Another place to look for the Indy Fuel’s improvement during the season is between the pipes, where Mac Carruth and Shane Owen had outstanding second halves of the season to help lead Indy to a 25-9-5 record during the latter half of the year. They were stellar at times, spectacular at others, and stabilized a goaltending situation that was in flux in the early part of the season, starting in training camp. It appeared the Fuel were going to get Carruth and Kent Simpson from the Blackhawks organization – which had six goaltenders signed between Indy and Rockford, with Scott Darling and Michael Leighton set to begin the year in Rockford and Corey Crawford/Antti Raanta doing so in Chicago. But as Simpson was being assigned to the Fuel, he was also being traded by the Blackhawks to the New York Islanders as part of the trade that sent Nick Leddy to Long Island, and he therefore spent the year in the Isles’ system.
Indy made a training camp deal to acquire Cody Reichard – a former Indiana Ice netminder – who played well and logged a number of games early. As Carruth went back and forth between Indy and Rockford early in the season, the Fuel used a number of goaltenders – Reichard, Sean Bonar, Jordan Tibbett and Eric Levine all saw action for the Fuel. Reichard played well and carried the team early, going 5-7-2 with a 3.78 GAA in 16 games. Levine was 0-1-0 with a 4.06 GAA in three games, and Bonar was 0-2-0 with a 6.50 GAA in three games.
By mid-December, Carruth was in Indy full-time, and in early January, the Fuel and Stockton Thunder swapped Owen and Reichard as part of a trade. The Carruth-Owen pairing was outstanding down the stretch in helping lead the Fuel to the cusp of playoff contention.
Mac Carruth (6-3, 182, age 22)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (81 career pro GP: 71-ECHL, 10-AHL). Years pro: 2
- Contract: NHL-Chicago
- 2014-15 stats: 39GP, 17-13-7, 2.55 GAA, .914 save%, 3SHO w/Fuel; 3GP, 2-1-0, 1.69 GAA, .925 save%, 1SHO w/AHL Rockford
- Carruth, a seventh-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2010, shone as the year went on. He was the ECHL’s Goaltender of the Month in January, a month in which he had a 7-2-0 record and a 1.45 GAA, as well as a .951 save percentage. He won his last seven starts in January, and had a streak of nine straight wins and 10 wins in 11 starts from mid-January through early February. He had two shutouts in January – Jan. 19 at Gwinnett and Jan. 31 against Elmira, and had a third March 13 against Evansville. He also had a shutout during his early-season callup to Rockford. From Jan. 16 – the start of his seven-game win streak and the Fuel’s 25-9-5 finishing run – on, Carruth was spectacular. In that stretch, he had a 16-4-3 record, a 2.08 GAA, and a .931 save percentage, numbers that would put him among the top goaltenders in the ECHL. Only Jeff Jakaitis of South Carolina (1.96 GAA, the ECHL’s Goaltender of the Year) had a lower GAA for the season. His future is likely determined by the Blackhawks’ goaltending depth – he is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and has been successful at every level he’s played at – he led Portland to the WHL championship and is that Major Junior club’s all-time winner in the playoffs, with 30 postseason victories. He has played well in his three games at Rockford this season, and is finishing the year there. He should have a future in the higher levels of hockey – in the AHL and, eventually, the NHL, with his size and his athletic, aggressive style that’s reminiscent of Tim Thomas. He also has a penchant for playing the puck (he nearly scored a goal this season with an end-to-end clear). After Jan. 11, he allowed two goals or less in 15 of his 23 starts.
Shane Owen (6-2, 195, age 24)
- 2015-16 status: Tweener (151 career pro GP: 96-ECHL, 1-AHL, 52-CHL, 2-LNAH). Years pro: 5
- Contract: Fuel (acquired in January trade with Stockton)
- 2014-15 stats: 17GP, 9-6-2, 2.27 GAA, .927sv%, 1 SHO w/Fuel; 36GP, 15-17-2, 2.92 GAA, .911sv%, 1SHO overall w/Fuel & Stockton
- Owen is a veteran as goaltenders go, having completed his fifth pro season. Another player who was acquired midseason with ties to coach Scott Hillman – he played 52 games for Hillman’s Missouri Mavericks last season – Owen continues to put up good numbers. His best pro stretch to date was that stretch with Missouri, when he went 35-15-1, posted a 2.58 GAA and led the Mavs to the 2014 CHL regular season title. He went to Stockton at the start of this season, while Hillman went to Indy. After posting a 3.54 GAA with the Thunder, he came to Indy in a goaltender swap and immediately paid dividends. He and Carruth created a goaltending tandem that was the ECHL’s best – only South Carolina’s tandem of Jeff Jakaitis and Adam Morrison were better during that stretch. Owen’s GAA with the Fuel would’ve been second-best in the league to Jakaitis. Owen lost his first start with the Fuel on Jan. 9, then went 6-1-2 in his next nine starts, with his first win being the first shutout in Fuel history on Jan. 11 against Wheeling. He allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his 16 starts, and three or less in 13 of his 16 games.