Fuel Rewind: April 19 vs. Toledo
Game breakdown and analysis from Indy Fuel Insider Andrew SmithApr 20, 2018
It took a perfect shot.
Fuel goaltender Etienne Marcoux and Toledo’s Pat Nagle matched each other big stop for big stop as the minutes mounted, turning Thursday’s Game 4 into a playoff epic, only a perfect play would end it.
It came off the stick of Toledo’s Christian Hilbrich, who wired a shot from the mid slot past Marcoux at 7:45 of the second overtime. It gave the Walleye a 3-2 victory over the Fuel and a four-game sweep of the ECHL Central Division Semifinal series.
Toledo moves on to face either Fort Wayne or Cincinnati in the division final. The Fuel’s season came to a sudden end off the stick of an old friend-turned-tormentor. Hilbrich, who played two seasons of junior hockey in Indy, scored five of Toledo’s 14 goals in the series.
But the Fuel finish the season having raised the bar for the young franchise, making the postseason for the first time. They also pushed Toledo, the division champion and the team with the second-best regular season record in the ECHL, to the limit in each game. Two went to double overtime. Another was a one-goal game. A third was decided by two goals, but the margin was padded by an empty-netter.
“It’s always tough to end the season, but I thought we played a really hard-fought series,” said defenseman Zach Miskovic, a three-year team veteran who is the longest-tenured Fuel player. “It’s never easy losing, especially getting swept, but there were four really solid games on our behalf. They were all one-goal games. I’m exceptionally proud of our group and what we were able to accomplish. Hopefully, we can continue as a franchise to build on this next year, and get a few of these guys back to continue to build.”
The series stars were the goaltenders – Marcoux and Nagle. Both were in top form Thursday. Marcoux, the rookie who joined the Fuel on a tryout contract in October and became the No. 1 goaltender, stopped 54 shots, including several prime chances. He had a flurry of spectacular OT saves, including stopping sniper Tyler Barnes on the doorstep in the second overtime on a 2-on-1. Nagle, the ECHL veteran who moved to Toledo this year after several seasons in Fort Wayne, made 42 saves, with his best stuffing Josh Shalla on a wraparound late in the first overtime.
“I thought ET was great,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “I thought Nagle was great. He made some key big saves. He stopped Shalls on the wraparound. He made a few other big saves. That’s what you need in the playoffs to win – great goaltending. They have it. We had it, too. We just couldn’t find that extra one.”
Game 4 was a microcosm of the Fuel’s season. After a great start with Alex Wideman scoring 4:32 into the game, Indy spent much of the next two periods killing penalties. Toledo tied the game on a seeing-eye shot through traffic by Simon Denis in the first, then took the lead on a perfectly-placed tip by Austen Brassard at 15:36 of the second period. That came with five seconds left in the Walleye’s seventh power play of the night.
The Fuel battled through the adversity and came out in the third period tilting the ice in their favor, finally tying the game when Alex Wideman threw the puck in front and Nathan Noel potted a rebound on the doorstep.
“The third, we said ‘let’s go play and see what happens,’” John said. “The battle and the effort of those guys in that room is fantastic.”
The Fuel used a 9-2-3 stretch down the final month of the season to get into the playoffs, clinching with a razor-thin 2-1 victory over Kalamazoo on the last day of the regular season. Drawing one of the league’s top teams, the injuries mounted. The Fuel lost Matt Iacopelli and Robin Press to injuries in the final weekend. During the playoffs, they also lost Logan Nelson and Riley Sweeney. Garrett Clarke returned to the lineup Thursday, but played on an injured ankle.
“I’m super-proud of that room and those guys,” John said. “Not only the playoffs, but the battle we had in the second half to put ourselves in that opportunity, and put ourselves in a place where we want to be. We want to provide a winning product here.”
The playoff push raised the bar for the Fuel. Now, they want to take another step as they move into the offseason and John – the head coach and general manager – looks to build the roster for the future.
“We have to make sure we get the right guys, the guys who know how to play the way they just played, and continue to build,” John said. “Fortunately, the thought process next year is not only make the playoffs and be a contender. We want to push that level and be where these guys are, the Fort Waynes, the Colorados, the Allens, those kinds of teams. We don’t want to squeak in, but get in early and set ourselves up.”
1. Christian Hilbrich (TOL) GWG
2. Etienne Marcoux (Fuel) 54 saves
3. Pat Nagle (TOL) 42 saves
1. The series might have been a sweep, but it was much closer than that. Two double-OT games, two more games essentially decided by one goal. The Fuel were essentially two or three bounces away from being tied – or ahead – in the series.
2. The goaltenders stole the show. Marcoux and Nagle both gave the feeling early on that both would be difficult to beat and it would take a near-perfect shot to beat them. All of the goals scored in Indy were rebounds, back-door plays and perfect snipes on the rush. Toledo simply had one more than the Fuel.
3. Indy did a great job of weathering the storm. After Wideman’s goal, Toledo came out flying in the opening period and at one point had a 13-1 shot edge over a stretch. But, after a period where the Fuel were shorthanded several times, they regrouped and tilted the ice even for the third period and overtimes.
4. Indy played the last period and a half – plus both overtimers – without Ryan Rupert, who was given a game misconduct for throwing a water bottle from the penalty box in frustration over a penalty call. The Fuel were shorthanded seven times in the first two periods – and nine times overall. Indy was five seconds short of being perfect on the PK.
Darian Dziurzynski-Mathew Thompson-Michael Neal
Alex Wideman-Nathan Noel-Josh Shalla
Matt Rupert-Ryan Rupert-Johnny McInnis
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Jaynen Rissling-Chris Rygus
Brandon Anselmini-Garrett Clarke
BU: Colton Phinney
Scratches: Robin Press, Matt Iacopelli, Logan Nelson, Riley Sweeney