Indy Fuel parte trois

Logan+Flake

Logan Flake

Logan Flake, Red Onion Editor

Just so you know, ”The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel is playing on my phone right next to me as I write this. If that doesn’t set the mood for this editorial, then I don’t know what would.

We’re now in the midst of the Fuel’s 3rd season, two years removed from their first in 2014-2015. Since then, there have indeed been some highs. Me being in attendance for both their first ever regular-season game and first ever regular-season win (which didn’t come until 3 games later *sigh*) are some of my personal favorite highlights from season one. Season two kind of came and went in a flash, if I’m being honest, but being there for opening night was pretty fun, and I’m sure some other cool stuff was sprinkled in throughout.

Season three has even had its fair share of goodness. Attending another opening-night victory headlined by the fantastic play of first-year Fuel goaltender Jake Hildebrand (also known as “ECHL goalie Jesus” by nobody except me) was awesome. Eventual ECHL all-star team member Alex Wideman also played well that game and has been a joy to watch throughout the year. Another game that stands out in my memory from this season is one in which the Fuel were losing 2-0 upon my arrival. They ended up battling back and winning that one 3-2. Good times, good times.

But now, my friends, the Fuel are in the middle of an undeniably-terrible, historically-bad low.

Before I talk about that though, here’s some backstory. The team has changed a lot through its two-and-a-half seasons so far. Players have come and gone and even a coach (and, probably, another one in the near future *cough cough* Bernie John *cough cough*) has come and gone, but one thing has never failed to stay consistent. The Fuel are a mediocre team. For one reason or another, they just can’t be good for long spans of time. This year, that realization came the hard way.

The Fuel began the season by beating their rivals in the Cincinnati Cyclones two games in a row, and it was honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced in my entire life. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “the Fuel are going to do well for once.” I could already tell that Hildebrand was going to be a great goalie. He was playing out of his mind from the get-go. But, little did I know that he would go on to be the best goalie the Fuel have ever had. That’s a story for a little later, though.

Everything was looking up. As Patrick Star once famously screamed, “I thought what we had was special!”

There’s nothing like a 6-1 loss in the next game against the Tulsa Oilers to snap me back to reality. Remember that episode of Spongebob where he can’t remember his name and a bunch of little Spongebobs can be seen burning everything in his brain in a panic trying to find the memory of it? I think that about sums up what has happened to the Fuel since that loss to the Oilers. I think each-and-every player has simply forgotten how to play hockey, and the tiny little brain people versions of themselves simply can’t regain the memory for them.

The team went on to lose seven (!!) games in a row.

Hildebrand played less like ECHL goalie Jesus and more like that blind guy in the bible (before Jesus cured him of his blindness) during this stretch, saving 87 of 103 shots through 4 games for a save percentage of 84.5 percent, which isn’t good. This stint also saw the debut of goaltender Eric Levine, who, even though he still lost in all four of his starts, at least played better than Hildebrand. Levine stopped 140 of the 152 pucks he faced during his four games, posting a respectable 92.1 percent save percentage.

Then, the Fuel went on to do something pretty remarkable. After dropping seven straight, the team went on to win six straight, sparkplugged by a pair of back-to-back wins against the Alaska Aces. It was around this point that I think Hildebrand started identifying as a brick wall, and rightfully so. Take his performance from the first two games of the season and crank it up about 12 octaves, and the result is his performance during this stretch. Hildebrand started in five of these 6 wins, facing 157 and saving 148 of them for a save percentage of 94.2 percent. He also recorded a shutout in the second of those five games. That’s the ECHL goalie Jesus I know and love.

Levine won his first game of the season in the one game that he started out of the six, though it came at the hands of a game in which he only stopped 35 of his 40 shots faced for a save percentage of 85.7 percent. A win’s a win though, huh?

Here’s the funny thing about Levine. Take a guess at how many games he has won out of his 14 starts. Go ahead, guess. Well, remember how I just said that he won his first game of the season in that less-than-great performance? Well, that stands as one of his minuscule TWO wins of the year. Doesn’t that just put the biggest smile on your face?

It really isn’t funny at all. It’s the most depressing thing ever. I actually want to cry when I think about it.

The team in its entirety (well, minus Hildebrand and Wideman, to be fair) has been god-awful this year, That’s definitely not outlandish to say. As a goalie, when the guys out in front of you aren’t playing all that great, it’s near impossible for you to do that great either by-association. This is especially the case when the defense out in front of you can’t defend, and that’s how it’s been for the Fuel for most of the season.

Even with all of this in mind, a 2-18 record is inexcusable for a goalie. There really isn’t any other way to put it.

I know that Levine can play well. He especially proved himself throughout his first four starts with that 92.1 percent save percentage. The man can stop pucks from going in the net, so I’m not sure if his record is just a result of really bad luck or what. But, the reasoning doesn’t matter at this point. It can’t be that the team in front of him is just that terrible, because Hildebrand plays behind the same group of guys and has a more respectable (albeit still pretty sad) record of 14-19-2-2 with 4 shutouts to his name (an amount that currently stands as the Fuel’s franchise record.) Levine has simply got to win more games if the team ever wants to stop being so bad.

Let’s get back on the track of talking about the team’s losing ways as a whole. The winning streak looked great on paper, but it has proved to mean absolutely nothing for the season as a whole. After winning those 6 straight, the Fuel have fallen off a cliff. They went on to lose 14 *prevents self from falling over and fainting off of a cliff* straight games. 14. Let me spell it out for you just in case you have trouble reading numbers. FOURTEEN. That stands as the worst losing streak in the team’s short history. Hopefully, it’s never topped.

During this agonizing set of games, the Fuel were outscored 66 to 29. That’s a -35 differential. This makes sense, especially considering that the Fuel only scored one goal apiece in seven of those 14 games. That’s half of the stretch in which the fuel would’ve needed a shutout to win the game. It also makes sense once you know that the Fuel let in four+ goals in eight of the 14 games, highlighted by two games in which they let in eight.

One of those games was against the Brampton beast on December 22, 2016. My dad was in attendance for the game with a few of his buddies, and I was envious of him at first. But, after the Beast scored with only 5.4 seconds left in the game to steal a 5-4 win, I wasn’t that envious anymore.

There’s no use analyzing the individual stats for Hildebrand and Levine during these 14 games. You all already know they’re terrible, just like everything else is at this point .

Ever since those 14-straight losses, the end of the season might as well come early for the Fuel, because they’re not getting anywhere close to the postseason barring some spectacular 30-game winning streak. They sit dead-last in their division with a record of 16-38-3-3 with a measly 38 total points and are currently the second worst team in the league statistically.

It’s painful to be a fan of a team that’s so god-awful. It really is. But, their mediocrity this year hasn’t done any damage to my love for this team. This season has definitely left me an emotional wreck, but it hasn’t necessarily been all that bad.

Hildebrand has been a bright-spot not only for this season but for the entirety of the Fuel’s tenure as a team. I literally call him “ECHL goalie Jesus” so that tells you how I feel about him. The Fuel have never had a goalie like him before. Watching that man flounder around to make the saves that he does warms my cold, black heart and made even the one game I’ve attended so far this year where the Fuel lost slightly more bearable (that, and the fact that I bought myself a new hat before puck drop.)

Besides, winning isn’t everything. The sport of hockey is beautiful in-and-of-itself, and losses are an unavoidable part of it. The fact that Indianapolis has a team to cheer for at all is a godsend

Even though we’re only halfway through the season, by my estimates it’s already time to start looking forward to the future. The Fuel and the city of Indianapolis earned the privilege of hosting the 2018 ECHL all-star game, which is pretty rad. Speaking of the team itself, if they can somehow manage to hold on to Hildebrand and Wideman for another year, they’ve at least got the foundation for a team that can, in theory, actually win games. I’m not going to get overly optimistic like I did before the start of the 2015-16 season (which seems like it was years ago) and say that I think the team could make the playoffs next year, but man, would it be nice.
You might find it unloyal or odd of me to have such little faith in some kind of miracle resurgence for the Fuel this season, but the way I see it, I’m just being honest with myself. At least the Canadiens are good this year, eh?