INDIANAPOLIS – Josh Kestner’s league-leading 31st goal of the season proved to be the game-winner as the Toledo Walleye defeated the Indy Fuel 4-3 on Friday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
With the score deadlocked at three apiece in the final frame, Brenden Kotyk started a 2-on-1 as he backhanded the puck to Kestner at center ice, before the latter gained the Fuel zone and wristed a shot from the right circle inside the far post with 11:06 remaining in regulation. The goal broke a three-way tie for the ECHL’s goal-scoring crown, after Brampton forward David Vallorani and Indy standout Spencer Watson both reached the 30-goal mark earlier in the night.
Kestner, who was named Inglasco ECHL Player of the Week on Monday, has now recorded 12 points (7-5-12) in his last five contests, while Kyle Bonis and Josh Winquist each recorded a goal and an assist in Toledo’s first win at Indiana Famers Coliseum since Dec. 21, 2018. Meanwhile, reigning Howies Hockey Tape ECHL Rookie of the Month Billy Christopoulos stopped 39-of-42 shots to earn his sixth consecutive victory and improve to 22-3-3 on the season.
The Walleye (35-16-4-1) were outshot 10-3 to begin the game, but drew first blood courtesy of Gregor MacLeod’s eighth goal of the campaign at the 9:26 mark. After Bonis fanned on his intital backhand effort that bounced off the left post, MacLeod was in front of the net to poke the rebound over the goalline before Indy (29-26-2-2) defenseman Joe Sullivan could glove the puck out of the crease.
The Fuel needed all of 25 seconds to restore parity, as Bobby MacIntyre got behind the Toledo defense and shifted from forehand to backhand in order to guide his breakaway attempt past the oustretched left pad of Christopoulos.
However, the Walleye bounced back to reclaim their one-goal lead barely a minute later. Making his professional debut after completing his collegiate career at Ferris State University, Zach Yoder earned his first point in a Toledo uniform when his wrist shot from the right point hit Tim Shoup's stick in front and ricocheted straight to Bonis in the slot for a one-timer into an open net at the 11:05 mark.
The opening period continued to sway back and forth as Indy evened the score a second time at 15:12. Mathieu Foget gathered the puck behind the Toledo net and centered a pass to Alex Rauter, who sent a wrister from the slot that got a piece of Christopoulos' right shoulder before resting in the top left corner.
Shortly after serving a two-minute sentence for holding, Winquist gave the visitors a 3-2 lead prior to the first intermission. Shane Berschbach gained possession near the left half-boards, where he delivered the puck to Winquist in the high slot for a sharp one-timer inside the right post at the 17:53 mark.
The Walleye maintained their one-goal advantage until Watson knotted the game at 3-3 with a power play goal 5:44 into the middle period. With one second left on Winquist's second holding penalty of the night, Jack Ramsey's intitial try from the left edge of the crease was pushed aside by Christopoulos, but Watson was positioned at the right circle and quickly fired the rebound past the Toledo goaltender's catching glove. Watson briefly moved into a share of first place in the league's goal-scoring race until Kestner regained sole possession of the top spot by tallying the deciding goal with 8:54 gone in the final frame.
In all, the Fuel finished 1-for-4 on the man advantage, while the Walleye were unable to score on two opportunitites. Marchand turned away 19-of-23 shots in a losing cause.
What’s Next:The top two teams in the Central Division will face off on Saturday, as the Walleye travel to the Queen City to battle the Cincinnati Cyclones. Puck drop fom Heritage Bank Center is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.
Three Stars:1. Toledo – Kyle Bonis (goal, assist)2. Toledo – Josh Winquist (goal, assist)3. Indy - Mathieu Foget (two assists)