The Indy Fuel have been showing glimpses of developing a team to be reckoned with for the final third of the season.
In three of the last four games, they’ve taken third-period leads against two of the ECHL’s top teams, only to succumb in the third period. Sunday, the Fuel took a lead into the final 20 minutes, but the Brampton Beast rallied for a 7-4 victory over a depleted Fuel lineup.
Brampton, fresh off a two-game sweep of Western Conference leader Toledo, won its sixth straight game. The Fuel saw their winless streak go to six.
Indy was fielding a depleted lineup, with two players leaving the team over the weekend, and also losing another due to injury, leaving the Fuel with a defensive corps that had four players with more than one game of ECHL experience. Coach Bernie John brought in three new players over the weekend, two of which made their Fuel debuts on Sunday – defenseman Andrew Huckleby and veteran forward Andrew Neal.
“”We’ve got five regulars out of the lineup right now with injuries. We’ve got some kids that came in and did a fine job over the weekend to help us,” John said. “Our D are banged up and they’re playing every other shift. The forwards are banged up, but nobody sees all that stuff. The only ones are the coaches, the players and the training staff. I’ll always have the players’ back. They grinded it out for three games and they battled for three games.”
Each team had 33 shots, with Brampton’s Zachary Fucale making 29 saves. Jake Hildebrand stopped 26 in the Fuel net.
After surrendering the first goal, the Fuel produced a 4-3 lead after two periods, including a second period that might have been one of the team’s best 20 minute stretches of the year. Matt Rupert scored twice, while Alex Wideman and Chris DeSousa also found the net. Zach Miskovic had two assists.
“Tonight, and this whole weekend, we’ve been playing well,” Rupert said. “We’ve been short-staffed on the back end. On a three-in-three, it showed there in the third period with the loss of legs. It looks better going all the way up.”
In the third period, Brampton had a long cycle that included an incredible save by Jake Hildebrand while sprawled on the ice to deny Chris Leveille. Shortly thereafter, the puck squirted to the high slot, where Jordan Henry hammered a slapshot to tie the game at 4-4 just over three minutes into the frame. The Fuel responded with pressure – Huckleby fed Kenny Ryan in stride in the slot with a stretch pass, but Fucale made the save.
A minute later, the Fuel fell victim to some tough luck. Chris DeSousa hit the crossbar with a shot that would’ve put the Fuel ahead. The rebound came to Miskovic on a play similar to Henry’s goal, but a shot block sprung David Vallorani and Leveille on a 2-on-1. Leveille scored his second of the game to put the Beast ahead 5-4 with 13:24 left in the game.
“We had some good shifts (in the third),” John said. “You look at the 2-on-1. DeSousa puts it off the bar, Misko’s trying to get a shot through, and they get a lucky bounce and it goes the right way for them and it’s a 2-on-1 and it’s in the back of our net. We missed a few other opportunities to score.”
David Ling, who began his career with the IHL’s Indianapolis Ice nearly two decades ago, followed with a rebound goal six minutes later, and Brandon Marino finished the game with an empty-netter in the final minute to finish the four-goal Beast rally.
Ling finished the night with two goals and an assist.
The Fuel continued their recent offensive surge, scoring at least three goals for the fourth consecutive game.
“We played hard,” John said. “The guys were moving their feet, good puck protection, puck support. Our power play had good chances. I thought our first (period) was pretty good. Our second was really good. You could see some mental mistakes in the third – you knew they were going to make a push. They’ve got 10 solid forwards and six solid defensemen who can play.”
The first period saw Brampton’s power play – which the Fuel coach described as “lethal” — convert twice, with Ling and David Pacan each tallying a goal and an assist. In-between, the Fuel got on the board when Rupert scored his 11th of the year, a rush that started with Adam Phillips’ shot. Nick Bligh followed up, the rebound came to the weak side and Rupert buried it into the open side.
“I drove the net hard, Raph (Corriveau) and Bligh drove the net hard, too,” Rupert said. “it hit the post and luckily it came to my stick and I hit the net.”
In the second, the Fuel seized the lead twice. DeSousa potted a rebound for his first ECHL goal of the season 2:04 into the period. Just over three minutes laster, Wideman tallied his 17th goal of the season on a back-door feed from Kenny Ryan. Miskovic had the second assist on both goals.
Leveille took advantage of a break, as a Fuel defenseman lost his footing while trying to keep the puck in the zone and he and Vallorani took off on a 2-on-1. Leveille buried the one-timer to tie the game at 3-3, but Rupert again gave the Fuel the lead. With the Fuel on the power play, Fucale stopped a shoot-in behind the net. But Rupert flew in on the forecheck, stole the puck and stuffed it into the net while Fucale was scrambling back into position with 9:24 left in the second.
It was Rupert’s third career two-goal game as a pro, his second this season.
“It feels nice personally,” Rupert said. “A win would feel better. We’ve got to give the fans a win – they deserve it. They’ve been coming out all year long.”
- David Ling (BRM) 2G/A
- Matt Rupert (Fuel) 2G
- Chris Leveille (BRM) 2G
- With a full lineup, it’s exciting to see what this team can be for the final third of the season. A number of moves has added some high-end talent and players who can give the Fuel three dangerous lines. It’s showing with their offensive performance in recent games. Now, with the team beginning to get close to hitting its stride, it has had to deal with a rash of injuries – Nick Mattson, Paul Zanette, Brady Ramsay and Bryn Chyzyk were out of the lineup Sunday afternoon. Add to that Jonathan Carlsson, arguably the Fuel’s top blueliner, being released from his AHL contract on Thursday and returning to Europe, and Cason Hohmann leaving the team for personal reasons prior to the game, and it left them shorthanded. “There’s stuff we just can’t control, but these guys battled hard all weekend,” John said. “It wasn’t for the lack of effort. These guys are working hard.”
- Sunday was the first home game for Brad Denney, the second Indiana native to suit up for the Fuel. The Fishers native had been playing in the Federal Hockey League, and joined the Fuel for the three games this weekend. It was also the first professional game for Andrew Huckleby, who joined the team on Sunday. Both played consistent shifts and showed strong mobility and play. “(Denney) came in and did a fine job. He gave us minutes to give those four (defensemen) a break,” John said. “The Huckleby kid seems like he can skate.”
- It was also the first home game for two other newcomers – Kenny Ryan and Michael Neal. Both are veterans. Ryan was acquired from Reading last week in a trade, while Neal was signed after playing the season in Germany. “(Ryan) brings experience,” John said, noting he hadn’t played in a month. “He’s going to find his game. He’s had some opportunities to score some goals. Neal getting off a flight Thursday from Germany and driving up Saturday. He’s going to be a nice piece. He’s got a good stick, he works hard. The work ethic and the effort is what we need.”
- Chris DeSousa and Tyler Barnes re-joined the team from Rockford this weekend. DeSousa tallied points in all three games, and scored his first ECHL goal since April 1, 2015. He has played the last two seasons on a contract with the Rockford IceHogs. Barnes had an assist and has tallied points in all five games since joining the Fuel on Feb. 3.
- Alex Wideman continued his run of strong play. He has four goals and three assists in his last seven games, tallying at least a point in five of them.
- Defenseman Zach Miskovic had his first two-point game of the season with assists on both of the Fuel’s early second-period goals. It was his first multi-point game since Feb. 17, 2016.
- John continues to look to add defensemen. He made one more roster move on Sunday, claiming defenseman Travis Armstrong off waivers from Idaho. He has played 13 games for four teams this season. Armstrong was a college teammate of Andrew Huckleby’s at Finlandia University. John also said he expects to receive a defenseman from Rockford this week, as the Chicago Blackhawks assigned three players to the IceHogs as they hit their NHL-mandated bye week.
- Brampton swept the five-game season series between the teams. The Beast are tied for second place in the North Division with 59 points. “We’ve got some guys back from injuries, we have a system put in place, and we’re starting to pull together and play as a team,” Brampton’s David Ling said. “We were in a rough spot early, but in the last 10 games, we’ve been coming along and moving forward.” Ling is one of two players who played for the IHL’s Indianapolis Ice who remain active in pro hockey – the other being Daniel Cleary of the Grand Rapids Griffins, who hasn’t yet played a game this season.
Josh Shalla-Chris DeSousa-Tyler Barnes
Alex Wideman-Kenny Ryan-Michael Neal
Matt Rupert-Nick Bligh-Raphael Corriveau
Brandon Martell-Adam Phillips
Zach Miskovic-Chris Williams
Andrew Huckleby-Brad Denney
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Nick Mattson, Paul Zanette (res), Bryn Chyzyk (res), Brady Ramsay (IR)
Roster moves: Prior to the game, the Fuel signed Andrew Huckleby and Michael Neal. They also placed Bryn Chyzyk on reserve and placed Cason Hohmann on the team’s suspended list. Hohmann left the team for personal reasons Sunday morning. They also claimed defenseman Travis Armstrong off waivers, although he was not with the team Sunday.
Next up: The Fuel travel to Allen for games Wednesday and Friday. The three-game trip concludes with a Saturday game in Tulsa. The Fuel’s next home game will be Feb. 24 against Fort Wayne.