INDIANAPOLIS – The Indy Fuel hope to repeat the same success they had in the 2017-18 season. As we all know, in a free agent league such as the ECHL, if you’re not a team like Toledo or Fort Wayne, it’s difficult to repeatedly have success and make the playoffs year in and year out.
Last year, the Fuel had their best season on record. They put up a record of 36-30-5-1 (78 points) and landed fourth in the Central Division. Along with the most wins in franchise history, the team also put up 242 goals, the most goals in five years as a franchise. The first season as a franchise, the Fuel put up 192 goals behind Head Coach Scott Hillman.
In the locker room, the Fuel brought back a solid core of players last season including Josh Shalla, Alex Wideman and Michael Neal.
“You hear some coaches talk about it all of the time. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t have the chemistry to make it work, it doesn’t happen,” said Head Coach Bernie John at the team’s media day when talking about the 2018-19 team.
This season is a little different, there are still a few returning players but there was a good amount of turnover from last year.
“Some of these guys have been here for three years now or going on their third year. These guys already know what the structure is, a lot of the stuff we want to do as coaches. A lot of them are forwards, we’ve only got (Miskovic) that’s on the back on, were young on the back.”
Indy has a strong offensive lineup, including Olivier Labelle, Josh Shalla and Kevin Dufour. With an offensive lineup like the one that Bernie brought in, the team will certainly be difficult to play against.
“We’re going to be physical, we have a big team. Alot of big forwards came down from Rockford. I think we’re going to score a lot, we’re going to be fast and I think we’re going to be a fun team to watch,” said Josh Shalla at Fuel media day.
Shalla returns to Indy for his third season so he’ll be one of the veteran players in this year’s locker room. Labelle brings a strong, veteran game to the Fuel locker room.
“He’s a nasty player to play against, guys can’t stand playing against him. He’s in your face, he’s tough, he can score goals, he can do alot of the different things. But also his leadership from where he’s been.”
Labelle has over 130 games of AHL experience on his belt as well as over 400 ECHL games. Veteran leadership like that goes a long way in any locker room.
Although the team will not likely struggle to put pucks in the net, they may struggle to keep them out of their own net. It’s possible to see a lot of high scoring, back and forth games, not that there’s anything wrong with a wide-open game. But that being said, as Josh Shalla mentioned at media day “They’re going to have to roll their lines with our lines and you’re going to get the matchups sometimes, sometimes you’re not.” Matchups will be huge when it comes to winning games this season.
The defensive side of Fuel lineup is going to be an interesting story all season. The back-end is a young group and a group that is going to rely on the offensive side to make things happen. Sometimes that can be a difficult task to ask of the offense. If your defense struggles to make the first breakout pass, the whole sequence breaks down, causing consistent pressure in the defensive zone. During media day, both players and John discussed heavily how deep the offense is but also mentioned how young the defense is and how they’ll have to rely on players like Miskovic to learn the ropes of being a professional player and how to prepare night in and night out.
Since the announcement of the affiliation with Rockford and Chicago, Indy has always had strong goaltending. Whether it was Mac Carruth, Jake Hildebrand or Collin Delia, the affiliation has always sent down at least one solid goaltender for the purpose of playing starting goaltender minutes. This season, that goaltender is Matt Tomkins, who played 25 games for Indy last season while on a Rockford IceHogs contract. Consistency is sometimes a problem with Tomkins but coming into his second professional season, his skills should be a little more refined with an offseason to prepare.
Likely backing up Tomkins will be Jason Pawloski. Pawloski returns to Indy where he played for the USHL Indiana Ice. During his time in the USHL, he helped the team to a Clark Cup championship while also winning USHL Clark Cup MVP.
The Rockford/Chicago affiliation is as good as its ever been. The Fuel opening night roster will have six players under contract with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. Forwards Radovan Bondra, Connor Moynihan and Brett Welychka, defensemen Neil Manning and Josh McArdle, and goaltender Matt Tomkins all started the season with the Fuel. The Blackhawks seem to really like having the ability to develop players in the ECHL and it’s a great look for Indy when players who started their careers in a Fuel uniform graduate to play in the American Hockey League or even the National Hockey League.
In the stands and in the community, the Fuel continue to do great things. This offseason they donated a bus to the Boys and Girls Club of Indiana as well as created a ticket sharing program for season ticket holders to give their tickets to the Boys and Girls Club. The Jr Fuel hockey organization continues to thrive with teams as low as Mini-Mite Little Nitros to a U16 AAA TPH team. In terms of attendance, the Fuel had their best season ever last season. Averaging 3,913 per game, the Fuel put up their highest attendance numbers since the second season in which they averaged 3,856. The Fuel are looking to keep those attendance numbers through the 2018-19 season at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Overall, the Fuel are in great shape and are getting better every year. The IceHogs will have several players on the Fuel roster this season, giving Indy players who are at an American League skill level. Players and coaches are very adamant that the team will make the playoffs as well as make a run at the Kelly Cup Playoffs this season.