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ECHL

Nailers Grind Out Victory Over Fuel

INDIANAPOLIS – A large crowd filed into the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on a rainy Friday evening to watch the Indy Fuel take on their division rival Wheeling Nailers for the final time this season. With the postseason just weeks away and the Fuel just barely alive in the race, a win against third-place Wheeling was almost a must, but the Nailers had other ideas.

The Nailers, also fighting to clinch a playoff spot, came out of the tunnel flying up and down the ice. They managed to take the first ten shots on goal and controlled the game for most of the opening period. Later in the frame, Indy started to test Wheeling goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon, but most of the action continued to be on Indy’s Justin Kapelmaster, who made 14 first-period saves from breakaways to defensive zone turnover chances. Still, he managed to stall the Nailer offense through one.

The second period started quite similar to the previous, as the Nailers seemed to skate circles around the Indy defenders. They broke the tie just under a minute into the period when Adam Smith crashed the net and found the puck to put his team in front. Wheeling kept the pressure up and struck again when Tim Doherty capitalized on an Indy defensive zone mishap and blew a shot past Kapelmaster for a 2-0 lead. Any Fuel opportunity in the period seemed to be either deflected away by an opposing stick or quickly turned aside by the Wheeling netminder and turned up the side for a Nailer scoring chance. Indy just seemed off through the first two periods.

Down two entering the third, the Fuel came out laying hits on their opponents and attempting to take advantage of the home crowd, but nothing worked all night. Wheeling gave Indy some chances off of turnovers, but the Fuel couldn’t bury their chances once again. An Indy penalty later in the third allowed the Nailers to shed two more minutes of valuable clock time for a Fuel comeback. Jan Mandat finally got the Fuel on the board with just over a minute remaining. Indy immediately called a timeout, pulled its goalie, and crashed the net for chances but could not seize another goal.

“The effort was there, the compete is there, the character in that room you can’t measure. And I’ve never been prouder to stand behind a bench of a group of men in my life.” Indy Fuel Coach Duncan Dalmao commented on his team’s performance tonight despite the loss.

Key Takeaways

Goaltending Battle

Both netminders tonight deserved to be recognized for their performances. Wheeling’s Guindon held his shutout bid for nearly 59 minutes and made 21 saves, including fighting off several transition opportunities. Despite the loss, Kapelmaster should be applauded for his 29 save performance for the Fuel, as he essentially kept Indy in the game during the first two periods. His third-period workload was much laxer, as he only faced three shots with the Nailers playing off in defense.

Slow Starts

The difference in tonight’s game was the first five minutes of each period. The first two periods saw Wheeling pound the Fuel with shots and hold puck possession for most of that time. Indy seemed to come out a little lackadaisical in the opening minutes of periods tonight. Wheeling was winning one-on-one puck battles, and the Fuel couldn’t string together multiple passes or finish off scoring chances. The third period was an improvement for Indy, but Wheeling’s defensive play neutralized any Fuel attack that was initiated.

Sharp as Nails

Wheeling is a legit playoff team, and they showed that Friday. As mentioned, they came out and controlled the game early and often. They just seemed determined to leave Indianapolis with the two points. They always had their guys around the puck and in front of the net to make Kapelmaster’s night difficult. It was a complete game in all phases by the visitors from West Virginia.

Penalties?

As a side note, just one penalty was called during the entire game on Friday night, and of course, it was called on the Fuel late in the third at a detrimental time. It was nice to see the referees just let the teams play for long stretches at five aside for a change, but that penalty was a thorn in the Fuel’s side in terms of momentum.

While Indy is still technically in the playoff hunt, it will take nearly a win in every remaining game plus help from other divisional opponents losing, such as Cincinnati, Wheeling, and Kalamazoo, to even have a chance; it is never over until you are officially eliminated. Indy will head to Iowa for a Saturday night start before returning to Indianapolis for the final week of the regular season against league-leading Toledo.

 

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    Josh Neireiter covers the Indy Fuel for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHFuel.

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