INDIANAPOLIS – Coming into Saturday night, both the Indy Fuel and Cincinnati Cyclones were hoping to avenge disappointing defeats from the previous night. For Indy, it was a late goal that edged them in Kalamazoo in contrast to the drubbing that Fort Wayne applied to Cincinnati to begin the weekend. Unfortunately for the over six thousand Fuel fans in attendance on Saturday, they went home distressed from their hometown team’s ugly performance.
Physicality made an early appearance on the night, with Indy’s Riley McKay and Cincinnati’s Jack Van Boekel dropping the gloves just over a minute into the contest, bringing the near-capacity crowd to their feet in excitement. It wouldn’t last, however, as the Cyclones would reverse their woes from the previous night by scoring early and often. Captain Justin Vaive put the Cyclones up 4:56 into the game, capitalizing on a 2-on-1 opportunity and deking around goaltender Mitch Gillam with a backhand shot. Just minutes later, Cincinnati would counter on another odd-man rush, and this time it was Gianluca Esteves finishing off a pass from Matt McLeod and driving the puck over Gillam for a 2-0 start.
Indy’s second period start began with a monstrous hit on a Cyclone forward, sparking another early period fight, this time between Christopher Cameron of the Fuel and Graeme Brown of Cincinnati. The tussle seemed to favor the Fuel, and to build off of it, Brycen Martin found Darien Craighead open in the neutral zone, leading to him burying a breakaway chance to cut the Cyclone lead to 2-1. Momentum was short-lived for the Fuel when Zack Andrusiak cleaned up a loose puck in the crease to rebuild Cincinnati’s lead to two goals. The two sides traded goals once more, with Indy’s Riley McKay drawing a penalty shot opportunity during a penalty kill and firing a shot past Cincinnati goaltender Mat Robson to cut it back to 3-2. Just fifty-five seconds later, Jackson Leef skated to the right circle and fired a shot top-shelf past Gillam for a power-play tally. The lead was built to three late in the middle period, when Leef tipped home an Esteves shot to make it 5-2. Following the goal, Indy replaced Gillam with Justin Kapelmaster in net.
The Fuel began the third period with a 5 on 3 advantage, the perfect chance to get back into the hockey game, but Indy would fail to generate any chances. The earlier part of the frame flew by with minimal play stoppages and mostly neutral ice hockey. The Fuel crowd began a wave in an attempt to spark an Indy comeback, but all it did was motivate Cincinnati to lay down the hammer. Jackson Leef scored his third goal of the night, for the hat trick, halfway through the final period, shoveling home a rebound in the crease to make it 6-2. At this point, the large crowd started to head for the exits, believing a comeback was too far out of reach. The Cyclones must’ve thought otherwise and continued to frustrate the Fuel, leading to a late-game 5 on 3 chance for Cincinnati, in which they would snag two more goals from Justin Vaive and Matt McLeod. After the final buzzer sounded, Indy had been run out of their own building by an 8-2 defeat.
Credit Cincinnati for their quick start in a raucous environment. After giving up six goals in the first period last night, the Cyclones jumped the gun, building a two-goal lead in the opening period and quieting the large crowd. Early on, it was noticeable that Cincinnati was capitalizing on every opportunity that was presented to them, including the pair of goals off of odd-man rushes to begin the night. Indy also had their fair share of transition opportunities but were unable to take advantage of them.
Jackson Leef of Cincinnati had one of his best professional games, scoring a hat trick on the night. Coming into the night, Leef had only scored three goals on the entire season. His three goals killed any chance that Indy had at a comeback. He also added an assist on the eighth goal of the night for a four-point evening.
Cincinnati captain Justin Vaive’s performance also can’t go unnoticed. With two goals on the night, his first goal set the tone for the evening, making sure his side didn’t dig themselves into an early hole like they had the previous night. As a captain, it is your job to lead your team to success, and that’s exactly what he did Saturday night. His second goal on the night was used as insurance, the seventh for the Cyclones.
Indy’s Riley McKay had probably the most polarizing performance of the evening. His fight victory to begin the game energized the crowd and set the stage for an action-packed night. Also, his penalty shot goal cut the lead back to a one-goal game, giving the Fuel at least a chance to come back. In contrast, his three minor penalties contributed to Indy playing shorthanded at suboptimal times and leading to a Cincinnati power-play goal, one of their three on the night.
Lastly, Cincinnati goaltender Mat Robson played excellent tonight. While he only faced 23 shots, his only goals given up were off of breakaway chances. There were many times when he was forced to stop an Indy odd-man rush or stand his ground in the goal crease against an Indy swarm of the net.
It was an embarrassing result for the Fuel, who were hoping to gain momentum heading into their road trip to Orlando for next weekend. Instead, they will have plenty of time to think over what went wrong all evening. The Fuel will be back in Indianapolis for three games in three days starting February 24 against the Kalamazoo Wings. Following that, Indy will host two non-divisional opponents, with the Reading Royals on February 25 and the Wichita Thunder visiting the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on February 26.
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