It took 17 seconds for the gloves to drop, and less than three minutes for the teddy bears to fly at the Fuel’s annual teddy bear toss game.
The Fuel’s Garrett Clarke tangled with Wichita’s captain Dyson Stevenson merely 17 seconds into the game to get the action started, but Fuel captain Michael Neal topped that just over two minutes later when he buried a goal up close to trigger the Fuel’s teddy bear toss. An announced crowd of 3,890 threw thousands of stuffed animals onto the ice– which were then donated to RTV6’s Christmas Toy Drive for underprivileged children in the Indianapolis area.
The Fuel were just getting warmed up though, as they rattled off two more goals by Matt Rupert and Cam Reid to take a 3-1 lead into the first intermission. 2:50 into the second period, Nathan Noel potted the Fuel’s fourth goal of the night, which resulted in a not-so-warm welcome to former Fuel netminder Shane Owen– who was pulled. Joel Rumpel replaced him in the Thunder’s crease, but the Fuel kept rolling throughout the second period as goals by Johnny McInnis, Reid and Neal padded the lead at 7-1 by the end of the second period. Rumpel allowed three goals on five shots faced.
Wichita turned back to Owen for the third period, which was highlighted by a brawl near the end of the game at the Fuel bench. Wichita’s Travis Ewanyk and Evan Polei received 10 and 15 penalty minutes respectively, while the Fuel’s Ryan Rupert received 15 for continuing an altercation and fighting. The game featured 77 penalty minutes, and over the course of those, the Fuel converted two of four power plays and successfully killed both shorthanded scenarios.
Not to be outdone by the offensive showing, the Fuel’s defense stood tall against the division-leading Thunder. Rookie goaltender Matt Tomkins stymied Wichita despite being outshot 41-25. Tomkins continued his impressive start to the season, as he followed up last night’s 48-save winning effort with 40 saves tonight. Tomkins now owns a 3-0-0 record in four appearances (he left one game due to injury) and although he has not appeared in enough games to count as a qualified goalie for statistical rankings, he unofficially leads the entire ECHL with a .962 save percentage.
Tonight was a statement win by a team that could very well be turning the corner. Tomkins and Marcoux are a deadly 1-2 goaltender combination as long as Collin Delia is in Rockford (who many believe has been outplayed by the aforementioned duo) and the offense and special teams have been clicking as of late. The power play and penalty kill units now rank third and fourth in the conference in efficiency, respectively. The Fuel should look to continue playing a physical game, and string together numerous efforts such as tonight in a row. If they do, they will be a tough team to play against down the stretch.
Three stars of the game:
1- Cam Reid (2g)
2- Michael Neal (2g)
3- Matt Tomkins (40 saves)
Other players recording points:
Ryan Rupert notched two assists, while Nolan Descoteaux, Jack Burton, Troy Vance, Alex Wideman, Tommy Olczyk, Nick Bligh and Brandon Anselmini each recorded one assist.
Points- Cam Reid, 16
Goals- Nick Bligh, Michael Neal, 7
Assists- Cam Reid, 10
Penalty minutes- Garrett Clarke, 109