What a first season for the Indy Fuel. The one “true” expansion team in the 28-team ECHL – the other seven teams, who made up the Central Division, were all existing franchises who moved over from the Central Hockey League – the Fuel started the summer with a coach, an affiliation and a front office, built a roster during the offseason, overhauled it during the season and nearly pulled off a playoff spot. From Jan. 11 on, the Fuel’s record of 25-9-5 was the second-best in the ECHL to the South Carolina Stingrays (and the Reading Royals, who had a virtually-identical record). It nearly drew them into the playoffs, an amazing feat given they were 6-21-6 on Jan. 10, and finished 31-30-11 for the season.
Let’s look back at a tremendous first year for the Fuel.
Nov. 26, 2013: A new era is announced as Jim Hallett and Sean Hallett unveil the creation of the Indy Fuel at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum (a building to be renamed the Indiana Farmers Coliseum), a building that was in the process of being fully renovated and ready for its 75th anniversary in the fall of 2014. The team signs a 10-year lease with three five-year options, effectively a 25-year lease. The Indy Fuel become Indy’s first entry in the ECHL – a “AA” minor pro league created in 1988 – and the first professional team to play in the city since 2004. The ECHL contains a number of familiar faces – previous Indy teams played Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, Kalamazoo, Colorado and Toledo in the old International Hockey League (and going further, the Indy-Cincinnati rivalry that goes all the way back to the 1950s American Hockey League was rekindled) – and with the absorption of the Central Hockey League prior to the start of the 2014-15 season, old CHL foes from Wichita and Tulsa were added to the league.
April 1, 2014: The Fuel announce a 10-year affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs, rekindling an Indy-Chicago affiliation that existed with the IHL’s Indianapolis Ice from 1989-99. The Blackhawks promise to closely work with the Fuel, both in terms of players – Chicago/Rockford would assign six players to the Fuel during the inaugural season – and in marketing. United Center mainstays Jim Cornelison and Gene Honda would make a pair of appearances in Indy during the inaugural season, Bobby Hull joined Indy on his 70th birthday, and Tommy Hawk also made an appearance.
May 27, 2014: Scott Hillman is announced as the first head coach of the Fuel. He comes to Indy after a successful career building the Missouri Mavericks from an expansion team into the CHL’s regular season champion. He also won two SPHL titles with the Knoxville Ice Bears.
June 19, 2014: The Fuel announce the signing of their first player, University of Vermont forward Pete Massar. He is the first of several off-season signings.
Oct. 3, 2014: The Fuel open their first training camp at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. The next day, the Rockford IceHogs would announce the first wave of players sent to Indy – Mathieu Brisebois, Kirill Gotovets, Justin Holl and Mac Carruth. A fifth player assigned to the Fuel, goaltender Kent Simpson, is traded by the Blackhawks to the New York Islanders.
Oct. 6, 2014: Mike Duco, a veteran player with NHL experience, signs with the Fuel and is soon named the team’s captain.
Oct. 7, 2014: The Fuel play their first game in franchise history, a 3-1 exhibition win at Alaska. Taylor Law scores the first goal and Sean Bonar gets the start in net.
Oct. 17, 2014: Opening night. A packed house of 6,477 fans fills the Coliseum for the return of pro hockey, and the resumption of the fierce Indy-Fort Wayne rivalry for the first time in 15 years. The events begin with the above video – a nod to the city’s 75-year hockey history – and continue with Jim Cornelison singing the anthem over a roaring crowd. Once the puck is dropped, the Fuel start the game on fire. They build a 3-0 lead after two, but eventually fall to Fort Wayne 5-4 in a shootout. Mathieu Brisebois scores the first goal in team history, with Nick Bruneteau and Robert Czarnik getting the assists, at 10:18 of the first period. Pete Massar follows with a goal, and Czarnik scores the first PPG. Justin Holl takes the first penalty at 11:53 of the first. The Fuel trail 4-3, but Patrick Cullen scores a PPG with a minute left to send the game into overtime. Mac Carruth stops 20 shots in the debut.
Oct. 18, 2014: Nick Jones has the first three-point game in Fuel history with a goal and two assists in a 4-3 loss at Fort Wayne. Garrett Klotz and the Komets’ Cody Sol get into the first fight 2:31 into the game.
Oct 24, 2014: The first win in Fuel history is a 5-1 victory over the Missouri Mavericks on “Pink in the Rink” night. Cody Reichard stops 15 shots for the victory. Robert Czarnik scores twice and Mike Duco’s first goal of the year is the game-winner.
Oct. 31, 2014: Matt White scores the Fuel’s first shorthanded goal midway through the second period of a 4-3 shootout win over Evansville. White also scores later in the game for a two-goal night.
Nov. 29, 2014: Garett Bembridge scores twice as the Fuel snap a five-game skid with a 5-3 win over Cincinnati at the Coliseum.
Dec. 3, 2014: Garett Bembridge has a goal and three assists and Robert Czarnik scores twice in a 5-3 Fuel win over Evansville, giving the team a two-game winning streak. Cody Reichard stops 27 shots.
Dec. 5, 2014: The Fuel & Florida Everblades play a wild game that sees Indy nearly rally from a 6-3 deficit, but the Fuel eventually fall 7-6. Defensemen Nick Bruneteau and Mathieu Brisebois each have three assists and Mike Duco also has a three-point game with a goal and two assists. Indy native Jordan Tibbett makes his pro hockey debut, stopping five of six shots in the third period. The Fuel go 4-6 on the PP and also score a shorthanded goal off the stick of Anders Franzon.
Dec. 13, 2014: Pete Massar has two goals and an assist, and the Fuel rally from three goals down to take a third-period lead. Florida’s Adam Brace completes a hat trick with a PPG with :57 left, and the Everblades win a 5-4 shootout in one of the Fuel’s best performances of the early season. Massar’s first goal comes :31 into the second period, the earliest goal into a period to date for the Fuel.
Dec. 26, 2014: The Fuel snap an eight-game skid with a 4-3 home win over Cincinnati. Robert Czarnik scores twice and Patrick Cullen breaks a 3-all tie with a PPG in the third. Mac Carruth gets his first win in the Indy pipes with 20 saves in front of a spirited crowd of 4,782. The teams combine for 96 PIM – 63 to Indy, 33 to Cincy.
Jan. 5-8, 2015: The Fuel make a number of roster moves, acquiring goaltender Shane Owen and forwards Kyle Stroh, Evan Vossen and Nicklas Lindberg during the week. The following week, forwards Jonathan Parker and Vincent Arseneau would be acquired. The new-look lineup drops its first two games, but things will turn around quickly.
Jan. 9, 2015: Nicklas Lindberg scores 37 seconds into the third period, the fastest goal from the start of a period to date, but the Fuel fall 4-1 to Cincinnati.
Jan. 11, 2015: Shane Owen records the first shutout in Indy Fuel history, stopping 28 shots – including 15 in the third period – of a 3-0 victory at Wheeling. Rhett Bly, Pete Massar and Kirill Gotovets score the Fuel’s goals. It’s Owen’s second start as a member of the Fuel, and it snaps skids of six straight games and 13 losses in 14 games. It also jump-starts an incredible finish to the season – the Fuel entered the game 6-21-6. They’d finish with a 25-9-3 record.
Jan. 16, 2015: Newly-acquired Kyle Stroh has the second four-point game in Fuel history, tallying a goal and three assists in a 4-2 win at Greenville. The Fuel are now on a three-game point streak, going 2-0-1 in the last three games.
Jan. 19, 2015: Mac Carruth has his first shutout as a member of the Fuel, beating Gwinnett 1-0 in a Monday matinee. Kyle Stroh scores with 7:03 left to seal the victory. Carruth stops 26 shots, including 13 in the third period. The victory caps a 4-1-1 roadtrip that turns the Fuel’s season around.
Jan. 23, 2015: The new-look Fuel return home and continue what they started on the road. Facing the team with the ECHL’s best record, the Allen Americans, the Fuel dominate in a 4-1 win. Vincent Arseneau and Rhett Bly score goals 31 seconds apart in the second – briefly a record for the fastest two goals by the Fuel – until Garett Bembridge (2:59) and Mike Duco (3:19) score 20 seconds apart in the third. Mac Carruth stops 21 of 22 shots.
Jan. 24, 2015: Kyle Stroh scores the first hat trick in Fuel history, a natural hat trick that puts Indy up 3-0 in an eventual 4-1 win over Evansville in front of 4,557 at the Coliseum. Stroh scores PPGs at 13:12 of the first and 8:57 of the second, and completes the hat trick at 15:05 of the third. Rhett Bly assists on the first two goals, Pete Massar has the first assist on the third. Mac Carruth stops 27 shots, and gets an assist on an empty-net goal by Mike Duco. It’s Carruth’s fourth straight game allowing one or fewer goals. His effort would earn him ECHL Goaltender of the Week (and later, Goaltender of the Month) honors.
Jan. 25, 2015: The Fuel continue their hot streak, as Garett Bembridge scores with 2:32 left and Kyle Stroh wins it 32 seconds into OT to beat Evansville 2-1. Shane Owen stops 30 shots for the Fuel’s fifth straight game with one or fewer goals allowed. The victory extends the Fuel’s streak to six straight wins, and 7-0-1 in the last eight games. The streak would be extended one more game.
Jan. 31, 2015: Mac Carruth completes a stellar January with a 3-0 shutout of Elmira. He makes 41 saves in the win, while Garett Bembridge, Kirill Gotovets and Justin Holl provide the scoring. The win extends the Fuel’s run to 9-1-1 in 11 games, and concludes a January for Carruth in which he goes 7-2-0 with a 1.45 GAA and .951 save percentage. He’ll be named ECHL Goaltender of the Month.
Feb. 8, 2015: Mac Carruth stops 24 shots to win his ninth straight start, 2-1 over Kalamazoo. Kyle Stroh’s second OT goal in a week and a half gives the Fuel the victory.
Feb. 25, 2015: Chris DeSousa makes his professional debut and has a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over Kalamazoo.
Feb. 27-28, 2015: The Fuel pick up their first two wins over Fort Wayne, with back-to-back extra-session victories in the Allen County Coliseum. Anders Franzon has a goal and an assist in Friday’s game, including the OT winner, to give the Fuel a 3-2 win. Nicklas Lindberg assists on all three goals. On Saturday, the Fuel win 5-4 in a shootout with Nick Bruneteau scoring the winner. Pete Massar has a goal and two assists in the win. The victory caps an 8-1-1 February, and gives the Fuel a 17-2-2 record since Jan. 11.
March 6, 2015: The Fuel play their third straight OT game, and win all three. This time, they beat Evansville 5-4 in a shootout. Indy scores a season-high four first-period goals – from Kyle Stroh, Nick Jones, Matt White and Mike Duco – but the IceMen rally. Pete Massar finally wins it in the eighth round of the shootout. It’s the Fuel’s fifth straight victory.
March 7, 2015: Indy and Wheeling combine for 113 penalty minutes in a 4-3 Nailers win at the Coliseum. The fisticuffs fly early – Johnny McGuire and Wheeling’s Chaz Johnson drop the gloves off the opening faceoff, and Chris DeSousa tangles with Wheeling’s Stefan Fournier 11 seconds later. Vincent Arseneau would be involved in two more scraps, and eventually be whistled for 19 PIM.
March 8, 2015: Garett Bembridge and Chris DeSousa score 21 seconds apart in the third period – the second-fastest two goals in team history – but the Fuel fall 5-3 in Kalamazoo.
March 13, 2015: Mac Carruth notches his third shutout, stopping 21 shots in a 3-0 win over Evansville at the Coliseum. Matt White, Pete Massar and Nicklas Lindberg all score for Indy.
March 21, 2015: The Fuel emphatically finish a roadtrip with a 6-1 win at Greenville, tying a team high for goals and setting one for victory margin. Kyle Stroh has 2G/A and Garett Bembridge 3A in the game. Peter Schneider has a goal and an assist in his second pro game. Chris DeSousa and Justin Holl have two assists each.
March 28, 2015: The longest winning streak in ECHL history comes to an end, as the Fuel snap South Carolina’s 23-game win streak with a 3-2 win over the Stingrays in front of a spirited crowd of 4,884 at the Coliseum. Chris DeSousa, Justin Holl and Garett Bembridge stake Indy to a 3-1 lead and Mac Carruth stops 36 shots. He stuffs Patrick Gaul on a second-period penalty shot.
April 4, 2015: The Fuel rally in the third period to beat Fort Wayne 3-2 at the Coliseum. Nicklas Lindberg scores his second of the game to tie it with 12:18 left, and then Mike Duco tallies the winner with 5:52 remaining. Shane Owen takes the net in the second period and stops all 14 shots he faces to get the win.
April 5, 2015: Rhett Bly and Peter Schneider score 1:01 apart in the third to give the Fuel a 4-2 win over Elmira. Shane Owen stops 23 of 25 playing on the third straight day.
April 8, 2015: Indy closes out the home schedule with a thrilling 4-3 OT win over Kalamazoo. Justin Holl scores the winner from below the goal line, banking it off netminder Joel Martin and in. Holl and Kyle Stroh each have a goal and an assist. The Fuel are now 4-1-1 in their last five games.
April 10-11, 2015: Indy closes out its season with back-to-back games in Reading and go 1-0-1 to finish the year 31-30-11. They just miss the playoffs when Wheeling wins on the final night, but have a tremendous finish to the year, going 5-1-2 in their last eight to push themselves into playoff position, and finish the year with a positive points percentage at 31-30-11. On Friday, Kyle Stroh scores twice and Peter Schneider the game-winner with 2:44 left to give Indy a 3-2 win. Stroh’s second goal is his 25th of the year. On Saturday, Mac Carruth stops 40 shots, but Reading wins 2-1 in a shootout, concluding a very successful first year for the Fuel. Garett Bembridge finishes the year with 27 goals and 58 points, including 25 goals and 52 points in a Fuel uniform, to lead the team. Nick Bruneteau leads the team in assists with 35, among the ECHL leaders for all defensemen. Sixteen of his apples come on the PP, tops among ECHL rookies.
You’ll see a lot of these summaries show up in the years to come in our “Today in History” posts, but it’s been a tremendous year for the Fuel. It’s been a great year. I’ll share some personal thoughts later in the week.