ECHL Game Recap: Wheeling Nailers vs Indy Fuel Series | 04/20/2024

Photo Credit: Stacey Gramlich | Inside The Rink

The Indy Fuel met with the Wheeling Nailers Friday night in Indianapolis for game two of their Kelly Cup Playoff series. Indy won 5-2 in the first game, with lots of heavy hits and challenging plays. The Wheelers want to tie this series as they return to their barn for game three. Looking to tonight’s game with the same tenacity, The Fuel intends to make it a two-game lead heading to West Virginia. Going into game two, Wheeling really needs to step up its game. Its young players include only one player with previous Kelly Cup Playoff experience, compared to Indy, which has upwards of six players with either NHL experience or ECHL or AHL playoff experience. 

Puck drop, and we see Indy Fuel have the first shot on Nailers Goalie Jaxon Castor. Castor played last night’s game, giving up five goals, while Fuels Zach Driscoll is fresh in the net tonight, being back up for last night’s game. The tone was set early in the game, with Chase Lang pushing and shoving the Nailers. We saw our first game goal come at 6:06 when Nailers Matt Koopman sent a rebound into the net. Indy is outskated and played in the first ten minutes with the Nailers, who are desperate to stay ahead in this game. Then we see D.J. King shove Justin Addamo for shoving Bryan Lemos from behind, causing him to plow into Castor in the net, with no penalty called. Our first would come at 10:49 when Indys Zach Jordan gets into it with Nailers Evan Vierling in front of the ref, causing a stupid call when he knows better, putting Nailers on the Power Play. This would be a recurring issue for the Fuel, with the next penalty coming against Chase Lang at 19:56 for High-sticking. This would be a double minor for four minutes, giving the Nailers ten seconds in the first period of 4v5, where their Evan Vierling sinks the puck in the net, making the game 2-0.

Heading into the second period, the Nailers still have 3:50 on the power play from the first period left. We would see some gentle pushing happen between D.J. King and Phip Waugh, and then Kyle Maksimovic and Dillon Hamaliuk a few minutes later share some personal space,  but Indy would be able to hold them off until 7:27, where Jordan Martel gets one past Driscoll, making it a 3-0 game. Less than 20 seconds later, Wheelings Jordan Martel finds a hole again and brings it to 4-0. Our first penalty of this period would come at 10:48 by Wheelings Justin Addamo for Goaltender Interference, putting Indy on their first power play of the game. Indy can’t get control of the game, and we see Santino Centorame get called for Hooking, and once again, we go to the Power Play. This time, Indy is able to keep Wheeling from scoring. However, in the next 2 minutes, Wheeling again gets past Driscoll; this time, it is a rebound shot by Justin Lee, then again when Jared Westcott scores, making it 6-0.

The third period kicks off. Indy has lost control of the game and is looking for a comeback. They pulled out goalie Zach Driscoll and put in Mitchell Weeks, who played in the first game against the Nailers but only allowed two goals in that game. Meanwhile, Wheelings Jaxon Castor is cool as a cucumber, deflecting shot after shot. Weeks sees four shots on goal in the first eight minutes on ice, and the crowd sees a few uncalled penalties that they are not happy about, only to witness Andrew Perrott get a call for cross-checking, putting the Fuel on the Power Kill. With 58 seconds left in the power play, Wheelings Evan Vierling scores, taking the game to 7-0. Indys Kale Howarth sees a tripping penalty at 11:50, causing the emotions to rise and a little more physical contact between teams. With the rising tensions, we start to see more aggression and frustration, causing Nailers Dustin Manz to get a double minor for high-sticking and putting the Fuel on their second power play of the night. On that Power Play, the Fuel would finally get on the board when Ross MacDougall was able to get a one-timer past Castor, bringing the score 7-1 Wheeling. In the last four minutes of the game, Fuels Cam Hausinger gets a ten-minute Game Misconduct when he gets into it with Matt Koopman in front of the Indy bench, sending Cam directly to the dressing room. His penalty is served by Kyle Maksimovic. This is the largest margin that the Fuel has lost in the playoffs and the third time that Wheeling has won with a six-goal lead in the Playoffs. 

The teams will meet in West Virginia on April 22nd for Game three. The puck drops at 7:10 p.m. EST. The series is tied at 1-1, and both teams want to take the lead. Indy needs to make a comeback and show their experience in these situations, while Wheeling looks to hang on and prove that the underdog team can make it happen.

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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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