INDIANAPOLIS – At this point in the season, the Indy Fuel are just looking to close the books on a positive note. It has been a difficult season throughout for the team, but there’s still pride to play for. Hosting the league-leading Toledo Walleye on Wednesday provided the perfect opportunity to start off the final week of the regular season.
Wednesday night didn’t start off so smoothly for the Fuel as they came out slow and turned the puck over numerous times in their own zone, forcing goaltender Mitch Gillam to sprawl out for saves to keep the game even early on. Then, about halfway through the period, the game seemed to flip. Indy started to find creases in the Walleye defense, leading to many transition and breakaway chances for the Fuel. The home team continued to startle the Toledo defense and finally broke through late in the first when Darien Craighead fired a shot from below the right-wing circle past Billy Christopoulos to give the Fuel the 1-0 into the break.
The Fuel continued their push into the second period and struck again when Riley McKay capitalized on a shorthanded rebound to grow the lead to 2-0. All seemed to be going in the right direction for Indy until a late 2 on 1 opportunity for Toledo leading to a Patrick Curry tap in with just five seconds remaining in the period cut the lead in half.
The Walleye would even the score when Sam Craggs beat Gillam top shelf on an odd-man rush early in the third. However, Indy fought back quickly and just minutes later regained the lead when Jan Mandat blasted a shot past Christopoulos. Once again, Toledo would come right back with Cole Fraser firing a shot from the blue line that zipped past Gillam to level the score. Following that was a stretch of back and forth action with plays being broken up in the neutral zone.
It wasn’t until the six minute mark when the Walleye would commit their first penalty of the night, and the Fuel would take advantage with Chad Yetman aiming a shot from the point that fought its way to the net to put Indy back on top. As expected though, the league leaders wouldn’t fall easily. Pulling their goalie in the final minute; Toledo used their extra attacker to camp in front of the Fuel net. Outnumbering the Fuel, Mitchell Heard found a rebound with just 45 seconds remaining, tying the score for the third time on the night.
After blowing three leads, could the Fuel really hold off Toledo once again? Captain Keoni Texeira answered that question just thirty seconds into the extra time. Texeira charged up the left side and ripped a wrist shot just inside a top post to propel the Fuel to a 5-4 victory.
“I think we got some prideful guys in there, and, obviously, it doesn’t mean anything standings wise, but there’s some guys that actually want to play for each other and compete,” Indy Fuel head coach Duncan Dalmao commented on his team’s performance on Wednesday night.
Special Teams Success
You couldn’t ask for much better of a performance in terms of special teams for the Fuel. They killed off both Toledo power plays, while also scoring a shorthanded goal on one of them. Also, on their only man-advantage opportunity, Indy retook the lead late in the contest at 4-3. It’s important to rehash that the Fuel only gave up two power plays to one of the top special teams units in the league. It was a very disciplined performance for Indy, and when they faced adversity, they came through.
Indy blew three leads in this contest, at 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3. It’s not a very positive takeaway from any game. Still, it should be noted that Toledo was never able to take the lead at any point on the night. Indy responded quickly in two of the three situations and never really hung their heads, but instead they went back to work to retake the lead each time. Credit to Toledo though, as they stole a point with their late goal in the third to inch closer to the Brabham Cup.
When playing the top team in your league, it is imperative that you do not let up at any time during the contest, however, it does happen and can lead to goals at the worst times. Indy did exactly that, suffering two goals in the final minute of periods. The first one was with just five seconds left in the second and energized the Walleye to tie the game just two minutes into the next period. The other “backbreaker” came with forty-five seconds left in regulation on the Mitchell Heard goal. Those kinds of things just can’t happen as they can be demoralizing to a team.
All in all, the Fuel fought hard against a Kelly Cup favorite and with the victory, Indy will ride momentum into this weekend for a doubleheader with Cincinnati to close out the season. Unfortunately, the Fuel will not be participating in the Kelly Cup Playoffs this season, but a couple more victories would be optimal to build off of heading into the offseason.
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