WHEELING - The final score wasn't at the forefront of Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli's mind. In fact, the outcome probably wasn't second, third or fourth in terms of importance.
But it wouldn't quite be accurate to say Donatelli didn't care at all that the Nailers gave up three power-play goals in a little less than three minutes at the end of regulation, then the winner early in overtime in a 5-4 loss to Elmira Jackals in the preseason opener for both teams at WesBanco Arena.
''You could see some of the inexperience of the guys playing out there. You could just see it set it and they didn't know how to handle it,'' Donatelli said of a lineup that was made up almost entirely of guys who are either on ECHL contracts or tryouts. ''Hopefully it was a learning experience.''
Photo by Alex Kozlowski
Colin Mulvey attempts a shot during Wheeling’s preseason opener against Elmira at WesBanco Arena.
There was plenty of good, starting with goaltender Mike Condon. Sent down from Hamilton of the American Hockey League, he stopped all 11 shots he faced before being replaced midway through the second period by Joey Spagnoli.
''He really didn't get tested and when he did, he made a couple saves,'' Donatelli said. ''You can tell he is a big-time goalie.''
Offensively, a number of players showed a willingness to go to the hard areas and were rewarded.
Tough guy Patrick McGrath punched home a rebound on the power play to get things started, Tyler Fernandez and Russell Goodman scored a goal and assisted on another and Kyle Fletcher notched a pair of helpers.
''Fernandez and (Colin) Mulvey, those guys worked pretty hard,'' Donatelli said. ''(Zack) Torquato played great and you could tell has been in this league.
''I also thought (Alex) Velischek played really well.''
With so few spots that seem to be available on the opening-night roster, players were fighting - literally - to make the team. Defenseman Nick Kuqali and McGrath dropped the gloves moments apart - the second one earning an automatic game misconduct for secondary altercation - and Justin Smith also fought. In all, the Nailers had 38 penalty minutes, the Jackals 41.
''They're doing everything they can to make a good impression and show they're willing to do whatever they can to make the team,'' Donatelli said.
Wheeling led 4-1 when Fernandez was whistled for a five-minute boarding call, meaning the Jackals could score as many times as possible before the infraction expired. They did.
Coach Dwight Mullins pulled goalie Nick Neidert (18 shots, 18 saves in relief) and Elmira scored a trio against Spagnoli on goal-mouth scrambles. Mathieu Gagnon's slapshot from the right point 47 seconds into overtime ended things.
''There were a lot of good things,'' Donatelli said, noting offensive-zone time and face-off plays through the game's first 50 or so minutes. ''We had a full team sitting out and those guys are licking their chops.
''I told these guys they've got to make a good impression because this might be your only game. Some guys did do that.''
The Nailers are expected to dress a far more experienced roster at 7 on Wednesday night when Fort Wayne pays a visit.
Elmira0 0 4 1 - 5
Wheeling3 1 0 0 - 4
1st Period-1, Wheeling, McGrath 1 (Goodman, Torquato), 2:59 (PP). 2, Wheeling, Fernandez 1 (Fletcher, Zollars), 11:45 (PP). 3, Wheeling, Goodman 1 (Cianfrini, Velischek), 14:26 (PP). Penalties-McDonald Elm (delay of game - restricted area / trapeziod), 1:07; Rush Whl (cross-checking), 6:41; Caranci Elm (fighting - major), 9:00; Croteau Elm (fighting - major, game misconduct - secondary altercation), 9:00; Kuqali Whl (fighting - major), 9:00; McGrath Whl (fighting - major, game misconduct - secondary altercation), 9:00; Bellamy Elm (slashing ), 9:40; McCullough Elm (cross-checking), 13:04; Monfredo Elm (fighting - major), 14:56; Smith Whl (fighting - major), 14:56.
2nd Period-4, Wheeling, MacKay 1 (Fernandez, Fletcher), 10:02. Penalties-Walters Elm (closing hand on puck), 3:17; Alber Elm (delay of game), 5:25.
3rd Period-5, Elmira, Jillson 1 (Walters), 0:49. 6, Elmira, Dion 1 (Walters, Leonard), 17:56 (PP). 7, Elmira, Noseworthy 1 (Dion, Walters), 18:16 (PP). 8, Elmira, Caranci 1 (O'Keefe, Barczuk), 19:24 (PP). Penalties-Rush Whl (cross-checking), 6:25; Bellamy Elm (double - roughing), 8:37; Trottier Whl (roughing), 8:37; Richer Elm (hooking), 15:02; Fernandez Whl (boarding - major), 17:02; Torquato Whl (boarding), 19:37.
OT Period-9, Elmira, Gagnon 1 (Alber, Walters), 0:47 (PP). Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Elmira 6-8-10-1-25. Wheeling 16-12-12-0-40.
Power-Play Opportunities-Elmira 4-4; Wheeling 3-7.
Goalies-Elmira, McDonald 0-0-0-0 (22 shots-18 saves); Niedert 1-0-0-0 (18 shots-18 saves). Wheeling, Condon 0-0-0-0 (11 shots-11 saves); Spagnoli 0-0-1-0 (14 shots-9 saves).
Referee-Don Jablonski (18); Linesmen-Joe DeMizio (59), Zach Thornton (80).