Friday night marked the first time the Indy Fuel had an opportunity to evaluate themselves against an opponent in game conditions.
The Fuel had a successful start, as goaltender Collin Delia made 38 saves in a 3-1 victory over the Fort Wayne Komets in the first preseason game. The two teams will meet again Saturday night in Fort Wayne to wrap up the preseason.
The preseason is often less about the score than about evaluating players for the upcoming year – which, for the Fuel, begins next Friday in Wichita. However, there were plenty of bright spots as Fuel coach Bernie John seeks to pare his roster down from the preseason total of 30 to 23 – the 21 active player spots and two reserve slots.
Both teams played lineups that were hybrids of veterans getting game legs and younger players vying for a roster spot.
Matt Johnson, Tommy Olczyk and Will Smith scored for the Fuel, the latter an empty-netter.
Olczyk tallied the game-winner early in the second, coming shortly after captain Zach Miskovic broke up a 4-on-1 Komets rush. Olczyk and Cam Reid broke in 2-on-1. Olczyk’s first shot was stopped, but he retrieved the rebound below the goal line and banked it off Fort Wayne goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos’ pads and in.
Delia made two spectacular saves after defensive-zone turnovers in the second – the best coming when he robbed Marc-Olivier Roy after he intercepted the puck in the Fuel zone.
Will Smith, one of the Fuel’s tryout players, wired an empty-netter in the final minute to extend the lead.
Johnson opened the scoring 7:47 in when he got free in front and beat Komets goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos, but the lead lasted just over a minute. Jamie Schaafsma scored from the point for Fort Wayne to tie the game.
The Komets swarmed the Fuel net, but Delia was spectacular, stopping 16 first-period shots. He made four saves in short succession on Fort Wayne’s first power play of the night midway through the first. He was strong on stopping the first shot and then being in position to gobble up rebounds.
- Collin Delia (Fuel) 38 saves
- Tommy Olczyk (Fuel) GWG
- Matt Johnson (Fuel) G
- It’s the first preseason game, but a couple of things were evident. First, the Fuel are a bigger team than last year – especially the veterans. There’s a lot of size, and that was especially notable in the defensive zone as the Fuel players were able to clear shooting lanes for Delia to see the puck.
- Another piece was that Bernie John is going to have to make some difficult decisions. Several young players played really well and made the most of their ice time – including two players who joined the Fuel on tryout offers last year, Austin Hervey and Jack Burton. Hervey was strong at the dot and on the forecheck, while Burton played first-pairing defense with Zach Miskovic.
- The Fuel’s defensive zone presence was strong, which is rare this early in the season. Especially in the third period, the Fuel showed good layers and didn’t allow Fort Wayne many solid looks at the net.
- Delia, a Chicago Blackhawks goaltending prospect, was on-point, but especially so in the second period when he stuffed the Komets twice after turnovers in the defensive zone and the Fuel nursing a one-goal lead.
Alex Wideman-Cam Reid-Geoff Walker
Matt Johnson-Reed Seckel-Nick Bligh
Tommy Olczyk-Austin Hervey-Connor Reilly
Will Smith-Joseph Widmar-Andrew Schmit
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Garrett Clarke-Troy Vance
Nolan Descoteux-Anthony Cortese
BU: Matt Tomkins
Scratches: Travis Armstrong, Chris Williams, Brandon Anselmini, Brandon Rumble, Matt Rupert, Michael Neal, Ryan Rupert, Ryan Siiro, Etienne Marcoux
Next up: The Fuel finish the preseason at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Fort Wayne.