READING, PA- The Wheeling Nailers played the first of back-to-back games against North Division foes on Friday night, when they paid a visit to the Reading Royals. Wheeling battled back from a pair of deficits, but was unable to pull ahead. With 8:14 remaining in the third period, the Royals broke a 2-2 deadlock, then added an insurance goal in the last minute, prevailing 4-2 at Santander Arena. Nick Sorkin assisted on the first goal for the Nailers, extending his point streak to six games.
Wheeling played a strong first period, controlling the play for the most part, while holding a 12-6 advantage in shots on goal. However, the lone goal of the stanza went to the Royals with 2:17 remaining. Olivier Labelle broke up a play in front of the penalty boxes, and led his team into the offensive zone. Chris McCarthy tipped a pass to Justin Crandall, who joined the rush, drilling in a shot from the right side of the slot.
Midway through the second period, the Nailers drew even. Keevin Cutting shoved the puck ahead on the left side of center ice, where it was deflected toward the middle for an entry by Derek Army. Army worked his way into the left circle, waiting for his opportunity, then roofed a shot into the top-right corner of the cage. With 2:56 remaining, Reading regained its lead. Michael Boivin poked the puck free in neutral ice, allowing Kevin Sundher to drive into the zone on his backhand. Sundher's initial attempt got stopped, but the rebound went to Robbie Czarnik, who lifted it over Sean Maguire.
Wheeling battled back with an equalizer at the 8:40 mark of the third period. Michael Webster intercepted a puck in the high part of the offensive zone, before twisting a shot in on the glove side of Austin Lotz. The tie didn't last very long, as the Royals pulled ahead for good with 8:14 remaining. Florian Iberer kept the puck alive at the left point, finding Olivier Labelle, who let a shot go, which was tipped home by Chris McCarthy. With under a minute to go, Reading tacked on an insurance goal while playing on the man advantage. Crandall waited patiently on the left side of the crease, before dangling around and stuffing a shot inside of the left post for a 4-2 final score.
Austin Lotz got the win in his debut for the Royals, turning away 26 of the 28 shots he faced. Sean Maguire was saddled with the defeat for Wheeling, despite making 24 saves on 28 shots.
The Nailers will return home on Saturday at 6:05, as they celebrate New Year's Eve with a game against the Elmira Jackals, presented by Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino, Racetrack. $10 tickets will be available on Throwback Night, plus Wheeling will take the ice wearing Thunderbirds jerseys. Bam Bam Sticks will be given away, and there will be a Wine Tasting Event as well. To purchase tickets, or to get more information about season tickets, mini plans, group tickets, packages, and more, call (304) 234-GOAL.