Fuel open 2017-18 season in WichitaOct 13, 2017
GAME PREVIEW: FUEL AT THUNDER
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 13 - 8:05 P.M.
INTRUST BANK ARENA - WICHITA, KANSAS
BROADCAST INFO: 1070TheFan.com, ECHL.TV
The Story: The Indy Fuel kick off their 2017-18 regular season schedule Friday night as they visit the Wichita Thunder for the first of a two-game series at INTRUST Bank Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET, and fans back in Indianapolis can follow the action live on ECHL.TV or 1070TheFan.com.
The Fuel enter their fourth campaign in the ECHL hungry for their first Kelly Cup Playoff berth in franchise history. Head Coach Bernie John is back for his second full season behind the helm, and he has assembled a roster vastly different from the group that finished sixth in the Central Division in 2016-17.
After splitting a two-game preseason series with the Fort Wayne Komets last weekend, the Fuel meet the Thunder for a Friday-Saturday doubleheader in Kansas. Indy opened its exhibition schedule with a 3-1 victory over the Komets last Friday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, before falling 5-2 in Saturday's rematch at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
The Fuel have picked up at least a point in each of their three prior season openers, posting a 2-0-0-1 record on Opening Night – though Friday marks the first time the club opens their regular season schedule on the road. On the first night of the season last October, Indy used a two-goal performance from Alex Wideman to grab a 3-1 home victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones.
Hitting The Reset Button: Looking to rebound from a disappointing 2016-17 season that saw the team finish sixth in the Central Division with a 23-42-3-4 record, Head Coach Bernie John completely overhauled his roster over the offseason. Out of the 23 players on Indy's roster or injured reserve list heading into Friday, only eight players have previously appeared in a Fuel uniform. Only Zach Miskovic, Alex Wideman and Matt Rupert remain from the club's Opening Night Roster a year ago.
John's acquisition of veteran forwards Geoff Walker and Cam Reid bring added offensive skill and 14 years of professional experience to the Fuel's forward corps, while fellow newcomers Ryan Rupert, Matt Johnson, Andrew Schmit and Tommy Olczyk all hope to contribute as well. On the back end Nolan Descoteaux, Garrett Clarke and Brandon Anselmini help add depth to Indy's blue line, joining returners Miskovic, Troy Vance and Travis Armstrong.
In net, rookie Étienne Marcoux will compete for ice time with Chicago-contracted netminder Collin Delia and Rockford-assignee Matt Tomkins.
In addition all the new faces on the ice, the Fuel brought in the franchise's first full-time assistant coach over the summer. Ryan McGinnis is set to make his professional coaching debut this season after enjoying a five-year playing career in the AHL and ECHL.
Welcome Back: Despite being a different-looking team throughout the lineup, a handful of core pieces from last season's Fuel roster are back in the fold for 2017-18. John returned two of his top three point scorers from last year in Alex Wideman (22g, 33a in 2016-17) and Matt Rupert (21g, 16a in 2016-17). This time around, Rupert will be playing alongside his twin brother Ryan, who spent last season with the Wichita Thunder.
Also back for their first full seasons with the team are forwards Nick Bligh (15g, 13a in 2016-17) and Michael Neal (11g, 12a in 2016-17), each of which finished among the top 10 in team scoring a year ago despite both joining mid-season.
Big Changes: One of the most apparent differences from this year's Fuel roster to the one that started the 2016-17 season is in stature. Indy bulked up in a big way this offseason, and enters the season with eight players 6-foot-3 or taller and 10 players weighing in at over 200 pounds. In comparison, last year's club started the season with only four players measuring in at 6-foot-3 or taller.
Hitting the Highway: The Fuel will be spending plenty of time away from home during the first month of their schedule. Starting with this weekend's series in Wichita, Indy will play six of their first seven games on the road. Next Saturday's opener at Indiana Farmers Coliseum is Indy's lone appearance at home in October, with the club traveling to Estero, Fla. for three games with the Florida Everblades on Oct. 25, 27 and 28.
Inside the Matchup: Friday marks the first of three meetings between the Fuel and Thunder this season. After this weekend's doubleheader, the two clubs will clash one final time in Indianapolis on Dec. 9. All-time, the Fuel are 1-2-0-0 against Wichita, claiming a 1-0 shutout victory at INTRUST Bank Arena during their lone encounter in 2016-17.
Scouting Report: The Thunder are another team looking to bounce back from a sub-par 2016-17 campaign. Wichita's 49 points last season left them in the Central Division basement, four back from the Fuel and 31 points out of playoff contention.
Head Coach Malcolm Cameron is returning his top three point producers from last season in forwards Matt DeBlouw (14g, 24a in 2016-17), Louick Marcotte (18g, 20a) and defenseman Jamie Doornbosch (10g, 20a in 2016-17). Former Allen Americans forward Dyson Stevenson and Fort Wayne winger Travis Ewaynk bolster the Thunder's offensive depth, while goaltender Joel Rumpel will share the crease with Edmonton Oilers prospect Shane Starrett.