Game 61: Fuel at Kalamazoo

The Kalamazoo Wings paint the ice green for St. Patrick’s Day.

But the Indy Fuel had the hosts seeing red Friday night, as Michael Neal completed a hat trick with 2:17 left to rally the Fuel to a 6-5 victory Friday in a wild contest. While the Fuel sent much of the overflow crowd of 5,363 at Wings Event Center disappointed, both teams ensured they’d get their money’s worth in the encounter, which saw multiple quick swings.

The same two teams meet in the rematch at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Pink replaces green as the evening’s hue, as it’s the Fuel’s “Pink in the Rink” game to raise awareness and money for breast cancer research.

The Fuel have now garnered points in three of their last four games, going 2-1-1. Both of the victories have come by 6-5 scores. The victory moved the Fuel ahead of Wichita into sixth place in the ECHL’s Midwest Division.

Neal’s hat trick was the Fuel’s second this season – Josh Shalla had the first – and gives him six goals and two assists in his last four games.

With the Fuel trailing 5-4 going into the third period, the Wings started out the final 20 minutes in a defensive posture. Indy thought it had broken through earlier, but a missive from Neal was ruled no goal, and it stayed a K-Wings lead. Indy finally broke through with 4:35 left, as Jake Marchment tied the game by finishing a beautiful passing play from linemates Alex Wideman and Kenton Helgesen.

Less than two minutes later, Neal brought out the hats and, more importantly, gave the Fuel the lead on a faceoff play assisted by Brady Ramsay. The Fuel defense and netminder Jake Hildebrand kept the lead intact and secured the two points.

The game saw four different Fuel players – Neal, Matt Rupert, Travis Armstrong and Brady Ramsay – tally two-point games. Three different Wings, including old friend Peter Schneider, had a goal and two assists.

Hildebrand made 40 saves in the victory in a game that started out end-to-end. Kalamazoo had a 45-34 shot edge, and the teams combined for 37 shots in an end-to-end opening period.

While the game started out end-to-end, it took more than half of the opening period for anyone to break through. Neal broke the ice 11:32 into the opening period – assisted by newcomer Shawn Hulshof, who was making his professional debut. Hulshof signed with the Fuel Friday after leading SUNY-Oswego in scoring.

That opened the floodgates – Cameron Darcy scored 55 seconds later to tie it for the K-Wings, then Rupert re-took the lead for the Fuel 1:11 later. Josh Pitt tied the game up for the hosts with 3:41 left, coming 18 ticks into their first power play of the night. That goal came 2:31 after Rupert’s tally.

The rest of the game saw quick swings and lead changes that would be befitting of March. Tyler Biggs gave the Wings the lead out of a goalmouth scramble on the power play midway through the second, but it didn’t last long. With 9:10 to go in the period, Josh Shalla tied the game on a breakaway. Seventy-three seconds later, Neal scored his second of the game from Troy Vance, giving the Fuel the lead at 4-3.

Kalamazoo then re-took the lead in the span of 24 seconds. Schneider tied the game, and on the ensuing rush, Lane Scheidl – who assisted on Schneider’s tally – wired a shot from the slot to give the Wings the lead with 3:41 left in the second.

Kalamazoo was 2-for-3 with the man advantage. Indy did not go on the power play in the evening.

Boxscore

Three stars

  1. Michael Neal (Fuel) 3G
  2. Lane Scheidl (KAL) G/2A
  3. Cameron Darcy (KAL) G/2A

Takeaways

  1. After last weekend’s 1-1-1 stint where the Fuel came within 30 seconds and a bad bounce of sweeping Fort Wayne and then took defending champion Allen to the wire, the Fuel coaches and players felt good about the weekend and the momentum. It was good to see that carry over into this weekend.
  2. A big reason why is offense – the Fuel are finding the back of the net more frequently. The Fuel have scored 17 goals in their last four games, an average of 4.3 goals per game. They’ve tallied six in each of their last three victories. Indy has scored six goals in a game eight times this year, and is 6-1-1 when it hits the six-goal mark.
  3. Neal’s hat trick was his first with the Fuel, and the second this season. Josh Shalla scored four goals in a game Dec. 28 at Fort Wayne. It was the third hat trick in team history – the first came Jan. 24, 2015 from Kyle Stroh against Evansville.
  4. A lot of plus players on the Fuel ledger. The defense pairing of Travis Armstrong and Adam Phillips was each +3. So were Neal and Matt Rupert.
  5. Not only did Hulshof have his first point with the Fuel – and as a pro – Jake Marchment’s goal was his first point in four games with the Fuel. Troy Vance’s assist was his first point in four games with the team.
  6. Armstrong had two assists. It was his first multi-point game of the year and was his first points in seven games. With two assists, Brady Ramsay had his second multi-point game of the year – and both have come in the last four games.
  7. Matt Rupert has goals in back-to-back games and has two goals and two assists in the last four games. He now has 16 goals, third-most on the team. With an assist, Alex Wideman now has a goal and five assists in his last five games and has 31 helpers on the year. Kenton Helgesen also had an assist and has a goal and three assists with Indy. He has a point in four of the six games he has played in Indy. With a goal, Josh Shalla has three goals and three assists in his last four games. He has 28 goals and 51 points on the year – and 18 goals with the Fuel, tying Wideman for the team lead.
  8. The Fuel are now 2-1-0 against Kalamazoo. Saturday’s matchup will be the last of four meetings.

 

Lineup

Josh Shalla-Kenny Ryan-Kenton Helgesen
Alex Wideman-Jake Marchment-Nick Bligh
Matt Rupert-Michael Neal-Brady Ramsay
Shawn Hulshof

Nick Mattson-Troy Vance
Travis Armstrong-Adam Phillips
Brandon Martell-Robin Press

Jake Hildebrand
BU: Eric Levine

Scratches: Paul Zanette, Zach Miskovic, Chris Williams (IR), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)

Roster move: The Fuel signed forward Shawn Hulshof from SUNY-Oswego prior to Friday’s game. Robin Press was also activated and played his first game since being assigned by Rockford earlier in the week.

Next up: The same two teams meet at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The Fuel close out the weekend with a home game at 3:05 p.m. Sunday against Quad City.