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Fuel host the Walleye in 2016-17 home finale

Morellis Cleaners Game Preview: Fuel vs. Walleye

Game 71

Friday, April 7, 2017

7:35 p.m. – Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis

Tickets: Ticketmaster, Indiana Farmers Coliseum Box Office

Broadcast Info: COZI TVCBS Sports 1430, ECHL.TV@IndyFuel

The Indy Fuel (23-40-3-4) conclude the home portion of their 2016-17 schedule Friday night when they host the league-leading Toledo Walleye (49-17-2-2) at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Puck drop is set for 7:35 p.m. ET on Fan Appreciation Night, as the Fuel have a wide array of prize giveaways and surprises in store for those in attendance. The first 1,000 people through the doors will receive a free gift courtesy of IBEW Local #481, and fans can stick around after the game for a chance to win a game-worn jersey in a live auction. Great tickets are still available through Ticketmaster, or by visiting the Indiana Farmers Coliseum box office.

Enduring some tough stretches throughout their third season in the ECHL, the Fuel enter the final weekend of 2016-17 on a confident note and playing some of their best hockey of the year. Indy enters Friday with points in six straight games (5-0-0-1) and in 10 of its last 13 contests dating back to March 10 – all played against teams currently either in the playoff picture or fighting for a spot in the postseason.

The Fuel’s latest triumph came in a decisive 6-3 defeat of the Quad City Mallards Tuesday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Rookie Nick Bligh recorded his first professional hat trick to lead Indy’s explosive offense, while Josh Shalla (1g, 1a), Jake Marchment (1g, 1a), Matt Rupert (2a) and newcomer Filip Rydström (2a) all logged multiple points. Goaltender Jake Hildebrand made 32 saves to pick up his 18th win of the season – setting a new Fuel single-season record.

After an even first period, Indy outscored Quad City 3-1 in the second and 2-1 in the third period to improve to 2-0-0-1 on the season ending homestand. One of the biggest reasons for the Fuel’s strong finish has been the ignition of their scoring attack. Indy has scored four or more goals in seven of their last eight games, averaging a robust 4.27 goals per game in the 11 games since March 12.

Looking ahead to this weekend’s doubleheader with the Walleye, the Fuel now have the opportunity to play a direct role in the shaping of the Western Conference playoff picture. With a regulation win either Friday or in Saturday’s rematch at Huntington Center, Indy could potentially deny Toledo the top spot in the West and the Brabham Cup, awarded to the ECHL’s regular season champion. The Walleye sit two points ahead of the surging Allen Americans in the Western Conference standings, and need three points to clinch the Brabham Cup outright over the back-to-back Kelly Cup Champion Americans, who have earned points in 14 consecutive games. Indy has thrived in the role of spoiler late this season, dealing a massive blow to the Cincinnati Cyclones’ playoff hopes over the weekend with a 3-2 shootout victory.

Hunting for their second regular season championship in three seasons, the Walleye snapped a four game winless skid Wednesday in a big way, trouncing the Fort Wayne Komets 6-1 in Allen County. The victory avenged a 2-1 Komet victory on Sunday in Ohio, Toledo’s second straight loss on home ice after Indy prevailed 4-1 at Huntington Center on Friday. Having already secured the 2016-17 Central Division title, the Walleye will open the Kelly Cup Playoffs against the Kalamazoo Wings, with Game 1 coming next Friday in Toledo.

Inside the Matchup: The Fuel close their 2016-17 schedule with a home and home set with Toledo, after dispatching the Walleye 4-1 last Friday in Ohio. That win snapped an eight game losing streak for Indy against Toledo, dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season. The Walleye grabbed a 4-1 win of their own in their last visit to Indiana Farmers Coliseum back on Jan. 20, and have won eight of nine games overall in Indianapolis since the Fuel entered the league in 2014. Indy’s lone victory at home against Toledo came on Opening Night last season, a 3-2 shootout win on Oct. 16, 2015.

Walleye forwards (and twin brothers) Tylor and Tyson Spink lead the season series with five and four points respectively, while Michael Neal leads the Fuel against Toledo with three assists. Goaltender Eric Levine stopped 32 of 33 shots in Friday’s win at Huntington Center, handing the Walleye what was then their first home regulation loss since February.

Who to Watch: Forward Matt Rupert (21g, 16a) picked up a pair of assists in Indy’s win Tuesday against Quad City, giving him a total of five helpers over his last three games. Rupert has been one of the Fuel’s hottest players down the stretch, recording points in nine of his last 11 outings, collecting 15 points (7g, 8a) over that span … Veteran forward Kenny Ryan (13g, 19a) enters Friday with points in three straight (1g, 3a), and 12 points (6g, 6a) over his previous 12 … Netminder Eric Levine has won three straight starts, posting a 1.30 goals against average and a .965 save percentage over that time. Levine was named the CCM/ECHL Goaltender of the Week for March 27 – April 2.

Toledo leading scorer Shane Berschbach (16g, 62a) has found the scoresheet in 13 of his last 14 games, racking up a total of 22 points (5g, 17a) in that same stretch. Berschbach enters the final weekend of the regular season ranked fifth in the league scoring race (80 points) and third in assists … Rookie forward Alex Globke (3g, 11a) has two goals and three assists over his last three games, including three points in Fort Wayne Tuesday night … Forward Tyson Spink (33g, 41a) has only two assists over his last five games. With 74 points, Spink holds a one point lead over his brother Tylor at the top of the ECHL rookie scoring list.

Worth Noting: The Fuel are just the second team to have two players win Goaltender of the Week honors over the course of the season, with Kalamazoo’s Joel Martin and Nick Riopel being the first … Nick Bligh’s hat trick Tuesday was the fourth of the season for a Fuel player, following Josh Shalla (Dec. 27 vs. Fort Wayne – 4 goals), Michael Neal (March 17 at Kalamazoo) and Kenny Ryan (March 19 vs. Quad City). No Indy player tallied a hat trick last season … A slew of Toledo players earned league recognition over the week. On Wednesday forwards Tylor and Tyson Spink as well as defenseman Nolan Zajac were named to the 2016-17 ECHL All-Rookie team. The next day, forward Shane Berschbach and goaltender Jake Paterson were tabbed to the All-ECHL Second Team … Forward Alex Wideman tied the Fuel single-season point record with his 54th of the season Tuesday night … Forwards Filip Rydstrom (two assists) and Austin Hervey (assist) each tallied their first professional points in Tuesday’s win.