Saturday night’s festivities started with a fight.
It ended with the Indy Fuel putting up one heck of one, but a third-period rally fell short in a 4-3 loss to the Wheeling Nailers at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The game was a taste of playoff hockey – with the Fuel and Nailers part of the wild four-team scramble for the last two playoff spots in the North Division, every square inch of ice was hotly contested. And that led to a physical battle that featured eight altercations that drew either majors or double-roughing minors, 103 penalty minutes and 15 power plays.
“Those are two teams that are neck-and-neck in the playoffs,” Fuel veteran Garett Bembridge said. “It’s a battle. It started off the opening faceoff with one of the best fights I’ve seen in a long time. Johnny McGuire has stepped up in every single game he’s played. Other guys did the same thing. It’s a war out there. That’s playoff hockey. That’s what it’s going to be like for the next 17 games.”
“It was a great experience for our guys,” said Fuel coach Scott Hillman, who called the game one of the strangest he’d ever seen. “That was the toughest physical battle we’ve been in. It was great to see the way we reacted, the way we came out in the third period and battled back into it. We obviously need to get off to a better start tomorrow in a huge hockey game.”
Indy outshot Wheeling 14-4 in the third period and nearly rallied back from the deficit, taking advantage of nine minutes of power play time. The Fuel hope to bring that momentum and play into another big game at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at Kalamazoo – the team directly ahead of the Fuel in the standings.
Bembridge had two goals to lead the Fuel’s comeback from a four-goal deficit to cut the Wheeling lead to one.
Trailing 4-1 going into the third, the Fuel scored two goals on the same 5-minute power play early in the period, and had a number of opportunities to tie the game, but Wheeling’s Franky Palazzese made 12 saves in the period and 31 for the game. Mac Carruth stopped 22 shots in the Fuel net.
The third period began with an altercation between Indy’s Vincent Arseneau and Wheeling’s Patrick McGrath 1:55 in. McGrath was given a major penalty, as well as a minor penalty for instigating and a game misconduct, while Arseneau was given a minor for roughing, giving the Fuel a five-minute power play.
Justin Holl got things started by firing a shot from the right point through a screen 3:42 into the period. Fifty seconds later, Bembridge took a cross-ice feed from Nicklas Lindberg to the left circle, skated in two strides and fired the puck over the Wheeling goaltender’s glove and into the corner of the net.
“It was a good opportunity. They got a five-minute penalty and we were down two goals. We needed to make something happen,” Bembridge said. “It was a good play by Lindberg and a good screen from Vossen. I just waited it out and tried to find a lane and hit the net.”
After Wheeling’s Shane Bakker took a penalty mindway through the period, the Fuel had a number of good chances, but were unable to push one past Palazzese. With 6:48 left, Mac Carruth was given the extra minor in the night’s eighth altercation, and the Fuel had two outstanding chances shorthanded – Matt White had a partial breakaway but was stopped from the right circle. Thirty seconds later, Jamie Wise had a clear breakaway and tried to deke to the backhand, but Palazzese stuck with him and stuffed it. The Fuel got one more power play, on a minor to Tyler Fernandez with 3:55 left, and the Fuel spent much of the PP in the Wheeling zone. Bembridge had the best chance, just missing a back-door tip-in.
“We had a never-say-die attitude,” Bembridge said. “We can’t spot them four goals. We’ve had a really good run lately and we can’t let one loss get us down. We had a really good third period – we should’ve had four or five goals. Their goalie played really well. We had a couple of power plays, had a breakaway shorthanded. Sometimes, they just don’t go in. We’ve got an early game tomorrow, we’ve got to come back, put this out of our head and get ready to work again.”
The game — one in which the two teams combined for 103 PIM, a Fuel record — started with fireworks. Right off the opening draw, Johnny McGuire and Wheeling’s Chaz Johnson dropped the gloves and had a long fight, which ended with McGuire on top of Johnson on the ice. Eleven seconds later, Stefan Fournier and McGrath got tied up with the Fuel’s Chris DeSousa and Dan Ford behind Carruth’s net.
Wheeling took advantage of an early penalty kill – Fournier got the extra minor in that scrum at :16 – and then scored on its first power play, when defenseman Brad Makowski knocked down two clearing attempts by the Fuel at the blueline. The second saw him feed Riley Brace, who found Derek Army open in the slot for the game’s first goal at 5:39.
Later in the period, Wheeling scored twice in 16 seconds – Jarrett Burton scored from the slot, and then Shawn Skelly followed. Bobby Shea had the first assist on both goals.
“The penalty kill, we had two chances to clear the puck and we put right into the guy twice. Then, we missed coverage in the slot, confusion between our center and our D, which has caused us issues when we get scrambling,” Hillman said. “Those two goals stung big-time. Last time, we let our emotions get carried away after a missed call, and left a player open. Those things hurt, hurt bad, and eventually.”
The Fuel came back with two strong chances later in the period – McGuire came out of the penalty box in the final three minutes and was stopped on a breakaway. Later, Bembridge had a back-door tip go wide.
Wheeling’s Alex Boak made it 4-0 42 seconds into the second period. The Fuel had a pushback that started with Vincent Arseneau getting two golden chances but getting robbed by Palazzese on the goal line midway through the period. In the final six minutes of the period the Fuel had to kill nearly two full minutes of 5-on-3, and did so without the Nailers getting a clean look. Twenty-seven seconds after the last penalty was killed, the Fuel broke out of the zone and got a rebound tip-in from Bembridge, assisted by Chris DeSousa and Lindberg.
“It was a great penalty kill,” Bembridge said. “That turned the momentun around. I missed one before, but it was a great play by Lindberg. You go to the front of the net, and it hit my stick and bounced in.”
- Garett Bembridge (Fuel) 2G
- Derek Army (WHL) G, A
- Alex Boak (WHL) GWG
- To call that game a physical war would be an understatement. Johnny McGuire, Chris DeSousa and Vincent Arseneau received fighting majors. Arseneau, Mike Duco, Nick Bruneteau, Dan Ford and Mac Carruth were all part of altercations where matching roughing minors (or in one case, a roughing minor and fighting major) were handed out. Hillman was pleased with the way the Fuel went toe-to-toe with the Nailers. “Our guys pushed back,” he said. “I didn’t feel like we got outmatched anywhere in the ice. I was pleased with the result, because there aren’t many teams more physical than them, and we held our own.”
- The tone was set on the opening faceoff. Moments before the drop, McGuire and Chaz Johnson were tapping each other with their sticks, and the gloves went flying immediately.
- Wheeling was a rested team, having had Friday off while the Fuel played a tough shootout in Evansville and traveled back afterward. Indy will face the same tomorrow in Kalamazoo – the K-Wings’ game with Fort Wayne was postponed due to ice conditions tonight.
- The game did feature an unusual call – a single fighting major (and an instigator) on Wheeling’s Patrick McGrath in the 3rd in an altercation with Arseneau, who drew a roughing minor. The Fuel took advantage of the five-minute PP, scoring twice.
- And speaking of that five-minute PP, the Fuel scored twice on it without three of their regulars. Neither Mike Duco nor Kyle Stroh took a shift in the third period, and Vincent Arseneau was serving a misconduct penalty. “It was great to see, because we were down a couple of key components of the power play, with Stroh, Arseneau and Duco not out there,” Hillman said. “Guys pitched in and that’s what we do – we have a lot of interchangeable parts. We fought right to the end.”
- It cannot be understated how good the Fuel’s kill of a nearly two-minute 5-on-3 penalty was in the second. Wheeling was kept on the perimeter, Nick Bruneteau had a big shot block early in the PP, and the Fuel cleared the puck twice. Moments later, the puck was in the back of the Nailers’ net.
- Garett Bembridge became the first player to score 20 goals in a Fuel uniform with two goals tonight. He has 22 for the season – the first two came while playing for the Missouri Mavericks. He had a five-game scoring streak snapped last night, but has now tallied a point in six of the last seven and seven of the last nine.
- Jamie Wise’s appearance tonight was his first for the Fuel since Dec. 15. He had been with the Rockford IceHogs since then, scoring three goals in his AHL time. Wise is in his fourth stint with the Fuel. He had an assist tonight – his first ECHL point since Nov. 27.
- Nicklas Lindberg had two assists, his fifth multi-point game as a member of the Fuel. Lindberg has a five-game scoring streak going. He’s got five goals and 10 assists, but five of the nine games he has tallied a point in have been multi-point games.
- Justin Holl scored his first goal since Jan. 31, but also extended his ECHL scoring streak to four games – a stretch that was sandwiched around a brief callup to Rockford last weekend.
- Chris DeSousa got an assist on Bembridge’s first goal, and now has two goals and four assists in five games since joining the Fuel. He has tallied a point in all but one game this season.
- Mac Carruth and Mike Duco were wearing slightly different jerseys tonight – Carruth in a silver-colored sweater as part of the ECHL’s “Golden Goalie” program, Duco in a sweater with the American flag behind the Fuel logo as part of the “ECHL Fantasy Team.” Both sweaters will be auctioned off by the league.
- Wheeling was 1-7 on the PP. Indy was 2-8 with the man advantage.
Vincent Arseneau-Kyle Stroh-Garett Bembridge
Mike Duco-Nicklas Lindberg-Pete Massar
Chris DeSousa-Matt White-Jamie Wise
Dan Ford-Justin Holl
Anders Franzon-Nick Bruneteau
Evan Vossen-Nick Jones
BU: Jason Torf
Scratches: Rhett Bly, Saverio Posa, Shane Owen
Roster moves: The Fuel activated Jamie Wise, who was assigned from Rockford. Dan Ford was activated from reserve, while Garrett Klotz and Dean Chelios were placed on reserve.
Standings watch: Cincinnati and Kalamazoo were idle tonight – although the K-Wings weren’t supposed to be. The failure of the ice to freeze after an event earlier today forced the postponement of their game with Fort Wayne. So, the Fuel remain two points back of third-place Cincinnati, one back of fourth-place Kalamazoo, and are now one ahead of sixth-place Wheeling. On Sunday, the Fuel are at Kalamazoo and Wheeling is at Evansville. Cincy and Kalamazoo each have a game in hand on the Fuel, Wheeling has two.
Next up: After the matinee in K-Zoo, the Fuel host Evansville next Friday and then travel to Toledo on Saturday.