INDIANAPOLIS – Just a month ago, it would have been hard to imagine the Indy Fuel being a factor in the central division playoff race. Sitting in the seventh position and well out of contention, all indications seemed to be pointing toward the sixth missed playoff season in their eight-year history; however, the new year has seemingly brought some resurgence to the Indianapolis team.
The Fuel welcomed back the second-place Cincinnati Cyclones Friday night. Indy, who entered the game 5-1 in 2022, lost their captain Keoni Texeira, to a call-up Friday morning, but it didn’t seem to take a toll on the home team. Indy came out firing on all cylinders on both sides of the puck, generating 16 first-period shots and drawing a pair of Cyclone penalties through their aggressive forecheck. The Fuel defense did their share of work by holding Cincinnati to just 2 shots in the opening frame, with Mitch Gillam fighting off the pair. The only box that Indy was unable to check off in the first period was getting on the scoreboard, as Cincinnati goaltender Sean Bonar stopped all 16 shots he saw, keeping the Cyclones deadlocked despite a lackluster first.
Cincinnati entered the second period reenergized, pressuring the Fuel into an early penalty that required another strong defensive effort from Indy. It wouldn’t take long after that for the Fuel to finally break the ice as Jared Thomas fired a one-timer from below the right circle that squeezed its way through the pads of Bonar for a 1-0 lead. Minutes later, Indy’s momentum led them to their second goal of the night, coming from Jacob LeGuerrier on a rebound off of an odd-man rush. The Cyclones, who had looked to be taking control early in the second period, seemed completely lost as the frame concluded, and it didn’t seem to change in the third.
Any push that Cincinnati hoped to make to start the period was quickly negated by an early penalty. Indy played a defensive final frame, attempting to cling to their previously built two-goal lead. The bulk of the period flew by with minimal whistles, heavy neutral zone play, and few shots. The Fuel defenders continued to block opposing shots, frustrating the Cyclone forwards. Cincinnati, running out of time, pulled their goaltender with just over two minutes remaining. The strategy led to the Cyclones finally getting on the scoreboard, swarming the net, and captain Justin Vaive poking the puck into the net, ending Gillam’s shutout bid. Fortunately for the Fuel, one goal wasn’t enough for the Cyclones, and Jan Mandat sealed the deal with a breakaway empty-net goal for an Indy victory 3-1.
“We put them under consistent pressure, and sometimes they break, and we were able to get a couple goals, and that really helped,” Indy Fuel Head Coach Doug Christiansen commented on his team’s aggressive play that led to success on Friday night.
With the victory, the Fuel has won 6 of 7 contests in 2022, return to .500, and currently sits just four points out of the fourth spot in the division standings.
Indy will have a chance to tie for the position this weekend as the current occupant, the Kalamazoo Wings, will be in the Circle City on Saturday night. The same two squads will tangle once more with a Sunday afternoon contest up in Kalamazoo. Buckle up, Fuel fans, Indy is back in the playoff hunt!
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