INDIANAPOLIS – Indy had a tough test ahead of itself on Saturday night, hosting the fourth-place Kalamazoo Wings, the first of a pair of games between the two clubs to finish the weekend. To add to the stakes, Blackhawks Night took place, with nearly 5,000 fans in attendance, many of them wearing gear to support the NHL affiliate club.
The Fuel charged out of the gates early, noticeably putting the Wings defenders on their heels. It didn’t take long for it to pay off, as Jared Thomas found Spencer Watson skating all alone behind the Wing defense. Watson’s shot ripped past Kalamazoo goalie Jason Pawloski’s glove for the early lead. With the goal, Watson moved into a tie for second in goals scored in team history. Indy kept up the aggression throughout the period, catching the Wings sleepwalking on a line change, and Griff Jeszka being left all alone charging down the left side and firing a wrist shot past Pawloski to double the score. Kalamazoo settled in late in the period, testing Indy goalie Mitch Gillam in the final minutes but with no luck.
The Wings transformed their lackadaisical first period play with a productive middle frame. Nearly ten minutes into the second, Jeremy Masella put Kalamazoo on the board, throwing the puck on net from the blue line through several bodies in front that fooled Gillam on the way through. Not long after, the game was tied when Raymond Brice capitalized on a Fuel turnover and converted on a backhand breakaway to score a rare shorthanded goal. This seemed to be the turning point in the contest until Brycen Martin finished off a Ryan Zuhlsdorf shot to regain the lead for the Fuel late in the second, negating the momentum shift.
Indy’s regained energy propelled them to success in the third period. Despite playing a much more defensive attack, the Fuel stifled the Wings in their defensive zone for minutes at a time, leading to numerous Indy chances. With the clock bleeding down briskly, Kalamazoo started to take more risks, giving the Fuel the opportunity for odd-man rushes. Seamus Malone took advantage of this and with his initial shot stopped, Jan Mandat followed with a tap-in to give the Fuel a 4-2 lead midway through the final period. Down two goals, Kalamazoo pulled their goalie with over three minutes left in the game. Similar to last night’s situation with Cincinnati, Tanner Sorenson shoveled a backhand shot past a crowd in front of the Fuel net to cut the lead to one with just over a minute to play. Luckily for Indy, Karl El-Mir iced the game for good with his empty-net goal for a 5-3 Fuel victory.
“We are getting better. We are an improving hockey team, and we need to continue to improve to achieve our goals. We are not anywhere near where we want to be, but we are improving,” Indy Fuel Head Coach Doug Christiansen commented on his team’s recent success since the start of the new year.
With the victory, Indy improves to 7-1 since the start of 2022 and is over .500 for the first time all season. The Fuel continued their recent dominance on home ice, now 8-2 in their last 10 games at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The same two teams will battle once more this afternoon in Kalamazoo with fifth place in the central division up for grabs.
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