The Indy Fuel targeted an eight-game stretch of division foes as a key point in the season. With every contest a possible four-point swing against teams battling for the same real estate in the standings, the stretch provided a big opportunity.
Indy capped that stretch with a strong defensive effort Saturday in a 2-1 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Goaltender Shane Owen made 29 saves, Daniel Ciampini added a goal and an assist and Nick Petrecki scored the game-winner in the second period.
Indy finished the eight-game stretch 6-2-0, beating everyone in the Midwest Division in the process. The Fuel also extended a seven-game home winning streak.
“It’s huge, for sure,” Owen said. “We needed as many points as we can get. We’re a few games ahead of these teams, so every point we can get against Cincy and these teams behind us is big, to get some separation. Now, we’ve got to go on the road and play them one game at a time.”
The next stretch is a February that will be spent on the road – the Fuel will embark on a six-game road trip that includes stops in Missouri and Orlando, and will play eight of their next nine away from the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Cincinnati drew first blood off a fortunate bounce – Fuel winger Peter Schneider skillfully dangled through several defenders but his backhander glanced off the goalpost to the Cyclones’ Andrew Yogan, who went on a solo counterrush through the defense and finished it to give his team an early lead – giving Yogan four points in the home-and-home series.
But the Fuel responded less than five minutes later. Alex Lavoie fed Anders Franzon with a cross-ice pass from the left faceoff circle to the right circle. Ciampini was in perfect position to deflect Franzon’s shot past Cincinnati’s Andy Iles to tie the game with 7:45 left in the first.
It was the latest in a series of goals the Fuel had scored off deflections in their recent streak.
“I certainly like the way the guys are playing in the offensive zone,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “It’s a big difference in the way we’re spreading the ice, using the back of the net more, and making more lateral plays to the back door instead of burying our head, gripping our sticks and shooting pucks. We’re getting traffic in front of the net, guys are getting those tips and second-chance opportunities.”
Petrecki made it 2-1 with 9:36 left in the second as he sunk deep into the offensive zone and took a feed from Adam Lapsansky across the goalmouth. He calmly corralled the puck and ripped it into the top shelf over a sprawling Iles.
“It was nice to get one, and nice to get one in the a win,” Petrecki said, saying the puck intended for Alex Lavoie squirted through the middle for him to score on the weak side.
It was the second goal in as many nights for Petrecki – he had one in Friday’s 4-3 loss to Cincinnati that was initially credited to Rhett Bly, but was officially changed Saturday. It was also the 10th goal of his seven-year pro career. The two this weekend were his first pro goals since the 2013-14 season, when he was playing for the AHL’s Worcester Sharks.
“It’s exciting,” Hillman said. “The guys get extra excited for a guy like that who does all the hard work and usually doesn’t get rewarded. Here, he scores does it back-to-back and even better, to get a game-winner on home ice. He comes in and battled the way he has for us. He’s been a huge addition for us. When he scored, it’s real exciting for the hockey club.”
The stars of the show were Owen and Iles – the two net minders who matched each other save for save. Both were named to the game’s three stars – along with Petrecki.
Owen’s best work came late in the first, with the game tied 1-1, when he went post-to-post on a cross-ice feed and gloved Christiaan Minella’s one-timer.
“I had a lane there and I watched the puck all the way and I let my reactions do the rest,” Owen said.
Early in the third, the Cyclones set up Peter Quenneville in front, and Owen again robbed him, and then did the same to the ECHL’s second-leading goal scorer, Jack Downing, in the final 10 minutes.
Owen was solid, but also was able to make a number of saves through traffic, and the defense made sure there were few second chances against a Cyclones team that likes to play for rebounds.
“I thought they did a great job,” Owen said of the Fuel defense. “They were boxing out all game. They were letting me see that puck. When I gave a rebound, they were clearing it in front of the net, they were boxing guys out, making my job a lot easier.”
“Shane did a heck of a job tonight. They had a couple of pop plays right in the slot and Shane came out, he was aggressive. He was very good for us,” Petrecki added.
Iles was equally good, and turned spectacular in an incredible sequence in the third. After Cincinnati’s Nick Huard squarely hit a post on a 2-on-1, the Fuel turned the puck up-ice and set up Lapsansky alone with what appeared to be an open side, but a prone Cyclones netminder reached across with his glove hand and snatched the puck out of the air above the goal line.
Hillman said the Fuel players continuing to push despite the strong goaltending coming from the other net was important.
“Their goalie was tremendous,” Hillman said. “Last night, he was awesome. Shane made a couple (big saves), but he made a couple even bigger. A wide-open back-door where we could’ve put the game away, and for the guys to keep at it and not get discouraged was big.”
After playing 13 of their last 16 games at home, the Fuel now embark on their longest road trip of the season, playing baseball-style three-game series in Missouri and Orlando.
“We have to be urgent and realistic,” Hillman said. “If we can come back a couple games above .500 like we are right now, we’ve set ourselves up for a strong finish. We’re playing the best team in the league three games in a row in their own building. We’re going to have to buckle down and really scratch for some points coming out of that building, and then over to Orlando, which is a tough building to play in. It’ll be a great test for our guys, and hopefully, I believe we are – hopefully, we’re up for it.”
- Shane Owen (Fuel) 29 saves, 1 GA
- Nick Petrecki (Fuel) GWG
- Andy Iles (Cincinnati) 26 saves, 2 GA
- The Fuel have responded twice to road losses with big wins – this one being a very solid defensive effort, but also one that saw Indy put a lot of pressure on a hot Cincinnati goaltender. It was a bounce-back game for the entire team after Friday’s 4-3 loss in Cincinnati that ended with a goalmouth scramble and a would-be tying goal crossing the line right after the net came off its moorings. “Last night, we had a couple guys individually really struggle, and to see those guys who did really respond tonight, for them to bounce back was huge,” Hillman said. “For Shane to bounce back – there’s probably a couple that went in last night that he didn’t like. As a team, to see that resiliency, that urgency, that’s something you like to have on their hockey club.”
- Nick Petrecki has given the Fuel a physical presence on the back end. He’s a strong defender, often playing nearly the entire penalty kill when the Fuel have to do so, but he’s really chipped in offense. Friday night, he had a shot get through several bodies and into the net to get the Fuel started. Tonight, he looked like a 30-goal scorer in coming into open ice, taking a cross-ice pass and quickly roofing the game-winner. “They don’t happen too often. When they do happen, they’re nice,” Petrecki said. He’s contributed quite a bit to the Fuel offense – with two goals and four assists in the last six games, with a number of point shots setting up deflection goals. He has a four-game point streak going, and is two points shy of his career-high for points in a season.
- With callups and other roster moves, the Fuel played the weekend with five defensemen, but the blueline did a tremendous job on the second half of a back-to-back. Three of the five D – Anders Franzon, Patrick Koudys and Nick Petrecki – were +1. Zach Miskovic led defensemen with four shots on goal. Franzon was on the ice for both Fuel goals.
- Daniel Ciampini added another multi-point game – his fifth with the Fuel, and his third in the last six games, getting another deflection goal. He now has 18 points in 27 ECHL games this season.
- Anders Franzon had his first point in six games with an assist on Ciampini’s goal. Alex Lavoie had the other assist, and tallied a point for the third time in four games.
- Owen has been the man in the Fuel net, as tonight was his seventh straight game in goal – six starts, and one game in relief of Cedrick Desjardins were he preserved a 3-2 win last Saturday against Evansville. With Desjardins being called up to AHL Hartford earlier Saturday, the Fuel dressed emergency backup Chris Lamb. Owen is 4-2-0 in that seven-game stretch with a 2.06 GAA and .935 save percentage, and said he’s in a good rhythm. “I feel really good. I have good confidence. I have confidence in the team. Our defense is playing really well.”
- The Fuel penalty kill continues to be stellar, going 2-for-2 tonight, extending its streak to 26 straight kills over eight full games. Another key is that they aren’t taking many penalties – the Fuel are the second-least penalized team in the league, and in that eight-game stretch, opponents are averaging just 3.3 power plays a game. “Guys are really buckled down and doing what we’re supposed to do,” Hillman said. “Guys like (Josh) Brittain and (Dylan) Clarke that were really big penalty killers for us were out of the lineup for quite some time, so more guys had to get better at what we did and got more minutes. Now, we seem to be a little stronger. A guy like (Andrew) Johnston plays big minutes, and we didn’t have him earlier. Mike Colantone is playing there, and Nick Petrecki, we’ve added, and he plays out there almost the whole time. We’ve added guys who have helped in that, but the guys we’ve had have become better at it.”
- The Fuel will get to know their next three foes pretty well. This weekend was the first two of a 10-game stretch in which the Fuel will face three teams – Cincinnati (three times), Missouri (four times) and Orlando (three times). The Fuel and Cyclones will have plenty of chances to renew their rivalry, as Cincy visits the Indiana Farmers Coliseum four times in March, and Indy heads down I-74 twice more, as well.
- The victory kept the Fuel in second place in the ECHL’s Midwest Division with 50 points, three ahead of Cincinnati and Quad City, and six back of leader Fort Wayne. The Fuel are currently in sixth place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Tulsa and Colorado.
With 11 forwards and five defensemen, there was a significant amount of mixing and matching of these lines, but these were the basic units.
Adam Lapsansky-Alex Lavoie-Daniel Ciampini
Cody Sharib-Michael Colantone-Rhett Bly
Dylan Clarke-Josh Brittain-Peter Schneider
Matt White-Andrew Johnston
Nick Petrecki-Zach Miskovic
Patrick Koudys-Anders Franzon
BU: Chris Lamb (emergency backup)
Next up: The Fuel head to Independence, Mo. for three games in three days Feb. 12-14, the first half of a six-game road swing. They’ll begin a three-game set in Orlando on Feb. 17, and return home Feb. 23 to face Missouri.