Sometimes, it’s a cliche to state that a team deserved better than it got.
But the Indy Fuel definitely deserved better than to come away from Friday night’s game with a 2-1 loss to the Fort Wayne Komets at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
A spirited, physical effort by the Fuel ran into another stellar goaltending performance by Fort Wayne’s Pat Nagle, who made 32 saves in the contest, including a right pad save on a Ben Marshall penalty shot in the third period that preserved the victory for the invaders from northeast Indiana.
“That’s a real good hockey game. Obviously, either team feels like they deserved the win,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “It’s tough. We were really good in a lot of areas.”
Fort Wayne used a 5-on-3 goal and a fortunate bounce on a rebound to sweep the home-and-home series, which snapped a three-game winning streak for the Fuel. Indy returns home Saturday night to face the Wichita Thunder for its sixth game in eight days.
Rookie Michael Colantone scored his first professional goal to give the Fuel the lead, but the Komets were able to answer just ahead of the second-period horn when they drew back-to-back penalties and had 99 seconds of a 5-on-3. They needed just 13 of them, as Shane Owen stopped a shot from the left circle, but Mike Embach pounced on a weak-side rebound and scored to tie the game with 26 seconds left in the period.
In the third, Embach again provided the big play, carrying up the left wing on a rush. He fired a shot that hit the crossbar, and came right to Dominic Alberga’s stick on the weak side, who scored into the open side.
“To give up a 5-on-3 which is tough to defend is frustrating. The other one, hit off us going to the net, hit a post,” Hillman said. “That’s hockey. We had great compete. It was a great hockey game. Only one team can win, we’ve just got to find a way to win the tight ones.”
The Fuel and Komets opened the game with a very structured, high-speed, physical game that featured solid defense and few high-grade scoring chances thanks to the strong defensive play. After nearly two full periods of scoreless hockey, the deadlock was finally broken with 2:11 left in the second. Daniel Ciampini raced to the wall to corral an shoot-in, and dropped the puck to Colantone, whose quick release fired a rocket past Nagle and into the net to give Indy what would be a short-lived 1-0 lead.
“He made a great play,” Colantone said of Ciampini. “It was a great pass because he was working hard. Speed is a huge part of the game.”
It was the first professional goal for Colantone, who joined the Fuel on Sunday after playing three and a half seasons of college hockey at UMass-Lowell. Three days earlier, he picked up his first assist in the Fuel’s 5-1 win at Cincinnati.
“It was unbelievable,” Colantone said of scoring his first goal. “It’s something you dream about as a little kid. When it happens, it’s still kind of shocking.”
He nearly scored again seconds later. The same line stayed out for the next shift, and was buzzing the net. Ciampini tipped the puck to Colantone on the doorstep for a golden chance, but Nagle was able to slide the pad out and get in front of both that shot and Ciampini’s point-blank follow-up.
In the third, with the Fuel needing to kill 1:21 of a carryover penalty, Indy’s PK unit kept the Komets from getting much zone time, and Colantone wiped it out with a steal at center and a partial breakaway that saw his shot stopped, but drew a penalty on the Komets’ Garrett Thompson and a Fuel power play.
Ben Marshall had the best chance on the ensuing power play, but it set up a period where the Fuel were buzzing the net, with Sam Jardine generating a lot of chances from the point. Later in the period, Marshall had another great chance, with a steal at center leading to a breakaway. He was hooked from behind and got the shot off, which was stopped, earning a penalty shot. Nagle was able to get his right pad on the shot and steer it wide.
Indy’s best chance in the closing minutes came from Cody Sharib, who entered as the trailer on the rush and ripped a shot through traffic that Nagle got a pad onto.
“We just had 70 shots in two nights and scored one goal,” Hillman said. “That’s frustrating. We had pucks going into the net that (Nagle) robbed us from. Great compliment to his play over the past two nights.”
Nagle had a shutout Thursday when the Fuel fell in Fort Wayne, and followed it up with a one-goal effort, stopping 10 shots in each the first and second periods and 12 in the third.
Shane Owen had a hard-luck loss, as he made 26 saves in the loss, thrice making saves through traffic and then covering the rebounds with a pileup in front of the net.
“Shane played tremendous, almost saved the back-door 5-on-3, and we deflected the other one past him to the post and there was no chance,” Hillman said. “They had some good chances and he was outstanding. It was a good game for him.”
The Fuel will be back on the ice Saturday for a home date with the Wichita Thunder, who will be making their first-ever visit to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum as an ECHL entry – the Thunder were a regular foe of the Indianapolis Ice in the old Central Hockey League.
“Tomorrow’s huge,” Hillman said. “We want to get right back to the ice. It’s going to be a grind. Wichita had the day off today and was probably sitting here watching us tonight. That’s tough, but that’s the scheduling. We’ve got to get back at it and find a way to get that victory.”
- Mike Embach (FtW) G, A, 4 shots, +1
- Michael Colantone (Fuel) First professional goal, +1
- Pat Nagle (FtW) 32 saves, 1 GA
- The Fuel’s young blueliners have stepped up. Friday was one of Sam Jardine’s best games, as the rookie had four shots and generated a lot of offense from the point – especially in the third period, as he sent several missives through traffic that forced tough saves and created rebound chances. He and Patrick Koudys – who is also seeing increased ice time and had two shots Saturday – are answering the call. “Without (Nick) Mattson in the lineup (due to his callup to AHL Rockford earlier this week), Jardine and Koudys have got a ton more ice,” Hillman said. “It’s been good to see them respond. I thought they had pretty solid games back-to-back. It’s good to get all six (defensemen) really involved, and we’re going to need it, playing our fourth game in five nights. These guys are young. They like the ice time. They’ll be ready for a big one tomorrow.”
- Daniel Ciampini and Michael Colantone both were big on Colantone’s goal, but that play showed a lot of speed by both players – for Ciampini to get to the puck, and Colantone to step into a shot. Colantone has not just a lot of speed, but a quick release, which he used on his goal, and both also showed some solid offensive skill later in the shift to create another chance. “That was a real nice shot,” Hillman said. “A great first pro goal for him and a big boost for our team.”
- Ben Marshall’s penalty shot was the Fuel’s second this season against the Komets.
- Shane Owen continues to be a hard-luck player. Friday was his 12th start of allowing two or fewer goals. The Fuel are 5-7 in those games. He was solid Friday, cutting down angles on shooters and snaring pucks in traffic.
- Sometimes, you’ve got to tip your cap to the opponent. Pat Nagle has been nothing short of spectacular in back-to-back games, stopping 69 of the 70 shots he faced in the two, and doing so with a heavy workload. He has started seven straight games for the Komets.
- Fort Wayne’s Mike Embach has always been an elite scorer, but he especially has been so against Indy. His two-point game Friday gave him two goals and four assists in the home-and-home – with all of the assists being primaries. He has four goals and 11 points in the seven games between the two teams this season.
- The Fuel are now 2-4-1 in the season series this year, with four games remaining. The next meeting will be Jan. 24 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, which will be the last meeting between the two teams until April.
- Both teams were pretty hot coming into the home-and-home series – the Fuel had won three straight and four of five before Thursday – and it showed Friday with a really high-energy effort. Fort Wayne is now 5-o-1 in its last six.
- The game got a little bit physical in the second period, including a fight between Cody Sharib and Brock Montgomery – who was playing his first game since Nov. 15 – and a line scrum moments later.
- Fort Wayne was 1-4 on the PP, with the one goal a 5-on-3. Indy was 0-4 with the man advantage.
- Indy got a lot of good performances from rookies and younger players, and controlled possession for much of the game. “We’re in a situation where daily we’re really challenging guys for consistency and winning every battle all over the ice because that’s what it takes to really get ourselves on a roll,” Hillman said.
With 16 available skaters, the Fuel iced the same lineup for the second straight game.
Alex Lavoie-Cody Sharib-Rhett Bly
Daniel Ciampini-Kyle Stroh-Garett Bembridge
Derek Roehl-Matt White-Peter Schneider
Patrick Koudys-Zach Miskovic
Kevin Quick-Ben Marshall
Sam Jardine-Anders Franzon
BU: Jordan Ruby
Scratches: Dylan Clarke (res), Josh Brittain (IR), Dillon Fournier (IR), Mac Carruth
Roster move: Mac Carruth was reassigned to the Fuel Friday after a brief callup to AHL Rockford.
Next up: The Fuel continue a four-game homestand Saturday against the Wichita Thunder. The puck drops at 7:35 p.m.