KALAMAZOO, MI- The Wheeling Nailers and Kalamazoo Wings played an emotional game on Friday night that saw 11 goals and over 100 penalty minutes. Wheeling erased a 4-1 deficit to take a 5-4 lead, but former Nailer Reid Gardiner scored twice in the closing minutes, completing a hat trick, and lifting the Wings to a 6-5 triumph in regulation at Wings Event Center. Alex Rauter had four points, Michael Phillips tallied two goals and an assist, and Cam Brown extended his point streak to 12 for the Nailers.
The first period was an eventful one, as four goals were scored and 34 penalty minutes were handed out. Kalamazoo netted the first three markers of the night, utilizing the man advantage on two of them. Eric Kattelus flicked a wrist shot through a screen on the first goal, then fed Justin Taylor, who turned to his backhand for the second strike. The lone even strength tally was scored by former Nailer Kyle Bushee, who walked into the left circle, where he sniped a shot into the top-right corner. With 1:03 left in the stanza, Wheeling got on the scoreboard with a power play goal of its own. Michael Phillips swatted a pass through the slot for Alex Rauter, who deposited a shot from the right side.
The Wings extended their lead with Reid Gardiner's rebound goal at the 7:32 mark of the middle frame, but the Nailers put together a remarkable surge, scoring three times in 1:09 to draw even. Wheeling went all in, pulling the goaltender while on the power play, and it worked beautifully, as Michael Phillips stashed home a loose puck in the slot. 47 seconds later, Rauter fed Mark Petaccio on an odd-man rush, which Petaccio buried from the right side for his first ECHL goal. 22 seconds after that, Phillips struck for the equalizer, roofing a shot under the crossbar.
The Nailers took their lone lead of the night at the 7:49 mark of the third period. Yushiroh Hirano and Rauter rushed the puck into the offensive zone, and Cedric Lacroix chipped in a shot on the left side of the net. Unfortunately, the lead didn't result in a win, as Gardiner connected from the slot for the equalizer with 5:50 to go, then netted the game winner with a one-timer from the left circle in the closing seconds of regulation.
Jake Hildebrand received the win for Kalamazoo, despite allowing five goals on 34 shots. Matt O'Connor took the defeat for Wheeling, stopping 40 of the 46 shots he faced.
The Nailers will return home on Monday for their annual New Year's Eve game, which is also Star Wars Night. Fans can meet Star Wars characters, the Nailers will wear special jerseys, and there will be a surprise giveaway for the first 2,000 fans. All tickets for New Year's Eve are just $8! The Wheeling Nailers, considered one of the top things to do in Wheeling, West Virginia, provide affordable family entertainment for fans throughout the Ohio Valley. For information on season tickets, group tickets, flex plans, and more, call (304) 234-GOAL.