Entering 2016, the Indy Fuel had an opportunity. With 12 of the 14 games on the friendly Indiana Farmers Coliseum ice, the Fuel had a chance to make a move in the standings.
The Fuel won their sixth straight home game, and finished the month 8-4-0 at the Coliseum with a 3-2 victory Saturday night over the Evansville IceMen. Four of the wins in the month came against the IceMen, against whom the Fuel are 7-2-0 this season with two meetings remaining.
The Fuel are 12-5-0 since Christmas, and now head into a league-mandated All-Star Break.
“These were big points,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “The guys get a little break here the next three days. It’s always nice to finish on a high note so they can go away from here and feel good about what they’re trying to build. We’re getting better and trying to get back into a better position in the standings.”
Saturday night, the teams wore uniforms depicting the cartoon cat Garfield and his canine sidekick Odie. The Fuel took advantage with an extra Garfield on the ice, as Nick Mattson and Rhett Bly each had a goal and an assist on the power play. Adding the winner was a tremendous individual play by Peter Schneider with 12:27 left.
In net, Cedrick Desjardins got the win by stopping 27 of 29 shots, but he left the game with a cramp after Schneider’s goal. Like a fireballing closer in baseball, Shane Owen came on in relief and stopped all eight shots – including killing two late penalties.
Schneider’s game-winner came just 100 seconds after Evansville had tied the game in the third. As a power play was expiring, Evansville’s Danny Hobbs blocked a shot and the puck came straight to Nathan Moon coming out of the box for a breakaway. Desjardins got his left leg pad on the puck, but both crossed the line to tie the game at 2-2 at the 5:53 mark.
But the Fuel had a strong response. Nick Petrecki sprung Schneider with a stretch pass to the offensive line, where Schneider split two defenders, deked goaltender Christoffer Bengtsberg and tucked the puck between his pad and the post on the backhand.
“Great individual effort by Schneids there,” Hillman said. “It was a disappointing play to give up a goal coming out off the power play – they block that shot and go on a breakaway. That’s disappointing because you’re trying to build momentum and they seize it at that moment, but the guys really responded.”
Owen came into the game at that point Prior to that, Desjardins stopped 27 shots with an aggressive style in net. The goaltender, who was assigned to the Fuel by the New York Rangers earlier in the week, was making his first start since Jan. 2 with the Manchester Monarchs. However, he began cramping up, necessitating the change.
Owen made eight saves in 12:33, his biggest coming with 4:20 left, when he went post-to-post to rob Jonathan Carlsson on a cross-ice one-timer. The Fuel also killed two penalties – one of which led to extended zone time for Evansville after the penalty expired, until Daniel Ciampini made a diving play to clear the zone.
“Cedrick battled, but he started cramping – he hadn’t played in a game in quite some time,” Hillman said. “For Shane to come off the bench and perform – he had to kill two penalties, some back-door plays – he really rose to the challenge.
“He was big for us. Both goaltenders had a really solid night.”
A penalty with 2:50 left gave Evansville one more shot and it had a 6-on-4 for a long stretch, but the Fuel bled the clock, with Matt White making a big play to clear the puck, and later, Anders Franzon and Schneider using a neutral-zone steal and a strong forecheck to pin the puck in the attacking zone. Mattson had an interception at center and wired a shot into the empty net, but the goal was called back with an offside.
That one might not have counted, but Mattson did make one count in the first, as he scored his first professional goal on the Fuel’s second power play of the night. Alex Lavoie carried the puck through the high slot and fed Mattson at the right wing boards, who quickly ripped a shot over Bengtsberg and into the net to give the Fuel a lead with 3:30 left in the first.
“It just went in luckily,” Mattson said of his first professional goal. “I’ve had a few chances and they didn’t go in. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Luckily, it went in tonight. It felt good to get the first one.”
In the second, Evansville’s Sebastian Strondberg was first to a shoot-in on the end boards, and fed Vincent Dunn in front for a one-timer that tied the game early in the period. The Fuel had a number of solid chances – Franzon hit a post from the point, Adam Lapsansky was robbed by a pad save on a partial breakaway midway through the period, and Franzon had a partial on a 4-on-4 break moments later, but Bengtsberg stuck with his deke and made a pad save.
The Indy power play cashed in again early in the third. With just seconds left on a minor to Curtis Leonard, Mattson won a puck below the goal line and fed Bly in front for a one-timer that gave the Fuel the lead back at 3:32 of the period. While Evansville briefly knotted the game up minutes later, the Fuel would never relinquish the lead on the weekend.
“Matty’s been playing some really good hockey lately,” Bly said. “That’s exactly what we need out of him. He’s jumping into the play, he’s playing with confidence. He scored the first goal, he made a great play on the second goal. That was an easy play for me.”
The Fuel power play was 2-for-5 for the second straight night.
“We just simplified things. We just wanted to get pucks to the net, bodies to the net and generate opportunities off of that,” Bly said. “It’s no secret. It’s hard work. Tonight, we did a good job. (Mattson) made some great plays.”
- Nick Mattson (Fuel) G, A
- Rhett Bly (Fuel) G, A
- Nick Petrecki (Fuel) A
- The Fuel aren’t just wrapping up a month of home games. They’re also six games into a stretch of eight straight against division foes – and are 5-1-0 in that stretch with a home-and-home with Cincinnati coming next weekend. “We had written on the board each team and their record and where we stood with each team,” Bly said. “We knew if we break it up game-by-game and if we can come out of here with a lot of wins, it puts us in a really good spot in the standings. Every night we play these teams, there’s four points on the line. We give them none and we get two. Definitely getting four points this weekend was huge, but giving them zero is also huge. It keeps them behind us in the standings.”
- Not to be overlooked is Owen’s play coming in cold off the bench and making some big saves to keep the game a 3-2 contest. Desjardins got the win – as he was in net when the winning goal was scored – but Owen nailed it down. “He knew how important this weekend was. He’s a team player – when I told him we wanted to get Ceddy a game this weekend, them for him to respond in those final few minutes. He looked determined. He was surprised, but he looked determined and did a great job. That was huge.”
- Another key has been the Fuel’s defensive play to hold third-period leads. Of their 12 wins since Christmas, this is the eighth where the Fuel had a one-goal lead in the third period and either held it or extended it. “You feel pretty confident in those situations,” Mattson said. “You don’t get too rattled because you’ve been in those situations many times. You’re able to have a clear head and just play well. It’s definitely an advantage.”
- As the game went on, the Fuel turned up an intense forecheck that hemmed the IceMen into their zone, and allowed the Fuel to control the tempo. “We know they’re in a four-in-five and they were down some bodies,” Bly said of an IceMen team that dressed just 14 skaters due to injuries Saturday night. “Every hit that we have wears them down more. We’ve got numbers on them, and we’ve played less games than them. Wearing them down was a big part of our game.”
- Nick Mattson’s goal wasn’t his first on the rink at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum – he had 11 goals in two seasons with the Indiana Ice from 2009-11 – but it was his first pro goal after a number of close calls. “Once you get that out of the way, the floodgates open,” he said. He now has points in three consecutive games.
- Bly continues to have a knack for the net, as well. He tallied a goal for the fourth time in five games, and this was his third multi-point game in the last seven.
- Peter Schneider had a goal and an assist, and capped a six-point weekend, with three goals and three assists in the two games.
- Alex Lavoie and Nick Petrecki also tallied assists to have points in back-to-back games.
- Another 5-for-5 night for the Fuel penalty killing unit extends the team’s streak to 22 penalty kills dating back to Jan. 17. The Fuel have been perfect on the PK for six straight games.
- The orange Garfield uniforms lasted for two periods for the Fuel – they switched into their regular red sweaters for the third period, providing more contrast with the yellow-colored Odie jerseys worn by the IceMen.
- The Fuel will now head into a league-mandated break. Although there is not an ECHL All-Star Game this year- the league plays one every other year – it still takes a break at midseason to give players time off. With a busy January – with a pair of three-games-in-three-days weekends, followed by a three games in four nights stretch this week – the Fuel are welcoming the break. “They need it,” Hillman said. “We went those back-to-back weekends of three games in three nights. This week, with three games in four nights, we were tired today. We went out on a high note. We’ve got our work cut out for us the last third of the season and some huge games ahead of us. They’ll be rested and energized, we hope.”
Adam Lapsansky-Alex Lavoie-Daniel Ciampini
Cody Sharib-Michael Colantone-Rhett Bly
Dylan Clarke-Andrew Johnston-Peter Schneider
Nick Mattson-Anders Franzon
Nick Petrecki-Zach Miskovic
Patrick Koudys-Ben Marshall
Scratches: Derek Roehl, Kyle Stroh (IR), Josh Brittain (IR), Dillon Fournier (IR)
Next up: The Fuel return to action Friday in Cincinnati, then return home to face the Cyclones at 7:35 p.m. Saturday. After that, they will embark on a six-game road trip to Missouri and Orlando, with three games against each foe.