Matt Iacopelli raised his arms in the air to celebrate an apparent first-period goal, but play continued.
It was just a warm-up act for Iacopelli, who would celebrate three more that did count Saturday during the Indy Fuel's 6-4 victory over the Quad City Mallards.
The victory put the Fuel in the middle of the ECHL Central Division playoff race and completed a sweep of the three-game, three-night homestand against the Mallards. With four straight victories, Indy is two points back of fourth-place Kalamazoo, which fell 2-1 to Cincinnati Saturday. The Fuel trail third-place Cincinnati by three points.
Indy outscored Quad City 18-13 in the three games, high-scoring contests that saw a lot of end-to-end hockey. The Fuel scored at least four goals in each of the three games against a Mallards team that entered the weekend having won seven of 10.
“They work hard. The hard thing to cover is you throw the systems out the door and say let's go play. It's a lot like us at the end of last season. It's pond hockey - you can't prepare for it,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “They want to play run-and-gun and they've been beating teams with it. They had won a lot of games recently, and have helped us along the way. Every game is going to be tough the rest of the way. Every game matters. It's fun, it's enjoyable, the guys are having a good time in the room.”
Iacopelli tallied his first professional hat trick, while Ryan Rupert, Johnny McInnis and Darian Dziurzynski also scored in the Fuel's victory.
“It's cool to get a hat trick, but the best thing is we got the win,” Iacopelli said. “It's pretty exciting. Just one goal is exciting. To get two, three or four, it's a good feeling.”
Iacopelli, assigned from the AHL's Rockford IceHogs earlier in the week, now has five goals in three games with the Fuel. Another newcomer, Logan Nelson, had the primary assist on two.
“He's a special player,” Nelson said. “He puts himself in the right spots and makes my job easy. I'm glad I could be a part of his first one. There will be more to come for him.”
It appeared he got the Fuel on the board in the first period, but his shot redirected off a stick at the goal line and was ruled a no-goal. But, after Quad City's Jamie Tardif scored the first goal, Iacopelli did get Indy on the board 5:10 into the second with a near-post shot off the cycle from Nelson. He made it 4-2 in the closing minutes off the second with a one-timer in the low slot off a feed from Alex Wideman.
The hat trick goal came 2:39 into the third. Wideman and Nelson were buzzing the net. After Quad City's Eric Hartzell made a save on Nelson, the puck came out to Iacopelli in the mid-slot, who hammered it into the net to make it 5-2.
“I don't know if it was a turnover or a pass, but I put my head down and put it on net,” Iacopelli said.
After a slow start, the Fuel tilted the ice in the final half of the first period. They had the final nine shots of the opening period and continued the momentum in a four-goal second period. The power play cashed in again when Dziurzynski jammed a puck in at the near post for his 20th goal with 9:52 to go in the second period. Ryan Rupert made it 3-1 with 3:50 left in the second, running a give-and-go with his twin brother Matt. It would be the first of two goals from their line, as Johnny McInnis would add an unassisted goal late in the third.
“They just play the right way. They try to wear teams down. They're so strong with the puck. They do the little things,” John said of the Rupert line. “The goal, you could tell it was a planned play,” John said of Ryan Rupert's tally. “(Ryan) was throwing it off the corner to his brother, and fell in behind. That's what those guys do. You add in a guy like McInnis who's got 15 goals. He just finds ways to do little things. Those guys are a greasy, skilled line.”
From the midpoint of the first period through the end of the second, the Fuel outshot Quad City 24-8, and took a 4-2 lead into the third.
The Fuel have now won four in a row and six of their last seven, and at 27-24-3, are a season-best three games over .500. They can move into the playoff structure with a win Tuesday against Toledo.
“The standings are really tight,” Nelson said. “Getting some confidence from this weekend and going into next week - we've got Toledo early in the week. It's good to get some confidence and some chemistry.”
1. Matt Iacopelli (Fuel) 3G
2. Alex Wideman (Fuel) 3A
3. Logan Nelson (Fuel) 2A
1. One entire line swept the three stars - Iacopelli was obviously the top star, but linemates Alex Wideman and Logan Nelson took the other two. Wideman assisted on all three of Iacopelli's goals. Nelson had the primary assist on two. “Wides and I played together in Rockford,” Iacopelli said. “I'm familiar with his style of play. Nelson is a good, strong playmaker. We had a strong night tonight. Hopefully, we can keep it going Tuesday night.”
2. Iacopelli's last hat trick came Dec. 15, 2016, when his three goals led Western Michigan to an 8-2 victory over Bowling Green. He tallied 20 goals in 40 games for WMU that season, and then turned pro with the Rockford IceHogs later that year. The last Fuel hat trick came from Tommy Olczyk, who had three shorthanded goals against Cincinnati on Dec. 23.
3. Wideman's three assists are a season high. Since returning Feb. 16 from a month-long callup to Rockford, Wideman has three goals and nine assists in seven games. He's tallied a point in all seven.
4. Logan Nelson has five assists in the three games he's played for the Fuel since coming in a trade from Fort Wayne. John said he'd tried to acquire Nelson multiple times before being able to do so this week. “It was a good transition for me,” Nelson said. “I've had a couple of trades. It was a short drive for me. Coming in here, I've got a pretty good chance, getting some good ice time and playing with some good players. I'm trying to play simple and be effective.”
5. Robin Press also continued his scoring streak with an assist on Dziurzynski's goal, extending his scoring streak to eight games. Press has four goals and six assists in that stretch.
6. Dziurzynski hit a milestone with his second-period goal, hitting the 20-goal mark. He scored once while playing for Rapid City before joining the Fuel, and has 19 in a Fuel sweater. It's his third straight 20-goal season. He had 24 ECHL goals - and 25 overall - in 2015-16, playing with Tulsa, Greenville and Missouri in the ECHL and Binghamton in the AHL. In 2016-17, he had 29 goals in 50 games while playing in Britain.
7. The Fuel finished the season series against Quad City with a 7-2-2 record against the Mallards, including a perfect 5-0-0 at home.
8. Matt Tomkins got the win in net, making 29 saves on 33 shots.
9. The Fuel's league-leading power play cashed in again, going 1-for-2. Indy is now 22.9 percent, having scored power play goals in four straight games. On the homestand, the Fuel are 8-of-16.
Darian Dziurzynski-Michael Neal-Josh Shalla
Alex Wideman-Logan Nelson-Matt Iacopelli
Matt Rupert-Ryan Rupert-Johnny McInnis
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Jaynen Rissling-Riley Sweeney
Robin Press-Brendan Mitchell
BU: Etienne Marcoux
Scratches: Reed Seckel, Brandon Anselmini, Cam Reid, Garrett Clarke
Next up: The Fuel host Toledo at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum to finish their five-game homestand.