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2016-17 Indy Fuel Season In Review

Taking a look at the highlights from the third season of Indy Fuel Hockey


The Indy Fuel entered the 2016-17 season full of hope and hunger. A young, new-look group assembled by a coach looking entering his first full season at the helm, the Fuel were poised to finally break into the Kelly Cup Playoffs after two seasons of coming up just short.

Seven months later Bernie John’s club again finds itself on the outside looking into the playoff picture, after finishing sixth in the ECHL’s Central Division with a 23-42-3-4 record. A combination of inconsistent play, injuries and call-ups took its toll on the Fuel, especially in the grueling middle portion of their schedule.

Despite the disappointing 13th place finish in the Western Conference standings, there were still plenty of positives to take away from the Indy’s third season in the ECHL. A number of individual and team records were toppled, and the team saved their best hockey for the end of the season – which bodes well for the Fuel’s chances when 2017-18 arrives in October. In addition, the club continued to advance players to the American Hockey League, while making a difference in the community.

2016-17 Season at a Glance

Streaky is the best word to describe the first month and a half of the Fuel’s 2016-17 campaign. After opening the season with a pair of wins over the Cincinnati Cyclones, Indy skidded to a 0-6-1-0 record over their next seven games. A week-long voyage into Alaska seemed to light a spark under the club, whose opening night roster contained only five players who were returning from 2015-16. A pair of wins against the Aces in Anchorage kicked off a string of six straight wins, part of a seven game point streak stretching from Nov. 11-25.

Heading into Thanksgiving with momentum and a roster bolstered with the help of Rockford IceHogs assignees Tyler Barnes and Evan Mosey, Indy started heading the other direction as the calendar flipped to December. The Fuel plummeted to the bottom of the Central Division during a devastating 14 game winless streak (0-12-0-2) from Nov. 26 to Dec. 28, a brutal month-long span that saw them lose several key players to recall, including goaltender Jake Hildebrand.

Indy snapped the losing streak with a 3-2 home win against Cincinnati on Dec. 30, but things did not improve as 2016 turned into 2017. A modest 5-8-0-0 record in January led the Fuel to a woeful February where they picked up only one victory and three points in 11 contests (1-9-1-0). Ultimately, this mid-season swoon doomed any playoff aspirations for Indy, which posted a 7-31-2-2 mark in the 42 games from Nov. 25 to March 4.

However, John’s group did not pack up and go quietly into the offseason, pulling together for a strong finish to the 2016-17. Relishing in the role of spoiler, the Fuel skated to an 8-5-2-0 mark in their last 15 games, including a six-game unbeaten streak from March 25 to April 4. During this stretch, Indy downed the eventual regular season champion Toledo Walleye in Toledo on March 31, and essentially delivered the death blow to Cincinnati’s playoff hopes with a thrilling shootout win on April 2 at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Despite finishing the season with a sub-par 13-19-2-2 record on home ice, Indy grabbed points in seven of their last 10 games in their own building (4-3-1-2).

After a tumultuous season full of trades and roster turnover, John seemed to find the mix of players he was searching for down the stretch. Midseason acquisitions such as Josh Shalla, Adam Phillips, Nick Bligh and Kenny Ryan began to click with late additions Michael Neal, Kenton Helgesen and Woody Hudson, adding depth to the team’s core players – including Alex Wideman, Matt Rupert, Zach Miskovic and Nick Mattson. The challenge for John in the offseason is to figure out which pieces of the puzzle to keep intact for 2017-18, and where to shop around on the free agent market.

2016-17 Season Notes

Battle Tested: Though the Fuel were not one of the 16 teams that qualified for the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs, they sure saw a lot of those who did. Counting both the Cincinnati Cyclones and Alaska Aces (who were not eliminated from postseason contention until the final day of the regular season), 60 of Indy’s 72 games in 2016-17 were played against teams who ultimately made the postseason. Out of the their final 35 games from Jan. 15 onward, the Fuel played all but two of their games against teams either in  – or within striking distance of – a playoff spot.

Offense At Full Throttle: Though a scoring drought was one factor for Indy’s midseason skid, overall the club enjoyed a bounce-back year on the offensive side of the puck from a year ago. The Fuel scored 196 total goals, up from 174 in 2015-16 and only one shy of their single-season record from their inaugural season. Indy scored six or more on their opponents in 10 total games this year, after doing the same only once last season. The best offensive performance in club history came on March 19, when the Fuel found the net six times in the first period in an eventual 8-7 victory over Quad City, setting new high marks in both goals in a single period and game.

Over the club’s first two seasons, only one Indy player had reached the 20-goal plateau (Garett Bembridge, 2014-15). The 2016-17 Fuel had three different players complete that feat, with Josh Shalla (22), Alex Wideman (22) and Matt Rupert (21) all eclipsing the 20-goal plateau.

Forward Michael Neal produced at more than a point-per-game pace since joining the team on Feb. 12, collecting 11 goals and 12 assists in 21 games.

Needing New Headwear:
After the entire 2015-16 Fuel season passed without an Indy player tallying a hat trick, the 2016-17 contingent made up for lost time. Four players logged three-goal games this year, three of them coming during the final month of the season. Leading scorer Josh Shalla led the way when he set a team single-game record with four goals in an 8-6 loss in Fort Wayne on Dec. 27. The other three forwards to complete the hat trick were Michael Neal (March 17 in Kalamazoo), Kenny Ryan (March 19 vs. Quad City) and Nick Bligh (April 4 vs. Quad City). Prior to 2016-17, the only other three-goal performance in Fuel history came from Kyle Stroh on Jan. 24, 2015.

Defensive Struggles: For as dangerous as the Fuel could be on offense, keeping the puck out of their own net was a point of contention for much of the season. Indy finished last in the ECHL in team defense, surrendering 4.03 goals per game, over an entire goal per game more than a year ago. The team’s success on any given night seemed to hinge on how they fared in their own end; the Fuel were 19-10-1-2 when holding opponents to three goals or fewer, and were 4-32-2-2 when giving up four or more.

Additionally, the Fuel surrendered more shots on goal than any other team in the ECHL at 37.65 per game, though that particular stat didn’t seem to have a clear link to the team’s win-loss record. While Indy was outshot in 62 of their 72 contests in 2016-17, the club only had a 2-7-1-0 record when leading in the shot column. Even more interesting, the Fuel were winless when they registered over 40 shots on net (0-3-1-0).

Roster Turnover: To say the Fuel had to be active on the ECHL transaction front in 2016-17 would be a gross understatement. By the time the regular season came to an end on April 8, a total of 60 players had appeared in at least one game in an Indy uniform over the course of the season. In comparison, Indy dressed 42 players in 2015-16 and 41 the year before that. Only six players from the club’s opening night roster (Eric Levine, Zach Miskovic, Nick Mattson, Alex Wideman, Matt Rupert, Jake Hildebrand) were still in the fold at the end of the season, with Rupert being the only player to skate in all 72 of the team’s games.

An early season-ending injury to 2015-16 team rookie of the year Cody Sharib, the departures of Drew Scheistel, Marek Tvrdon, Anthony Beauregard, Jonathan Carlsson, and the loaning of alternate captain Kevin Lynch to AHL Syracuse around January all forced John to bring in a variety of personnel to fill holes and contribute.

Seeing Stars: The Fuel were well represented as the ECHL’s top talent converged upon Glens Falls, New York on Jan. 18 for the 2017 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic. Alex Wideman became the first Indy player to be selected for the league’s mid-season showcase, and he did not disappoint. The second-year forward out of St. Louis scored two goals and added an assist as the ECHL All-Stars outlasted the Adirondack Thunder 8-7 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Wideman’s strong performance was not the only exciting thing for Indianapolis hockey fans during All-Star week, as it was announced that the Fuel will be hosting the 2018 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 15, 2018 at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. More information about the game and the festivities surrounding it will be unveiled throughout the offseason, along with ticket information.

Hitting The Road: In their third season of being the primary affiliate to the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs, the Fuel continued to advance players to the next level. A total of eight players (Nick Mattson, Robin Press, Kevin Lynch, Chris DeSousa, Tyler Barnes, Evan Mosey, Jonathan Carlsson, Jake Hildebrand) received AHL callups after spending time in Indy, and eight players saw action with both the Fuel and IceHogs in 2016-17. Hildebrand was the only player to make his AHL debut this year, making 19 saves in a relief appearance on Dec. 3 against Grand Rapids. Kevin Lynch was the lone player to get a call-up outside of the Blackhawks system, when he signed a PTO with the Syracuse Crunch on Jan. 21. Since then, Lynch has dressed in 37 games for the Crunch, recording five goals and two assists.

Through three seasons, Indy has graduated a total of 23 players to the AHL, 16 of them reporting to Rockford.

Standing Room Only: The Fuel set a new franchise record at the box office on Jan. 14, when they crammed 6,549 fans into Indiana Farmers Coliseum before a thrilling 3-2 win over Tulsa during their third-annual Blackhawks Night. The sellout crowd broke the previous single-game attendance mark of 6,477 set on Oct. 14, 2014 – Indy’s inaugural home game.

A grand total of 129,287 fans walked through the gates in 2016-17, bringing the Fuel’s three year total to 402,033. The club welcomed a crowd over 4,500 on eight different occasions this season, eclipsing the 5,000 mark four times.

In The Community: In 2016-17 the Fuel organization continued to be just as active around the community as they are on the ice. Throughout the season, Fuel players visited local schools and hospitals and ice rinks, while making one youth hockey player’s dream come true. The team collected nearly 3,500 stuffed animals during the second annual Teddy Bear Toss on Dec. 17, while benefiting local organizations such as the Community Health Network Foundation, BOSMA Enterprises, the American Lung Association, the Pink Ribbon Connection and others. To date, the Fuel have donated over $1.1 million to local civic and charitable organizations since the club’s inception.

Rookie goaltender Jake Hildebrand set new franchise records in wins, shutouts and saves in 2016-17, winning CCM/ECHL Goaltender of the Week honors twice (Oct. 14-16 and Nov. 7-13).

Record Breakers: The following is a list of the record-breaking individual performances from the 2016-17 season

(Season Records)
Alex Wideman: 55 points
Jake Hildebrand: 18 wins
Jake Hildebrand: 4 shutouts
Jake Hildebrand: 1,486 saves

(Single-Game Records)
Jake Hildebrand: 54 saves (2/10 at Fort Wayne
Tyler Barnes: 5 points (11/20 vs. Atlanta)
Tyler Barnes: 4 assists (11/20 vs. Atlanta)
Josh Shalla: 4 goals (12/27 at Fort Wayne)