WHEELING, W.Va.– For just the third time in their storied rivalry, the Wheeling Nailers and Toledo Walleye faced off in a season opening game. For a young Wheeling Nailers team a valuable lesson was learned, as they see a 3-goal lead evaporate into a 5-3 defeat against the defending Brabham Cup Champion Toledo Walleye.
The Nailers jumped out to a 3-0 lead just before the midpoint of the game. Goals by Adam Smith, Carter Johnson and Josh Maniscalco gave Wheeling a comfortable lead. The Nailers seemed to be all over the Walleye. Shots at this point were in Wheeling’s favor at 16-13.
“You look at the first period and the first 8 minutes of the second it was like ‘Wow!’ You know that a good team over there but for us we were all over them; They can’t even breathe without us being on top of them,” Nailers coach Derek Army commented after the game.
Then a Nailers bench minor for too many men seemed to awaken the sleeping Walleye. Lukas Craggs snapped a shot from the right point through a Brett McKenzie screen. Nailers goaltender Tommy Nappier made the initial stop but the puck had just enough on it to trickle from between Nappier’s leg pads and across the goal line for a power play goal at 10:59 of the second. 5:08 later Toledo defenseman Gordi Myer literally picks up the puck with his stick and tucks in under the crossbar and over Nappier’s shoulder to pull the guests within one. The Nailers carried a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
Toledo came out flying in the third and scored two goals in the first 2:16 to tie and then take the lead from Wheeling. A Nailer turnover at the center line led to an offensive rush for the Walleye. McKenzie put on the brakes just inside the offensive blue and sent a pass across to a wide-open Gordie Green who exploded past the Wheeling defense. Nappier was able to stop his shot but the rebound laid in the crease for a charging Seth Barton to put into the net. Just over a minute later, a broken entry by Toledo allowed Mitchell Heard a clean look and he sniped to top corner over Nappier’s stick side shoulder to put the Walleye up for good, A Green redirection from the top of the crease at 13:55 was all the insurance Toledo would need to secure the victory.
“…..To be honest I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit,” Army stated about the Toledo comeback. “It was one where it was like ‘oh its 3- nothing and we can go get our easy ones, it’ll just come; we’re scoring’ and that’s an experienced team that’s a team that was the [Brabham Cup Champion]. They’re older and they showed you get one and all of a sudden it snowballs…”
When asked about the team “Maybe thinking too much or gripping the stick too tight, so to speak” Army had this to say “I think we got away from our game so much that it was hard to get back. I think it was just like ‘What do we do?’ everyone is trying to; everyone wants to be the hero and that’s where a young team, maybe to a young leadership group, it’s hard to keep that on the rails and just keep it simple. We just got off the rails quick”
For the Nailers: Cam Hausinger turned in a stellar performance with three assists.
“….You lose [Patrick] Watling, [Nick] Hutchison, and [Matt] Alfaro and [Justin] Almeida and [Tim] Doherty some of the guys that were drivers last year, Hausinger was obviously a driver for us we’re gonna rely heavily on him; he’s gonna have to pick up some of the work that [Watling] and some of those guys had to do all year.” Army said of his performance
Johnson’s first period goal was the 7,000th in Wheeling 31 year history.
The Nailer and Walleye will have a rematch on Sunday in Wheeling. The puck drops at 4:10pm
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