As the Indy Fuel get ready for their second season, it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with our potential foes in the ECHL. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been previewing two divisions a week, and we’re to the final one – and it’s the one that will be most familiar to Indy Fuel fans, the Midwest Division. The Fuel will play the majority of their games against four other teams in the division. Last year, Evansville, Fort Wayne and Cincinnati were all frequent visitors to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, and will be again this year. They’re joined by another geographical rival, Quad City, which is new to Indy but will be rekindling some old rivalries. Forty-three of the Fuel’s 72 games will be against these four teams.
ECHL member since: 2001-02 as Cyclones (1995-98 as Louisville RiverFrogs, 1998-99 as Miami Matadors. Three separate franchises have kept the Cyclones name since 1992: an ECHL franchise from 1990-92 that is now the Adirondack Thunder, an IHL franchise from 1992-2001 that disbanded with the league, and the current Cyclones replaced the old IHL team).
Last year: 31-30-11, t5th/7 North Division
Head coach: Matt Macdonald (2nd season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Nashville Predators/Milwaukee Admirals
Arena: U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio (capacity 6,955 in lower bowl, expandable to 17,566)
Fuel vs. Cyclones 2014-15: Indy was 3-5-1 against Cincy.
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 11 games. 5 in Indy (Feb. 6, March 5, March 13, March 24-25), 6 in Cincinnati (Nov. 20, Dec. 29, Jan. 27, Feb. 5, Feb. 27, March 31)
Of note: These teams will see each other a lot late, with nine of the 11 games after Jan. 27. Cincinnati and Indy developed quite a rivalry last year, one that developed early with some physical battles, and then ratcheted up late as both were battling for a playoff spot. They met nine times last season, and will see each other 11 times this year. The Cyclones had two affiliates last season, but had to drop the Florida Panthers due to the ECHL’s mandate that teams only have one affiliation. They maintained their tie with the Nashville Predators. They’ve seen a lot of roster turnover since the end of last season. The top returning scorer is Branden Gracel, who had 26 points in 52 games last season. The Cyclones also have acquired former Toledo goaltender Neil Conway. The Cyclones won Kelly Cups in 2008 and 2010, and went to the final in 2014. Cincinnati is the only ECHL team to play its home games in a building once used by a major league hockey team – the WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers played in the U.S. Bank Arena in the 1970s, then known as the Riverfront Coliseum. The Indianapolis Racers’ Gene Peacosh ended the longest game in WHA history on that ice surface with a 3OT goal in 1977.
ECHL member since: 2012-13 (CHL Evansville IceMen 2010-12, UHL Muskegon Fury 1992-2008, UHL Muskegon Lumberjacks 2008-10. A separate Evansville IceMen franchise played in the low-level All-American Hockey League from 2008-10).
Last year: 15-48-9, 7th/7 North Division
Head coach: Al Sims (2nd season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Ottawa Senators/Binghamton Senators
Arena: Ford Center, Evansville, Ind. (capacity 9,100)
Fuel vs. IceMen 2014-15: Indy was 8-1-1 against Evansville.
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 11 games: 5 in Indy (Jan. 8-9, Jan. 29-30, March 11), 6 in Evansville (Oct. 17, Nov. 4, Nov. 6, Dec. 18-19, March 12)
Of note: These two teams will have a lot of opportunities to develop their rivalry, with eight of the 11 games coming in four sets of back-to-backs. The Fuel dominated the IceMen last year, winning eight of the 10 meetings. Evansville replaced coach Dwight Mullins with Al Sims midway through the season last year, and began to stabilize. The IceMen have an interesting history, planning to join the United Hockey League – which had taken on the identity of the old International Hockey League by that point – but the IHL merged with the Central Hockey League. Evansville played two seasons in that league and then jumped to the ECHL, making them one of three teams in the Midwest Division with UHL DNA. The IceMen return leading scorer Jarrett Lukin (38 points in 56 games).
Fort Wayne Komets
ECHL member since: 2012-13 (IHL Flint Spirits 1985-90, IHL Fort Wayne Komets 1990-99, UHL Fort Wayne Komets 1999-2010, CHL Fort Wayne Komets 2010-13. A separate Komets franchise played in the IHL from 1952-90 before moving to Albany, with the current franchise taking its name, colors and history).
Last year: 48-18-6, 2nd/7 North Division
Head coach: Gary Graham (3rd season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Colorado Avalanche/San Antonio Rampage
Arena: Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, Ind. (capacity 10,500)
Fuel vs. Komets 2014-15: Indy was 3-6-2 against Fort Wayne
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 11 games: 5 in Indy (Oct. 30, Feb. 12, Jan. 1, Jan. 24, April 8); 6 in Fort Wayne (Oct. 23-24, Dec. 11, Dec. 31, April 2, April 9)
Of note: When hockey fans in these two cities talk about THE rivalry, this is it. Even though it went on hiatus for a 15 years from 1999 through 2014, the rivalry between the Indianapolis Ice and Fort Wayne Komets in the IHL was a fierce one, kindled especially in a seven-game 1991 playoff series. Fort Wayne was a natural foe for the opening of the Indy Fuel franchise last season, and the two teams squared off often, with Indy getting a point in five of the 11 games. This year, they’ll see each other three times in the season’s first 16 days, and then see each other three times in the season’s last eight days. The Komets return their top two scorers in Shawn Szydlowski (38 goals, 74 points) and former Indiana Ice forward Mike Embach (24 goals, 70 points). Drew Daniels, who was one of the ECHL’s top +/- players last season in addition to totaling 41 assists, is back to lead the Komets’ defense. The Komets name has remained in the same city for 63 years – and Bob Chase has been the team’s radio broadcaster for the duration. They have won nine titles – four in the old IHL, four in the UHL (renamed a second version of the IHL in 2007), and one in the CHL before jumping from the CHL to the ECHL in 2010 along with Evansville. This year, Fort Wayne will also rekindle an old UHL rivalry with the Quad City Mallards.
Quad City Mallards
ECHL member since: 2014-15 (IHL2 Quad City Mallards 2009-10, CHL Quad City Mallards 2010-14. A separate Mallards franchise competed in the UHL from 1995-2007).
Last year: 37-28-7, 2nd/7 Central Division
Head coach: Terry Ruskowski (4th season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Minnesota Wild/Iowa Wild
Arena: iWireless Center, Moline, Ill. (capacity 9,000)
Fuel vs. Mallards 2014-15: no games
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 10 games: 5 in Indy (Nov. 7, Nov. 21, Dec. 27, Jan. 22-23); 5 in Moline (Nov. 22, Nov. 29, Dec. 26, March 20, April 3)
Of note: Another of the seven franchises that were absorbed into the ECHL after the Central Hockey League disbanded last season, the Mallards are in their second incarnation. The original Mallards were the class of the old United Hockey League, winning three titles. They were displaced by an AHL team for two years, but a new Mallards franchise returned in its original league in 2009, and then moved to the CHL when the league formerly known as the Colonial/United/second incarnation of the International Hockey League merged into the CHL. Veteran coach Terry Ruskowski returns to lead the team. The Mallards have turned their roster over significantly. Logan Nelson (28 points, 43 games) is the leading returning scorer. Defenseman Mike Monfredo (28 points) is also back. The Mallards are starting the year with two new goalies – former Providence Bruins/South Carolina Stingrays goaltender Adam Morrison and Blues prospect (and former Alaska Aces goaltender) Niklas Lundstrom in net. The Mallards and Fuel have two home-and-away back-to-backs – Nov. 21-22 and Dec. 26-27. They also have a back-to-back in Indy Jan. 22-23.
And, while it’s been “Know our Foes,” here’s the capsule of our own team
ECHL member since: 2014-15
Last year: 31-30-11, t5th/7 North Division
Head coach: Scott Hillman (2nd season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Chicago Blackhawks/Rockford IceHogs
Arena: Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis, Ind. (capacity 6,488)