The old cliche “goals come in bunches” was a reality Sunday afternoon at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
First, for the Indy Fuel, who buried Quad City under a six-goal avalanche in the opening period. Then, for the Mallards as they mounted a furious rally in the second and third that wasn’t really sealed until the Fuel’s Kenny Ryan’s empty-netter with 1:25 left, capping a wild 8-7 Fuel victory over the Mallards.
Ryan had a hat trick in the contest – the fourth in team history and third this season. So did Quad City’s Sam Warning, whose two second-period goals cut what had been a six-goal Fuel advantage to 6-3. He scored again in the third to cut a Fuel lead to 7-5 and crack the door open for the Mallards to continue a comeback effort.
His first two goals came 32 seconds apart in the closing minutes of the first period, and his final one was an empty-netter that put the Fuel up 8-6, but turned out to be the game-winner when Quad City’s Justin Kovacs scored with 19 seconds left. The empty-netter came when he sprinted onto a stretch pass that was deflected by a Mallards defenseman, split the D in the neutral zone and scored on a breakaway.
“It was awesome. It was my first career hat trick. I was pretty excited about it, and thankfully, it sealed the game,” Ryan said.
On both of the first-period goals, Ryan got free in front and sniped the puck past Quad City reliever Adam Vay. The first came off some strong board work by Woody Hudson, who won the puck and whipped a backhand pass to Ryan’s tape in the slot. Thirty-two seconds later, he got loose again in front and scored when Josh Shalla set him up.
“It was an opportunistic chance where I had some room and a chance to get a shot off in the scoring area, and put it in the back of the net,” Ryan said of the first goal, and noted the second was a nearly-identical play – other than one beat Vay high on the glove side, the other low.
Ryan nearly had two more in the second period – Vay stopped him twice on breakaways.
The Fuel came out flying, with a heavy forecheck and a strong first period in the defensive zone, with several blocked shots and few chances for Quad City. Meanwhile, Indy buried nearly all of its chances, chasing Mallards starter C.J. Motte just 9:16 into the game after allowing four goals on 10 shots.
It led to goals in bunches. The Fuel scored pairs of goals in 24 seconds, 1:50 and 31 seconds.
“That’s what we’ll watch on tape,” John said of the first period play, and especially the play in the defensive zone. “We’ll see what happens when you do those things. The way to create good offense if you want to have success is by playing good defense. When you block shots, you never know where it’s going to go – it could lead to something.”
Matt Rupert got things started with a rebound goal after Motte made a save on Bligh 4:30 into the game. Twenty-four seconds later, Jake Marchment made it 2-0. Seven and a half minutes in, on a delayed penalty, Marchment sprung Shalla alone in front. He deked and beat Motte through the 5-hole for his 29th goal of the year to put the Fuel up 3-0. Kenton Helgesen, who had three first-period assists, forced a turnover along the boards and zipped a pass across to Paul Zanette at 9:16 to put the Fuel up 4-0 and chase Motte.
The forecheck was strong, especially the newly-formed trio of Zanette, Helgesen and Marchment. The three combined for eight points – Marchment had a goal and two assists. Zanette had a goal and an assist and Helgesen had three assists.
“For sure, my line especially with Z and Helgy, they were great getting F1 and F2 on the puck and we caused a lot of trouble for their D,” Marchment said of the Fuel’s relentless forecheck early. “They turned it over and we capitalized.”
Ryan’s two late goals pushed the edge to 6-o.
“We were feeling good in the first,” Marchment said. “Goals come in bunches a lot of times. You couldn’t ask for a better start, but we need to play like that for the whole 60.”
But a Quad City team that showed little push in the first period came back ferociously in the second, starting when defenseman Guillaume Gelinas gave them life with a screened shot from the point directly off a clean faceoff win. From there, the Mallards chipped away – Warning scored off the rush with 10:05 left in the period, and then buried a shorthanded 2-on-1 with 5:22 left to cut the lead in half.
John said the message in the dressing room during the first intermission was continuing to do the things the team had done to build the 6-0 lead, but hopes the result can be a teaching moment.
“We kept it to the perimeter, kept it simple, we got pucks deep, we made them work their D when they were tired (in the first period), and the first goal of the second, we give them a little life and they begin thinking ‘maybe we can get six, get three or four this period and get some momentum,'” John said. “It’s just learning to play the right way. It’s a learning thing. We had some young guys. We made a lot of changes in the lineup. The young guys have to learn from it.”
In the third, Quad City made it a little closer when Gelinas held the puck in at the line and skated to the left circle before wiring a shot into the top shelf to cut the lead to 6-4. But the Fuel had an answer, as Nick Mattson skated into the zone. He held the puck at the left point, waited out a defender and then zipped a pass to Bligh for a deflection goal that restored the three-goal edge with 13:16 left.
It turned out to be a critical goal in staving off the Quad City comeback attempt.
“Matty’s really good at that, as far as having that puck patience at the blueline,” John said. “That’s something they teach at the Rockford level and at the NHL level, to give that little fake and let the guy bite and go around him. Bligh made his stick available. We don’t do it enough and we practice it all the time – the high tip – keeping the stick on the ice and having a shot and redirecting it. It’s hard for the goalie to readjust. It was a good play by Matty.”
Warning pulled Quad City within two less than a minute later, and then Chase Lang made it a one-goal game with 6:34 left, shoveling in a rebound. The Fuel were able to keep the Mallards from sniffing a game-tying effort, eventually setting up Ryan’s empty-netter.
The victory gave the Fuel two wins in three games over the weekend, all against teams currently in playoff position. Over their last six games – all against playoff contenders – the Fuel are 3-2-1. The victory again moves them ahead of Wichita for sixth place in the Midwest Division. Indy now hits the road for four games, including a three-game weekend with games against Greenville and South Carolina.
“I think the last little stretch, we’ve been doing some good things,” Ryan said. “We’ve been getting points, we’ve been very competitive in most of the games. I don’t think that was necessarily the case when I got here, but here lately, Bernie has brought in some guys and we’re starting to come together down the stretch. Hopefully, we can make it difficult for some teams that are trying to make a playoff run and hopefully we can end that.”
- Kenny Ryan (Fuel) 3G
- Sam Warning (QC) 3G/A
- Jake Marchment (Fuel) G/2A
- The Fuel set multiple records in the contest, first of all a team record for goals in a game (8), goals by both teams in a game (15) and goals in a period (6). The previous high for goals in a game was set Jan. 29, 2016 in a 7-3 win over Evansville. The previous high for goals by both teams in a game was set Dec. 28, 2016 in an 8-6 loss at Fort Wayne.
- Kenny Ryan’s hat trick was the fourth in team history. It was the first on home ice since Kyle Stroh on Jan. 24, 2015 against Evansville. Josh Shalla and Michael Neal have also tallied hat tricks this season – Neal potted his in Friday’s game. It snapped a 10-game goalless streak for Ryan. “He played well. He’s key on the faceoffs. He’s a goal scorer,” John said of Ryan. “He knows how to score – he’s played at a high level. It’s nice to see.”
- Both of Ryan’s first-period goals featured players getting their first career points. His first was set up by a great feed from Woody Hudson along the wall as Hudson found his way onto the stat sheet in his second pro game. Goaltender Jake Hildebrand had the second assist on Ryan’s second goal that came 32 seconds later for his first pro point.
- Despite the comeback effort by the Mallards, the Fuel were able to get the two points. Indy is 2-5-2 against Quad City with one meeting left, April 4 in Indy. “Obviously, we didn’t like our second period and parts of our third, but the important thing was, we found a way to win,” Ryan said.
- Paul Zanette returned to the lineup Saturday night after missing the previous two weeks with an injury. He moved to center and Jake Marchment to wing, and the newly-formed trio combined for nine shots, eight points and a strong cycle game. “That was my first time playing with Z since I’ve been here, and playing on the wing,” Marchment said. “I thought we were doing a pretty good job in the defensive zone. We developed some instant chemistry with each other, moving down low. They’re two big guys with a lot of skill. I was trying to find the opening areas, and they do the same when we have the puck.”
- In addition, two more familiar faces returned to the lineup. Zach Miskovic and Chris Williams both came back to the Fuel blueline after missing time with injuries. For Miskovic, it was a milestone, as he played in his 400th career professional game.
- All three recently-signed college rookies played in Sunday’s game. Jack Burton (Colby) had an even +/-. “I like his poise. He’s good with the puck, he makes good plays,” John said. “I asked him after last night’s game, and he says it’s slower but faster (compared to college), because guys are more under control and then guys can turn on the jets.” Woody Hudson (St. Lawrence) had his first pro point, was strong on the forecheck and hit the goalpost with a scoring chance. “Woody looks like he’s been in the league the whole year,” John said. “He’s a big body, he knows what he’s doing, he hit a post in the first, he creates opportunities, and the way he hits, he’s going to scare some defensemen. That’s a good thing to have.” Shawn Hulshof played a 10th forward role and landed a shot on goal. “Hulshof didn’t get as much ice time tonight, but I like his game,” John said. “We’re going to give these guys two or three days of practice, get these guys some more ice time.”
- Alex Wideman was not dressed for Sunday’s game because the ECHL suspended him for one game as a result of a game misconduct penalty for sending a puck out of the rink during Saturday’s contest against Kalamazoo.
- Eleven different Fuel players tallied points in Sunday’s game. In addition to Ryan’s three-goal game, Helgesen had three assists, giving him five assists in the last three contests. Jake Marchment (G/2A) each had their first career ECHL three-point games. He has a goal and seven assists in eight games with the Fuel. After being held off the scoresheet Saturday, Michael Neal had two assists and has six goals and four assists in the last six games. Paul Zanette (G/A), Josh Shalla (G/2A) and Nick Bligh (G/2A) also had multi-point games.
Josh Shalla-Kenny Ryan-Woody Hudson
Kenton Helgesen-Paul Zanette-Jake Marchment
Nick Bligh-Michael Neal-Matt Rupert
Nick Mattson-Chris Williams
Travis Armstrong-Zach Miskovic
Jack Burton-Troy Vance
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Brandon Martell, Alex Wideman, Adam Phillips (res), Robin Press (res), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)
Roster moves: Prior to the game, the Fuel activated Zach Miskovic and Shawn Hulshof from reserve, as well as Chris Williams from IR. The team placed Robin Press and Adam Phillips on reserve. Brady Ramsay was placed on the team’s suspended list.
Next up: The Fuel hit the road for the next four games, with contests Friday and Saturday in Greenville and a Sunday game in South Carolina. It will be the team’s eighth three-in-three weekend in the last 11 weeks. The Fuel’s next home game will be April 1 against Fort Wayne.