About the only thing Friday’s game left the home fans wanting for was a change in the final score.
In a game that featured two fights, two players who were traded for each other scoring goals, one of the most impressive offensive and defensive plays of the season, and a number of big saves and nail-biting moments down the stretch, the Fuel dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Wheeling Nailers Friday night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Wheeling’s Cody Wydo scored at 2:52 of overtime to seal the victory for the visitors, a snipe through a screen in the 3-on-3 session coming moments after the Fuel had a chance on the other end.
That near-miss, a cross-crease back-door setup from Kenny Ryan, handcuffed Michael Neal on the Fuel’s best chance of OT.
Indy got to overtime with a penalty kill in the final 1:49, a kill that saw Eric Levine come up big and also saw Nailers defenseman Michael Webster hit the post with their best chance.
“We battled hard,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “It was one of those games where we were on the short end because they got the last goal, but our guys played hard.”
It was a solid performance for a team that got younger over the previous two days. One of the team’s highest-scoring forwards, Tyler Barnes, was called up to AHL Rockford to replace players dealt by the parent Chicago Blackhawks at Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. Indy was also without three regulars due to injury, and lost another, Alex Wideman, for a stretch during the game Friday. The Fuel added one of those players acquired by the Blackhawks, second-year pro Kenten Helgesen. Indy also signed rookie Jack Ceglarski, who made his pro debut in Friday’s game.
“The guys worked hard,” John said. “For being shorthanded a little bit, but we don’t have the depth to go along with the skill and experience. We have skill, we just don’t have the experience level, which makes a big difference. (Wheeling) has got a good hockey team. Jeff (Christian) does a good job with them. They keep coming at you. They’re trying to make the playoffs, I thought our guys battled. We’ll look to battle tomorrow and make it a positive weekend.”
The third period ended with a good penalty kill. The first two periods saw four goals and two of the top plays made by Fuel players all season. One came on the defensive end, coming late in the second with the game tied at 2-2, saw a puck get behind a Fuel defensemen in the neutral zone, springing a Wheeling 3-on-1. Zach Miskovic dove to break up the play and thwart any scoring chance.
The other came off the stick of Josh Shalla, who took the puck in the neutral zone with speed, weaved through two Wheeling defenders, then made a quick move and rifled a shot into the net to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period.
“It shows he’s a natural goal scorer,” John said. “He can find those slick little plays here and there and be able to pick the puck and do some different things.”
That goal was Shalla’s 25th of the season, and tied the game at 1-1 three minutes after Wheeling’s Alexandre Carrier scored the game’s first goal. The Fuel surged in the moments thereafter.
“That was great, especially early in the game, to get one on the board,” said Fuel defenseman Adam Phillips, who assisted on the play. “We definitely generated some offense because of that. It got the boys fired up.”
Indy came out with jump in the second period. Armed with a huge shot from the point, Phillips was able to generate a rebound, which Alex Wideman buried for his 18th goal of the year.
“There was a scrum in front of the net,” Phillips said. “It squired out to me and I just tried to get it on net. Luckily, the rebound went to Wides. That was a good one.”
Wideman would generate a couple of chances, including on a partial breakaway and a one-on-one move in tight on successive second-period shifts, but Carr came up big each time.
Tyler Currier, who was traded to Wheeling in exchange for Shalla, evened the game up with a rebound with 6:03 left in the second, and the Nailers surged, but the Fuel were able to withstand it at the end of the second and the start of the third – where Wheeling launched 10 of the first 11 shots. Eric Levine made 40 saves in the Fuel net.
The Fuel blueline corps had a strong game, despite playing with five players.
“It’s tough with five. But they’re playing solid, blocking shots and doing the little things,” John said. “Levine played a great game in net tonight.”
Gaining a point in the overtime game was a solid opening to a two-game weekend for the Fuel, who had dropped three straight coming in. Indy travels to division rival Quad City Saturday to finish the weekend.
“We’ve got to build off tonight. we played well tonight,” Phillips said. “We’ve got a chance to get three of four on the weekend, which is good. We need to play well tomorrow night and try and get two points.”
- Cody Wydo (WHL) GWG
- Adam Phillips (Fuel) 2A
- Tyler Currier (WHL) G
- This was simply a very entertaining, well-played hockey game. Wheeling is trying to climb back into the playoff race and was desperate for points. Indy was looking to reverse a three-game skid. Both looked as teams paying close attention to detail and trying to play a simple game. It came down to one bounce and one finish, and unfortunately for the Fuel, it was a really impressive finish from Cody Wydo.
- The Fuel wore special sweaters to raise money and awareness for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money to help fund childhood cancer research. The sweaters were auctioned off after the game.
- Josh Shalla’s goal is difficult to describe, other than “dangles.” He skated through several players, then had time to stickhandle and set up Carr before picking his corner. Likely the most impressive tally for the Fuel this season. But it was equaled by a play by Zach Miskovic on the other end when he laid out to stop a 3-on-1, possibly the most impressive defensive play of the year. Shalla now has 15 goals in 37 games with the Fuel, and 25 goals combined with the Fuel and Nailers.
- The game marked the debut of two Fuel forwards, Kenton Helgesen and Jack Ceglarski. The latter was making his pro debut and had a shot and a +1. Helgesen, assigned by the Blackhawks on Friday, had an assist in his Fuel debut. He had been playing much of the year for the Utah Grizzlies in the Anaheim Ducks’ organization. John said both played well, noting Helgesen’s hard work and Ceglarski’s ability to get his stick on the puck and do little things well.
- Levine took a hard-luck loss. This marked his ninth loss when allowing three goals or fewer. “He’s challenged himself to get more wins and more opportunities to do those kinds of things,” John said. “He’s been playing hard and battling.”
- The Fuel heavily emphasized the forecheck and working low plays and starting the cycle. They had a number of strong cycles, but one came early in the third when Ryan Keller, Nick Bligh and Helgesen kept Wheeling hemmed in its zone for more than a minute, forced a turnover on what looked like a clean breakout when the Nailers finally got possession, and then kept the pressure on. It resulted in just one shot on Carr, but a number of attempts in that one cycle. “For sure, we wanted to get pucks in deep and generate plays, get pucks to the net,” Phillips said. “We wanted to get a lot of shots on net today. We had a lot of chances. It could’ve gone either way.”
- The Fuel made another roster move Friday, claiming defenseman Troy Vance off waivers from Cincinnati. John said Vance will join the team after the two weekend games.
- Alex Wideman’s goal snapped a six-game goalless streak for the Fuel’s top scorer. In that span, he’s tallied four assists. Defenseman Brandon Martell now has assists in back-to-back games. Adam Phillips now has assists in back-to-back games. His two assists marked his second two-point game of the year – the first came Nov. 11 while playing for the Norfolk Admirals.
- Indy was a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, including back-to-back kills in the opening period. The Fuel were 0-for-2 on the power play. “Our PK was good,” John said. “They didn’t get a lot of chances on our PK. They have a really good power play. We missed a few chances on ours, but it was a work in progress.”
- The contest saw two heavyweight fights – Michael Neal tossed haymakers with Wheeling’s Alexandre Carrier in the opening period, and Raphael Corriveau squared off with Ross McMullan in the second.
- There were a few familiar faces on the Wheeling roster, and they all got on the scoresheet. Former Fuel player Tyler Currier scored the tying goal in regulation and was the game’s No. 3 star. Keevin Cutting, who played defense for the Fuel earlier this season, had an assist. Former Indiana Ice forward Christian Hilbrich also had an assist.
Kenton Helgesen-Nick Bligh-Alex Wideman
Josh Shalla-Kenny Ryan-Brady Ramsay
Matt Rupert-Michael Neal-Raphael Corriveau
Ryan Keller/Jack Ceglarski
Nick Mattson-Adam Phillips
Brandon Martell-Zach Miskovic
BU: Jake Hildebrand
Scratches: Paul Zanette, Chris Williams (IR), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)
Roster moves: Prior to the game, the Fuel signed Jack Ceglarski out of SUNY-Genseo, and were assigned Kenton Helgesen, who had been acquired by the Blackhawks in a trade. Chris Williams was placed on 21-day IR, retroactive to Feb. 19. The Fuel also claimed defenseman Troy Vance off waivers.
Next up: The Fuel travel to Quad City for a Saturday game. They will return home next weekend to play three games – two against Fort Wayne and one against Allen.