Early in Sunday’s encounter at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, the Indy Fuel fell behind while playing a man down.
They also mounted a furious comeback the same way.
Michael Neal scored two third-period shorthanded goals to close a three-goal deficit to one, but the Fuel eventually dropped a 5-3 decision to the Allen Americans.
The Fuel showed resiliency after falling behind 3-0 to the high-scoring Americans on two power-play tallies and a 4-on-4 goal, but bounced back with a big second period that saw the Fuel launch 20 shots on goal – one of which found the back of the net off Matt Rupert’s stick.
Wade MacLeod’s first professional goal gave Allen a 4-1 lead midway through the third and became the game-winner before Neal struck shorthanded. An empty-netter by Allen’s Gregor Hansen sealed the Fuel’s comeback effort.
“They worked their butts off,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “We could’ve had maybe two, three more just in the second alone. I thought we had a good third, other than we were killing penalties for four minutes. They manage the puck really well. Even though we scored (shorthanded), they’ve got a good power play and got good chances. For the guys to battle for three hard games against two of the top four teams in the league and stay right there with them is a testament to how hard these guys work.”
Neal had two goals and an assist for the Fuel. He said it was the first time in his career he’d scored two shorthanded goals in a game.
“Shorthanded goals are hard to come by,” Neal said. “I was laughing to myself getting two tonight – but that’s what hockey is all about. You never know what you’re going to get.”
The first came on a fantastic play by Adam Phillips. He and Neal broke into the Allen zone. The puck was knocked free, but Phillips corralled it, drew the goaltender and then dished the puck to Neal with an open net with 10:11 left in the game.
“(Phillips) made a great play, holding onto the puck and looking and finding the right spot,” Neal said. “He put it right on my tape.”
With the Fuel down a man after a bench minor for too many men on the ice, Neal forced a turnover at the Fuel blueline and ripped a shot into the net on the ensuing 2-on-1 to draw Indy within one with 3:59 left.
“That one was a bit of a turnover by them and we capitalized on it,” Neal said. “That’s how the game of hockey is – it’s a game of turnovers. Who’s going to capitlize on them and put them in the back of the net.”
Neal also assisted on Rupert’s second-period goal, giving him his first three-point game as a member of the Fuel. It was his second multi-point game of the weekend, and he now has four goals and four assists in 12 games with the team.
Allen pressed an advantage early and took a lead 4:16 into the game on the power play, as Hanson scored the first of his two goals – which gave him 32 for the year – by deflecting Chad Costello’s shot into the net.
Playing its third game in three days against a rested Allen team, the Fuel found a push midway through the period, as Jake Marchment, Josh Shalla and Kenny Ryan all had solid chances that were turned aside by Gill or just missed the net.
Indy continued that push in the second, but Allen got the first two goals after a pair of slashing minors behind the play put the teams in a four-on-four situation. A tripping penalty on Ryan gave the Americans a 4-on-3, which they needed just 13 seconds to capitalize on. David Makowski blasted a shot from the high slot to push Allen’s lead to 2-0, and Bryan Moore scored just as the matching minors were expiring to make it 3-0 37 seconds later.
Indy responded with a strong shift and a goal by Rupert off the cycle. Neal won the puck below the goal line and fed Rupert for the one-timer out front, coming just 92 seconds after Moore’s goal.
“That was huge,” Neal said. “You don’t want to go down 4-0. 3-1, you’re right back in it. Rupes had a great goal to get us going. It did spark us a little bit. Down the stretch, we just came up a little bit short.”
Indy threatened to cut closer on its only power play of the night midway through the period, the best chance coming when Neal tried to shovel the puck into the weak-side netting, but Gill was able to make a sprawling save. The Fuel had four shots on the power play and 20 in the period.
In the third, Allen took a lead 8:07 in on a great dangle by Zach Hall and a feed to MacLeod for a tip-in to restore Allen’s three-goal lead. Seconds later, Brandon Martell was sent off for tripping – giving Allen a power play, but Neal struck once – and then again. The Fuel pulled Hildebrand for one final push, but seconds after he left the ice, a dump-in deflected off a Fuel player’s glove, Allen got to the puck, and a Fuel defender got a stick out to block Hansen’s 120-foot shot, but it found the net.
“It took a weird bounce off Neal’s glove, and it hits a stick that we get to try to block it and it still goes in the net,” John said. “Just like last night, not a bounce that goes our way after a block with the stick.”
The Fuel finished a weekend playing three games against Fort Wayne and Allen with a 1-1-1 mark, and had strong pushes in each game.
They’ll look to build off the momentum generated this weekend as they head into another three-game set next weekend, which begins Friday in Kalamazoo, before two home games Saturday and Sunday.
Even though the Fuel were eliminated from playoff contention this weekend, there is still much to play for – including building the core of players for the 2017-18 season from both players on the team and potential newcomers from the collegiate and junior ranks whose seasons are concluding this month.
“We’ll talk about a lot of the positives, because they definitely outweighed the negatives throughout the weekend,” John said. “Overall, it was a solid weekend you can build upon pushing the rest of the way, to finish the year strong. We’ll watch the college guys, we’ll be looking at some of those guys to give them a look.”
- Gregor Hansen (ALN) 2G/A
- Michael Neal (Fuel) 2 SHG/A
- Riley Gill (ALN) 35 saves
- Neal’s two shorthanded tallies doubled the Fuel’s output of shorties this season. The two previous ones came on Oct. 15 and Dec. 17, scored by Brady Ramsay and former Fuel player Tyler Currier. It was his first two-goal game and first three-point game of the season. It was his third multi-point game.
- This weekend was one of building momentum – the Fuel outplayed Fort Wayne in a 6-5 win on Friday, held the lead for much of the night and were a bad bounce away from a win in a 3-2 SO loss on Saturday, and played even with Allen – especially 5-on-5 – on Sunday. They did so despite playing the third game of a three-in-three against a rested Americans bunch. Allen had a travel day Saturday after playing in Missouri the evening before. “We’re in a tough spot coming down the stretch, but we still want to play hard, win some games and do it for the fans too,” Neal said. “They keep supporting us all year. When I played on the other side, on the road, playing in Indy, the fans were always really good. We’ve got to play hard, keep it simple against some of these skilled teams, and have some fun, too.”
- Only one of Allen’s goals came 5-on-5 – the Americans were 2-for-4 on the power play and scored a goal 4-on-4 and another was an empty-netter. The Fuel also had one 5-on-5 goal to go along with the two shorthanded tallies coming on Allen’s last two power plays. With Allen’s substantial firepower – the Americans have three of the league’s top 20 scorers, with Costello leading the league in points and assists and Hanson ranking third in goals – the Fuel had a solid performance. And, playing their third game in three days, they got better as the game went on. John was especially pleased with the third-period penalty killing. “We were staying with it,” John said. “The guys were trying to stay positive on the bench, killing those penalties against one of the best power plays in the league. Killing penalties does make you more tired, but the guys worked their tails off and found a way to keep it close.”
- Raphael Corriveau had one of his best games of the year, with two strong scoring chances stopped by Gill – who leads the ECHL in goals against average. He was denied in tight once, and in the second period, forced a turnover twice and was one-on-one with Gill, forcing the goaltender to make a tough save. He began the day by fighting Dyson Stevenson and finished it with a team-high six shots and a +1. “He’s a guy who’s got to find his energy. He doesn’t have a lot of ice time here and there. At times on the ice, he’s got to move his feet, work, finish his checks. When he’s doing that, it gets him going,” John said. “When he’s not, it’s a struggle for him. He’s still learning. He’s young. He had a good night tonight.”
- Nick Mattson found the scoresheet for the second straight game, as he had the second assist on Rupert’s goal, starting the play with a strong shoot-in to Neal. With 14 points, Mattson is the Fuel’s top-scoring defenseman. Adam Phillips had a point for the third straight game and the fifth time in six games, as he assisted on Neal’s first goal. Phillips now has 11 points in 20 games with Indy.
- Matt Rupert’s goal broke a seven-game goalless streak and gave him 15 goals on teh season. He becomes the third player to hit that number in a Fuel sweater this season, joining Alex Wideman (18) and Josh Shalla (17).
- Jake Hildebrand stopped 39 shots in the Fuel net, making his second start of the weekend.
- The Fuel finished the season 0-5-1 against the two-time defending Kelly Cup champion Americans, but four of the six games were one or two-goal contests. Allen has now won five straight games and is 14-1-2 since Jan. 25.
Based on warmups & early game, these combos changed often during the contest
Alex Wideman-Jake Marchment-Nick Bligh
Matt Rupert-Michael Neal-Brady Ramsay
Josh Shalla-Kenny Ryan-Raphael Corriveau
Nick Mattson-Troy Vance
Travis Armstrong-Adam Phillips
Kenton Helgesen-Brandon Martell
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Zach Miskovic, Paul Zanette, Chris Williams (IR), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)
Next up: The Fuel travel to Kalamazoo for the K-Wings’ annual St. Patrick’s Day game on Friday, then return home to face the Wings for “Pink the Rink” at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The three-game weekend concludes next week with a 3:05 p.m. Sunday game against Quad City.