Whatever punches they took Friday night, the Indy Fuel had a counter.
Led by a number of new faces – and a couple of familiar ones – the Fuel rallied back from an early deficit to take a lead, then survived a strong push from the Evansville IceMen in the opening minutes of the third to come away with a 3-2 victory Friday night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The two teams will meet again Saturday night at the Fuel’s home as Indy looks for the weekend sweep of its in-state rival.
Michael Colantone scored the game-winner with 7:32 left in the third period, ripping a shot from the slot to break a 2-all tie. All three Indy goals came from rookies, as defensemen Ben Marshall and Patrick Koudys each had tallies three minutes apart in the second period. Veterans Garett Bembridge and newcomer Adam Lapsansky each had two assists.
Goaltender Mac Carruth made 30 saves, including 16 in a perfect third period, to seal the win.
The victory snapped a three-game skid for the Fuel, and gave the team victories in four of its last seven games. The win came after five off-days – that coming at the end of a busy six-games in eight-days stretch that saw the Fuel go 3-3-0.
“It was very big for us,” Bembridge said. “We had a lot of games in a short period of time. We had a lot of guys banged up. For us to get healthy, for us to get that break, come back, get that feeling back of coming to the rink and getting excited, you could see it tonight. That was a really big win for us.”
Colantone’s winner came off some strong team play. Lapsansky used his speed to beat out an icing call and win the puck on the end boards. Alex Lavoie then protected the puck as he popped out from behind the net, then found Colantone skating into the slot from the bench. Lavoie put the puck on the rookie’s tape, where Colantone rifled it into the net.
“Both Adam and Alex were a little long on the shift – I think it was Adam who was first on it – to get down there. He showed that great speed – that’s why we’re excited to have him here,” said Fuel coach Scott Hillman, who added Lapsansky had a solid North American pro debut.
“Mike was first on the change as (Bembridge) came off. He got to that open space – we’ve been working on guys getting in that right areas, those soft pockets. He found it and got rid of the puck in a hurry. The goalie had no chance. That was a real highlight play off the back of the net.”
Shortly thereafter, the Fuel killed a penalty and then had to fight off a late Evansville flurry in the closing minutes with goaltender Christoffer Bengtsberg pulled and Mike Duco in the penalty box.
The Fuel had a strong start to the game, controlling much of the first two periods. They outshot Evansville 25-14 in the opening 40 minutes and had a number of high-danger chances, and skated away with a 2-2 score after two.
In the third, Evansville controlled the first five minutes and had several long entries and forced Mac Carruth to make a number of close-in saves to keep the game tied and give Colantone a chance to score the winner.
“A lot of good energy, a lot of really good flow for us, a lot of offensive zone time, a lot of puck play for us,” coach Scott Hillman said. “I thought we were spreading the zone offensively better, creating better-quality chances. Even if the shots were similar, I thought the chances were better.
“We had to weather the storm in the third,” Hillman added. “The guys got the job done.”
Evansville had eight shots in the first six minutes of the period, and 16 for the entire third. Rhett Bly made one of the plays of the period, diving to sweep a rebound away from an IceMen stick with an open side with 15:00 left in the period. Carruth made several high-level saves, stuffing Jordan Sims’ tip in front and snaring a partial breakaway from Nathan Moon in the opening half of the period to keep the game a 2-2 score.
But slowly, the Fuel weathered the storm and began to win more races to pucks, make plays coming out of the zone and tilt the ice in their favor.
“For us to stick with that gameplan and do the simple things right is very big for us going now,” Bembridge said.
Evansville took an early lead 2:01 into the game, turning a loose puck in the neutral zone into a 2-on-1, in which Moon fed Danny Hobbs with a cross-ice pass for a goal in Hobbs’ first game with Evansville this season.
Indy would respond with two strong shifts from the Lapsansky-Lavoie-Bembridge line, and control the rest of the period, earning two power plays. The Fuel then expend the second period with the first seven shots, with Daniel Ciampini setting up two outstanding chances.
Midway through the period, the Fuel killed off a penalty to Nick Mattson against one of the ECHL’s best road power plays. Mattson came out of the box, and spun the puck to Bembridge at center for a 3-on-2. He fed Marshall on the right wing, who blasted a shot below the blocker to tie the game with 6:39 left in the second.
“Marshall is one of the fastest guys in the league,” Bembridge said. “I got in the middle, he was screaming for it. That makes the game so much easier. We got it wide, he got a perfect shot.”
Three minutes later, another rush led to another goal by a defenseman, as Bembridge skated in on the right side, and laid the puck to Koudys trailing the play at the point. The rookie defenseman blasted the puck top-shelf to give the Fuel a 2-1 lead.
“It was great to get the first goal,” Koudys said. “It was a great pass by Bember. … I got into the sweet spot on the rush. It was a great job by the forwards sucking their defensemen and forwards. That gave me a lane and I hammered it on net.”
Hobbs tied the game 40 seconds later out of a scramble and Evansville derived momentum going into the third, but the Fuel weathered the storm and seized the period – and the first half of the weekend doubleheader.
“We’ve got to get that feeling back,” Bembridge said. “We need to get something going now. We’ve got to keep on them. Second game in two nights. We’ve got to get the puck deep, take it to them, hem them in their zone.”
- Garett Bembridge (Fuel) 2A, +2
- Michael Colantone (Fuel) GWG
- Mac Carruth (Fuel) 28 saves
- The Fuel’s penalty kill was solid, going 2-for-2, and it had a big hand in winning the game. Evansville came in with a power play clicking at 27 percent on the road, and the Fuel had a strong kill in the second period trying to keep their deficit at one. It immediately turned into a goal when Nick Mattson came out of the box, skated back to the defensive line, won and started the 3-on-2 that led to Marshall’s game-tying goal. “Sometimes, a good penalty kill is as good as a goal in terms of getting momentum. To follow that up with a goal was huge,” Hillman said.
- The Fuel also had a big kill that came shortly after taking a 3-2 lead. “Our special teams won us the game tonight with a great PK.”
- Adam Lapsansky had a pretty impressive debut. He comes to the Fuel as a speedy winger who has played more than 400 professional games in Europe, nearly all of which have come in Slovakia. He had two assists in his North American debut, and his line with Alex Lavoie and Garett Bembridge generated numerous chances. “He has tremendous speed, tremendous puck skills. I really think he has the ability to raise the level of the game and the players,” Hillman said. “He likes to play a fast pace. He’s going to need some adjustment time, but he had a good first game on a smaller ice surface than he has probably played on before.”
- The Bembridge-Lavoie-Lapsansky line made a quick impression, generating four scoring chances and a lot of zone time on its first shift, and then following up with another strong shift minutes later. At least one member of the trio had a hand in all three Fuel goals. They combined for five assists, six shots and each was +2. “Those are two incredibly skilled guys. Lapso played a lot of years in Slovakia and Lavoie is one of our top guys skill-wise,” Bembridge said. “It’s going to get better and better as we get more comfortable with each other and get used to each other on the ice.”
- Lavoie, the Fuel’s leading scorer with 26 points, snapped a three-game scoreless streak with his assist on the game-winner. Bembridge, who now has 21 points, also snapped a three-game scoreless streak. So did Ben Marshall, whose fifth goal and 19th point put him among rookie leaders in the ECHL.
- Patrick Koudys got his first pro goal in his 16th game. The rookie from Penn State has become a fixture in the lineup in recent games, and tallied his first pro point a week and a half ago. The goal was a big one, giving the Fuel a short-lived 2-1 lead, and was a popular one on the bench. “He’s one of the hardest-working guys we have,” Hillman said. “You really saw the energy from the bench when he scored.”
- The Fuel family got a new addition on Friday, as captain Zach Miskovic became a father, welcoming a baby boy. “Everyone’s real excited for him,” Hillman said. “It’s a great win for our leader without him in the lineup.”
- Mac Carruth had his sixth consecutive start allowing two goals or less. Indy is 10-1-0 when he allows two or fewer goals. He has a 5-1-0 record, .943 save percentage and a 1.60 GAA in his last six starts.
- In Miskovic’s absence from the lineup, Rhett Bly joined alternate captains Kevin Quick and Garett Bembridge in wearing the “A.”
- Fifteen of the Fuel’s 16 skaters registered a shot on goal, as the team generated a lot of offense. The Fuel outshot Evansville 36-30.
Adam Lapsansky-Alex Lavoie-Garett Bembridge
Daniel Ciampini-Cody Sharib-Peter Schneider
Rhett Bly-Kyle Stroh-Michael Colantone
Patrick Koudys-Anders Franzon
Nick Mattson-Sam Jardine
Kevin Quick-Ben Marshall
BU: Shane Owen
Scratches: Derek Roehl, Zach Miskovic (personal leave), Nick Petrecki (team suspension), Josh Brittain (IR), Dylan Clarke (IR), Dillon Fournier (IR)
Next up: The Fuel and IceMen meet again Saturday night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, and then Indy will head to Wheeling for a Sunday afternoon game, one of just two road games the Fuel will play in January.