The Indy Fuel’s first season has completed, and there was a lot to enjoy. After starting 6-21-6, the Fuel finished 31-30-11 and narrowly missed a playoff berth. From Jan. 11 on, the Fuel’s 25-9-5 record was the second-best in the ECHL – eclipsed only by South Carolina, which had a historic 23-game winning streak snapped by the Fuel. Later on, I’ll have a post looking at some of the highlights of the year, but first, a look back at the players. We’ll start with the forward unit.
A few notes: All but one of the forwards are on ECHL contracts. The Fuel can re-sign any of them after the season ends, and can protect eight players at the end of June. Any rookies and “tweeners” (players with less than 260 professional games) who are protected, the Fuel will retain their rights for a year. Any veterans, the Fuel will retain their exclusive negotiating rights for a specified period of time before they become unrestricted free agents. Expect the Fuel to try to retain as much of this forward group as possible, but there’s a good chance a few of these players – especially those who shone as rookies with the Fuel this year – will get a look in AHL camps this spring. That’s the great thing about minor pro hockey – the Fuel wanted to bring in and develop a core that would be successful in both the near future and the distant future, but also, develop players for the AHL and hopefully, the NHL. ECHL teams are allowed four veterans – the Fuel skated this year with three, Mike Duco, Nicklas Lindberg and Garett Bembridge. A fourth, Garrett Klotz, skated with the Fuel for much of the season and finished the year in Wichita – and nobody else achieved vet status this offseason (and nobody on the current roster will achieve it next year).
This forward group provided a lot of grit, and at the end of the year, provided two very balanced scoring lines, a top line with two 20-goal scorers and both second and third lines with double-digit goal scorers on the wings and playmakers in the middle. They helped form one of the ECHL’s top power plays, and a penalty kill unit that developed into one of the better ones in the league in the second half of the season. Of the 13 forwards who finished the season on the Fuel roster, seven were acquired mid-season and an eighth spent a substantial part of the year in the AHL. But once the new lines developed chemistry in January, the Fuel became a very good, balanced unit, led by a strong forward group. Here’s a look at each player.
Chris DeSousa (5-9, 180. Age: 24).
- 2015-16 status: Rookie (20 career pro GP). Years pro: 1
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA mid-season. Last team: University of Prince Edward Island)
- 2014-15 stats: 20GP, 7-9-16, +5
- DeSousa was the first-line LW for much of the latter half of the season, and provided a lot of scoring impact after signing with the team from the University of Prince Edward Island. He was a point-a-game player at UPEI this year, with 26 points in 27 games, and continued that pace with the Fuel. He had a goal and an assist in his first game, and never looked back, bringing a strong shot, good energy and a willingness to drop the gloves. He had a very impressive pro debut.
Mike Duco (5-10, 201. Age: 27) (C)
- 2015-16 status: Veteran (382 career pro GP: 18-NHL, 267-AHL, 82-ECHL & 15-Austria). Years pro: 7
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA pre-season. Last team: Orlando Solar Bears-ECHL)
- 2014-15 stats: 63GP, 17-19-36, 117PIM, -10
- The lone Fuel player with NHL experience coming into this season, Duco was named the team’s captain prior to the year and led it throughout the season. He was often willing to go to the “dirty areas” of the ice and was the team’s third-leading scorer as a result, with 36 points in 63 games. He also led the team in PIM, a fiery leader who was willing to stand up for teammates and play with a lot of emotion. He was a key member of the PP, where he scored seven of his 17 goals, and played LW on several different lines.
Johnny McGuire (6-1, 205. Age: 21).
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (38 career pro GP: 7-AHL, 31-ECHL)
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA pre-season. Last team: Idaho Steelheads-ECHL)
- 2014-15 stats: 20GP, 1-0-1, 56 PIM, +0
- McGuire played the team’s enforcer role well, picking up eight fighting majors in his 20 games played. He shared that role with Klarc Wilson and Garrett Klotz at the beginning of the season, then took it alone as the other two players departed the team. McGuire played frequently in February – scoring his lone goal on Feb. 6 against Evansville – but played two games the season’s last six weeks.
Evan Vossen (6-0, 196. Age: 26)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (179 career pro GP: 115-CHL, 64-ECHL). Years pro: 3
- Contract: Fuel (acquired via trade with Missouri Mavericks mid-season)
- 2014-15 stats: 40GP, 2-12-14, 26PIM, -3 with Fuel, 62GP, 6-15-21, 32PIM, -7 overall w/Missouri & Indy
- Vossen was acquired midseason in the January roster overhaul and was a jack of all trades for the team, often playing the 10th forward role and being a penalty-killing specialist. Coach Hillman said during the year that his penalty-killing ability was a big reason the Fuel pursued Vossen – who played two years with Hillman in Missouri. He has a knack for scoring big goals and making big plays. Vossen’s versatility was shown midway through the season when injuries and callups had the Fuel down to five defensemen, and he took a spot on the blueline. Especially in the ECHL, with limited rosters and callups often a possibility, a versatile penalty-killing forward like Vossen is a critical piece. Although he’s one of the older players in age on the roster, the McGill University grad will have at least 2 more seasons of “Tweener” status – where he won’t have accumulated the 260 necessary games to take up one of the four allowed veteran spots.
Matt White (6-2, 198. Age: 23)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (72 career pro GP). Years pro: 1
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA pre-season. Last team: University of Vermont)
- 2014-15 stats: 72GP, 11-11-22, 44 PIM, -15
- White did a little bit of everything for the Fuel. He was a key penalty killer throughout the season, a steady forward who played both center and left wing, and he was the only player to suit up in all 72 games for the Fuel. Playing primarily on the checking line, he had an 11-goal season, including two shorthanded goals and two on the power play. He’s one of those players whose contributions don’t always show up on the scoresheet, but he makes a lot of things happen. He played center much of the year, then moved to LW late in the season, and skated on all three lines as an LW,
Garett Bembridge (6-0, 180. Age: 33) (A)
- 2015-16 status: Veteran (808 career pro GP: 244-AHL, 276-ECHL, 69-CHL, 219-Europe). Years pro: 15
- Contract: Fuel (acquired via trade from Missouri Mavericks mid-season)
- 2014-15 stats: 62 GP, 25-27-52, 42PIM, -14 w/Fuel, 69GP, 27-31-58, 44PIM, -16 overall w/Fuel & Missouri.
- Bembridge gave the Fuel a lot of offensive spark and leadership from the RW position. He was one of three veterans on the roster at the end of the season, playing his 800th professional game this season, and provided a lot of leadership as an alternate captain. Twice drafted into the NHL – in 1999 by the Rangers and 2001 by the Flames – Bembridge has a tremendous shot and puck-possession game. He, Kyle Stroh and Vincent Arseneau combined to create a lethal top line during the second half of the season, and then did the same with Chris DeSousa & Matt White on LW after Arseneau’s AHL rights were traded to Worcester. Often skating on the top line, he was the team’s leading scorer and top sniper, with 25 goals and 52 points in a Fuel uniform. He had 10 PPGs, and often led the team in shots on goal. Bembridge had a team-high 4 points (G/3A) on Dec. 3 against Evansville. He also had three assists March 21 in a 6-1 win at Greenville.
Rhett Bly (5-10, 185. Age: 25)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (70 career pro GP). Years pro: 1
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA during preseason. Last team: Merrimack College).
- 2014-15 stats: 70GP, 12-21-33, 26PIM, -15.
- Bly was another key player who did a little bit of everything. A hard worker who found a lot of success playing on the checking line with Matt White and Jamie Wise, and the penalty kill, Bly also was a part of the power play. A strong checker, he scored some critical goals this season and finished the year with 33 points, among the team leaders. He started the year with a five-game scoring streak and finished it with a three-game streak late in the season. Bly scored two shorthanded goals, tying teammate Matt White for the team lead. He also had two PPGs and eight tallies at even strength.
Pete Massar (5-9, 180. Age: 26)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (54 career pro GP). Years pro: 1+
- Contract: Fuel (acquired as FA during preseason. Last team: University of Vermont/Missouri Mavericks-CHL)
- 2014-15 stats: 54GP, 10-20-30, 37PIM, -14
- Massar was the team’s first signee this summer, and he showed a lot of offensive flair, especially in open-ice situations like 4-on-4 and the power play. He primarily played RW on the second line, with Nicklas Lindberg and usually Mike Duco during the latter part of the season. Massar improved dramatically on the defensive end to be a dependable all-around player, who could score a bit, but could also be responsible in his own zone and on the backcheck. Midway through the year, Hillman said Massar had gone from being a player who struggled in the defensive side of the game early in the season to being one of the team’s top defensive forwards.
Jonathan Parker (5-11, 205. Age: 23)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (159 career pro GP. 76-AHL, 83-ECHL). Years pro: 4
- Contract: Fuel (acquired via trade with Colorado Eagles mid-season)
- 2014-15 stats: 2GP, 0-0-0, 2PIM, -2 with Fuel, 29GP, 10-16-26, 16PIM, -1 overall w/Colorado & Fuel
- Parker is a player we never saw in Indy, as he was acquired in January on a roadtrip and suffered an upper body injury that kept him out the remainder of the season after playing two games. He does have a bit of experience, with four years in the AHL & ECHL under his belt, and he has scoring ability. Last year, he had 30 points in 35 ECHL games, and he had 26 points in 29 ECHL games this year.
Peter Schneider (5-11, 195. Age: 24).
- 2015-16 status: Rookie (10 career pro GP). Years pro: 1
- Contract: Fuel (signed as FA mid-season. Last team: University of Notre Dame).
- 2014-15 stats: 10GP, 4-4-8, 11PIM, +4
- Schneider was a late-season signee, joining the team after finishing his collegiate career at Notre Dame. A former 30-goal scorer with the Indiana Ice in the USHL, Schneider tallied 16 points in 41 games with the Irish before joining the Fuel, but quickly found a home as a scorer and a playmaker, often alongside Nicklas Lindberg and Mike Duco at RW, or as a 10th forward. He had a knack for scoring big goals – he had two third-period goals in the Fuel’s two wins in the season’s final week.
Nicklas Lindberg (5-11, 190. Age: 34)
- 2015-16 status: Veteran (664 career pro GP. 187-ECHL, 317-CHL, 151-UHL/IHL2, 11-Europe). Years pro: 12
- Contract: Fuel (acquired via trade with Tulsa mid-season. Last team: St. Charles Chill-CHL).
- 2014-15 stats: 38GP, 9-18-27, 26PIM, +7
- Another player acquired during the January trades, Lindberg gave the Fuel a strong playmaker who could score goals, but also set them up. He was one of the team’s assists leaders despite playing 38 games. He also gave the Fuel a leadership presence, as one of three vets on the roster at the season’s end. When he got points, they came in bunches – he had eight multi-point games. He had a pair of two-goal games, and a three-assist game on Feb. 27 at Fort Wayne. Three of his nine goals came on the power play. He primarily centered Mike Duco and either Peter Schnieder or Pete Massar, but was a strong playmaker and passer no matter who his wings were.
Kyle Stroh (6-1, 185. Age: 26)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (130 career pro GP. 72-ECHL, 58-CHL). Years pro: 2+
- Contract: Fuel (acquired via trade with Rapid City mid-season).
- 2014-15 stats: 40GP, 18-15-33, 8PIM, +9 w/Fuel, 72GP, 25-22-47, 24PIM, +9 overall w/Rapid City & Fuel
- Stroh made an immediate impact after his acquisition in January, scoring the Fuel’s lone hat trick and showing a knack for finishing in tight. He had 18 goals on just 86 shots with the Fuel – a 20.1 shot percentage. His play in January was key in helping spur the Fuel to their second-half turnaround. He had a seven-game scoring streak, and in a 14-game span, nine goals and nine assists. In that span, he had a four-point game (G/3A) against Greenville on Jan. 16, and followed with a hat trick on Jan. 24 against Evansville. Five of Stroh’s 18 goals with the Fuel came on the PP, and he was among the league leaders with eight game-winning goals, five with the Fuel. Stroh developed as a finisher, playing with Garett Bembridge on his right wing for much of the season, and either Chris DeSousa, Matt White or Vincent Arseneau on the left.
Jamie Wise (6-0, 205. Age: 24)
- 2015 status: Tweener (52 career pro GP, 30-ECHL, 22-AHL). Years pro: 1
- Contract: Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
- 2014-15 stats: 30 GP, 3-9-12, 30PIM, -10 (Indy-ECHL); 22 GP, 3-0-3, 11PIM, -3
- Wise played both center and LW with the Fuel, but was very effective after being moved to center late in the season as part of a checking line with Rhett Bly on his right, and either Matt White, Mike Duco or Evan Vossen to the left. Rejoining the team March 7 after a long stint in Rockford, Wise had two goals and six assists in 15 games, but had five of those points in the last eight games after moving to center, and was +1 in that stretch. Wise is a big body who can be a strong asset to either the Fuel or the IceHogs next season.
Next up: The Defenders!