Score the first goal, extend the lead with the next goal, get a great goaltending
performance and some airtight penalty killing.
It’s been a recipe for success for the Indy Fuel this weekend, as the team swept a two-game weekend series from the Quad City Mallards with a 3-1 victory Saturday night.
Cody Sharib had three assists, Rhett Bly had a goal and an assist and was a key part of the second goal scored by Matt White, and Shane Owen stopped 29 shots in the victory.
The back-to-back wins moved the Fuel past the Mallards into second place in the ECHL’s Midwest Division. Indy has won the first two games in a key stretch of eight consecutive games against division foes.
“It was nice to jump ahead of them for the time being. We know they have a couple of games in hand,” Bly said. “These eight games are about as important as you can get for any team across the league. We know we’ve got to take it one game at a time, but definitely, it’s been great to get these two against Quad City.”
The line of Sharib, Bly and a center rotation between Michael Colantone and Matt White has been the Fuel’s lunchpail line, a group of hard-working, high-energy players who were a part of all three Fuel goals. The line generated two goals off the cycle, with strong work off the boards generating perimeter shots that led to rebounds and traffic in front, and Bly added an empty-netter.
“That’s what our line needs to bring to the table,” Bly said. “We know our role. We play with a lot of speed, a lot of energy. The cycle’s very important for us.”
That lead came by virtue of Colantone, who scored his fourth goal of the year with 9:27 left in the first. The Fuel’s cycle forced the puck to Bly on the left boards, who sent the puck in front, where Sharib was posted up in front of goaltender Brody Hoffman. He tipped the puck to Colantone, who rifled it past the sprawling goaltender.
“The puck came to me, I did a little protect. Mikey found a lane to the net, Cody won a battle and it ended up on Mikey’s stick,” Bly said. “He made a tremendous play.”
That lead would carry to the third, when White scored what would be the game-winner 4:10 into the period, again out of the cycle. This time, Bly did strong work down low to send the puck to the left point, where Patrick Koudys ripped a shot on goal. Again, Sharib tipped the rebound to White in the low slot, who rifled it in for a 2-0 lead.
“It was a nice reward,” White said. “Sharib and Bly did all the work, and it came right to me. I had a wide-open net.”
Bly added an empty-netter to give the team’s energy line three goals. Bly and Sharib were both plus-3, while White and defenseman Ben Marshall were plus-2.
“They work hard every shift,” Hillman said. “There’s not the flashiest of players or maybe the highest-skilled players on the ice, but they do the hard work.”
The Fuel also killed off three penalties – including a 44-second 5-on-3 – all coming with the Fuel leading 1-0. Quad City got one good look on the 5-on-3 that came eight seconds into the second period, with former Chicago Blackhawk Matt Carey getting the best look. In the stretch of power play time that lasted 3:16, Owen made six saves. He made another in tight out of a scramble on a too many men penalty late in the second period, and Sharib cleared the puck out of the weak side of the crease with a pileup in front.
Indy was 7-for-7 on the kill in the two games against Quad City, and has killed eight straight power plays.
“It’s huge,” Hillman said of the penalty kill unit. “It’s so difficult to kill a 5-on-3, and the guys were lights-out in their positioning and Shane was great on that one shot Carey had on his blocker side. They were really good structurally. The penalty kill has to be huge while the power play continues to struggle.”
Quad City made it close with a surge after White’s goal, as the Mallards got a flurry of four shots, the last of which was a rebound in the high slot to Ryan Tesink, who roofed a shot to halve the lead.
But the Fuel got two power plays in the final minutes to stave off any further Mallards rally, with Adam Lapsansky getting stuffed on a rebound of Ben Marshall’s shot to keep it 2-1 during the first power play with 6:30 left, and Lapsansky drawing a penalty on Alex Gudbranson on a break with 3:11 left to allow the Fuel to make a Mallards comeback more difficult – although Owen had to make a tough shorthanded save on Sam Warning.
Owen and Mac Carruth allowed just one goal each in the last two games. The two have allowed two goals or less in nine of the Fuel’s last 10 games, a span in which the team is 6-3-0.
“It’s incredible,” White said. “Our D are playing awesome, and both Owen and Mac are two of the best goalies in the league – if not the two best. It gives forwards and everyone playing in front of them a lot of confidence.”
Owen made a number of in-tight saves, especially on quick rebounds. Having strong goaltending is key in allowing the Fuel to build – and hold – leads. They’ve scored the first goal in three straight games, and won all three.
“Our strategy is built from the net out,” Bly said. “With Mac and Shane, it doesn’t matter who we have in net, we have complete confidence they’re going to get the job done, and they have all year. Playing defensively is playing for the guys next to you, doing your job and paying the price.”
The Fuel’s strong start wasn’t just about Colantone’s goal, which stood as the only scoring in the game’s first two periods, but also a strong defensive play. They allowed Quad City just two shots in the game’s first 19 minutes.
“I thought it was a really solid game,” Hillman said. “That was one of our best, structured periods of the year. I thought guys were playing well.”
- Cody Sharib (Fuel) 3 assists, +3
- Rhett Bly (Fuel) goal, assist, +3, 3 shots
- Shane Owen (Fuel) 27 saves, 1 GA
- Indy improved to 6-1-1 against the Mallards this season, including a perfect 5-0-0 at home. The two teams have two games remaining – both at the iWireless Center in Moline, Ill. The Fuel have won four straight meetings since Dec. 26.
- The Fuel have won three straight, all at home. Saturday’s game marked the ninth of 12 January home games. The Fuel are now 6-4-0 for the month, with four contests remaining – Sunday’s tilt against Fort Wayne, a Wednesday trip to Cincinnati, and two home games next weekend against Evansville. “There’s no place like home,” Bly said. “Our fans get behind us. We definitely paid our dues at the start of the year and earned the right to be at home right now, and we have to take advantage of that. We have to get the wins now, because they’re very important points.”
- Scoring that first goal is key, something the Fuel have done in three straight games. All have been wins. “It changes the whole complexion of the start of the game,” White said. “It gives everyone a boost and I feel like it makes everyone play better. It’s big, and it’s nice we were able to do it two nights in a row.”
- Matt White scored the game-winner and has often been on the ice for key late-game situations, as a strong player on the faceoff dot. He was again, protecting the lead. The goal was his fourth of the season and his first since Dec. 29, a span of 11 games. “He’s a guy that works hard, he plays tough minutes, he’s huge on face-offs for us,” Hillman said. “He’s a top team guy. He’s always there for the team, doing what we ask, playing in a tough role. It’s nice to see him get rewarded out there.”
- Cody Sharib had three assists, his first career three-point game. He was on the ice for four of the Fuel’s five goals this weekend, and had a point on all four with a goal and three assists. He has 10 goals and eight assists on the year, and is fourth on the Fuel in scoring, and also tying his highest-scoring season at the University of Connecticut. “He’s that consummate pro,” Hillman said. “He comes to work every day, works hard, keeps the game simple, plays physical, does everything the staff asks. It’s been amazing the way he’s moved himself into prime minutes from the start of the year.”
- Sometimes, the best plays don’t show up on the stat sheet. Captain Zach Miskovic showed that midway through the second, as he chased down talented Quad City forward Jared Knight as he was cutting in alone on net, poked the puck free, whirled and put the puck on Andrew Johnston’s stick with a stretch pass to the opposite blueline, springing Johnston for a breakaway. Hoffman stopped both that shot and Peter Schneider’s follow-up, but it was a key play to not just create a great chance, but stop what was looking like a high-danger chance for the Mallards.
- Defenseman Patrick Koudys had his first point in six games and Anders Franzon his first in nine games with assists tonight.
- Bly had his third multi-point game of the year, and his second in the last three games. He also had two assists Sunday against Wheeling.
- With Fort Wayne coming in for the third game in three days – for both teams – the Fuel can rely on the bench. Patrick Koudys provided fresh legs tonight after resting Friday. Dylan Clarke, who played limited minutes Friday in his first game back from injured reserve, was resting Saturday, and Derek Roehl can also provide a jump with his speed. “We’ve got a couple of guys ready to go in tomorrow and we’ll be able to rest a few more and hopefully have a little extra jump for the next game,” Hillman said.
- Both teams had goaltenders called up to the AHL this morning – the Fuel’s Mac Carruth was called up to Rockford after stopping 29 shots Friday night, and Quad City’s Steve Michalek got the call to Iowa after being the backup Friday. Both had to turn to emergency backups – the Fuel dressed digital content coordinator Brent Hollerud, who usually runs the social media channels during games. Former Indianapolis Ice goaltender – and 2000 CHL Playoffs MVP – Jamie Morris donned the pads for Quad City. Both took warmups, but watched from the bench as Hoffman and Owen put on a show in net.
- This marked Owen’s fourth start of allowing one or fewer goals, and his 15th allowing two or fewer in 22 appearances. Owen has stopped two or less in three of his last four starts, all wins. Combined with Carruth’s equally-strong play, the Fuel have been stingy in their own end of late, leading to them having a 9-5-0 record since Christmas, allowing an average of two goals/game. “Guys are finding ways to be pretty consistent right now,” Hillman said of his team’s defensive play.
- The victory moved the Fuel record to .500, at 20-20-2 on the season. Indy is now 17-2-0 when scoring at least three goals this season.
Adam Lapsansky-Alex Lavoie-Daniel Ciampini
Cody Sharib-Michael Colantone-Rhett Bly
Peter Schneider-Andrew Johnston-Garett Bembridge
Nick Mattson-Anders Franzon
Nick Petrecki-Zach Miskovic
Patrick Koudys-Ben Marshall
BU: Brent Hollerud
Scratches: Derek Roehl, Dylan Clarke, Dillon Fournier (IR), Kyle Stroh (IR), Josh Brittain (IR).
Roster move: Mac Carruth was called up to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, and Brent Hollerud dressed as an emergency backup.
Next up: The Fuel finish their three-in-three set Sunday against Fort Wayne with a 3:05 p.m. faceoff.