was his fourth multi-point game of the year, and marked his 10th goal.
- Pete Massar got the second assist on Duco’s third-period insurance goal, and now has a point in five straight games and seven of his last eight. In that eight-game stretch, he has two goals and six assists.
- Vincent Arseneau had his first multi-point game since Jan. 16 – which was his second game with the Fuel. He now has seven goals and three assists in 13 games with the Fuel.
- Bembridge is now one goal away from becoming the Fuel’s first 20-goal scorer. His first two goals came while playing for Missouri, so he’s three away from being the first to score 20 in a Fuel uniform.
- The Fuel built momentum by playing a busy January. But the team has also been effective in February, going 6-1-1 in the month with two games remaining in it – both against Fort Wayne. The additional practice time with the lighter February schedule is paying off. “There are some things we’ve been trying to work on in practice that’s been coming together,” Hillman said. “That’s been nice to have in this stretch of February, where we’ve had long weeks and a lot of practice time.”
Looks familiar, eh? Based on warmups.
Vincent Arseneau-Kyle Stroh-Garett Bembridge
Mike Duco-Nicklas Lindberg-Pete Massar
Chris DeSousa-Matt White-Rhett Bly
Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau
Dan Ford-Justin Holl
Anders Franzon-Nick Jones
BU: Shane Owen
Next up: The Fuel begin a three-game roadtrip that won’t see them leave the state – they play two games in Fort Wayne this weekend, then travel to Evansville next Friday. They’ll return home March 7 to face Wheeling.