When the Indy Fuel raise the curtain on the 2016-17 season, much will be different than the first two seasons.
First off, the roster will be vastly different – only four players from the previous season are on it, and of those, one played three games for the Fuel.
And this vastly-retooled team will be looking to play a different game – a fast, uptempo, creative skating game that first-year head coach Bernie John spent the offseason acquiring pieces to play.
The new Fuel enter their third full season with high expectations – with the aim of making the Kelly Cup playoffs and then competing to advance in them.
“It’s three years in,” John said. “The expansion word is now officially over. We’re here to play, we’re here to take the next step, we’re here to compete for a championship.”
John has championship experience as a player – he was part of the Indianapolis Ice’s 2000 CHL Miron Cup championship team – and as a coach. He was an assistant coach for the Indiana Ice’s 2014 USHL Clark Cup championship squad, and served as an assistant for the Fuel for much of their first two seasons before being elevated to head coach for the final 11 games of 2015-16.
While those 11 games provided a preview, this offseason provided John the opportunity to build a team that fits the attacking, skating style of game he wants to play. It meant building a roster with size and skill.
“It seems like we have a lot of skilled guys, a lot of power forwards, a lot of big guys, a lot of guys who can skate,” second-year forward Cody Sharib said.
The size is notable – seven skaters tip the scales at over 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, and several others are close to one or both of those metrics. But there’s also plenty of creativity. Tyler Currier and Kevin Lynch were 20-goal scorer in the ECHL last season, while Alex Wideman, Marek Tvrdon and Cody Sharib were close to – or projected to over a full season – the 20-goal mark.
“We were looking for some more size. We wanted to create some size, but the main thing we looked for was hockey players – guys who could think the game, where we don’t have to dictate too much what they do, but guys who were capable of doing things on their own,” John said. “We went out and we got some big guys, but we wanted to make sure we added some scoring depth. We didn’t want to have one line scoring all of our goals. We’ve got Cody Sharib who had 17 goals last year, we’e added guys like Marek Tvrdon, Kevin Lynch, other guys who can score.”
The other key was creating depth across the board, as well as experience. In a league full of rookies, all but two of the players on the opening-night roster have professional experience.
“We’ve got depth,” John said. “I don’t call it a third line, I think we have a 1A, 1B and 1C. That’s what we’ve created here. That’s what we want to be able to create. I don’t want to match up lines as much as possible, I want those guys to play against it. The only thing I like to match is our top two defensive pairings against their top offensive line, but other than that, I want guys to play and just roll and get comfortable with.”
The Fuel want to be defensively responsible in their own zone, and then turn it on and be creative in the offensive zone.
“This year, it’s definitely going to be get it in (the forwards’) hands and let them go have fun,” said veteran defenseman Zach Miskovic, returning for his second year as the Fuel’s captain and, this year, a player-assistant coach. “We’ll rely on them to be responsible in the D zone, and once it gets outside, we’ll let them go play in what they call it the jungle gym – go have fun, be creative, have a blast in the offensive zone. Hopefully, the D can get involved in that, too. It’ll be exciting hockey.”
Miskovic returns to anchor a blue line that will have a lot of pro experience. New signee Drew Schiestel was a second-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres and has years of experience in the AHL and Europe. Jonathan Carlsson and Nick Mattson, the two defenders assigned from Rockford, are both strong pro defensemen. Carlsson is a veteran, while Mattson had 14 assists in 48 ECHL games and developed as a strong power play quarterback and puck-mover as the year went on in Indy last season.
In net, the Fuel have two players assigned from Rockford. Jake Hildebrand won a Kelly Cup with the Allen Americans last season, signing with them after playing four years at Michigan State. Eric Levine had a strong season for the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles last year. Both of their play in the ECHL earned AHL deals with the Rockford IceHogs, whose goaltending depth allowed them to assign both netminders to Indy.
Playing the attacking style requires being in shape, and conditioning has been the theme of training camp, as has team bonding.
“For the uptempo Bernie would like to play, and as a team, that would be beneficial for us, we have to be in the best condition,” Miskovic said. “We’ve been skating and running and doing some off-ice work, making sure we’re all at the same level and able to skate for the full 60 minutes.”
The other theme for the Fuel this season will be having a good time on the ice and enjoying playing hockey.
“At the end of the day, what I want these guys to realize is they’re playing a game,” John said. “I want them to have fun. I don’t want them to treat this as a hard-core job. We’re going to work hard, but we’re going to have fun at the same time doing that. We’re very fortunate to be able to play a game and get paid for it. A lot of people would love to be in our shoes.”
The fun begins Friday night, when the Fuel host the Cincinnati Cyclones at 7:35 p.m. at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
- (R) Anthony Beauregard (5-11, 163, St. Hyancithe, Quebec). Age: 20. Shoots: R. 2015-16: Val d’Or (QMJHL)
- Martin Bellus (6-3, 209, Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia). Age: 24. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Piestany SHK 37 (Slovakia)
- Michael Colantone (5-11, 205, Brooklyn, N.Y.). Age: 24. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: UMass-Lowell (NCAA)/Indy Fuel (ECHL)
- Raphael Corriveau (6-4, 203, Levis, Quebec). Age: 22. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Morzine-Avoriaz (France)
- Tyler Currier (6-2, 206, Anchorage, Ak.). Age: 28. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Elmira Jackals (ECHL)
- Patrick D’Amico (6-0, 211, Winnipeg, Man.). Age: 21. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Colorado Eagles/Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL)
- (R) Justin Hussar (6-2, 190, Lancaster, N.Y.). Age: 23. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Merrimack (NCAA)/Indy Fuel (ECHL)
- Kevin Lynch (6-1, 205, Grosse Pointe, Mich.). Age: 25. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Florida Everblades (ECHL)
- Brady Ramsay (5-11, 190, Lethbridge, Alb.). Age: 23. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Tulsa Oilers (ECHL)
- Matt Rupert (5-9, 188, Grand Bend, Ont.). Age: 22. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL)
- Cody Sharib (6-2, 209, Needham, Mass). Age: 25. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Indy Fuel (ECHL)
- Marek Tvrdon (6-2, 217, Bratislava, Slovakia). Age: 23. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Toledo Walleye (ECHL)/Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)/Bratislava Slovan (KHL)
- Alex Wideman (5-7, 150, St. Louis, Mo.). Age: 24. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Evansville IceMen (ECHL)/Binghamton Senators (AHL)
- (RFD, V) Jonathan Carlsson (6-1, 198, Uppsala, Sweden). Age: 28. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Evansville IceMen (ECHL)/Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
- Randy Cure (6-3, 205, Bloomington, Minn.). Age: 26: Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Fort Wayne Komets/Tulsa Oilers (ECHL)
- (R) Griffin Foulk (6-0, 193, Broomfield, Co.). Age: 21. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Fargo Force (USHL)
- (RFD) Nick Mattson (6-1, 179, Chanhassen, Minn.). Age: 24. Shoots: L. 2015-16 team: Indy Fuel (ECHL)/Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
- (V) Zach Miskovic (6-1, 197, River Forest, Ill.). Age: 31. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Indy Fuel (ECHL)/Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
- Kyle Shapiro (6-2, 200, Ambler, Pa.). Age: 26. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Columbus Cottonmouths (SPHL)
- (V) Drew Schiestel (6-2, 193, Hamilton, Ont.). Age: 27. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Rungstad (Denmark)
- Matt Stanisz (6-1, 205, Burlington, Ont.). Age: 26. Shoots: R. 2015-16 team: Florida Everblades (ECHL)
- (RFD, R) Jake Hildebrand (5-11, 182, Butler, Pa.). Age: 23. Catches: L. 2015-16 team: Michigan State (NCAA)/Allen Americans (ECHL)
- (RFD) Eric Levine (6-3, 185, Wheeling, Ill.). Age: 27. Catches: L. 2015-16 team: Utah/Colorado (ECHL), Pensacola/Louisiana (SPHL)
V-Veteran (>260 professional games played)
R-Rookie (<25 professional games played)
RFD-Under contract to AHL Rockford IceHogs
Friday, Oct. 14: CINCINNATI, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 15: at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21: at Tulsa, 8:05 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 22: at Missouri, 8:05 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 28: TULSA, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29: ALLEN, 7:35 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 4: at Fort Wayne, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5: QUAD CITY, 7:35 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 9: at Alaska, 12:15 a.m. 11/10
Friday, Nov. 11: at Alaska, 12:15 a.m. 11/12
Saturday, Nov. 12: at Alaska, 12:15 a.m. 11/13
Friday, Nov. 18: WHEELING, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 19: ATLANTA, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 20: ATLANTA, 3:05 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 23: KALAMAZOO, 7:05 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 25: at Quad City, 8:05 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 26: MISSOURI, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 27: MISSOURI, 3:05 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 2: CINCINNATI, 7:35 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 7: at Brampton, 11 a.m.
Friday, Dec. 9: at Reading, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10: at Reading, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 15: at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 16: at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 17: QUAD CITY, 7:35 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 20: BRAMPTON, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 22: BRAMPTON, 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 27: at Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 28: at Quad City, 7:35 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 30: CINCINNATI, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 31: at Cincinnati, 6:35 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 1: BRAMPTON, 3:05 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 7: at Allen, 8:05 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 8: at Allen, 5:05 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 10: at Wichita, 8:05 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 13: at Quad City, 8:05 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 14: TULSA, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 15: at Fort Wayne, 5 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 20: TOLEDO, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21: CINCINNATI, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 22: CINCINNATI, 3:05 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 27: RAPID CITY, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 28: QUAD CITY, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 29: QUAD CITY, 3:05 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 3: at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 4: FORT WAYNE, 7:35 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 10: at Fort Wayne, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 11: at Kalamazoo, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 12: BRAMPTON, 3:05 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 15: at Allen, 8:05 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 17: at Allen, 8:05 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 18: at Tulsa, 8:05 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 24: FORT WAYNE, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 25: at Cincinnati, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 26: at Toledo, 5:15 p.m.
Friday, March 3: WHEELING, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, March 4: at Quad City, 8:05 p.m.
Friday, March 10: FORT WAYNE, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, March 11: FORT WAYNE, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, March 12: ALLEN, 3:05 p.m.
Friday, March 17: at Kalamazoo, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 18: KALAMAZOO, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, March 19: QUAD CITY, 3:05 p.m.
Friday, March 24: at Greenville, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 25: at Greenville, 7 p.m.
Sunday, March 26: at South Carolina, 3:05 p.m.
Friday, March 31: at Toledo, 7:15 p.m.
Saturday, April 1: FORT WAYNE, 7:35 p.m.
Sunday, April 2: CINCINNATI, 3:05 p.m.
Tuesday, April 4: QUAD CITY, 7:05 p.m.
Friday, April 7: TOLEDO, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday, April 8: at Toledo, 7:15 p.m.