Fuel season in review: The defense and goaltenders

This is one of a series of stories about the Indy Fuel’s 2016-17 season. 

As the Indy Fuel finish the 2016-17 season, it’s time to look back at the players who finished the year with the team. This will start with the defensive unit.

Travis Armstrong

  • Contract: ECHL (Fuel)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (40 ECHL games, 72 SPHL games, 3 pro seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 16 GP, 1-3-4, 20 PIM with Fuel; 29 GP, 1-3-4, 33 PIM in ECHL)
  • The Fuel claimed Armstrong off waivers from Idaho and he brought size to the blueline, as well as a little bit of offense with a goal and three assists in 16 games with the team. It was his longest stint in the ECHL – he played four games for Kalamazoo after finishing college at Finlandia in 2015, then played seven games for Brampton last season while playing much of the year in the SPHL. This season, he played for five different ECHL teams and also had a long stint in the SPHL with Roanoke.

Nick Mattson

  • Contract: AHL (Rockford)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (111 ECHL games, 19 AHL games, 2 pro seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 63 GP, 1-15-16, 24 PIM
  • The Fuel’s top-scoring defensemen, Mattson did it all. He often played on the top defensive pairing and drew the toughest assignments. While coach Bernie John isn’t a big line-matcher, he does like to have his top D against the opposing team’s top line, which often meant Mattson. His ability to wait out a checking forward, make a quick move and fire a pass to the middle for a tip was key in becoming the team’s top-scoring defenseman. While he and Jonathan Carlsson provided a solid pairing for much of the early part of the season, Mattson effectively worked with a number of partners the latter third of the season and saw his offensive game improve. He just played his second season largely in the ECHL while on an AHL contract. Defensemen usually have a longer learning curve, but Mattson should be primed for a move up a level next season, in Rockford or elsewhere. He is an AHL free agent this summer.

Brandon Martell

  • Contract: ECHL (Fuel)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (239 ECHL games, 5 seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 36 GP, 1-9-10, 22 PIM for Fuel; 59 GP, 1-13-14, 26 PIM overall
  • The Ohio State grad finished his fourth full pro season with the Fuel. A midseason waiver claim from Tulsa, Martell became a nightly part of the Fuel blueline on the left side. He’s played his entire pro career in the ECHL – Kalamazoo, Evansville, Rapid City, Wichita, Alaska, Tulsa and now Indy – and is a solid depth defenseman who also brings a veteran presence to the room. Like a lot of Fuel defensemen, he provided offense through assisting on nine goals in 36 games.

Zach Miskovic

  • Contract: ECHL (Fuel)
  • 2017-18 status: Veteran (287 AHL games, 120 ECHL games, 8 seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 51 GP, 2-12-14, 60 PIM
  • Miskovic was the team’s captain for the second straight season and served as the team’s on-ice leader on the blueline. The veteran defenseman was a solid puck-mover and was key on a young blueline. He and Jonathan Carlsson – who departed for Sweden late in the season – were the team’s two veteran defensemen on a squad that was young for much of the year. While he provided an on-ice presence, his leadership in the dressing room as a player-assistant coach and the team’s captain was also key.

Adam Phillips

  • Contract: ECHL (Fuel)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (168 ECHL games, 3 seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 30 GP, 2-12-14, 14 PIM with Fuel; 49 GP, 3-16-19, 22 PIM overall
  • Phillips came to the Fuel via trade from Norfolk in January. His experience, as well as his 6-foot-7 frame and powerful shot from the blueline became big assets for Indy. Phillips has a presence on the ice and is well-liked and respected off it. His biggest asset is on the PP, where defenders have to respect his shot from the point, thereby opening up lanes for others. He had 14 points and was two shy of being the Fuel’s top-scoring defenseman despite playing only half the season with the team. He likely has two more seasons before reaching veteran status, and defensemen with experience are very valuable in the ECHL.

Robin Press

  • Contract: AHL (Rockford)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (11 AHL games, 30 ECHL games, 62 games in Swedish Hockey League, 3 pro seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 30 GP, 2-8-10, 14 PIM with Fuel
  • Press played for three different teams in 2016-17, starting in Sweden where he had one assist in 11 games, then 30 with the Fuel and nine with the AHL Rockford IceHogs. A former Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, the right-shot defenseman has solid offensive skill and spent his time in Indy working on improving his speed and his defensive game. The ECHL is a developmental league and allowed Press a significant amount of ice time, as he split time between Indy and Rockford throughout the year. He will be an AHL free agent this offseason.

Troy Vance

  • Contract: ECHL (Fuel)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (118 ECHL games, 59 games in Finland, 4 pro seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 15GP, 1-1-2, 4 PIM with Fuel; 53 GP, 2-4-6, 12 PIM overall
  • A late-season waiver claim from Cincinnati, the former Dallas Stars draft pick became a mainstay on the Fuel blueline, often playing the right side. He gave the team some veteran experience and depth, as well as a lot of stability and steady play on the blueline. He was a key in the Fuel’s late-season surge and a nightly fixture in the lineup.

Chris Williams

  • Contract: ECHL (Fuel)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (65 ECHL games, 2 pro seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 53 GP, 4-7-11, 128 PIM
  • Williams’ value to the Fuel showed early. Acquired in a trade from Tulsa, the bearded defenseman was solid in his own end and brought a substantial physical presence in his first full pro season. He led the team in +/- as a +4 on the season and also led the team in fights and penalty minutes. When called upon, he was also effective as a forward, scoring two goals while playing up front, showing some great versatility. Williams plays the simple, physical game that is so valued among defensemen. He’d be a great building block for any team putting together a blueline in 2017-18.

Also of note: Jack Burton was a college free agent signing who looked solid during his stint with the Fuel over his spring break. While released, keep an eye on him in the future.

Goaltenders

Jake Hildebrand

  • Contract: AHL (Rockford)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (53 ECHL games, 3 AHL games, 2 pro seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 47 GP, 18-21-3, 3.75 GAA, .899 sv%, 4 shutouts
  • “Hildy” is an aggressive goaltender who set the Fuel record for wins and shutouts in a season with his play this year. He was named an ECHL Goaltender of the Week early in the year for his play, and played the majority of games for the first two-thirds of the season. His aggressive, attacking style meant he could be phenomenal – such as when he had 46 and 45 saves in shutouts of Cincinnati and Rapid City in the span of a week in January. He also had an extended callup to Rockford early in the season and played three games in the AHL. He will be an AHL free agent this summer.

Eric Levine

  • Contract: AHL (Rockford)
  • 2017-18 status: Tweener (48 ECHL games, 37 SPHL games, 5 CHL games, 4 pro seasons)
  • 2016-17 stats: 29 GP, 5-20-1, 3.91 GAA, .898 sv%
  • Levine earned an AHL contract this year after a solid performance with the Colorado Eagles last season. He struggled to get wins early, despite having a solid save percentage, but was outstanding late in the year. Levine went 3-1-1 and had a .949 save percentage in a span of five starts late in the year and was the ECHL Goaltender of the Week after stopping 69 of 72 shots in wins over Toledo and Cincinnati. A big, technically sound goaltender, Levine will be an AHL free agent this summer.

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