One week, a player is battling in a one-and-done tournament trying to take the next step to the Frozen Four.
The next, that same player is fulfilling the goal of most college seniors – jumping into the ranks of their chosen profession, making a new living.
It’s the annual rite of spring in the hockey world – as the collegiate seasons come to a close, there’s still a lot of hockey to be played for the top senior players in the country, as they sign professional contracts and immediately jump into the next level.
The Indy Fuel roster has seen four new additions from the collegiate ranks in recent weeks, making big contributions as the team makes a push toward playoff position.
They’ve felt very comfortable joining an already-young, but already-tight dressing room.
“I came in here and you’re going to have a little bit of jitters, but the guys in this locker room have done a great job of making all of us guys coming out of school feel comfortable right away,” DeSousa said last week. “I feel comfortable in this locker room, I feel like a part of the team, just another one of the guys trying to win games.”
In late February, Chris DeSousa came to the Fuel after the season concluded for the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. And, as their respective NCAA seasons came to a close, the Fuel inked forward Peter Schneider from Notre Dame and defensemen Doug Jessey from Canisius and Andy Simpson from Dartmouth. All have made their professional debuts down the stretch of the Fuel’s inaugural season.
“It’s great to have that depth and have that energy this time of year,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said after a recent game. “Now that we’ve had a year to scout for this league, we’re seeing guys throughout the year and recognizing guys that can really contribute at this level. It’s nice to see those guys step right in and play the big roles they are playing.”
DeSousa had a heck of a debut, scoring a goal and an assist in his first pro game, a Feb. 25 victory over Kalamazoo, a game that came after a tremendously difficult week of travel from Prince Edward Island due to snowstorms in the Northeast. He has seven goals and seven assists in 17 games so far, and has played left wing on the team’s top two lines.
Schneider waited one extra game to have his breakout – he had a goal and an assist in his second pro game, a 6-1 win over Greenville on March 21.
Jessey has seen some action on the Fuel blueline, while Simpson has yet to see game action, but has been working with the team in practice.
Added into an already-young roster, the new additions have helped the Fuel’s run from 15 games below .500 in January to fighting for a playoff spot in the season’s finale week.
DeSousa gave the Fuel a very strong boost when he came in, adding an injection of offense, playing left wing with 20-goal scorers Kyle Stroh and Garett Bembridge on what has become the team’s primary scoring line, or playing with center Nicklas Lindberg to bolster another scoring line.
He had been a point-a-game player in both Major Junior in Canada, and in four years at UPEI, tallying 15 goals and 26 points in 27 games his senior year. Having a two-point night in his debut was a big boost to his career.
“Sometimes, you come from school to a higher level, you’re a little nervous with the puck, you don’t want to make any mistakes,” DeSousa said. “But that first game, getting a goal and playing well, I just fed off that. I’m very confident on the ice right now.”
Schneider is no stranger to Indy – or Indiana. He was a 30-goal scorer for the USHL’s Indiana Ice in 2010-11, then played four years at Notre Dame, where he tallied 47 points in four seasons, including 32 in the last two. He was happy to see his career continue even after the college season ended, and has been playing both at the 10th forward and right wing, most recently with Nicklas Lindberg and DeSousa.
“We ended our season at Notre Dame a little bit earlier than expected, but I wanted to continue playing. I was fortunate enough that Indy picked me up. The guys welcomed me really well. That made it a better transition.”
Schneider has also made a quick impact, with six points in seven games. He had a goal in his first home game on March 27, then followed it up with three points over two key wins against Fort Wayne and Elmira last weekend. His unassisted goal off a steal at the defensive blueline and a rush up to the right circle provided a critical insurance goal to seal the 4-2 win over Elmira on Sunday.
Schneider didn’t stress scoring, but doing whatever is needed to win, especially without the puck. So far, he has a plus-3 rating.
“I try to help the team in any way possible – whatever it is, pressuring the defensemen with my speed or on the forecheck, trying to get the puck back. and also being responsible defensively,” Schneider said. “In any way possible, I just want to help the team get some wins.”
For the defensemen, the learning curve is a bit steeper, and the spots are fewer – with six defensemen and 10 forwards dressing for a typical game – and with every point being critical, they’ve been working and learning as much as possible. So far, Jessey has played in two games. Earlier this season, he captained Canisius’ team, and had 11 points and a +5 rating in 36 games. He had 46 points over his college career. At 6-2, 203, he brings size to the Fuel blueline. Simpson had 33 points at Dartmouth, including a goal and six assists this season.
Hillman said last week he hopes to get a look at both Simpson and Jessey down the stretch.
“We hope so,” Hillman said. “It is tough, because we’re fighting for our lives. It takes a little longer for defensemen to transition to the pro game. Doug had some good shifts (in his debut), and we had some good teaching points for both of the guys to watch. We hope they can help us down the stretch, and hopefully, help us in the playoffs.”
The Fuel have generated first-year success with a young roster full of first-year pros successfully making the transition to another level. The recent additions have given the team just a bit more of a boost.