The shutout has become an almost-weekly occurrence for Indy Fuel netminder Jake Hildebrand.
For the third consecutive weekend, Hildebrand put a brick wall in front of his net Friday night. He made 45 saves to backstop a 2-0 victory over the Rapid City Rush Friday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Hildebrand set a Fuel record with his fourth shutout this season. He has three in his last eight starts.
“I don’t think about shutouts as much as wins,” Hildebrand said. “When I’m playing well, the team’s usually being successful, and vice-versa. When the team’s successful, I’m usually playing well. It goes hand-in-hand. I just want to keep moving forward with this.”
Patrick D’Amico and Alex Guptill provided the offense, with both goals coming in the first period. From there, it was a game for the defense and goaltending. Hildebrand stopped 15 shots in the first – with several coming on an extended power play chance that bridged a 19-second 5-on-3. He stopped 13 in the second and made 17 third-period saves.
“He’s seeing it all, even when there’s a rebound,” Fuel coach Bernie John said of Hildebrand. “He’s not just seeing it, but he’s competing for it.”
The Fuel had a full week to practice, and had a strong week in-between the back-to-back-to-back three-game weekends.
“One thing we’ve tried to do is get back to basics,” Guptill said. “We had a long stretch of games before this week, but having a week of practice has been a big boost. I think we took advantage of it and I think you saw it tonight.”
Indy had a strong attention to detail in the defensive zone, keeping the net-front area clear and steering loose pucks out of danger areas. But a key point came midway through the first. Rapid City had back-to-back power plays – including 19 seconds of 5-on-3 – and had several shots during that span, but Hildebrand kept the net clean.
John said the penalty kill was an area of emphasis, as it hadn’t been as strong in recent games as it had been earlier in the season.
“The guys were buying in tonight,” John said. “(Rapid City has) a very good power play. They’ve got good movement. They got good movement tonight, but it was all to the perimeter, and our D did a good job of boxing out, getting sticks, not letting them get to the front of the net. It was great to have that for a penalty kill, and that was a little bit of a boost.”
The Fuel’s offense got going quickly. In an end-to-end first period that saw the teams combine for 29 shots, the Fuel struck quickly. Patrick D’Amico and Brady Ramsay ran a give-and-go that found D’Amico in front. He beat Rapid City’s Marek Langhammer over the glove hand from in close.
Scoring first turned out to be critical, especially against Langhammer – who came into the game having won all five of his ECHL starts. It also set the tone for the night.
“We scored three minutes into the game,” Hildebrand said. “When we do that, it takes a lot of pressure off me and makes it easier to play my game. The team played great in front of me.”
The Fuel got a big boost from the mid-period penalty kill, and had a number of solid chances – including in-tight stops by Langhammer on Jonathan Carlsson and Ryan Keller. Alex Wideman also had a number of strong chances in the opening two periods.
The boost became a two-goal lead before the horn, when a rush from the defensive zone found Paul Zanette crossing the line and firing, where Guptill could bank it off the goaltender and in with 16 seconds remaining.
It was Guptill’s 12th goal, and his first since Jan. 7.
“I tried to get to the net and stopped in front,” Guptill said, noting Zanette rushing the puck through the neutral zone with Wideman trailing the play. “Z did a good job getting it to the net and I just banked it in. It was a lucky bounce, but I’ll take it. I needed one. It was nice to get off the schneid.”
Wideman had two strong early chances to put the Fuel up three in the second – one a steal off the forecheck that Langhammer stopped with his pad. The other was a robbery by the Rush goaltender after Guptill sent Wideman in alone. Later, the Fuel All-Star hit a crossbar.
Hildebrand had his A game, most impressively going post-to-post and flipping across his body to smother a shot after a cross-ice pass left the Rush with a seemingly open side in the second. In the third, he robbed Terrence Wallin, who had been sent in alone and tried to beat the Fuel goaltender with a backhand.
“There’s a lot of technical things in goaltending you work on, but when the puck gets into those areas and they have a good chance, it’s all about competing and battling to keep the puck out of the net,” Hildebrand said.
The Fuel also limited Rapid City’s rushes, and had a number of shot blocks in the defensive zone. There were multiple times the Rush appeared to have a developing 2-on-1 or 3-on-2, only to have it broken up by a defender racing back into the play.
“They’ll let you play offense, but you’ve got to take care of your D,” Guptill said. “We did a good job on the odd-man rushes and guys were getting back. (Rupert) had a couple of good backchecks that I saw. It was defenitely a good team effort.”
The Fuel return home Saturday to face the Quad City Mallards in the first of a back-to-back set.
“Your first game is your biggest one,” Guptill said of winning on Friday night. “You want to start riding momentum right away. It’s a good opportunity to win two of three games, hopefully, we can take three of three.”
- Jake Hildebrand (Fuel) 45 saves, shutout
- Alex Guptill (Fuel) G
- Patrick D’Amico (Fuel) GWG
- When Hildebrand sees a lot of pucks, he has success. In his four shutouts this season, he has 37, 28, 46 and now 45 saves – the last two coming in a three-game span. The 45 saves from Friday are the second-most he has made this season – eclipsed only by a 46-save shutout performance last Saturday in Cincinnati. “Hildy’s giving us all a ton of confidence,” Guptill said. “We just keep trying to limit shots for him – he’s been standing on his head. I feel bad for him that he’s taken some losses he doesn’t deserve. It was nice to get him a shutout tonight.”
- Hildebrand’s four shutouts broke the Fuel single-season record of three set by Mac Carruth in 2014-15. Hildebrand’s four shutouts also tied Carruth for the most all-time by a Fuel netminder. Carruth had four shutouts in his two seasons with the Fuel from 2014-16.
- The trio of Patrick D’Amico, Matt Rupert and Brady Ramsay was often deployed against Rapid City’s top line, which includes 16-goal scorer Josh MacDonald and 17-goal scorer Ryan Walters. Not only did they slow that line, they produced the Fuel’s first goal. “We wanted to match them against their top line, take away their top guys and have (Jonathan) Carlsson and (Nick) Mattson against them,” John said. “D’Amico’s line was just as good as Rapid City’s (top) line, if not better.”
- D’Amico scored his sixth goal of the season. It was his first since Jan. 13 at Quad City, a span of six games. Brady Ramsay had an assist, his first point since Dec. 22, an eight-game span for him. Josh Shalla had the other assist, and now has points in seven of his last 10 games.
- Guptill had a big goal right before the first-period horn. He also had a fight in the second, dropping the gloves with Rapid City’s Anthony Collins in a long bout that came after a pileup next to the Fuel net. He was an assist shy of the Gordie Howe hat trick. “My mom was in the stands,” Guptill said of his bout. “She didn’t look too thrilled, but that’s what happens. Guys are going to the net, stuff happens and you’ve got to stand up for a teammate. That’s something I don’t mind doing, but I think I’d rather stick to the goals.”
- Paul Zanette returned to the rink after a four-game absence and made his presence felt, with his second point in three games with the Fuel. He had the assist on Guptill’s goal and also had three shots. “He’s a pro’s pro,” John said. “It’s not just on the ice, it’s in the room with the way he prepares. The guys see it. They feed off it. Even little things – he’s helping coach the young guys on the bench, telling them with their tendencies.”
- With a full complement of forwards, the Fuel were able to return Chris Williams and Zach Miskovic to their natural defensive positions. Williams had played the last two weekends at forward, Miskovic the last three games.
- Zach Miskovic also had an assist on Guptill’s goal. It was his first point since Jan. 13 at Quad City.
- The Fuel made a couple of roster moves over the week. Cason Hohmann was en route to Indy during Friday’s game. He scored 20 goals for Elmira last season, and has 20 points in 26 games in the ECHL this season. “You look at his numbers from his career, he’s put up great numbers,” John said. “He’s a little agitator. He reminds us of a Mosey who can skate like that, but a little more skilled. We’re excited to add him and add some more punch to our team.” The Fuel also acquired the ECHL rights to Miles Koules, who is under contract to the AHL’s Ontario Reign, and defenseman Jacob Poe, who can provide depth on the blueline.
- This game marked the only time the Fuel and Rush are scheduled to play each other this season.
Ryan Keller-Bryn Chyzyk-Josh Shalla
Alex Wideman-Paul Zanette-Alex Guptill
Matt Rupert-Patrick D’Amico-Brady Ramsay
Nick Mattson-Jonathan Carlsson
Brandon Martell-Robin Press
Zach Miskovic-Chris Williams
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Jacob Poe, Cason Hohmann, Cody Sharib (res)
Next up: The six-game homestand concludes with a 7:35 p.m. Saturday and a 3:05 p.m. Sunday game against Quad City.