The Indy Fuel began the second half of the season with the ECHL’s top team visiting the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
While the Fuel had several strong pushes, they found themselves chasing the score 16 seconds in when Evan Rankin scored on an odd-man rush. Toledo added two goals in a 103-second span of the second period and used it to take a 4-1 victory from Indy.
“Toledo’s a talented team. They’re a skilled team, a fast team, they can think quickly,” Fuel assistant coach Jan Jas said. “They got their shots up and got good momentum going in the second period. I thought we were a little late on battles getting to pucks. After they scored a couple of goals, we were chasing the game the rest of the way.”
The Fuel’s six-game homestand continues with games Saturday and Sunday against the Cincinnati Cyclones.
Rankin’s goal came on the opening shift, converting a feed from Tylor Spink on an odd-man rush. From there, the Fuel had a solid first period, but couldn’t solve Toledo netminder Jake Paterson, who made nine saves in the opening period and 26 on the day.
The Fuel started the game with eight forwards, as Kevin Lynch was loaned to an American Hockey League team on Friday morning, Coupled with an injury to Paul Zanette, the Fuel had their top two centers unavailable to face the league’s top team. Captain Zach Miskovic started at right wing, and Chris Williams played his fourth straight game at forward.
“It’s unfortunate for us. It’s great for a player to get called up,” Jas said. “Unfortunately, it was kind of last minute and we were already short on forwards, but it is a part of minor pro hockey. Guys get called up and you want them to do the best they can when they get called up. It’s no excuse – we have to go harder, compete for pucks a little more and win those battles and be on the winning end of those little things.”
Toledo extended the lead 4:36 into the second, when Shane Berschbach skated down the slot to the doorstep and scored.
“We had a miscommunication and left him wide open,” Jas said. “That can’t happen against a scorer who is that creative.”
That was followed by a goal by Spink, as he wired a shot from the right circle just over a minute and a half later to put the Walleye up 3-0.
Indy responded with a push – Alex Wideman scored his 13th goal of the year with 11:04 left in the second. The puck came to him at the top of the crease, and he one-timed it into the top shelf.
“It was a broken play. Press tried to shoot, their D made a good play. I was Johnny on the spot and put it in,” Wideman said. “We always talk about going to the net. When you go to the net, good things happen.”
The push was thwarted a bit by three consecutive Fuel penalties, but the shorthanded chances came and the Fuel threatened to cut the lead further. The top chance came on a 2-on-1 where Alex Guptill fed Bryn Chyzyk for a strong chance, but Paterson and the Walleye defenseman played it perfectly and made the save. Josh Shalla had a partial break later on the penalty kill. After the initial penalty to Brady Ramsay expired, the Fuel had a 3-on-1, but were unable to get a shot.
“We had our fair share of chances in that second period,” Wideman said. “Guptill made a good play to Chyzyk on the 2-on-1.”
Hildebrand made 37 saves, many of the spectacular variety, to keep his team in the game. He stopped 15 shots in the second period. He had four rapid-fire saves in one flurry in the opening minute of the middle frame – stuffing the line of Rankin and twins Tylor and Tyson Spink twice in tight and twice later in the cycle. Those were among the many incredible saves he made, and he was chosen as one of the game’s three stars despite suffering the loss.
Had the Fuel been able to cut the deficit to one, it might have changed the complexion of the contest, especially after Hildebrand made a couple of spectacular saves to keep his team in it. Toledo got the next goal, coming 7:07 into the third off the stick of J.P. Lafontaine. It was after a long cycle found him break free to a loose puck at the side of the net.
“That was the swing of the game,” Jas said. “We blocked shots, our coverage was really good, our battle level was really good. We just went down in the wrong times of the game, and you can’t have those ups and downs. Once we started losing that differential in scoring, and they get up two or three goals, it changes the way the game is played.”
- Tylor Spink (TOL) G/A, +2
- Evan Rankin (TOL) G, +2, 4 shots
- Jake Hildebrand (Fuel) 37 saves
- Lost in the game was how incredibly Jake Hildebrand played in the Fuel net, stopping at least 10 strong scoring chances by Toledo’s talented forwards. He deserved a better fate than a four-goal effort and a loss. “The guy works hard every game,” Wideman said.
- Wideman was two days back from representing the Fuel in the ECHL’s All-Star Game, where he had two goals and an assist. He scored the game’s first goal Wednesday in the All-Stars’ 8-7 win over the Adirondack Thunder in Glens Falls, N.Y. “It was a lot of fun. I’m glad I did it. I made some new friends, some other guys I didn’t know,” Wideman said. “We were only together two days, but we came together during our game. It was fun. It was cool to get the game started with the first one. It was fun for the fans – they got to see a close game. It came down to the end. I’m glad I did it.”
- Wideman had been providing a lot of offense in recent games. His goal was his seventh point in the last six contests – he has a goal and six assists. The goal was his first since Dec. 17, but he now has 32 points on the season, leading the team.
- After falling down 1-0, the Fuel had a solid first period. It was fueled by crisp breakouts that allowed them to make plays out of their defensive zone and set up the cycle in the offensive end. It led to a number of solid chances – Alex Guptill, Zach Miskovic and Josh Shalla all had point-blank chances smothered by Paterson. Shalla’s came after a strong stick by Bryn Chyzyk forced an offensive-zone turnover and a quick setup. But it all starts with a strong breakout. “That’s what we need to keep doing more of,” Wideman said. “All the good teams in this league, they get it out and get it to their forwards. That’s why they’re successful.”
- Defense partners Robin Press and Brandon Martell had the assists on Wideman’s goal. It was Press’ fourth consecutive game with an assist.
- Press, Guptill and Shalla led the Fuel with four shots each. Defenseman Simon Denis led Toledo with seven.
- This was the first of five meetings between the Fuel and Toledo. The teams will meet again Feb. 26 at Toledo before playing each other three times in the season’s last nine days.
- The game marked Adam Phillips’ home debut. The 6-foot-6 blueliner who was aquired from Norfolk in a trade last week had one shot in his second game with the Fuel.
- The Fuel were left a forward short when Kevin Lynch was loaned to an AHL team on Friday – in AHL lingo, he signed a professional tryout agreement. The transaction isn’t official until it’s announced by the AHL team, which will be tomorrow. Raphael Corriveau and Paul Zanette were both placed on the reserve list. That left the Fuel without their top two centers, moving players who primarily play wing to the pivot, and also moving defensemen Zach Miskovic and Chris Williams up to right wing. It was Williams’ fourth straight game at RW.
- The Fuel wore their black sweaters at home Friday, as the All-Star Break is the ECHL’s sweater reversal date. After wearing white for the first part of the season home teams will wear their dark sweaters for the remainder of the regular season.
Alex Wideman-Alex Guptill-Zach Miskovic
Ryan Keller-Bryn Chyzyk-Josh Shalla
Matt Rupert-Patrick D’Amico-Brady Ramsay
Nick Mattson-Jonathan Carlsson
Robin Press-Brandon Martell
Matt Stanisz-Adam Phillips
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Kevin Lynch, Raphael Corriveau (res), Paul Zanette (res), Cody Sharib (IR)
Next up: The Fuel host I-74 rival Cincinnati at 7:35 p.m. Saturday and 3:05 p.m. Sunday.