INDIANAPOLIS – On a chilly Saturday night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Indy Fuel edged past Central Division foe Kalamazoo 3-2. It was Star Wars Night, and the sellout crowd watched as the force was with their hometown Fuel, who came back twice to finally gain and hold the lead until the final buzzer.
The capacity crowd was faced with displeasure early in the contest when Wings forward Max Humitz found open ice in front of the net, receiving a pass and backhanding the puck past Fuel goaltender Zach Driscoll for the early lead just thirty-six seconds in. Indy would shake off the early blow, and Spencer Watson would bring the game back even by tipping a shot from the point that redirected past Kalamazoo netminder Evan Cormier.
The Wings regained their advantage just over four minutes into the middle frame, with Leif Mattson cutting to the front of the net and firing home a pass similar to his team’s first goal. Kalamazoo had the lead and momentum for most of the period, but the Fuel would strike again with Watson sending a one-timer past Cormier on a pass in front to notch his second of the night. Indy continued to push, and despite getting a penalty, they found a way to capitalize. Twice on the same penalty kill, Andrew Bellant stole passes leading to breakaways, with the first one resulting in a missed penalty shot. He wouldn’t mess up the second time as he beat Cormier low glove side to give the Fuel a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
The third period was highlighted by its fast pace and minimal whistles. Most of the play involved neutral ice possession, especially with the Fuel protecting a one-goal lead. Kalamazoo had a chance late with a power play with 6:04 remaining, but the Wings failed to generate much offense on the opportunity. They would take a penalty of their own with three minutes remaining, and from there, they were left with almost no time to tie the game, leading to a 3-2 victory for Indy.
Spencer the Savior
Recently, Spencer Watson became Indy’s all-time leader in goals and points in franchise history. He carried that ability into this contest, scoring two of the three Fuel goals, both of which were to tie the game. When Kalamazoo seemed to be in the driver’s seat, Watson found a way to seize momentum back to the Fuel, and this included his skillful tipped shot goal in the first and his rocket one-timer in the late stages of the second.
The Momentum Shift
Early on, the Fuel seemed to be the better team, but they made costly mistakes that gave the Wings their leads. From costly turnovers to defensive breakdowns in front of the net, Indy seemed to struggle with this in the first half of the contest, and Kalamazoo took advantage. Once Indy tightened up, the Wings had almost no answers. After Watson tied the game at two, Kalamazoo struggled to generate much of an offense, and once the Fuel took the lead late in the period, there was no coming back for the Wings.
Powerful Penalty Kill
While Indy didn’t stay out of the box tonight, they made sure that it wouldn’t hurt them, and in a case like tonight, it seemed to help them with Bellant’s shorthanded breakaway goal that ultimately won them the game. It was also noticeable that the penalty kill improved as the night went on, with Kalamazoo hardly being able to set up for the final few. It was an impressive showing for a team not known for its penalty killing unit.
“It was awesome. We played in front of another great crowd tonight. As a team, we build off of that, and it was awesome,” Indy Fuel forward Spencer Watson said of the atmosphere of the sellout crowd on Saturday night.
The victory helps the Fuel hold first place over the Cincinnati Cyclones in the Central Division. Meanwhile, Kalamazoo remains in sixth place out of the seven teams but is still very much in play for a playoff spot at just six points out of third. Indy travels to in-state rival Fort Wayne on Sunday for an afternoon matchup with the Komets before the all-star break next week. Indy returns home on Friday, Jan. 19, against Cincinnati for a battle between the top squads in the Central Division.
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