Blackhawks: Indy Fuel Report

Mike Neal takes extra shots after practice. (Dalton Tinklenberg/Blue HQ Media)

The inaugural season for the Indy Fuel was the 2014-2015 campaign. In the three years of its existence, the Fuel has posted a record of 86-138-0-1 and never made the playoffs. Last year, the Fuel was 23-42-0-3, their worst season of the three. Seems like doom and gloom until you consider the change since Head Coach Bernie John took over as interim coach on March 7 and was named head coach on April 8 last season. Under Coach John, the Fuel finished the season with a record of 8-6-3 in their last 17 games. More impressive, they closed out the final ten games with a record of 6-3-1. The team is clearly on the right path and ready for a strong 2017-2018 season.

New assistant coach Ryan Mcginnis said about the Fuel under Coach Bernie John, “There’s a lot of new ideas being thrown around, so it’s fresh. It’s young. It’s lively around here.” Sitting in Indiana Farmer’s Coliseum today watching practice, meeting the players, and talking with the coaches, it is obvious that the team feels that the end of last year was only the beginning. They are convinced that they can make the playoffs for the first time in the young team’s existence. Those words: fresh, young, fast, lively. They were thrown around by the coaches and the players frequently. Being on the same page is a sure sign of team cohesion and a sign of good things to come.

Coach John is building this team to put other teams on their heels. “I like our speed; we’ve got a little more speed than we had last year. We wanna play with a little bit of pace.” One issue that John identified as a problem last year was the lack of offensive production, especially the number of shots attempted per game. He said, “Our mindset is to get more shots. We want to average 35-40 shots per game.” He believes a change in the way they play with the addition of young guys with more speed and skill will make that happen.

Good news for the Fuel, Alex Wideman returns to the Fuel this year. Last year, Wideman tallied 55 points in 70 games and averaged more shots on goal (3 per game) than any other Fuel player. Wideman is small at 5’7”, weighing just 162 pounds, but is clearly driven to succeed. He manages being smaller with speed. According to Wideman, “Speed kills!” He is goal driven, sending himself email reminders of his goals that he believes will lead him to his outstanding statistics. “Puck protection- be the first guy to the puck making sure those guys need to defend me.” His speed and ability to put his defenders on their heels fall in perfectly with Coach John’s philosophy.

More good news for the fuel- centerman Mike Neal is close to returning following knee surgery. Last year Neal played 21 games with the Fuel potting 12 goals and adding 13 assists for 25 points. He was a big part of that strong finish to the season. Following practice today, Neal remained on the ice for a little extra work on tight turns and start/stops. He credits assistant Coach Ryan McGinnis with aiding his recovery. “Our new assistant coach McGinnis has been great to try to get me back, hopefully, ahead of schedule, if not right on schedule. Neal skated for the first time with his new knee brace today and looked very strong and fast on the ice. He added that he, “couldn’t be more happy to come back and keep this ball rolling as we finished last season on a good foot.”

Wideman and Neal will get a lot of help from Matt Rupert who scored 37 points last season. Rupert’s twin brother Ryan has also joined the team. Ryan is a center who scored 21 points in 29 games last season with the Wichita Thunder. Nick Bligh has also returned after a nice season where he scored 22 points in 28 games with the Fuel. Joining these offensive scorers is defensive newcomer Anthony Cortese. This is Cortese’s first stint in the pros, but he brings an offensive minded defensive game with him. Last year, Cortese scored 18 points in 28 games. In 2014-2015, he scored 51 points in 59 games leading the league in scoring for a defenseman. He could be a perfect answer for this up-tempo game that Coach Johns is implementing.

With all of this youth and speed, Zach Miskovic is a welcome returnee. He will provide some toughness and on ice direction that this team will need. He is a former alternate captain in the AHL and knows how to play. Joining him is veteran right winger Geoff Walker. Walker has played in the AHL and the ECHL prior to playing in the AlpsHL and EIHL last year. In 48 games last year, Walker scored 67 points. He will help on the offensive end as well as add invaluable knowledge as a tested veteran. With a more youthful team, Miskovic and Walker will be that much more important.

The Fuel has three capable goalies on the roster. Collin Delia, Matt Tomkins, and Etienne Marcoux. Delia had an outstanding game vs. Fort Wayne stopping 38 shots in one game this pre-season. His performance caught the eye of Rockford who quickly called him up. According to Coach John, he will practice with Rockford, but likely see action with the Fuel. Of course, with injuries and peaking players, who knows if he will return. Fortunately for the Fuel, they have a very capable back-up in Matt Tomkins. Tomkins is 6’3”, ideal for a goalie in today’s game. Tomkins posted a 12-5-3 record last year for Ohio State and posted a 2.48 Goal Against Average. In practice, Tomkins looked very sharp, especially with a very quick glove hand. His strengths in net- “My athleticism. I like to use my size, my speed, and make big saves when I have to,” says Tomkins. With Tomkins and Delia, the Fuel are in good shape. Should a third goalie be needed, new signee Etienne Marcoux will step in. Marcoux is smaller but posted some amazing stats last year. At the University of New Brunswick, Marcoux boasted an excellent 1.59 Goals Against Average, with a record of 15-2-0. Playing for the Fuel will most certainly be a step up in competition, but Marcoux has the ability to make the most of it. What seemed to be a question mark a few months ago has turned into a definite positive.

The Indy Fuel open their season on Friday, October 13 at Wichita. Will this team realize its potential and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history? Only time will tell. If being unified in mission and exuberant in task is any indication, this team will do well. I only spent about four hours with this group, but I heard repeatedly about youth, about speed, about building a winning team. I saw these words put to action on the ice. When these players, who have their sights on playing in the NHL, have this level of commitment to the Fuel, the coaching staff is doing all the right things. Indy may well have a playoff team on their hands.

About Dalton Tinklenberg 366 Articles
My name is Dalton Tinklenberg and I am the Executive Producer for Blue HQ Media. I’ve followed sports for as long as I can remember and am a former Pacers’ fan zone member. I began writing a blog about the Pacers in early 2015 before moving on to cover the Colts for ProFootballSpot in late July of 2016. In September, fellow writers Aaron Coffey and Jeff Tibbins, along with myself, decided to found Blue HQ Media. We are extremely dedicated to top of the line content so without further ado, welcome to your new favorite news source.