Fuel Rewind: December 9 vs. Wichita
Game breakdown and analysis from Indy Fuel Insider Andrew SmithDec 10, 2017
The teddy bears came raining from the Indiana Farmers Coliseum stands less than three minutes in Saturday night.
But that was just the start for the Indy Fuel, who continued pouring on goals in a 7-1 victory over the Thunder, completing a weekend sweep and giving the Fuel three straight home victories.
Michael Neal and Cam Reid each scored twice. Nathan Noel had a goal and an assist, while Matt Tomkins stopped 40 shots in the Indy net.
“Everything was clicking tonight,” Noel said. “Everything went into the net. In a 7-1 game, you can’t say there was a turning point. We were just rolling all night long, from the drop of the puck to the end.”
Or maybe, from even before.
“It seemed like even in warmups, we just had it tonight,” Reid said.
The Fuel’s two victories were over teams who entered the weekend leading their respective divisions. After dispatching Wheeling 3-2 Friday night, they faced a rested Wichita team that came in 16-2-2 – and 6-0-1 on the road.
But the Thunder were never in this one, starting from the moment Michael Neal took advantage of a fortunate bounce and tucked the puck into the net 2:51 in, and continuing through a four-goal second-period barrage.
“It’s a good weekend to build off of. We have a lot of positives,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “The guys sticking together, playing hard for each other, standing up for each other and using opportunities. Tonight was one of those nights where when we had chances, we scored. It was a good night for the guys.”
The good night started quickly. Neal sent the teddy bears flying when a loose puck came to him at the right post, and he tucked it in past Wichita’s Shane Owen – a familiar face who was making his first ECHL start this season.
The Fuel power play cashed in twice in the first period – with Matt Rupert firing a shot from the mid-slot over Owen’s blocker at 6:25 to make it 2-0, and Cam Reid scoring a 5-on-3 goal on a feed from Alex Wideman late in the period to put Indy up 3-1.
“You should score on every 5-on-3, but we were moving the puck well,” Reid said. “When everyone’s contributing, it’s an easy game. It takes the pressure off, and we have that swagger and confidence we know we have. It’s nice to see that coming out.”
Not only was the Fuel power play key in jump-starting Saturday’s victory, the team’s penalty kill was again airtight, as Wichita was 0-for-2 with the man advantage. Facing the top two power play units in the ECHL, the Fuel were a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill this weekend.
“I think a big part of it is goaltending,” Noel said. “Your goaltender has to be your best PKer. Tomkins did a good job of that. We’re doing a good job, and he’s doing a good job.”
Tomkins didn’t see a lot of high-quality opportunities on the penalty kill during the weekend.
“I don’t think they had much on the power play,” John said. “We kept it to the perimeter, guys were blocking shots like crazy. We talked about how our special teams had to be good. Every phase of the game, we were really good.”
The roll kept going in the second period, with Brandon Anselmini using a spin move to free himself along the boards and feeding Noel, who ripped a shot off the post and in 2:50 into the period to put the Fuel up 4-1 and chase Owen. That, combined with Reid’s goal at the end of the first, turned a close game into a rout.
“The third one was key,” John said. “At one point, there was a 2-on-1, Tomkins made a good save. We came back and had the opportunity with the 5-on-3, where we move it around the perimeter, get the one-timer and score. But to come into the second and get that one early, that got them back on their heels. Now, you’re really chasing the game and you’ve got to take chances, and that opened some things up for us, too.”
Johnny McInnis, Reid and Neal all added second-period goals against Joel Rumpel in the span of five shots to extend the lead to 7-1.
All three lines contributed on the scoresheet – with members of each trio contributing at least two goals. The seven goals and the six-goal margin were both season highs for the Fuel.
"The whole first two periods, we were absolutely dominant,” Reid said. “We could’ve had three or four more goals. It’s all building off our work ethic and positive attitude. We have that confidence and swagger we’d been missing.”
1. Cam Reid (Fuel) 2G
2. Michael Neal (Fuel) 2G
3. Matt Tomkins (Fuel) 40 saves
1. The Fuel were outshot 41-25, but Indy had the better of the chances – and capitalized – as most of Wichita’s shots came from the perimeter. “A lot of times, you look at shots at the end of the day. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality,” John said. “If we give up 40 shots, but three-quarters are from the perimeter, we have so much faith in either goaltender, he’s going to stop those every night. We want to focus on stopping the Grade A chances, and tonight, we probably out-chanced them in the Grade As. We didn’t have a lot of shots, but we had the ones that counted.”
2. Tomkins was again stellar in his return from injury. While he didn’t have to face a lot of high-quality chances, he was beaten only once – a rebound by Istvan Sofron in the first. He stopped 88 of the 91 shots he faced over the weekend – a .967 save percentage.“Both goalies have been great,” Noel said. “We’ve been getting good goaltending. If you get that, you’re going to have a chance to win.”
3. The Fuel are getting healthier, with several players returning from injury. Tomkins and Troy Vance – who had an assist Saturday – returned to the lineup from injuries this weekend. Several other key players have missed time due to injuries, as well, often leaving Indy one or more key players short. With a mostly intact lineup this weekend, the Fuel posted two impressive wins. Next week will feature another tough schedule – four games in five nights, starting with a Tuesday trip to Wheeling. “We haven’t had that full lineup for a while,” John said. “It was nice to have that over the weekend. Now, we’ve got to make sure we manage our rest with four games in five days. It was nice to have those guys who were able to contribute.”
4. Neal and Noel each posted their second straight two-point games. Reid had his first multi-point game of the season, while Neal tallied his second. Neal has now scored in three straight games and five of his last six. Ryan Rupert also had a multi-point game with two assists. Jack Burton broke a six-game scoreless streak with an assist on Reid’s second goal.
5. A familiar face started – and finished – the game in the Wichita net. Shane Owen was making his first ECHL start after playing the 2016-17 season in Britain and starting this season in Sweden. Owen played 51 games for the Fuel in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. He signed with Wichita this past week and, after being pulled in the second period, went back into the net in the third and stopped all seven shots he faced.
6. The game started and ended with some fisticuffs. Garrett Clarke and Wichita’s Dyson Stevenson dropped the gloves 17 seconds into the game. At the end, the Thunder’s Evan Polei went to the Fuel bench and fought Ryan Rupert – who was sitting on the bench, bringing several players into the altercation. .
7. Saturday’s game marked the conclusion of the regular season series between the two teams. Indy went 1-1-1 against Wichita.
The Fuel used the same lineup in both of this weekend’s games
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: Riley Sweeney, Andrew Schmit, Stephen Collins, Anthony Cortese (IR)
Next up: The Fuel travel to Wheeling for a Tuesday game. They return home Thursday at 7:05 p.m. to face Quad City.