Fuel are in good form heading into 2018
It took the Indy Fuel a little over two months and thirty games into this season to reach a winning streak that exceeded two games. Now that the Fuel have won four of their last five to end the month of December and are sitting 10 points out of the final playoff position with five games at hand the question becomes; are the Fuel legitimate contenders to make the ECHL playoffs?
To be fair, Fuel head coach Bernie John did a remarkable job this past offseason to revamp his coaching staff and roster from a year ago. John was able to secure the services from a full-time assistant in Ryan McGinnis, taking much-needed weight off John’s shoulders. In terms of the roster, John did away with a team mostly made up of old Indiana Ice connections and players just starting their professional journey, and added depth to the leadership and veteran categories. John was able to bring back veteran leadership in Zach Miskovic and Michael Neal, sign free agents Cam Reid and Geoff Walker, and added enforcement on the blue line in Garrett Clarke and Nolan Descoteaux. In addition, John was able to bring in Ryan Rupert to pair with his twin brother Matt. Of course, the surprise signing by John came in the form of Etienne Marcoux, an unknown goalie that has surprised everyone in the ECHL.
Although Walker left after six games to head back to Europe, John filled the void with the accommodations of Johnny McInnis and Darian Dziurzynski as both have combined for nine goals and seven assists over twenty games. Then, news broke yesterday that John signed a familiar name in Josh Shalla after his stint in England ended abruptly.
Last season the Fuel went into December with 18 points from an 8-8-1-1 record and looked poised for a playoff run. But December and all of its festive spirit sent the Fuel in the wrong direction as they finished the month with a 1-11-0-1 record plagued by injuries and call-ups.
Enter the 2017-2018 season and the Fuel stumbled out of the blocks with dismal 4-9-1-1 record heading into December 2017. This past month has given Fuel Nation a reason to believe as they doubled their win total from the previous two months and took max points from their divisional rivals on five occasions, and moved up to sixth in the division– 10 points back of fourth place Kansas City who hold the final playoff spot.
Those eight wins in December were a direct result of a consistent playing style by the Fuel. They limited their turnovers in the defensive zone, kept opposing teams wide, were quick to release players in the middle of the neutral zone to jump-start the attack, and scored. The Fuel netted 43 goals, scoring over five goals on three occasions. However, the Fuel’s consistent play starts and stops on special teams. The Fuel rank first in their division and fourth in the league in power play percentage, scoring 22 goals overall. But their true strength on special teams is their ability to shut teams down on the penalty kill. The Fuel rank second in their division and fifth in the league overall. The best part about their penalty kill has been their ability to score. As their opponents have tried to pin the Fuel back in their own zone, the Fuel have come away with eight shorthanded goals, tied for league best.
The Fuel will need another good run and more consistent play in the first month of 2018 to show the league and their fans they are playoff contenders. What better way to do this than play against division rivals on the road? Well, the Fuel play 10 of their 11 games this month against ECHL central opponents, with seven of their 11 games away from the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. If the Fuel can take max points from Cincinnati (two games), Kalamazoo (three games), Quad City (two games) and snag a point or two at home against Fort Wayne, I believe the Fuel will be within a few points of the fourth and final playoff position in the ECHL Central Division by the time February rolls around.
It all starts tonight at home against the Fort Wayne Komets.