Nailers Move Into Second

WHEELING – The Wheeling Nailers’ bus broke down in the vicinity of Pittsburgh on their way back from a game the previous night in Elmira, leaving the team stranded. There was talk of postponing Saturday night’s game a day after half the squad didn’t get home until 4 p.m., but perhaps because they figured the Nailers would be suffering from some serious bus lag, visiting Kalamazoo wanted to go on as scheduled.

It’s extremely likely the Wings would like to have that decision back.

Wheeling (26-20-3 – 55), showing no ill effects, scored four first-period goals including a pair 17 seconds apart, en route to a 10-1 plow job of Kalamazoo (24-14-6 – 54) that vaulted the Nailers into second place in the North Division standings.

”We wanted to come out strong because we knew in the other locker room they were aware we went through that, and maybe they thought (we) were going to come out and shut it down for a night,” Wheeling’s T.J. Fox said. ”For us to come out and establish our forecheck and the physical play we wanted to have was a big key for our win.”

Guys like Fox and Thomas Beauregard scored a game’s worth of points in the first period, as each registered a goal and a pair of assists. When the dust had settled, Beauregard finished with five points (2g-3a), while Fox tied a franchise record with seven (2g-5a).

”I thought T.J. had a really good, hard-working game and was going to the net hard and got rewarded,” Nailers coach Greg Puhalski said. ”He’s a skilled player that when he works hard good things will happen for him, and (this) is a perfect example.”

It didn’t take the Nailers long to get started as Blair Yaworski put home his 10th of the season on Wheeling’s second shot. The next shift – and Wheeling shot – increased the lead to 2-0 as Aaron Clarke wristed in his 14th from the midslot, beating former Nailers goaltender Jeremy Duchesne.

It was the first of two for Clarke, who finished with three points. But he wasn’t alone.

In all, six players had at least three points, while two more had multiple-point nights. Eleven different Wheeling players found the scoresheet.

”There’s nights like this where everything is going your way,” Beauregard said. ”Greg let us know that we didn’t play the last 20-30 minutes (Friday) and we were pretty mad about it.

”It’s always good to get one.”

But the Nailers were far from finished. Less than 8 minutes later, Fox stopped the puck along the left boards and immediately swung a cross-ice pass to Beauregard, who was waiting unmarked on the doorstep. He took his time and flipped one over Duchesne’s glove shoulder for his team-leading 29th goal of the season.

Then, just before the period expired, and with the Nailers on a 4-minute power play the result of Yaworski taking a high-stick, the dagger was applied. Stationed just above the goal line to the goaltender’s right, Beauregard flung a pass to the slot that was intended for Jordan Fox (1g-2a), but it deflected off his stick to T.J. Fox, who netted his 18th.

All told, Wheeling put four pucks behind Duchesne on 10 shots in the first, and 10 on 30 tries during the duration of the game.

”That was our game plan, was to get pucks on this goalie,” T.J. Fox said. ”A couple bounces here and there really get your confidence going.

”Our line had three in the first and really got us going, then we kept going from there.

”We picked the guys up, then every line chipped in.”

T.J. Fox and Beauregard continued their ‘can-you-top-this’ contest with another goal and assist each in the second, their 19th and 30th goals of the season, respectively, to bookend a 4-minute penalty on Kalamazoo’s Darryl Lloyd.

While all this was going on, Wheeling goaltender Adam Berkhoel was easily turning aside pretty much anything the Wings threw his way. He ended with 28 saves on 29 shots, with the only exception being the second of the season off the stick of Mitch Versteeg, who started the play by dumping T.J. Fox head-first into his bench with a big check.

”Early in the game Berkie made some key saves for us when we kind of got out of the gate a little bit slow,” Puhalski said.

”Berkie was big for us,” T.J. Fox added.

The onslaught continued in the third as Wheeling scored four more, including two on the power play. The Nailers, who ranked ninth in the league with the man advantage entering the game, connected on 5 of 7 chances.

Colin Power (fourth) and Chris Davis (sixth) tipped in shots in front, while Clarke and Jordan Fox also tallied.

Wheeling defensemen Alex Grant and Kevin Schmidt evenly divided six helpers, while Yaworski added an assist to go with his early goal.

”Obviously a great bounce-back game for us,” Puhalski said. ”If we wanted to find the excuses, nobody is going to argue with you.

”On the other hand, you can look at it the other way and we can show a lot of heart and character, and we did that.”

Kalamazoo0 1 0 – 1

Wheeling4 2 4 – 10

1st Period-1, Wheeling, Yaworski 10 (Fox, Boogaard), 3:20. 2, Wheeling, Clarke 14 (Fox, Beauregard), 3:37. 3, Wheeling, Beauregard 29 (Fox, Clarke), 11:51. 4, Wheeling, Fox 18 (Fox, Beauregard), 19:43 (pp). Penalties-Haddad Whl (roughing), 12:29; Strong Kal (high-sticking, high-sticking), 17:19.

2nd Period-5, Kalamazoo, Versteeg 2 9:53. 6, Wheeling, Beauregard 30 (Grant, Fox), 12:37 (pp). 7, Wheeling, Fox 19 (Schmidt, Beauregard), 14:26 (pp). Penalties-Kinley Whl (high-sticking), 3:48; Grant Whl (hooking), 6:54; Lloyd Kal (interference, unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:17; Strong Kal (roughing), 20:00; Fox Whl (roughing), 20:00.

3rd Period-8, Wheeling, Power 4 (Ganzak, Grant), 6:11. 9, Wheeling, Clarke 15 (Fox, Schmidt), 7:01. 10, Wheeling, Fox 14 (Grant, Fox), 8:35 (pp). 11, Wheeling, Davis 6 (Yaworski, Schmidt), 8:54 (pp). Penalties-Clarke Whl (slashing ), 0:43; Willis Kal (hooking), 7:45; Featherstone Kal (delay of game), 8:16; Ftorek Kal (hooking), 14:34.

Shots on Goal-Kalamazoo 6-11-12-29. Wheeling 10-8-14-32.

Power Play Opportunities-Kalamazoo 0 of 4; Wheeling 5 of 7.

Goalies-Kalamazoo, Duchesne 7-3-3-2 (32 shots-22 saves). Wheeling, Berkhoel 7-5-0-1 (29 shots-28 saves).

Referee-Jarrod Ragusin (28). Linesmen-Justin Eckman (72), Mike Hamilton (80).