The evening started by solidifying the Indy Fuel’s future. It ended by dominating a present rival.
On a night that began with chairman Jim Hallett announcing Bernie John as the team’s head coach for the 2016-17 season, the Fuel followed with an impressive 5-2 victory over the Fort Wayne Komets that featured a little bit of everything.
All three forward lines – plus a pair of blueliners – beat Fort Wayne netminder Spencer Martin, and the Fuel’s Keegan Asmundson made 39 saves in the victory. Cody Sharib and Daniel Ciampini had a goal and an assist each and defenseman Kevin Clare had two assists.
It was a perfect finish to 2015-16, which came in front of a roaring near-capacity crowd of 6,176 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The two teams will meet again Saturday in Fort Wayne to close the regular season.
“They’re here all year,” forward Dylan Clarke said. “They support us every night. Our fans are the best in the league. We’re happy to get the win in front of them, and treat them to a night that hopefully they’ll remember for the rest of the summer and get them coming back next year.”
Before the game, the big announcement was that John was having the “interim” tag stripped and was named the permanent head coach, which was announced on the ice prior to the game.
“It’s truly an honor. I’m very thankful to the Halletts for allowing me this opportunity,” John said.
The visiting Komets – who had already clinched the Midwest Division title, but came into the weekend needing points in a tight battle for the second seed in the Western Conference – surged early, but Asmundson held the net, and the Fuel’s counterpunch ended up setting up a second-period knockout.
Brandon Wong fired the first blow, as Michael Colantone made a nifty stickhandling move to elude a defender at the blueline on a rush up-ice and found Wong with time and space in the left circle. The veteran reached back and blasted a slapshot past Martin for his ninth goal 9:40 into the game. On the next shift, the Fuel’s cycle game saw Martin make a save on Matt White, but leave the rebound loose in the crease for Sharib to pounce on just 68 seconds later.
“To start off the game with a 1-0 lead and then 2-0, to keep it going from there was a real positive,” Clarke said. “Every time a team scores, the next shift right after that is the biggst shift. When you come back the next shift, both teams need the next shift.”
The Fuel won that next shift after the Wong goal, but also responded to both Komets tallies – David Friedmann scored in the final 72 seconds of the opening period, but after a Fort Wayne surge to start the second, Ciampini got free in the high slot and tossed a shot that went straight past a screened Martin to restore a two-goal edge 4:10 into the second.
“We practiced that play. I knew I had to get to an open spot, if Clare could find me there,” Ciampini said. “It was a nice pass, I just threw it on net and hoped for a tip or a bounce or something, and it was able to go straight in.”
And shortly after the Komets needed 27 seconds to cash in on their first power play of the night – a bar-down slapshot from the left circle by leading scorer Shawn Szydlowski – the Fuel again answered, first with a strong penalty kill, followed by a power play on a high-sticking minor to Garrett Meurs. Eighteen seconds into the power play, Anders Franzon wired a shot through traffic to restore Indy’s two-goal lead.
Asmundson was at his best in a second period in which the Fuel entered with a 2-1 lead, but left with a 4-2 edge despite being outshot 22-6. Asmundson’s 21 saves in the period were a team season-high. It marked the second straight home game in which the Fuel netminder saw more than 40 shots and won.
He was big early in the period when it was a one-goal game – scrambling to dive on a rebound in the crease and deny Paul Crowder an open side early, and then stuffing Mike Embach in alone midway through the period.
“Keegs played phenomenal tonight,” Clarke said. “He made every save he needed to make, he was stopping everything from the first shot out, was playing his rebounds really well. He played his best game tonight.”
But while the Komets had 22 shots in the period – a season-high allowed by the Fuel – Asmundson was able to see, and stop, the puck.
“That’s been the key, even though he’s getting 21 shots, a lot of that is perimeter stuff – stuff he can handle, stuff he should handle, which he has,” John said. “There are times he makes a second and third save, but for the most part, our guys are clearing the rebounds and ridding the front of the net, allowing him to have to just make that first save. He’s such a big kid, he makes it tough for teams to find those corners, because he gets coverage of the net.”
Indy also allowed one power play goal, but killed off two other penalties, all in the second. Fort Wayne came into the game with the league’s top power play unit.
“Even though they got one, the penalty kill was good,” John said. “They killed off some key penalties.”
The Fuel turned the tables in the third, dominating possession, keeping the play in the Komets’ end and getting eight of the first nine shots. They held the visitors to one shot in the first nine minutes, and followed that surge up with back-to-back power plays. Ben Marshall – two days after being named to the ECHL All-Rookie team, cashed in a back-door feed from Ciampini right after the second PP expired to add the exclamation point.
“We wanted to keep pushing forward,” Ciampini said. “We finished the power play, but we still had the puck and we didn’t want to waste time, so for us, it was about getting the puck to the net. I looked to shoot, and I saw Marshall creeping in, and I saw his stick and I hit it.”
All three Fuel forward lines had a goal in the game and 11 of the 16 skaters got onto the scoresheet.
“That’s the only way you win at this level is if everybody is chipping in,” John said. “Guys can’t take a game off, or a shift off. Everybody’s got to be on the same page. That’s where we were tonight – that’s why we had success. We had our 10 forwards rolling pretty well, our six D playing well, and on the back, with Keegan playing well, too.”
- Keegan Asmundson (Fuel) 39 saves
- Ben Marshall (Fuel) G, +2
- Daniel Ciampini (Fuel) GWG, A, +2
- The Fuel finish the year with a 20-15-1 record inside the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, with a dominant performance in their final game. The Fuel were an impressive 16-3-1 against Midwest Division foes at home. They’re 4-5-1 against Fort Wayne with one more game to play, and finish 3-2-0 at home against the Komets.
- As befitting the Indy-Fort Wayne rivalry, the game had more than a little bit of snarl. Dylan Clarke and Fort Wayne’s 6-foot-6 Cody Sol – the ECHL’s penalty minute leader – dropped the gloves midway through the second. Late in the third, in the aftermath of a bout of alternate captains between Indy’s Brandon Wong and Fort Wayne’s Will Weber, Clarke, Sol and the Fuel’s Nick Petrecki all had a conversation with officials standing between them. Petrecki dropped his gloves as an invitation to Sol, but officials stepped in and gave all three misconduct penalties to prevent any further altercations. The game featured 68 penalty minutes – 38 of which came in that single play near the game’s end.
- But the Fuel came out with a physical edge right away and were able to set the tone with their forecheck and cycle game, which especially paid dividends as the game went on. “That’s the main goal,” Clarke said. “We play back-to-back nights, you’ve got to wear them out. Every hit counts double in a back-to-back. When we set the tone like that, we play our best hockey. That’s something we want to carry into next year, and hopefully, we can.”
- Asmundson was very good on Fort Wayne’s early surge, but also notable was the Fuel’s skating legs on the backcheck. In the early moments, Matt White motored back to strip a Komet flying through the neutral zone and set up pressure for the Fuel, and later, Fort Wayne winger Brock Montgomery appeared to have a clear 2-on-1, but a hard backcheck by Sam Jardine not only canceled the odd-man rush, but also broke up the play.
- Anders Franzon scored his third goal of the year – and his second in as many games – with his PP tally in the second period. Franzon and Nick Petrecki have formed the Fuel’s shutdown pairing in recent weeks, but the third-year pro from Vermont has also tallied two goals and four assists in the last seven games. “He’s been nothing but great all year,” John said of Franzon. “He’s so steady, so easy to watch back there. He makes smart hockey plays almost all the time. He and Petrecki have been a good unit to play against the other team’s top unit. They just read off each other and feed off each other really well. Our whole six guys have been playing well.”
- Ben Marshall showed why he made the ECHL All-Rookie Team with his third-period goal, and John said it’s a testament to both Marshall’s hard work and also the rest of the team. Marshall now has 12 goals and 24 assists on the season – leading ECHL rookie defensemen. “Kudos to Marshall – congratulations on winning the all-rookie team. It’s well-deserved. He worked hard,” John said. “It’s the whole room that helped him grow up and showed him how to be a pro and allowed him to do that. The individual awards are always nice, but you always recognize that as a team award, as well.”
- Daniel Ciampini has continued to have a hot stick. With his two-point game, he now has four goals and seven assists in his last six ECHL games. This was his fourth multi-point game in that span. Alex Lavoie, who also had an assist, now has assists in five of his last six games, a span in which he has two goals and five helpers.
- With their 32nd victory, the Fuel eclipsed last season’s win total of 31. Indy is 32-36-3 going into the season’s final game – after going 31-30-11 in the inaugural season.
Daniel Ciampini-Alex Lavoie-Peter Schneider
Dylan Clarke-Brandon Wong-Colin Murray
Cody Sharib-Matt White-Rhett Bly
Nick Petrecki-Anders Franzon
Patrick Koudys-Sam Jardine
Kevin Clare-Ben Marshall
BU: Terry Shafer
Scratches: Justin Hussar, Trevor Campbell, Rob De Fulviis, Mike Seidel (IR), Dillon Fournier (IR)
Next up: The Fuel close the 2015-16 regular season Saturday night at Fort Wayne.