Fuel Rewind: December 8 vs. Wheeling
Game breakdown and analysis from Indy Fuel Insider Andrew SmithDec 9, 2017
Matt Tomkins had been working for weeks to get to Friday night – to get back into the crease in an Indy Fuel sweater.
It didn’t take long for the Indy Fuel netminder get into the flow of the game – he saw eight shots in the opening five minutes.
Making his first start since suffering an injury in a game Oct. 25, Tomkins stopped 48 shots to backstop the Fuel to a 3-2 victory over the Wheeling Nailers.
“You want to try to keep the shots low, but it is what it is. He can handle that load,” Fuel captain Michael Neal said of Tomkins. “He’s always out there taking extra shots (in practice). You can’t ask more from him. He did a great job. He deserved probably the first, second and third star, the way he played.”
Neal scored the game-winner with 3:04 left to put the Fuel on top for good to win their second consecutive home game. Nathan Noel and Tommy Olczyk also scored for Indy.
Tomkins was looking forward to getting back on the ice after the layoff. He had dressed as a backup since being activated from IR.
“It’s tough. It’s always tough watching from the stands, no matter how long it is,” Tomkins said of making his first start since October. “It was definitely a long time off. It was great to come back. The biggest thing was coming back and helping the team get a win.”
His work in practice wasn’t unnoticed by his teammates.
“The guys saw how hard he worked, the whole time. He was itching to get back,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “They were playing hard, blocking shots. We had guys stepping up, blocking shots, getting in shooting lanes. The guys trust the goalies.”
Tomkins saw an early flurry of shots – Wheeling had eight shots in the first five minutes and 18 in the first period. Tomkins stopped 24 shots in the second period – Wheeling’s Riley Bourbonnais scored on the other two – to keep the game tied going into the third.
The early flurry of shots was a good way to get back into the flow of game action.
“The first five, 10 minutes, there were some first-game jitters you’ve got to get out of the way,” he said. “I got a lot of early shots and a lot of routine saves, which allowed me to get back in the swing of things pretty quickly.”
In the third period, he stopped Garrett Meurs twice on early breakaways, and the Fuel then kept the play largely to the outside. Wheeling had a mid-period power play that generated a lot of possession, but few chances. That was the same for both teams in a defensive period – neither allowing the other to generate much of a sustained attack.
“Guys were winning one-on-one battles,” Tomkins said of the third period. “The rushes, they were shutting down, pinching up and playing the gaps well. They obviously got a lot of shots in the second, to flip the script in the third, it made my job easy, but more importantly, it gave us a chance to win.”
The win came late in the period on a shoot-in. Reed Seckel won the puck below the net, fed Nathan Noel in front, who then laid a perfect cross-crease pass to Neal for the go-ahead goal.
“It was great. Seckel, Olczyk and Noel there, they made great plays,” Neal said. “We all know how we each play with each other.”
From there, Wheeling wasn’t able to generate a strong scoring chance to threaten the Fuel’s lead.
After Wheeling’s early flurry, the Fuel took the lead when Noel crashed toward the net and put a rebound in after a scramble. That lead lasted until the early stages of the second, when Bourbonnais also scored in a netmouth scrum. He later made it 2-1 shortly after a power play had expired.
Olzcyk answered with a rebound of his own shot. He drove up the right wing and fired from the circle. Wheeling’s Adam Morrison – himself a late addition to the lineup – made the initial save, but Olczyk followed for the rebound.
“It was a simple play. If you throw pucks to the net, you never know what’s going to happen,” John said. “You’re giving yourself a chance. It was a good play, a smart play. The first two goals came from net drive.”
But, despite being outshot 26-9 in the middle period, the Fuel found themselves in a deadlock going into the third.
“After the second, we said ‘you have an opportunity here. Let’s play a good period and win the hockey game,’” John said. “We were way better. You see the way you play – if you play the right way – get in lanes, get sticks on the ice – you hold a good team to six shots in the third.”
Boxscore (link: https://www.echl.com/stats/game-center/15203)
1. Matt Tomkins (Fuel) 48 saves
2. Michael Neal (Fuel) GWG/A
3. Nathan Noel (Fuel) G/A
1. After Tomkins went down with the mid-game injury in Florida, he was itching to get back onto the ice. “There’s a lot of back and forth with doctors and team personnel. You don’t always see eye to eye when the doctors want to keep you out and you want to get back out there,” Tomkins said. “Obviously, they know best, and they put a timeline out there and a rehab program for me that worked out well. Ever since I’ve been back skating and practicing, I’ve been 100 percent.”
2. Tomkins gives teams a different look with his size, but he also has been very confident in three pro starts. He won his first start – 3-2 – in the home opener Oct. 21 against Tulsa. He also hadn’t allowed a goal in his second start, in which he left. He picked up where he left off Friday. “He’s so big in net. When he goes down, he covers a lot of net. He’s so poised back there, he’s calm and confident,” John said. “Even with the injury, he was playing really well. He had a great outing against Tulsa, and in the game he got hurt in Florida, he was on fire. He went down with a lot of confidence in his game. That was good for him. You don’t want to give up that many shots, but we were more sound defensively in the third.”
3. While Tomkins was returning from injury, the opposite starter suffered one. Colin Stevens was Wheeling’s scheduled starter, but he suffered an undisclosed injury during warmups and was a late scratch. Wheeling dressed its equipment manager, Bill Higgins, as an emergency backup.
4. Friday’s game also marked the return to the lineup for another Fuel player – defenseman Troy Vance. He returned to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 11. He had one shot and an even rating on the night. Cam Reid also returned from a two-game absence.
5. One of the key moments leading up to Noel’s first goal was a monster shift by Cam Reid’s line six minutes into the game, which yielded a long zone entry and four shots, which continued with the Rupert line following. On the next shift, Noel found the back of the net with a rebound of Neal’s shot.
6. The entire Neal line had two-point games. Neal and Noel had a goal and an assist each. Left wing Reed Seckel had two assists. It was Seckel’s first multi-point game, while it was the second for both Neal and Noel.
7. The Fuel had one power play – and it came 88 seconds into the game. Indy had to kill off four Wheeling power plays, including three in a 10-minute span of the middle period and another in the third. Wheeling came in averaging 24.6 percent on the PP. “Our kill was good tonight,” John said. “The boys stepped up – that’s the top power play in the league. To kill off four of them without giving them any real looks – they had some opportunities, but they didn’t really have any Grade As – that was really good for us.”
8. Wheeling had 50 shots on goal in the game. Garrett Meurs had 10, including the Nailers’ best opportunities. He had two breakaways in the third, and also carried the puck in alone on Tomkins, but was sealed off of the near post. Reed Seckel led the Fuel with five shots.
Alex Wideman-Cam Reid-Nick Bligh
Matt Rupert-Ryan Rupert-Johnny McInnis
Reed Seckel-Michael Neal-Nathan Noel
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Nolan Descoteaux-Garrett Clarke
Brandon Anselmini-Troy Vance
BU: Etienne Marcoux
Scratches: Anthony Cortese (IR), Riley Sweeney, Andrew Schmit, Johnny McInnis
Next up: The Fuel host Wichita at 7:35 p.m. Saturday for Teddy Bear Toss night.