INDIANAPOLIS – As the playoffs continue to get closer and a first-ever division title is within reach, the Indy Fuel returned home looking to sweep the last-place Iowa Heartlanders in their weekend home-and-home series that began Friday. With division rivals Toledo and Cincinnati closing in on Indy for the Central Division lead, it’s important for the Fuel to take care of opponents on the lower end of the standings. Still, sometimes that doesn’t always work out, as was the case in a 4-2 win by Iowa.
With revenge on their minds from earlier this week, the Heartlanders raced out to an early lead. On the first shot of the game, the Heartlanders capitalized on a dump-in and Fuel misplay behind the net that led to Tommy Parrottino firing a shot past Indy’s Mitchell Weeks as he fell to the ice from the lower circle. Iowa kept the offensive zone pressure up, keeping the puck inside the blue line for an extended period of time, finally finishing a chance with Tanner MacMaster finding a cutting Nolan Orzeck who took the pass and beat Weeks on the far side just over his pad to make it 2-0 in favor of the visitors. Down two, Indy began to pick up the physicality to counter Iowa’s speed, and it showed signs of success. The Fuel finished the period with a barrage of shots on Iowa’s Darion Hanson, but he stood his ground. The Heartlanders killed the Fuel’s momentum in the final minute, winning the race to a loose puck and drawing a penalty on the breakaway attempt.
Indy had a much better start to the middle period, killing off the remainder of the Iowa man advantage and producing numerous scoring opportunities. The majority of play took place in the Heartlander zone. Still, Hanson continued to stifle the Fuel scoring chances, including an incredible glove save on a breakaway drive to the net by Koletrane Wilson. Cameron Hillis finally broke through for the Fuel after he poked a rebound past Hanson following a shot from the blue line by Christopher Cameron to cut the lead in half. The Fuel outshot the Heartlanders 16-6 in the period but were unable to solve Hanson a second time and trailed by one heading into the third.
Rolling into the third period, the early parts were mostly even with a lot of end-to-end play for both sides. Iowa redoubled their lead on a power play goal, with James Sanchez finishing off a pass from MacMaster from the right circle. Indy’s comeback attempts continued to be plagued with penalties. The Fuel made one last push late, with Hillis finding Carson Rose on a two-on-one after Iowa failed to keep the puck in their offensive zone. The Fuel pulled their goalie with over three minutes to play and kept the puck in the Iowa zone for the majority of that time, bombarding Hanson with shots, but an Indy turnover lead to Zach White sealing the win for Iowa with an empty netter.
Iowa’s Quick Start
Indy seemed to control most of the game, but the one segment of the game saw a slow start ultimately sink them. Two goals in the first six minutes of play silenced the crowd and forced the Fuel to play from behind the entire night. The disappointing aspect for Indy was their mistakes leading to the goals. Turnovers behind the net and defensive lapses were to blame for Iowa’s early advantage.
Despite being heavily outshot, Iowa finished the job Friday night, and they have one player to thank for holding off the Indy offense: Darion Hanson. He needed every one of his 33 timely saves to hold off the Fuel firepower on Friday night. In the closing stages of every period, he was able to slam the door on any late goals for Indy even when one seemed imminent. Hanson was truly the difference-maker in this game.
MacMaster’s Breakout Night
Coming into the game, Tanner MacMaster only had two points in four games this season, but on Friday, he played on another level. The forward tallied three assists on the night, including the dump-in on the first goal, the pass to a cutting Nolan Orzeck on the second, and the go-ahead goal pass to James Sanchez for a one time shot. His playmaking ability was key to Iowa’s quick start and game-winning goal. Look for him to make more noise as he gets familiar with the league.
This is a very difficult loss for Indy to swallow. Being the top team in the division and falling on home ice to a team at the opposite end of the standings is a loss of two valuable points. To add to that, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Fort Wayne all won their games on Friday, so each one continues to inch closer to the first place Fuel as the playoffs get ever so closer. Indy looks to end the week on a high note on Saturday night when they travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on the Wings. It will be the first of four straight road contests before returning home on February 24 against second-place Toledo.
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