INDIANAPOLIS – The ECHL playoff push is in full throttle and several teams are making their final push for a playoff spot. One of those teams making the push is the Indy Fuel, looking for their first-ever playoff berth. With three games remaining in the season, Indy has already surpassed the 2014-15 team for most points in team history (75). That season, the Fuel missed the playoffs by three points. Along with exceeding their 2014-15 points total, they’ve also earned the most regulation wins (35) in the team’s history. So what is the reasoning behind the best seasons in Fuel history?
One of the most significant factors for the success of the Indy Fuel this season is the number of players they have received on AHL contracts. This season there have been 12 AHL contracted players on the Fuel roster, including Collin Delia, who became the first Fuel alum to play for the Chicago Blackhawks.
There’s no real explanation for why Indy has received more players this season than usual. It could mean the Blackhawks are using Indy a little more as a developmental tool. It could also imply that Fuel coaches Bernie John and Ryan McGinnis are communicating more with Rockford and other AHL teams. Regardless of the reasoning, it’s working out well for the Fuel.
Players like Alex Wideman and defenseman Robin Press have had the best point production they’ve had in their professional careers. Along with Press and Wideman, players like Matheson Iacopelli and goaltender Matt Tomkins have flourished in their short stints with the Fuel. Iacopelli is a point-per-game player in the ECHL while Tomkins has posted a .912 save percentage in 25 games.
Starting with defensemen, both AHL contracted players lead the team in points per game. Press, who has had a career year this season with ten goals and 34 assists, leads defensemen in points-per-game as well as the entire team on the power play. Head Coach Bernie John set the six foot Swede up on the point on special teams, leading to a team-leading seven power-play goals.
Anselmini’s offensive numbers didn’t quite amount to Press’ 44 points, but the Guelph, Ontario native sits second on the team in plus/minus at a +5 rating. First place on the team belongs to Press at +9. Plus/minus can be a skewed stat but there is something to be said about both players leading the team in the category.
When it comes to the offensive side, the Rockford players aren’t as prominent. However, two players stand out when looking at points-per-game when playing in Indy, Alex Wideman and Iacopelli.
Wideman had a career year for the Fuel last season, putting up 22 goals and 33 assists in 70 games, but this season, he came to Indy on an AHL contract with the Rockford IceHogs. Assigned to the Fuel, Wideman is putting up points as consistently as he did last season, earning himself a call from Rockford in January. In 13 games with the IceHogs, he struggled to produce, not scoring a single point. However, playing at the ECHL level, Wideman has had no trouble getting his name on the scoresheet.
Ignoring Geoff Walker, who left the team early in the season to return to the EIHL, Wideman sits fourth on the team in points per game, tallying .88 points per game. Along with sitting at 4th in points-per-game, Wideman is tied for first on the team in power play goals with his Rockford counterpart Robin Press.
Iacopelli’s stats are difficult to analyze due to the small number of games he has played for Indy. However, in nine games for the Fuel, Iacopelli has scored nine goals. Not a bad stat if you ask me. The Chicago Blackhawks third-round draft pick has produced well in Rockford as well, tallying 11 goals and eight assists in 50 games.
In the fourth year of the five year affiliation between Chicago, Rockford and Indy, things are beginning to work out for the Fuel. Indy is being trusted with players other than goaltenders to develop and get ready for the next level. This season alone, two former Fuel players have made their debut in the National Hockey League. If the trajectory continues, it’s only a matter of time before more former Fuel players shine brightly in the AHL and NHL.