The Indy Fuel had been here before. They’d had a strong start and built a lead against the Fort Wayne Komets.
The only thing that had eluded them was the finish.
Friday night, the Fuel were able to use a four-goal second period to take a lead, then hold on in a furious flurry to skate away with a 6-5 victory over the Komets at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Six different players scored for Indy in building a 6-2 lead and chasing Komets starter Garrett Bartus in the second period. Fort Wayne made it close with three goals in an 89-second span in final three minutes, and came within inches of tying the game when Trevor Cheek hit the post in the final 30 seconds.
Josh Shalla continued his role as Fort Wayne’s Kryptonite, starting the game off with a wraparound goal 1:56 in and then assisting on three others. He now has 14 points in seven games against the Komets this season, including two four-point games.
It was the Fuel’s first victory over Fort Wayne in seven meetings this season – despite a number of close calls, including an overtime game a month ago that the Fuel led until the final 30 seconds. The two teams will meet again Saturday night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, before the Fuel welcome Allen to close the weekend Sunday afternoon.
“It was huge to hang on, especially playing them again tomorrow,” Fuel defenseman Adam Phillips said. “To get the win on the first night of the weekend is huge. In the past, they came back on us a couple of times, so it was nice to hang on and get the two points.”
Leading 6-2, the Fuel had to kill off three consecutive Fort Wayne power plays, then did a solid job of keeping the Komets at bay until the closing minutes by keeping their attack to the outside. Their best-developing chance looked to be a 2-on-0 until Michael Neal’s backcheck broke up the play.
Yet, Fort Wayne has made a living coming back from multiple-goal deficits this season, and had life when Jamie Schaafsma scored with 2:52 left. Fifty-five seconds later, with the goaltender pulled, Cody Sol hammered a point shot through traffic and in to cut the lead to 6-4. When Gabriel Desjardins scored in tight with 1:23 left and again, an extra attacker, the Fuel’s lead had been cut to one. Fort Wayne had one final chance, but Cheek hit the post from the mid slot hit the outside of the post and the Fuel drew a penalty on Mike Cazzola in the aftermath.
“We’re still a young team,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “They’re a veteran team, they know how to play. They’re not going to stop coming, and we knew that. Our guys got a little nervous at times with the puck and made simple mistakes. It’s a learning curve – we talked about the mistakes and what we want to do tomorrow. We want to play the way we played in the first and second.”
The Fuel played some of their best hockey of the season in the opening 40 minutes, which started with Shalla’s wraparound goal in the early stages, setting the tone for the day. Bartus jammed his initial attempt, but Shalla whacked it into the small space between the pad and the post on the second attempt.
“It’s big. It always gives your team a little jolt,” Shalla said of the early goal. “You get a quick one, you get some confidence and that leads to the rest of the game.”
Indy’s success came from that, as the Fuel took advantage of Fort Wayne’s speed and offensive mindset by countering with quick puck movement.
“Guys battled did all the little things and made smart plays,” John said. “Our D made it simple by getting it quick up. That’s how you beat a team like that – they want to get up the ice quick and they always have three guys off the rush. That’s a good thing, because if there’s a turnover, we have backtracking and we can get pucks turned up. If we can get it up quick and get them playing on their heels, that’s what we want to do.”
After Shalla gave the Fuel early momentum, Fort Wayne appeared to score 20 seconds later. But the goal was disallowed due to contact with Fuel netminder Jake Hildebramd, who would go on to stop 35 shots in the game. After Hildebrand made a ten-bell save on Cazzola’s breakaway, Brett Perlini tied the game up on a puck that took a sharp redirection in midair.
Indy answered the bell, both figuratively and literally. Michael Neal gave the Fuel the lead with 6:55 left in the period after Bartus made a strong initial save. Neal stayed with the play, tracked down the rebound and pushed it into the open side.
“That’s a veteran guy knowing where you score – you go to the dirty areas,” John said.
A tic-tac-toe passing play saw Shalla set up Zach Miskovic with a cross-ice pass for a tap-in to put the Fuel up 3-1 early in the second. Fort Wayne had a strong response – Cazzola scored a power play goal and the Komets followed with a strong shift that saw them hold the puck in the Fuel zone for nearly two minutes. Indy weathered that storm, saw Hildebrand stuff Desjardins on a breakaway, and maintained the lead.
And then, it extended as the game got feisty. Neal and Bobby Shea started the fireworks with a long bout midway through the second .When all was said and done, the two teams would combine for six fighting majors, four roughing minors and a misconduct in four separate altercations. Shortly after the fight, Mike Embach was sent off for boarding, giving the Fuel their first power play. It became a 5-on-3 after a tripping call, and the Fuel patiently worked the puck to Adam Phillips. Armed with a huge slapshot, the defenseman hammered the puck past Bartus to give Indy a two-goal edge.
“Shalla made a nice pass through a guy and I was just trying to shoot it as hard as I could,” Phillips said. “Luckily, it went in.”
That goal marked Shalla’s fourth point of the night, and continued his hot streak. He has tallied at least a point in every game he has played against Fort Wayne this season.
“It always happens against them,” Shalla said. “They’re hard to play against, and sometimes, you have to rise up. I feel like I’ve had my best games against them.”
Kenton Helgesen put the Fuel up three with a rebound goal with 6:04 left in the period, and a late-period altercation between Travis Armstrong and Fort Wayne’s Taylor Crunk set up another power play – and goal. After the two were separated, Crunk continued the altercation and got tied up with another Fuel player. He received an additional double-minor out of the fracas, giving the Fuel a four-minute power play at the end of the period. They needed just 18 seconds to find Brady Ramsay trailing the play to put the Fuel up 6-2.
The Fuel looked to build off 40 of their best minutes of the season. They hope to build off that for Saturday’s encounter.
“We were playing with better puck management,” John said. “We weren’t turning it over, coming into the zone and making a soft play or making a high-risk play. We took it down lower, below the dots and turning it up, guys were finding guys. The one thing we talked about after the first, on the rush, we wanted more of a net drive. We started doing that, pushing their D back and getting more chances. We’ll be back at it tomorrow. We know it’ll be a different game.”
- Josh Shalla (Fuel) G/3A
- Michael Neal (Fuel) G/A
- Brady Ramsay (Fuel) G/A
- The game had some anxious moments late, but the Fuel were able to hold off the torrential comeback by Fort Wayne, a team that’s no stranger to them. The Komets have had several victories after trailing by multiple goals this season, including against Indy. It was a step forward for the Fuel, who were able to seal the deal after this Fort Wayne comeback attempt. This game marked the fourth time the Fuel had held a third-period lead against Fort Wayne, and they were able to close it out. “It’s a positive the guys can build off,” John said. “A win’s a win. It’s a learning experience for these guys – going into tomorrow, if we get a lead, they’ll know how to stick with it – stick with the good habits. That’s hopefully a building block going into tomorrow and leading us the rest of the way.”
- This was a 16-man effort, as all three lines contributed, and two of the goals came from defensemen. Ten of the 16 skaters found the scoresheet. But the energy level continued to grow during the rough-and-tumble second period that saw four altercations, often beginning after a physical play. “We had everybody step up, everybody contribute, every line,” Shalla said. “A couple of big fights, everybody was sticking up for each other. It was a good team win.”
- In a game with 11 goals, rarely is there focus on tremendous defensive plays, but there were two very notable ones to stop Fort Wayne rushes. In the first period, with the game tied 1-1, Zach Miskovic dove to break up a 2-on-1 and swept the puck to the corner with his hand – without closing it on the puck. In the third, with the Fuel on a late power play and up 6-2, a turnover at the blueline threatened to send the Komets in on a 2-on-0 before Michael Neal hustled back and broke the play up before it got to the tops of the faceoff circles.
- The four goals scored in the second period were a season high for the Fuel. The six total goals tied a season best. It was the Fuel’s seventh six-goal game.
- Indy was outshot 15-1 in the third period, setting a season low in shots on goal for a period. The shots were 25-all for the first two periods.
- The goalies were good one-on-one. Jake Hildebrand stopped two breakaways – from Mike Cazzola and Gabriel Desjardins, and Fort Wayne starter Garrett Bartus stopped Brady Ramsay on a breakaway. Cazzola, Desjardins and Ramsay would, however, all score in the game.
- The Fuel’s special teams were solid. They held Fort Wayne’s very potent power play to a 1-for-6 conversion rate, while the Fuel were 2-for-7 with the man advantage. “Our kill was really good tonight – we gave the one up tonight, but that was a broken play. It hit a pad and came right back to him,” John said. “Our power play was decent, too.”
- Fort Wayne’s late rally actually made Pat Nagle a hard-luck losing goaltender, due to a quirk in hockey scoring rules. He made just three saves and saw just four shots in 24 minutes of action, but the power play goal he allowed to Brady Ramsay late in the second period turned out to be the game-winning goal when the Komets scored thrice in the third to make it a one-goal game. That made him the losing goaltender, even though he entered the game with a three-goal deficit that became four.
- While Josh Shalla continued his scoring streak against Fort Wayne, he’s also now at 26 goals for the season. It marked his 10th multi-point game this season – his seventh with the Fuel, for whom he has 31 points in 34 games. It was also his third four-point game – he scored four against Fort Wayne on Dec. 27, and had a five-point game against Kalamazoo while playing for Wheeling in October. “He’s a natural goal scorer,” John said. “He knows how to put the puck in the net. He uses his speed – you look at the first one, he uses his speed wide and shovels it in. He keeps battling. He has a knack for the net.”
- Both Michael Neal and Brady Ramsay had “Gordie Howe hat tricks” in the game, as each had a goal, an assist and a fight. Neal began the second-period fireworks with a bout with Bobby Shea. Shortly after putting the Fuel up 6-2 with a power play goal, Ramsay fought Fort Wayne’s Shawn Szydlowski late in the period. For Neal, it was his second Gordie Howe with the Fuel. The other came Feb. 18 against Tulsa.
- Ramsay’s goal was his first since Dec. 17, snapping an 18-game goalless streak. Miskovic stopped a 29-game goalless streak with his first goal since Dec. 27 and his second of the season. Both goals have come against Fort Wayne. Adam Phillips scored his first goal since Feb. 3 against Cincinnati, snapping a 12-game streak. He has tallied four points in the last four games.
- Kenny Ryan and Alex Wideman each had two assists. For Ryan, it was his fifth multi-point game of the year – his second with the Fuel. It was Wideman’s 15th multi-point contest, and his third two-assist game in his last six outings.
- Two players made their Fuel debuts – defenseman Troy Vance and forward Jake Marchment. Each had a shot on goal in the game.
- Prior to the game, Nathan Kolesar was introduced as an honorary starter with the Fuel. He signed an honorary contract with the team Thursday and practiced with the Fuel. The 14-year-old Hamilton Southeastern freshman played hockey until two years ago when he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s convective tissue. He now serves as an assistant coach with the Junior Fuel AA Peewee team and also referees hockey. “It was a very cool experience,” Kolesar said of the evening. “The team I coach, they were all out here giving me high-fives. It was really cool when they said my name in the starting lineup. Everything was such an amazing experience. It’s been the best time of my life.”
Alex Wideman-Kenny Ryan-Matt Rupert
Kenton Helgesen-Jake Marchment-Nick Bligh
Josh Shalla-Michael Neal-Brady Ramsay
Nick Mattson-Troy Vance
Brandon Martell-Adam Phillips
Travis Armstrong-Zach Miskovic
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Paul Zanette, Raphael Corriveau, Chris Williams (IR), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)
Roster move: Prior to the game, the Fuel waived forward Ryan Keller
Next up: The Fuel host Fort Wayne again at 7:35 p.m. Saturday. The weekend concludes Sunday with a 3:05 p.m. game against Allen.