INDIANAPOLIS – With under ten games to play in the regular season, the Indy Fuel looked to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot against the division rival Cincinnati Cyclones on a windy Wednesday night in the Circle City. With the return of many key players from Rockford of the American Hockey League, the Fuel was able to do just that.
The two central division foes played to a scoreless first period of action. Cincinnati controlled the majority of the period, totaling 16 shots on goal and forcing Indy goaltender Justin Kapelmaster to fight off several cross creases chances and odd-man rushes. Indy sparingly found its scoring chances in the first, usually countering off of a Cyclone turnover.
The roles reversed in the second period, as the Fuel dominated the frame with 19 shots, constantly battering Cincy’s Michael Houser with scoring opportunities. Indy’s transition game generated chances with breakaways from Jan Mandat and Chase Yetman. Though, no chance was successful until Riley McKay skated up the right wall shorthanded and fired a wrist shot low past Houser to break the goaltender’s perfection late in the second period.
The final period began with the teams trading transition chances, forcing both netminders to stay focused for the tight finish. The Cyclones would continue to inch closer to beating Kapelmaster before Brycen Martin skated up the left side on a transition rush and solved Houser over his shoulder to grow the lead to 2-0 late in the third. Less than a minute later, Cliff Watson entered the scoring sheet with an empty netter from the far side of the ice to halt any chance of a Cincinnati comeback.
“We would like to get off to a better start. Those kinds of things are crucial, and you can’t lean on your goaltender to make 17 saves in the first period on a regular basis.” Indy Head Coach Duncan Dalmao commented on his team’s slow start to Wednesday night’s game.
Kapelmaster vs Houser
It’s a shame that one of these guys had to take the loss tonight, as both played fantastic games for their clubs. Kapelmaster stopped all 36 Cincinnati shots he faced, from one-timers to slap shots to transition chances. He had undoubtedly one of his best performances of the season. Houser had a solid night for Cincinnati, stopping 38 of the 40 Fuel shots he battled. Indy’s offense was humming tonight, and without his heroics, this game could’ve been a much more lopsided affair.
Four Fuel players returned to the Circle City Wednesday morning from the Rockford Icehogs, and it was clear that they were the difference-makers on the evening. Riley McKay scored the first and game-winning goal, and Cliff Watson sealed the deal with his empty-net tally. Chase Yetman also made his mark, assisting on the second goal of the night for the Fuel to ultimately put the game out of Cincinnati’s reach.
If there was one aspect that has seemed to negatively affect the Fuel all season, it was the penalty box. Penalties have been an issue during Indy’s prolonged losing streaks that now have them sitting in the seventh spot in the Central Division. Tonight, however, was much better as Indy only gave up two power plays to the Cyclones, as opposed to receiving three power plays from Cincinnati. Also, Indy scored while on the penalty kill, making that unit one of the evening’s highlights.
The victory positions the Fuel just six points out of a playoff spot with nine games remaining. Indy will play three games in three different cities over the weekend, starting with Wheeling on Friday night. Indy will visit first-place Toledo on Saturday before returning to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum for a 5:00 pm start against Iowa on Sunday. The Fuel will look to gain as many points as possible from the upcoming weekend slate as they try to stay in the playoff hunt for another week.
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