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Fuel Exit Interviews: Raskob's Iroman Streak, Watson Breaking Records and AHL Call-Ups

Tuesday, June 15th
Fuel Exit Interviews: Raskob's Iroman Streak, Watson Breaking Records and AHL Call-Ups

In two of the most depressing days of the season, the Indy Fuel hosted their annual locker cleanout days. Players arrive, speak to the coaching staff, clean out their locker room stalls and say goodbye or “see you in a few months.”

Prior to players leaving for the summer, IndyFuelHockey.com sat down and got a few words from the players about their season and what their offseason is going to look like.

Spencer Watson

It was a strange season for the fourth-year pro from Ontario. Watson entered the season having scored a career-high 31 goals and 28 assists during the 2019-20 calendar year, only to deal with covid and an injury that kept him out of the lineup for 27 games during the 2020-21 year. 

“It was a year I’ve never really had before,” said Watson. “Injuries, covid, kind of in and out here and there. It was kind of hard to get into the rhythm of things this year but I think when games mattered coming down the stretch was when I was able to find things. It was a rocky road but we got there eventually.”

Covid-19 obviously took a toll on every player this season. But the players that tested positive had to deal with symptoms, quarantining and getting back into game shape. With several veterans in the locker room, the transition was significantly easier on Watson. 

“Anytime you go through injuries, especially covid, you rely on the players around you to pick you up, keep you motivated, keep you active,” said Watson. “I think with a lot of veteran players in the room, they’re picking you up on and off the ice, it’s nice to kind of have that around. Again, it only just helped me improve each day. They were a huge part of it.”

Although dealing with Covid and an injury, Watson finished the season with 14 goals and 17 assists through 42 games. Through two full seasons with the Indy Fuel, Watson has registered 45 goals in 99 total games, putting him in third place on the franchise’s all-time goals list. 

"Yeah, that’s kind of cool. I didn’t know I was third. That’s awesome to see. Kind of gives you confidence and tells you that you’ve had some really great years here. It’s kind of a proud thing to accomplish. Never know, coming down the road, there might be a chance to get up there even more."

Willie Raskob

Earning Indy’s ironman award this season Willie Raskob skated in 66 games this year earning 13 goals and 25 assists. Playing his game, the old school way, Raskob strives to be the player that doesn’t miss games unless he has to. 

“I think for me, it’s one of those things I look at as a pride thing,” said Raskob. “I play hockey in a little bit of an old-school sense that you play the game to play games. So if you’re able to play, you play. Obviously, I was lucky enough to stay healthy. It is a cool thing to take home.”

Joining the team in early October, Raskob cemented himself early as the Fuel’s number one power play quarterback, earning five goals and nine assists on the man advantage. Tallying 38 points in 66 games for the Fuel, Raskob finished the season with a career-high in goals and put himself in 2nd all-time in points per season among defensemen. The only player ahead of him on that list is the power-play quarterback from the 2017-18 Fuel team, Robin Press. 

“I think what contributed a lot is I started playing lower on the power play as opposed to playing on the top. It’s a little bit easier to score when you get closer to the net. I would say a little bit of shooting pucks, a little bit of luck, a little bit of getting hot at the right time. As anybody would tell you once you get a little bit of confidence you can ride the coattails and start playing good hockey.”

Billy Christopoulos

This season, the Fuel were led by goaltenders Dan Bakala and Billy Christopoulos who played in a combined 54 games. After spending the majority of the season on three different American Hockey League PTOs, Christopoulos has returned to put together a 2.29 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. Playing alongside Bakala, Christopoulos used the veteran as a mentor to further improve his game. 

"With me just being in my second year, it’s awesome to be able to bounce things off of him and kind of use him as a mentor,” said Christopoulos. “You’re not going to get too high or too low when you’ve played that many years so he did a good job of keeping me grounded and keeping me level-headed. It was a really good relationship and it was one of the best goalie relationships I’ve had in a while.”

Throughout the 2020-21 season, Christopoulos signed three separate American Hockey League pro-tryout agreements (PTO) with the Henderson Silver Knights, Hershey Bears and the Rochester Americans. Eventually getting playing time with the Americans, the 2020 ECHL All-Rookie goaltender appeared in five games earning a 6.03 goals-against average and a .815 save percentage. Checking off his first career AHL start and first career win is something that Billy can use in the future when getting called up. 

“It was awesome to finally get my first taste of it,” said Christopoulos. “I got called up two times before getting the start but that third time when I finally got the start, it was really cool. It was a special moment. It just kind of builds confidence for you when you get that first start, then my first win later. It’s really nice to set that foundation so if I go up again, ill know ‘hey I’ve been here, this is what it takes and this is what you need to win at the next level.’”

Prior to the 2020-21 season, Head Coach Doug Christiansen had 38 players called up to AHL teams. No playoff-bound coach has had more AHL call-ups in the last two seasons. This season has been no different for the Fuel organization. 17 players who donned the Fuel uniform throughout the 2020-21 season appeared in a total of 191 American Hockey League games.

“I haven’t seen the numbers but I’d be surprised if we weren’t at the top of the league,” said Doug Christiansen. “I know at the end of the season we had seven in the American League and I think the next closest was five and the next closest to that was three. We did a really good job of moving guys on. We want our guys to work hard toward their own individual goals. We want to add value to their career. I believe that we did that.”

Cliff Watson

In his second season with the Indy Fuel, defenseman Cliff Watson was named the 7th captain in Fuel franchise history. Splitting his time between Indy and the Rockford IceHogs this year, Watson has played in 36 games for the Fuel earning one goal and 12 assists. Although having a “C” on his chest when playing in Indy, Cliff let his game speak for itself. 

“I think when I play and when I didn’t have a letter I just tried to stay consistent and lead on the back as best I could,” said Watson. “I’m not so much a vocal leader. I think I’m a guy that likes to go out there and just play his game. I think at the end of the day I didn’t change too much. I just tried to dial in what I do on the back end for the guys and push forward.”

Splitting his time between Indy and Rockford, Cliff played in eight AHL games. No stranger to playing in the American League, Watson has skated in a total of 45 games over his four-year career. 

“I think anything helps when you get to go up like that and see the skill level up there and how hard those guys work,” said Watson. “Anytime you can push yourself at the next level, I think it’s definitely going to help you wherever you go.”

This season has certainly been a wild one for the Indy Fuel. Seeing 62 different players on the roster in one season due to injuries and call-ups can be tough on a team in terms of consistency and chemistry. But the Fuel's Head Coach Doug Christiansen built a foundation and a team that broke the franchise record for wins in a season and won the first-ever playoff game. For Doug, there is still more to build upon and correct going into next year. 

“Every team that is going to have a wobble or stretch that’s not perfect, said Christiansen. “I think that what we needed to do a better job of was our habits. Because we were so successful early, we got away with things. Sometimes when you get away with things, then all of sudden some of that talent is gone, some of the players get injured, you have to kind of reinvent yourself and start all over again. I think the one thing were going to have to focus on for next year is ‘okay, we’re going to have a stretch where we’re not as good, we’re going to have a stretch where we have injuries, call ups, whatever it’s going to be, we have to have better habits.’”

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