The Indy Fuel made a tremendous push down the stretch of the 2014-15 regular season, and it got the team to the cusp of the postseason.
Alas, the push fell just short Saturday night when Wheeling clinched the last playoff spot by virtue of a 5-3 victory over Elmira.
That game had gone final by the time the Indy Fuel finished a 2-1 shootout loss to Reading in the concluding game of their inaugural season.
The Fuel finished their first season 31-30-11, and were one of the best teams in the ECHL in 2015. From Jan. 11 to the season’s conclusion, the Fuel were 25-9-5, and went from being a team 15 games below .500 to one that finished the year one game shy of a playoff spot. Indy finishes in a fifth-place tie in the North Division with 73 points, knotted with Cincinnati.
Mac Carruth had a strong finale for the Fuel, stopping 40 of the 41 Royals shots he saw in regulation and overtime, including 15 saves in a third period that was being played with the potential of a playoff spot still hanging in the balance – the Wheeling game didn’t go final until the Fuel were in OT.
Nick Jones fired a blast for Indy 6:59 into the game to give the Fuel a lead. It stayed that way until the midpoint of the second, when Reading’s Maxim Lamarche scored with 8:19 to go in the period.
Connor Knapp was equally-solid in the Reading net, stopping 34 of the 35 Fuel shots.
Reading scored on three of its four shots in the shootout, while the Fuel were 0-for-3, with Ryan Cruthers, Pat Mullane and Adam Hughesman all scoring in the shootout. The Fuel were 0-for-4 on the PP, the Royals 0-for-2.
- Connor Knapp (REA) 34/35 saves, 3-3 in shootout.
- Ryan Cruthers (REA) GDG
- Mac Carruth (Fuel) 40/41 saves
- What a finish by the Fuel. They played one of the toughest finishing schedules in the ECHL and went 5-1-2. In six of the seven games they gained points, they beat teams that finished in the top three of their divisions. It included wins over South Carolina (ending a 23-game winning streak), Fort Wayne (a 100-point team), Reading (2nd place in the loaded East Division) and Kalamazoo (3rd place in the North & one of the hottest teams in the ECHL) and SOLs to Brabham Cup contender Toledo and Reading.
- The closing stretch was also fueled by strong goaltending and defense. In those final eight games, they held the opponent to two goals or less six times, and in the other two, they allowed three against a goaltender.
- The Fuel finish the year with 21 overtime games – most in the league. They finished 10-11 in games going beyond regulation, going 6-4 in games decided in the five-minute OT and 4-7 in shootouts.
- Mac Carruth had his 16th game of allowing 2 goals or less since January, and his 18th of the season. The Blackhawks prospect had a really, really strong 2015.
- Nick Jones had a heck of a finishing run, as well, finishing the year with a four-game scoring streak. He had points in six of his last seven and seven of his last nine games. Peter Schneider, Friday night’s hero, had the first assist and finished the year with eight points in 10 games, including three of the last four. Nicklas Lindberg had the other assist.
- Matt White suited up tonight, making him the only player to play in all 72 games for the Fuel this season.
- Garett Bembridge (27-31-58 overall, 25-27-52 with the Fuel) finishes the year as the team’s scoring leader. Nick Bruneteau (35) led the team in assists, Mike Duco (113) in PIM and Kyle Stroh (+10 with the Fuel) in +/-.
- Johnny McGuire made his first appearance since March 7 and made his presence felt. He got into a scrap with Jordan Heywood that earned both players double-minors for roughing just 100 seconds into the game. Twenty seconds earlier, Evan Vossen tangled with Kevin Walrod. In total, the game featured 38 penalty minutes – 20 coming in the first 100 seconds.
- The offseason begins, but the Fuel have built a lot of momentum for 2015-16 out of the second half of this season. With an extremely young team, Indy pushed itself into playoff position and made dramatic improvement from the start of the year to the finish. It wasn’t all personnel changes, although they made an impact. It was also the players who started the year in training camp developing, growing, learning the professional game and the system, and buying in. It showed down the stretch. Now, we’ll look forward to seeing the end-of-season roster in mid-June, the eight-man protected list at the end of June, and the signings to come throughout the summer. Coach Hillman said in December that this was the first year of a process, and the goal was to build a core of players the Fuel could build with long-term.
Matt White-Kyle Stroh-Garett Bembridge
Chris DeSousa-Nicklas Lindberg-Peter Schneider
Evan Vossen-Rhett Bly-Pete Massar
Saverio Posa-Nick Bruneteau
Kirill Gotovets-Justin Holl
Anders Franzon-Nick Jones
BU: Shane Owen
Scratches: Jamie Wise, Doug Jessey, Mike Duco, Andy Simpson
One more note: One more note, and it’s not Fuel related, but congratulations to Brian Pinho and Jon Gillies, two former Indiana Ice players who helped lead Providence College to the NCAA championship, beating Boston University 4-3.
Final word: It’s been a privilege to cover the Fuel’s games this season for you. This is a labor of love for me – I do it largely because I love hockey, love to write and wanted to provide quality coverage of the sport. Thank you for reading each night. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’m already looking forward to next year.