ECHL Central Division Semi-Finals Game 1 Recap: Indy Fuel vs Wheeling Nailers | 04/19/2024

Nailers and Fuel via Justin Cohn flohockey.com

The Wheeling Nailers and Indy Fuel met for game one of their series in the Kelly Cup playoffs. Before this, the team had met 11 times this past season. Six of the 11 meetings were decided by one goal, with Indianapolis winning eight of the 11. The Fuel finished the season sitting at 39-25-6, and the Nailers finished at 38-28-4.

Before the game, Nailers coach Derek Army said in the pregame about their last home game: “Jaxon Castor was fantastic. It gave us a chance to win, and the guys stepped up from there.” Then we heard Indys Coach Duncan Delmao talking about his experienced team, saying, “The leaders in the room have been involved in high-level hockey, whether it be Juniors, college, this level, American leagues, or even National league level. Those are experiences they are going to pull from and certainly be the guys stepping up and into the room.”

The first period got underway seeing Nailers taking the first faceoff. Three minutes and 57 seconds in the first Penalty is called when Indys Kale Howarth blows Wheelings Justin Lee into the boards. Howarth gets taken to the ice by Wheelings Jordan Frasca, and Indys Brett Bulmer comes in to protect his teammate. Lee, up off the ice from the hit, comes back and challenges Bulmer, and they throw down gloves and start throwing hands. Bulmer, The clear winner of that fight, connects many hits to Lee, pulling off Lee’s helmet and leaving him with a reminder that you don’t mess with his team. No penalty was called on the hit that began this scrum, and the play continues. Both teams are now going hard at each other, and the hits are getting harder and bigger with each contact. 

We see our second significant action play come at 7:36 of the period when Indy’s Kale Howarth and Wheelings’ Peter Laviolette get into it after Laviolette shoves Howarth into the glass. Andrew Perrott comes rushing in and starts pulling at Laviolette. Gloves are dropped for a second time, and before any accurate punches are thrown, the linesmen are there trying to break. The Linesmen break up the fight and send Peter Laviolette to the penalty box for a double minor for roughing since he was the instigator. That puts Indy on the first Power play of the series. Indy held onto a 20.9% on power plays, only making 54 goals on the 228 PPs they saw during the regular season. Seconds before the PP ends, Indys Kyle Maksimovic finds the back of the net with a shot from the inside circle. Maksimovic led the Fuel in the regular season with goals, taking the Fuel to lead 1-0. 

In the last five minutes of the period, we saw Indys Chase Lang get called for slashing, putting the Nailers on the PP. This season, Nailers finished with a 20.5% on Power Plays, only making 51 of 249 goal opportunities. The power play ended with no advancement for the Nailers but instead more hard hits against the Fuel. Nailers Dillon Hamaliuk saw our last penalty of the period for Cross-checking Indys Santino Centorame, almost leading us to another fight between Seamus Malone and Hamaliuk; instead, the refs intervened. The Indy Fuel closed out the first period, leading in goals and shots on goal, with Nailers having only four while Indy had 16. Our goaltenders on the net tonight are Jaxon Castor for Wheeling, who has a 2.71GAA and .899SV%, and Mitchell Weeks for Indy, who has a 2.75GAA and .898SV%.

The second period started, and at 1:21 in, the Wheelers got their first goal of the night from David Bunz, bringing the score to 1-1. A couple of heavy hits later, we see Indy find the net again when Bryan Lemos makes it 2-1 with his own rebound shot. Less than a minute later, Indy gets the puck back, and Kyle Maksimovic makes it 3-1 Indy, also putting Maksimovic on Hatty watch. Things start to get chirpy between teams, and they have a staff meeting in front of the net, never really turning into anything, even with Andrew Perrott and Jordan Frasca once again shoving and pushing each other. Until Indy once again finds the hole, and Andrew Bellant, with a breakaway, makes it 4-1. Not a single penalty was called in the second period, but we saw a lot of hard hits and great puck play. Wheeling closes out the period with nine shots on goal to Indys 11.

The third period started, and the teams began to get heavy, with both teams taking it all to the ice. We saw offsides as our first call against Wheeling when two of Justin Addamos’ teammates couldn’t wait to cross the blue line. With tensions running high, some more words with touching were shared between Indys D.J. King and Nailers Jared Westcott when King thought Westcott was just a little too close to his Goalie. At 10:15, we saw our first penalty since the first period, which came against Indys Chase Lang for Slashing and Nailers Tanner Laderoute for High-Sticking D.J. King to the face. Indy takes another penalty a minute and fifteen seconds later when Matthew Cairns’s Hip checks Jordan Frasca and gets called for tripping. Taking Wheeling to a 4v3 powerplay. During that power play, the Fuel’s only forward on the ice gets tossed from the faceoff, and Defenseman Santino Centorame has to step up and take it. During that time, we see Jordan Frasca heading to the dressing room, doubled over in pain. Wheeling makes good on their Power Play with a one-timer by Dillion Hamaliuk, bringing the score 4-2. 

Photo: WheelingNailers.com

Play continues, and the players continue to increase their aggressiveness on the ice. We saw Justin Addamo and Kyle Maksimovic have a scuffle with nothing called. Andrew Perrott and Peter Laviolette go at it, earning both players roughing penalties, with Perrot getting the Double Minor for roughing. Laviolette was slow to get up and head straight to the dressing room with blood pouring from his face. We now have two forwards in the Nailers dressing room; this is not good, as the Nailers do not have the reserve roster for multiple injuries if either player cannot return for game two. Once the power play ended, we saw action at 16:03. Indys Kale Howarth made good on all his talk this game, found a weakness in Castor with a one-timer, and made the game 5-2, winning Game One.

The game’s first star is Kyle Maksimovich, who scored two goals and one assist.

The game’s second star is Bryan Lemos, who scored one goal and one assist.

The game’s third star is Andrew Bellant, who scored one goal.

This is Indy Fuel’s first playoff win in franchise history on home ice and their first victory in playoffs since 2021, when they beat the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. They completely outshot the Nailers by 11 for a total ending with Nailers making 20 SOG and the Fuel having 31. Game two of this series is on April 20th in Indy, and the puck drops at 7:00 pm EST, where the Fuel will try to make it a 2-0 series, and the Nailers fight to tie.

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Stephanie DeLaFleur

Beat Writer covering the ECHL Savannah Ghost Pirates, NHL Vegas Golden Knights and AHL Henderson Silver Knights. Follow me on X @StephiDelafleur

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