It took nearly two-thirds of the season for the I-69 rivalry to visit the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
It took just a few seconds for the rivalry to be renewed.
The Indy Fuel and Fort Wayne Komets traded blows – whether they be goals, saves or punches – from the drop of the puck in a high-energy, spirited game, but Fort Wayne scored three goals in the final 4:35 to rally to a 6-4 win over the Fuel.
The Fuel took leads of 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3, but Fort Wayne twice tied the game with power play goals in the third period – one by Mike Cazzola 4:49 into the third, the other by Garrett Thompson to knot the game at 4-4 with 4:35 left. Mike Embach then scored a spinning backhand off a rush with 2:27 left to give Fort Wayne a 5-4 lead, which became the eventual winner. Cazzola sealed it with an empty-netter.
“The guys played hard. We had a good first, a good second, and there were times out there we got tired,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “The character of the guys was there. I felt we deserved a little better fate tonight. In the third, the power plays they got hurt us, because they capitalized on them.”
Josh Shalla, Tyler Barnes, Alex Wideman and Matt Rupert all scored for the Fuel. Cason Hohmann had two assists for Indy in the loss.
Playing in front of a frenzied crowd of 5,626, Indy pushed the pace throughout the evening, scoring the game’s first goal, and scoring on two of their five power plays.
“Overall, it was a pretty good game for us,” Barnes said. “We did good things with the puck. We’ve just got to shore up a few little mistakes. We had a few turnovers that resulted in high-quality scoring chances. That’s the biggest thing right now is that we’ve got to cut down on those, because we played a good game overall. They’re a good team, too, they’re going to capitalize on those bounces. They were just able to capitalize on one more tonight.”
That gave the Fuel a 3-2 edge going into the third when the Komets forced a turnover, which turned into a long zone entry and a penalty to prevent a scoring chance. However, on the ensuing power play, Cazzola backhanded a rebound for a goal to tie the game.
But the tie didn’t last long, as the Fuel caught a break. A clearing pass hit a linesman and the Fuel turned it into a 3-on-2, which saw Rupert finish off a pass from Ryan Keller from the left side, restoring Indy’s lead with 11:58 left.
Fort Wayne continued to press – the Komets outshot the Fuel 23-6 in the final period and 51-30 for the game – which eventually led to that power play that allowed the Komets to tie the game. Fort Wayne got pressure off the faceoff that started the man advantage, and it led to Thompson scoring in front. Just over two minutes later, Embach would carry the puck on a 2-on-1, which the Fuel defended well, but he was able to sneak a backhand inside the post.
“They’re in the top three or four in the league on the power play,” John said, while admitting frustration over the calls that led to a couple of those power plays. “You can see why – they’ve got some guys who can put the puck in the net. It is what it is – you live with it and you try to kill it off. The guys fought their tails off trying to get back.”
The game began with speed and snarl. Fort Wayne’s Cody Sol took a penalty 2:56 into the game, and Josh Shalla ripped his 20th goal to get Indy on the board. Fort Wayne took the lead on a goal by Devin Mantha on a strange play after the puck hit the back glass and landed in the crease, and a breakaway by Kyle Thomas after a Fuel turnover in the defensive zone 2:16 later. After that, it began to look like a classic Indy-Fort Wayne game,. Chris Williams dropped the gloves with Kyle Flemington midway through the first period, and Fort Wayne took three consecutive penalties, eventually leading to a long 5-on-3. While the Fuel had a couple of solid chances down low, the Komets killed it off.
Things crescendoed in the second – which began with Fuel goaltender Jake Hildebrand turning in a series of impressive saves, starting with a diving save on a 2-on-1 and then robbing Embach in the slot. He stopped Brady Vail on a 2-on-1 a minute later to keep the deficit 2-1.
Shortly thereafter, Raphael Corriveau was whistled for high-sticking. While he was being challenged by Flemington and Taylor Crunk, Williams squared off with Sol. The simultaneous fights led to both Williams and Sol being given game misconducts for a secondary altercation – which put the Fuel down to four defensemen. They were skating a man short due to injuries and Robin Press being called up to Rockford earlier in the day.
John noted the Fuel were shorthanded on the back end, but called Williams’ fight a “fantastic job of stepping up and staying in there” in two bouts.
The Fuel took momentum from the melee. Wideman fed Barnes for a one-timer to tie the game at 2-2 midway through the period. For Barnes, who returned to the team from Rockford this weekend, it was his third goal in six ECHL games.
“Mosey stepped up, made a good defensive play and Wides ended up with the puck,” Barnes said. “I was coming off the bench and he saw me, made a great pass. He froze the goalie, which was huge, and that gave me the whole net to shoot at.”
In the closing minute of the second, the Fuel drew another power play, which led to Barnes, newcomer Nick Bligh and Hohmann working a tic-tac-toe passing play that found Wideman alone on the doorstep with an open net to give Indy a lead going into the third.
“Wides was in a great position in the middle. I was able to get him on a breakout pass, he kicked it out wide,” Barnes said. “I had a good net drive and we had a fortunate bounce off the goalie right to him with an empty net. Little things like that play, hard going to the net, they’re going to pay off for you.”
The two teams will have a rematch in six days, as they play Feb. 10 in Fort Wayne.
“We’ve got to have a good week of practice, get the guys some rest and be ready to go for next weekend,” John said, noting that the intensity, and possibly some of the battles from Saturday night, will carry over. “It’s a rivalry.”
- Kyle Thomas (FW) 2G/A
- Garrett Thompson (FW) G/A
- Alex Wideman (Fuel) G/A
- The addition of Mosey and Barnes, who returned from Rockford for the weekend, gave the Fuel an added dimension offensively. Barnes is a proven scorer in the ECHL, while Mosey brings a ton of speed – which he showed in creating six shots on goal, including some prime chances. Barnes has tallied points in four of the six ECHL games he has played this season. “They both bring something different,” John said. “Barnes brings creativity, a high skill set. You can see the hockey plays he makes. Mosey brings a bunch of speed. But you can see the change in the mood the last two nights.. Last night (in a 5-2 loss at Cincinnati), we were on the short end of the stick, but we were the better hockey team for 60 minutes. They came down, and they played like they’d been in the American League. That’s what those guys are expected to do. They made other guys raise their level of play at times, too.”
- Another newcomer was Nick Bligh, who had an assist and centered the Fuel’s third line. He, too, brought a lot of energy to the Fuel attack. “He’s a compete guy. He works hard. He has a good skill set, too – he made a great play to Wides on the goal, last night he hit the post. His compete level is different than what we’ve had in our third line, and it helps guys like Rupert and the other guys, they can play at a different pace and a different speed when you have guys like that.”
- Indy was playing a man short on the blueline. Nick Mattson missed his third straight game with an injury and Robin Press was called up to Rockford, and was down to four defensemen after the Williams-Sol altercation early in the second. Mosey shifted to the blueline – a position he has played in the past – to give Indy depth on the back end.
- Nine different Fuel players found the scoresheet, including players from all three lines. “All three lines, they all played hard, they all contributed. We had some opportunities to tie it up and take a two-goal lead and we couldn’t find the back of the net.”
- Josh Shalla tallied his third career 20-goal season in the ECHL and his second straight. He needs two goals to reach a career high. His goal Saturday also broke a seven-game goalless streak.
- Matt Rupert’s go-ahead goal gave him 10 for the year. It ended a nine-game scoreless streak, as it was his first goal and point since Jan. 13. Ryan Keller, who had the primary assist, broke a five-game scoreless streak.
- Alex Wideman had his 12th multi-point game with the Fuel, tallying a goal and an assist. It was his second multi-point game in his last four outings. His 15 goals tied his scoring total as a rookie last season. Cason Hohmann had his fifth multi-point game of the season, his first with the Fuel, with two assists.
- The 23 shots by Fort Wayne in the third and the 51 shots overall were the most allowed by the Fuel this season. They were also season highs for the visitors.
- Hildebrand made 45 saves in the loss. Some of his best work came in the second period, where he stopped multiple odd-man rushes. His best saves came when he stopped Kyle Thomas on a breakaway, then robbed Mason Baptista on the rebound on the opposite side of the net.
- The first period saw some Twilight Zone-level oddities. After Shalla’s goal, the puck got stuck in the net, which wasn’t discovered until it was jarred loose and discovered in the net, at which point the referee pointed as if a goal had been scored while another puck was in play. That was sorted out with no goal. Also, a clock malfunction caused horns to go off twice during the first period, once in the middle of a Fuel scoring chance.
- The Fuel were 2-for-5 on the power play. It marked their first game with multiple power play goals since a Dec. 27 8-6 loss in Fort Wayne. “We’ve been doing a lot with the power play. Our power play has been good. We’ve had good movement – guys are moving their feet and looking to make plays. We weren’t so stagnant, like we had been. We’ve got some guys moving around, which creates some open ice.”
- The Fuel are now 0-5-0 against Fort Wayne this season. The teams have five meetings remaining – after Friday’s trip to Fort Wayne, the remaining four will be in the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Josh Shalla-Bryn Chyzyk-Tyler Barnes
Alex Wideman-Cason Hohmann-Evan Mosey
Matt Rupert-Nick Bligh-Ryan Keller
Brandon Martell-Jonathan Carlsson
Zach Miskovic-Adam Phillips
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Nick Mattson, Brady Ramsay, Paul Zanette, Cody Sharib (IR)
Next up: The Fuel play a three-game weekend next weekend, with trips to Fort Wayne on Friday and Kalamazoo on Saturday, followed by a Sunday visit from Brampton. The contest against the Beast will begin at 3:05 p.m.