WHEELING - Entering Thursday night's game at WesBanco Arena against Elmira, rookie Wheeling goaltender Eric Hartzell had not played poorly. In fact, his save percentage (.907) and goals-against average (2.95) were anything but pedestrian.
The problem is, the Nailers haven't been scoring many goals. Wheeling only got one against the Jackals - Sahir Gill's first as a professional at 13:37 of the second period - but that was plenty for Hartzell, who stopped all 37 shots he faced for his first pro victory and shutout as his club came away with a 1-0 victory.
''That's hockey,'' Hartzell said of his 1-2-1 record, despite the excellent statistics. ''I try to do my job the best I can every night and sometimes the bounces go your way and sometimes they don't.
Wheeling’s Max MacKay (7) attempts a shot as Elmira goalkeeper Scott Greenham reacts during action of their game Thursday night at WesBanco Arena.
Photo by Joe Lovell
''The forwards did a good job in their zone and the 'D' did a good job of picking up rebounds.
''Overall it was a great team effort.''
Nobody stood out more than Hartzell, however.
The Quinnipiac graduate and former Hobey Baker Award finalist kept Wheeling (4-5-1 - 9) afloat early as Elmira (3-6-0 - 6) peppered him with the game's first four shots. A couple of his biggest saves came on a deflection out of mid-air at 8:36 of the first, then Hartzell turned away the Jackals' Jordan Pietrus twice from point-blank range midway through the second, the latter off a turnover that followed a mini-breakaway.
''The 'D' and I have been doing a great job in practice and have been trying to communicate a lot better, so we try not to have a direct line between me and the puck,'' Hartzell said. ''They did a great job letting me see the first shot and they did a great job clearing the rebounds.''
That set the stage for Gill, who bore down when he saw an Elmira defender fall at center, hustling for a 2-on-1 with former Jackal Chaz Johnson.
''(Scott) Zurevinski passed it up and we line rushed,'' Gill recalled. ''I got it over to Chaz and had my stick on the ice and he made a nice play.
''It was definitely good and it helps that we won.''
Not too shabby for the 10th forward on the bench when he makes the lineup. Gill doesn't have a regular line and rotates in to give different guys breathers.
''He's getting better and better as this thing goes on,'' Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said. ''People are starting to see that he has a lot of talent.
''He's a very skilled player that is starting to come into his own, and I couldn't be happier for him.''
The Jackals had their chances. Wheeling's Dustin Stevenson and Elmira's Jakub Culek were sent off for matching roughing minors with 46 seconds remaining, effectively affording the visitors a 5-on-4 power play with goaltender Scott Greenham pulled for the extra attacker.
Just as he had the rest of the night, Hartzell stood up to the task.
''Honestly, in games like that things are going to happen and sometimes you get lucky,'' Hartzell said. ''We just got lucky bounces and we were fortunate to have them.
''But you create your own luck and the boys have been working really hard in practice, so I couldn't be more happy.''
Greenham was also stellar, stopping 23 of 24. He denied Cody Sylvester on a first-period one-timer from the slot, then later turned back Nailers defenseman Mike Ratchuk on a breathtaking end-to-end rush.
''Our goaltender was real good and theirs was too,'' Donatelli said. ''We're still working hard and playing real good defensively.
''We had a couple chances and the puck didn't go into the net, but the guys aren't getting frustrated.''
In a bit of a scheduling quirk, the two teams boarded busses to Elmira and will play tonight at First Arena, before returning to WesBanco Arena on Saturday night.
Rookie defenseman Harrison Ruopp played his first game after returning from injury. He didn't travel with the team but will be in the lineup again Saturday. ... To make room for Ruopp, who was sent down from Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, the Nailers released forward Colin Mulvey from his SPC. ... Hartzell and fellow goalie Mike Condon have stopped 77 of 79 shots in two games against the Jackals this season. ... Elmira forward Artem Demkov had his six-game goal-scoring streak snapped. ... This was only the second game this season the Nailers did not register a fighting major. They have 11 overall.
Elmira0 0 0 - 0
Wheeling0 1 0 - 1
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-1, Wheeling, Gill 1 (Johnson, Zurevinski), 13:37. Penalties-Hartzell Whl (delay of game), 3:37; Lamarche Elm (roughing), 10:03; Torquato Whl (roughing), 10:03.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Sylvester Whl (tripping), 1:32; Miller Whl (elbowing), 5:45; Pietrus Elm (tripping), 15:08; Culek Elm (roughing), 19:14; Stevenson Whl (roughing), 19:14.
Shots on Goal-Elmira 15-9-13-37. Wheeling 12-6-6-24.
Power Play Opportunities-Elmira 0 / 3; Wheeling 0 / 1.
Goalies-Elmira, Greenham 3-3-0-0 (24 shots-23 saves). Wheeling, Hartzell 1-2-0-1 (37 shots-37 saves).
Referee-Nic Leduc (14); Linesmen-Shaun Morgan (71), Zach Roberts (84).