Coming into Wednesday night’s important divisional match up with Brampton in the ever tightening playoff race, the Wheeling Nailers knew they were going to be playing with a short bench. After Gage Quinney was a late scratch after the pregame warm up, things got even more complicated as his absence left Wheeling with just eight healthy forwards. Somehow, though, they gutted it out and came up with a big, character performance, picking up a 6-3 victory.
“That was gutsy,” Nailers coach Jeff Christian said. “Quinney … hurt it in the morning, lower body injury we’ll say, he tried it but he just couldn’t go.
“Eight forwards, guys called up, guys playing every position out there, taking all the hacks and whacks. You know what these guys are tough, and fierce, and they’ve got a lot of heart.”
Cody Wydo led the way, potting his 17th, 18th, and 19th goals of the season for his second career hat trick, two of which came by simply going to the net hard, and goaltender Sean Maguire made a career high 40 saves, including a highlight-reel, save of the year candidate in the second period stretching cross crease to commit robbery on a 5-on-3 penalty kill.
“Maguire played great,” Christian said. “That’s what we saw from him in January, even he said after the game ‘I really needed that one.’
“It just seems like every time Cody Wydo goes to the net and gets one of those garbage goals off his leg or off his knee or whatever happens he just starts feeling better about himself.
“That’s the Cody Wydo in the second half and playoff time we need. He just takes such pride in being the man … he’s just a natural goal scorer, shoot the puck and go to the net.”
The Nailers got on the board first with 6:54 to go in the opening period when Brampton starter Zachary Fucale coughed up the puck behind the net, and although he was back in the crease by the time it made it to Mike Webster at the point, Webster stepped into a bomb of a shot that blew by Fucale for his first of two in his return to the Wheeling line up.
Brampton answered 24 seconds later with a Chris Leveille goal, but Christian Hilbrich fired a shot into traffic and it went off of Wydo and in at the other end to give the Nailers the lead right back just over a minute after the Beast had tied it up.
Kevin Schulze ripped home a Tyler Currier rebound less than a minute later, ending Fucale’s night and giving the Nailers a 3-1 lead.
A glass issue with 2:28 left in the first created a unique situation, as they sent the teams in for the intermission early to allow a repair and then resumed the remainder of the first before jumping right into the second. The Nailers were headed to a power play when the issue with the glass occurred, and when the teams came back out it only took Wydo all of three seconds to blast his second of the game by relieving netminder Andrew D’Agostino for a 4-1 lead.
Webster put a wrister through traffic for his second of the night with just under five and a half to go in the middle period to make it 5-1, but David Vallorani, on a 5-on-3 power play, cut it to 5-2 before the second intermission, which surprisingly enough was actually after the second period this time.
Wydo had multiple break away attempts stopped and chose to pass the puck on a couple of 2-on-1 looks rather than gun for the hat trick, but the last one with just under six minutes left in the contest was blocked back to him and he stuffed it in to make it 6-2.
“You just have got to get a lot of water in you, Gatorade and stuff like that,” Wydo said of playing so shorthanded. “You just gotta try and conserve your energy when you’re out there.
“I’m going to try to stay hot here and keep it going.”
Brampton added another power play goal from Tim Billingsly late, but it was not nearly enough to keep Wheeling from taking home an unlikely 6-3 victory and huge two standings points.
“It means that the guys have potential to pull it out when we need to, guys have potential to step up,” Maguire said. “Now it’s a matter of doing it consistently.”
The same two teams go at it again Friday night in Wheeling, and according to Christian, the Nailers should have some help by then for another game that is huge in the playoff race.
“We’ve got a guy coming up (today) from the SPHL, another forward, Kwas will be back and hopefully Sorkin is going to try it tomorrow to see.
“We’ve got to keep up with the pack. This division is so tough, it’s going to be a dogfight right to the end and our guys are up for it, we’re not going anywhere.”