By SHAWN RINE
WHEELING - Andrew Hotham shot Clark Donatelli a look on the bench Friday night, and the coach knew what it meant. As a shootout with the Elmira Jackals dragged into the seventh round, Donatelli turned to the 6-foot-2 defenseman and gave the nod.
Wheeling’s Paul Crowder is dragged down in front of Elmira goaltender Timo Pielmeier as teammate Chris Barton tries to corral a loose puck Friday night at WesBanco Arena.
Hotham rewarded the interim coach by beating Elmira goaltender Timo Pielmeier with a wrist shot, and Wheeling netminder Patrick Killeen turned aside Alec Kirschner on the other end to give the Nailers (25-16-3 - 53) a wild, 4-3 victory against the Jackals (26-15-3 - 55) at WesBanco Arena.
It was Hotham's first career shootout goal.
''I don't think I had a shift in the last 5-10 minutes there, but as it kept going on there I was trying to give Clarkie a little look,'' said Hotham, who is still dealing with a sore shoulder.
Hotham used a move he says he does just about every day at practice, and figured that given the chance, he may as well go for it in a game situation. Hotham faked a slap shot before settling on the forehand and ripping it into the net.
''I actually do that against our goalies and they hate it,'' Hotham said. ''I think (Peter Delmas) was pretty mad at me one day.
''He said it's a good move when I'm out there just fooling around, so I tried it.''
It completed a rollercoaster night for Wheeling, which entered the third period holding a 3-1 lead. The Nailers looked as though they would hold on, but with 6 seconds remaining the Jackals forced an offensive-zone faceoff.
Things still seemed to be under control as Donatelli sent his best faceoff man - captain Paul Crowder - over the boards to take the draw. But Crowder's stick was snapped and Elmira won the draw. The puck ended up in front of Killeen where Elmira's Matt Campanale found it and pounded home his fifth of the season to tie it with 2 seconds remaining.
''It was disheartening there with 6 seconds to go - you've got to win that,'' Donatelli said. ''Hey, they're a good team and they took advantage of it.''
That goal was the difference between the Nailers climbing to within one point of the Jackals in the Atlantic Division, and being two back as it currently stands.
But as Hotham noted, the club kept its composure and found a way to get a victory.
''Of course you don't want to give up that one point to the team you're catching, but the main thing is we got the two points,'' he said. ''Two points back isn't bad.
''That's two, three (victories) in a row or whatever it is, and guys are playing well.''
Wheeling struck first 2:35 in when Crowder sprung Nick Petersen in alone on Pielmeier. He deked the goaltender to the ice and slid his fourth of the season into the net on the backhand.
That's the way it stood until the 14:40 mark of the second when Elmira tied it on the power play. Artem Demkov slid a puck cross-ice from the left boards to a cutting Jimmy Martin, who deflected in his fourth.
It looked as though the teams would head to the dressing room still knotted, but the Nailers cashed in for a pair of goals 14 seconds apart with less than a minute remaining.
Peter Lenes circled the net and carried the puck all the way to the point before passing it to Denver Manderson. As Manderson was sending it over to Adam Ross on the opposite point, Lenes was circling to the other side of the net and slammed a rebound of a Ross shot past Pielmeier for his 18th.
Zack Torquato then tipped in a Petersen pass before the previous goal had finished being announced, providing the two-goal cushion.
''(Killeen) played great and we played great defense,'' Donatelli said. ''But 3-1 going into the third, we've got to win that game.
''You look at some of the stretches Elmira had. I think they went 10-1 and I think they went 15-2, so we've been battling back and reeling them in slowly.''
The Nailers are in Trenton tonight to face a Titans team that has played them tough this season.
''Every game means more and more every time,'' Hotham said. ''Coming to the end of the year, two points is big.''