Nailers Done in by Ex-Mates

WHEELING – John Wroblewski was part of a midseason rebuilding project that ultimately produced a berth in the ECHL Eastern Conference Finals for Wheeling three years ago. He’s at it again this season with Gwinnett, and he’s using former Nailers and stellar goaltending to do it.

Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored a short-handed goal, while Joey Haddad and Alex Belzille each assisted on a goal Thursday night, and all three ex-Wheeling players beat Peter Delmas in a shootout as the Gladiators (30-18-3 – 63) skated past the Nailers (21-16-9 – 51) by a 3-2 count at WesBanco Arena.

”Going up to Trenton and getting two points and then coming into this barn, which is arguably the toughest barn to get two points in the league, you have to feel a little satisfaction out of that,” Wroblewski said. ”We rebuilt this team from three weeks ago. We were really struggling and we were playing multiple nights with 13 guys.

”We’re still not where we need to be. We’re getting there and we have a great group of guys that I think are starting to appreciate it.”

The Nailers, though banged up, also feel as though they’re on the cusp. After rallying in the third period for two goals in a 1:01 span and earning a point against a strong Gladiators team, it’s easy to see why.

”That’s a real good team. They’re extremely hard workers, so I’m really proud of the guys,” Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ”Their defense are all 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 and they move.

”Give our guys a lot of credit too, because they were out there battling.”

Gwinnett got on the board 3:03 into the first when Pierro-Zabotel gathered a loose puck and threw it past Delmas, who stopped 24 of 26, from a bad angle. The Gladiators held that lead until the 3:37 mark of the third.

But it was near the end of the second period when Wheeling finally found its game.

”We started getting pucks deep and we started working their defensemen,” Donatelli said. ”We started doing the little things we’ve had success with, and the guys realized that if they keep doing that then good things are going to happen.”

Peter Lenes got the Nailers on the board early in the third with his eighth of the season after a pass went behind Haddad and the puck was picked up by Lenes, who went coast-to-coast before his shot off the glove of Gladiators goaltender Mike Lee trickled into the net to tie things up.

Jordy Trottier got in the act when he patiently waited to the right of Lee’s crease before cutting middle and popping in his first professional goal for a 2-1 Wheeling edge.

Moments later Wheeling’s Paul Crowder was sprung into the offensive zone, but Lee, who led Team USA to a Gold medal in the 2009 World Juniors Championships, came up large with the save on a puck that could have been the dagger.

”I thought Mike was really sharp – he had to be tough, especially in a rink that’s tough to play in,” Wroblewski said. ”That’s the mark of an excellent goaltender and you see the same thing from Delly at the other end, which I used to witness.

”Those high-end goalies are going to find a way.”

The Gladiators got the equalizer when Haddad skated away from the Wheeling net, but turned and fired from the point. Justin Bowers was stationed on the ride side of the cage and deflected the puck in for his 12th goal of the season.

Zach Hansen ”pinned the guy behind the net and he came off the wall and made a great play,” Donatelli said. ”When they backdoor a guy on a slapshot there’s nothing you can do.”

Wheeling had a chance in overtime as it was awarded its sixth power play, but despite some quality chances, it failed as the other five did.

All three Nailers shooters – Scott Zurevinski, Lenes and Hansen – were turned away in the shootout.