Before every Indy Fuel home game, a youth hockey player skates to center ice with the team and is introduced to the crowd.
This weekend, one of their own was skating through the flames wearing an Indy Fuel sweater. As a youngster, Brad Denney played hockey at what is now the Indiana Farmers Coliseum and the Fuel Tank in Fishers and watched players like Bernie John and Mike Berger lead the Indianapolis Ice. He played for Berger with the Hamilton Southeastern high school program. And John gave him the invite to play with the Fuel this weekend.
Denney hails from Fishers, and has been playing the last three seasons for the Federal Hockey League’s Danville Dashers. He boarded the team bus on the way to a game in St. Clair, Michigan, and suddenly got a call inviting him to join the Fuel.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he said of the call “I was on our team bus on the way to Michigan, and the team bus took me to the arena in Fort Wayne.”
Denney played in all three games this past weekend, his ice time increasing each game. A mobile, right-shot defenseman, he fit in with the team and played a key role. He said the biggest difference in the jump from the FHL, which is a seven-team Single-A league stretching from Connecticut to Illinois, to the ECHL is the passing is much more crisp.
“It’s very quick, the game speed is faster in that guys know where the puck is going to be all the time,” Denney said. “Honestly, it’s a blast to play (at this level). The guys talk a lot. You know where you are.”
But once the game starts, other than learning to work with new teammates and learn the opponents, the hockey skills and instincts take over.
“The biggest thing is, if you haven’t played for the first couple of minutes into the first period, you want to get a shift just to get your legs,” Denney said. “These are all new teams to me. That first shift, you’re on your heels a little bit, but then you get comfortable. It’s just hockey, it’s a different level, but it’s still the same game. It went really well.”
Denney made his Indiana Farmers Coliseum debut in Sunday’s 7-4 loss to Brampton, wearing an ear-to-ear smile as he greeted throng of family and friends after the game.
“He came in and did a fine job,” John said, noting Denney’s contribution in giving the Fuel defense a lot of minutes in a weekend where they were down to four blueliners with ECHL experience.
Denney’s hockey journey took him from HSE through junior hockey in the North American Hockey League, and to St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. There, he had 40 points in 95 games. He turned pro in 2014 and began playing with Danville, an Illinois city that is just over an hour’s drive from Indianapolis.
He’s in his third season with the Dashers, with 26 points in 34 games from the blueline this season. He has 79 points in 129 games over three years in Danville. He made his ECHL debut in his rookie season, playing one game for the Evansville IceMen. He also played a few games in the Southern Professional Hockey League with the Louisiana IceGators.
With the Fuel likely getting a couple of players back from injury and AHL assignment, Denney was returned to Danville after his weekend in the ECHL. He enjoyed his time in Indy, and hopes to be back.
“I didn’t even think about playing pro hockey until my sophomore year of college,” Denney said. “My coach asked me, ‘I’ve gotten some calls from a couple of teams, would you be interested in doing it?’ I said, ‘two, three years, if I get the chance and someone wants me to play, I’ll check it out.’ The goal is to stay in the ECHL full-time. It’s been great. I’ve been really blessed with my time in Danville. I love Danville, it’s a great place to play.”
Denney joins goaltender Jordan Tibbett as the second Indiana native to play with the Fuel. Tibbett suited up for a game in the 2014-15 season. The two know each other well, as they grew up playing youth hockey together at the Perry Park ice rink.
His message to the young players watching him and the Fuel players play is to enjoy the game.
“If you get the opportunity, make the most of it,” Denney said. “Enjoy what you’re doing while you’re doing it, because you can’t play hockey every day. Enjoy it while it lasts.”