The Wheeling Nailers are finally rolling and it comes at a very important time. Thanks to reigning ECHL Player of the Week, Cody Sylvester (11 points in last five games), the Nailers have won four games in a row. Last week, the Nailers got good news before their matchup against Jacksonville, as key defensemen Dylan MacPherson (released from PTO with Wilkes-Barre) and Chad Duchesne (Injured Reserve for 25 games) both returned to the lineup and killed 13 penalties over the weekend.
In Thursday’s head-to-head against Jacksonville, the Nailers had to battle back in the third period after the Icemen scored at the 1:22 mark to take what would be their lone lead of the contest. Former Nailer Christopher Brown connected with Mike Szmatula to collect his second assist to make it 3-2. Sylvester would start his Player of the Week campaign by capitalizing on a Patrick Watling rebound off Charles Williams, which would knot up the game. Josh Winquist then took a shot off the post, which Sylvester cleaned up, scoring the game-winning goal. Austin Fyten then tallied an assurance goal on the empty net, which would make it 5-3. Nick Rivera, Sylvester, Winquist, Fyten and Watling all had multi-point games, while Shane Starrett got the win, making 25 saves.
On Friday, the Nailers traveled to Indy and it was a much different story than Thursday. Taran Kozun made 36 saves, which would give to the Nailers their second straight win. Duchesne and MacPherson were clutch on the penalty kill against the ECHL’s third best power play. Rivera then got a pass from Jacob Pritchard and banked it right in past goalie Tom Aubrun. The Indy Fuel were quick to respond, as Chad Yetman took a shot from the right face-of dot that snuck in the net past Kozun. Austen Fyten then found the top-right corner after Kyle Marino sent a pass through the slot 2:52 later. The third period was all Aubrun and Kozun, as they would combine for 31 saves.
You would have to go all the way back to April 7th, 2018 to see the Nailers last win in Fort Wayne, but on Saturday, April 3rd, Wheeling ended that 11-game skid. The Komets got on the board first, as former Nailer Blake Siebenaler would convert on a one-timer from Jackson Leef, which would make it 1-0. Both players happen to be locals of the Fort Wayne community. The Nailers wasted very little time, as Matt Alfaro then deposited a rebound past goalie Dylan Ferguson just 14 seconds later.
Wheeling took its first lead of the game at the 11:26 mark, as Sylvester whipped a pass to Adam Smith, who then fed it to Winquist who would make it 2-1. Matt Murphy then responded for the Komets after getting a shot to sneak right in past Shane Starrett. With less than a minute left, Sylvester scored a shorthanded goal, putting the Nailers ahead after the first 20 minutes. Wheeling never trailed after the opening period.
Brady Tomlak scored the game-winner in the second frame, while Watling and Rivera both scored one of their own to make it 6-3 Nailers. For Fort Wayne, it was Matthew Boudens who scored the team’s third goal, however, trailed from there. Winquist was suspended two games after elbowing Ferguson, forcing him out of the game.
The fourth game, their second against Fort Wayne, would need some late night magic en route to the victory. Unfortunately, the Nailers penalty kill would surrender its first goal in four games, as another former Nailer, Brandon Hawkins, got the scoring started for the Komets in the first. Looking ahead to the latter portion of the second, Matt Alfaro would find defensemen Matt Miller, which would tie up the game at the 4:16 mark.
Siebenaler regained the lead for the Komets, as a shot deflected Wheeling’s defence core, which would allow the young righty to capitalize on the perfect wrist shot. Alfaro would tie things in the third before Jackson Leef answered back for Fort Wayne, as they re-took the lead, now up ahead 3-2. With 1:11 left in the game, A.J. Jenks would trip Matt Alfaro, sending the Nailers to the power play with the extra attacker. It took three seconds for Sylvester to slap a bomb right past Jeremy Helvig, which would knot the game at three. That sent the contest to overtime, where the Wheeling Nailers dominated possession before Sylvester ended it with his second of the night.
The Nailers enter a homestand on Friday as they welcome to Wheeling the South Carolina Stingrays. If they can manage to stay hot, they have a good chance at dark horse for the final playoff spot. The key is staying healthy and consistent against the Komets and Fuel, who they combine for 11 games against before some space opens up for a short play break in May.