The Indy Fuel entered this week’s All-Star Break on a roll, having won three of their last four games.
They’ve followed it with one of their best 60-minute performances of the season.
Jake Hildebrand made 46 saves to post his third shutout of the season. Bryn Chyzyk’s line scored three second-period goals to lead the Fuel to a 3-0 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Hildebrand was spectacular in-between the pipes, especially in flurries in the second and third periods – first to keep the game tied, and later to snuff out any Cyclones hope. His 46 saves were a season-high.
“It’s special to get the shutout, but it’s more important to get the win,” Hildebrand said.
“It was a full team 60 minutes. We got the first goal, which we like to do, and we kept our foot on the gas pedal the whole game. That’s important, especially in the third period when they’re trying to come back.”
After Friday’s loss to league-leading Toledo, the Fuel emphasized their defensive zone play – blocking shots, getting sticks in front of others and allowing their netminder to see the puck.
“We weren’t happy with last night’s effort. We were playing a good team last night, but we felt our 60 minute effort needed to be better,” Chyzyk said. “Tonight, we brought our A game for 60 minutes. That was huge, and we’ve got to keep that going forward.”
Hildebrand was busy. He had to make a strong save on Dylan Nowakowski on a breakaway three minutes in, using the blocker to parry away a backhand. His workload increased in the second period, where he stopped 19 shots. He followed with 18 third-period saves, several in a two-minute 6-on-5 situation as the Cyclones pulled goaltender Michael Houser for an extra attacker.
“It makes games easier, also,” he said of his 46-save effort. “You don’t have to worry about going 10 minutes between shots. You know you’re going to get a shot every couple of minutes. The D were helping me. They were clearing bodies out of my way, letting me see those point shots. It’s my job to make those saves and control those rebounds. When I wasn’t controlling them, they were putting them in the corner and going the other way with it.”
While the Fuel gave up a lot of shots, coach Bernie John noted many of those shots came from the perimeter.
“The way Hildy is seeing the puck is unbelievable,” John said. “Even last night, he made some big-time saves. Tonight, he was all over it, seeing the puck like it’s a beach ball. It makes it easy.”
After the Fuel carried the play in the opening period, Hildebrand made a point-blank stop at the end of the first, then made seven saves in the opening two minutes of the second. Two of those were on Cincinnati’s Arvin Atwal from close range in a four-shot flurry. From there, the Fuel seized control.
“If they score there, the momentum is on their side, and we don’t have the momentum push we did in the second,” Chyzyk said. “He let us get our feet going. It’s a completely different game if they score on one of those chances. Those were huge saves.”
Once those feet got going, the Fuel were off – scoring twice off neutral zone turnovers. Josh Shalla intercepted a breakout pass and turned the play the other way. The puck came to Chyzyk, who scored with Chris Williams barreling toward Cincinnati netminder Michael Houser 4:11 into the second period. Another interception by Shalla in the neutral zone led to the third goal midway through the period. After that clean steal, he carried below the goal line and fed Chris Williams for a five-hole tally.
The turnovers and quick turns made for quick goals. Both Shalla and Chyzyk finished the night with two points and plus-3 ratings.
“That’s the easiest time to attack – when they’re not ready for it,” Chyzyk said. “The quick turn, you want to pounce and catch their D flat-footed. If we can capitalize on those the rest of the year, we should have some success.”
In-between, Ryan Keller made it 2-0 by winning a puck battle down low, then firing a bad-angle shot from the goal line that tricked through Houser.
“That was hard work down low by Keller,” Chyzyk said. “It was kind of a greasy one, but we’ll take that right now. Anything to help us win a hockey game. I liked his hard work down low and getting the puck to the net.”
The Fuel carried the play off the drop, and beat Houser midway through the first with a goal that was disallowed because the referee was in the process of blowing the play dead before the puck crossed the line. It carried over, as Josh Shalla had a near-miss off a faceoff and Matt Rupert hit the goalpost in the ensuing minutes. Indy had a 15-9 shot advantage in the first period.
The game was physical – especially after the Fuel took a three-goal lead. Williams and Atwal had a long second-period fight that saw each land a number of punches before going to the ground. The dust-ups continued in the second and third periods with two scrums leading to matching roughing penalties.
“It engages you more in the game,” Chyzyk said of the physical play. “Cincinnati’s a team we play a lot. The rivalry is starting to pick up a bit, the guys are starting to hate each other a bit more. I’m sure it’ll be the same next time we play them tomorrow.”
- Jake Hildebrand (Fuel) 46 saves, shutout
- Josh Shalla (Fuel) 2A, +3
- Bryn Chyzuk (Fuel) G/A, +3
- The Fuel had a lot of takeaways, but two neutral-zone steals by Josh Shalla led directly to goals. He assisted on both – the first scored by Chyzyk with a huge aid by Chris Williams crashing the net, the second scored by Williams. That line – with Ryan Keller or Williams trading places on the wing – scored all three goals. “Shalls has got a little bit of deceptive speed,” John said. “He knows when to jump the puck. He’s just a good hockey player. He keeps people honest, and knows when to jump at the right time. Chyzyk is good, and in the second and third, Kells was really good. When he’s moving his feet, he’s really effective.”
- An injury and an AHL callup left the Fuel without the centers on their top two lines this weekend. That forced Chyzyk to move to center. He has played primarily as a wing both in college at North Dakota and in his pro stops with the Fuel and Rockford. “It’s a little different playing center. It’s been a while since I’ve played it. I’m shaking the rust off,” Chyzyk said. Alex Guptill, who has switched between center and wing this season, is centering Alex Wideman’s line.
- And each of those lines has a defenseman on it. Captain Zach Miskovic played right wing with Guptill and Wideman for much of the night, while Williams played his sixth straight game at forward, and scored a goal for the second straight Saturday night. Williams also had a long fight with Arvin Atwal. “They’re used to getting hit so much, they like being first on the puck and finishing,” John said. “Willie’s been great all the time. With the fight, he energizes the guys. Then, to score a goal. It’s huge. And Keller, two guys that aren’t known for their scoring help out. When Kells is moving his feet and playing hard like he was in the second and third, he’s going to be really good for us.”
- Keller’s goal was his fourth, and his first since Dec. 30, also against Cincinnati. Chyzyk also scored his fourth goal of the season, and his third in four games. It marked Chyzyk’s first multi-point game since his ECHL debut on Oct. 29.
- Shalla also had a two-point night with two assists. It marked his sixth multi-point game since joining the Fuel. Four of those have come in the last five games.
- Hildebrand’s third shutout tied a team record for shutouts in a season. Mac Carruth had three shutouts in 2014-15.
- One of the big differences between Friday’s performance against Toledo and Saturday’s was that the Fuel were getting to sticks in the defensive zone and were strong on the puck. “We had good sticks tonight. That’s one thing we didn’t have last night, the sticks weren’t there,” John said. “We didn’t play terrible last night, but the consistency wasn’t there against the best team in the league. Tonight, it was. We gave a lot of shots up, but it was to the perimeter that Hildy can handle. And he’s going to make some of those big-time saves all the time. It was good energy on our team.”
- John also cited strong shot-blocking by all six defensemen, as well as a couple of big blocked shots by Zach Miskovic and Matt Rupert during the contest playing as forwards. “When they’re doing that, good things are going to happen,” John said.
- Saturday’s crowd was 5,070, and that energy is felt by the players. “We’re getting great crowds here, which really helps,” Hildebrand said.
Alex Wideman-Alex Guptill-Zach Miskovic
Ryan Keller-Bryn Chyzyk-Josh Shalla
Matt Rupert-Patrick D’Amico-Brady Ramsay
Nick Mattson-Jonathan Carlsson
Matt Stanisz-Adam Phillips
Brandon Martell-Robin Press
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Raphael Corriveau (res), Paul Zanette (res), Cody Sharib (IR)
Roster move: Forward Kevin Lynch signed a professional tryout offer with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch on Saturday. Lynch was en route to Syracuse on Friday.
Next up: The Fuel finish a three-game home weekend with a 3:05 p.m. Sunday faceoff against Cincinnati. The Fuel then will host another three-game weekend next Friday-Sunday.