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Nailers vs. Walleye Playoff Series Preview

Friday, May 6th
Nailers vs. Walleye Playoff Series Preview

WHEELING NAILERS3rd Place in Central DivisionRecord: 37-31-4-0Points: 78Goals For: 243 (T-5th)Goals Against: 247 (21st)Power Play: 61-for-304, 20.1% (7th)Penalty Kill: 216-for-276, 78.3% (22nd)

TOLEDO WALLEYE1st Place in Central DivisionRecord: 49-19-2-2Points: 102Goals For: 277 (2nd)Goals Against: 203 (5th)Power Play: 57-for-236, 24.2% (3rd)Penalty Kill: 180-for-224, 80.4% (15th)

Head-to-Head2021-22 Regular Season: Nailers 4, Walleye 32021-22 Regular Season at WHL: Nailers 2, Walleye 12021-22 Regular Season at TOL: Nailers 2, Walleye 2All-Time Regular Season: Walleye 54, Nailers 42All-Time Regular Season at WHL: Nailers 27, Walleye 24All-Time Regular Season at TOL: Walleye 30, Nailers 15All-Time Playoff Series: Toledo 4, Wheeling 1 (counting series played as Thunderbirds & Storm)

GoaltendingWheeling: Guindon, Weeks, (D'Orio)Toledo: Christopoulos, MilosekThe old saying goes, "Show me a good goaltender, and I'll show you a good coach." Both coaches in this series received terrific goaltending during the opening round of the playoffs, which should lead to an elite match-up in the Central Division Final. Wheeling's Louis-Philip Guindon led all ECHL netminders with 247 saves in the first round, as he stopped 40 or more shots four times during the seven-game victory over Fort Wayne, and finished the series with a .932 save percentage. Counting the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, Guindon has gone 9-2-3 in his last 14 appearances. Toledo's Billy Christopoulos also received seven starting nods in the opening set, and played in just three fewer minutes than Guindon (444-441), as he made 195 saves to lead the Walleye past Cincinnati. Christopoulos was the only netminder to rank in the ECHL's top-five in wins, goals against average, and save percentage in the regular season. Backing up these two shining stars will be Mitchell Weeks for the Nailers and Max Milosek for the Walleye. Weeks has yet to make his professional debut, after finishing his junior career with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves. Milosek enjoyed a breakthrough season, as he went 13-3-1 in 17 games, after spending the majority of the previous three years in the SPHL. Alex D'Orio began the playoffs on Wheeling's roster, but is currently with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

DefenseWheeling: Bafia, Drake, Foley, Hanson, MacPherson, Maniscalco, Ortiz, SmithToledo: Clarke, Fraser, Gazzola, Ghafari, Lowney, Martenet, MyerWhen looking for offense from the bluelines, fans should look straight to the number 24 on both rosters, as Wheeling's Josh Maniscalco and Toledo's Randy Gazzola each had standout campaigns. Maniscalco earned All-ECHL 2nd Team and ECHL All-Rookie Team honors, as he led all first year blueliners with 53 points. He carried that success into the playoffs, as he tallied two goals and five points for the Nailers in their first round win. Gazzola came in one point behind Maniscalco during the regular season, as he finished the year with 52 points. He led Walleye defensemen with four points in the opening round. Wheeling rolled with the same six defensemen for all seven games against the Komets, as Chris Ortiz also had a strong offensive series with five assists, while Matt Foley led the way with a +4 rating. Cam Clarke and Cole Fraser both netted goals for Toledo, who also added Butrus Ghafari to the lineup from the AHL for its game seven win over the Cyclones.

OffenseWheeling: Almeida, Boomhower, Cockrell, Desruisseaux, Doherty, Drevitch, Hampton, Hausinger, Houde, Josling, Paré, Quercia, WatlingToledo: Albert, Berry, Boeing, Curry, Dickinson, Hawkins, Heard, Hensick, Keenan, McKenzie, Mychan, Pedersen, PrestonAfter scoring 21 goals during the regular season, Cam Hausinger of the Nailers saw his game reach another level, as he racked up seven goals in the first round to rank third in the ECHL. Similar to the regular season, that was Wheeling's most productive line, as regular season leading scorer Patrick Watling and Sam Houde followed their linemate with six points each. The Nailers got key contributions from a variety of players against Fort Wayne, as seven different forwards scored at least one goal in the series, including Matthew Quercia, whose second postseason marker won game seven in overtime. Toledo also has a lethal top line, as 14 of its 21 goals came from the trio of Brandon Hawkins, TJ Hensick, and John Albert. Hensick finished the regular season tied for second in the ECHL with 78 points, then led the Walleye with 11 more in the first round. Hawkins' 35 goals in the regular season tied for the league lead, and he has added six more in the playoffs, including a hat trick in game seven. Six different players reached the 20-goal plateau for Toledo during the regular season. This is the second round in a row for the Nailers featuring two top-five offenses in the ECHL, as the two clubs combined to turn on the red light 520 times.

AHL EligiblesWheeling: Alfaro, Almari, Hutchison, NappierToledo: Barton, Fulcher, Hillman, VelaThe American Hockey League's playoffs have gotten underway, and four of the eight players on these lists have seen their seasons come to an end. Wheeling has one open roster spot for an AHL eligible player. Forward Matt Alfaro was a point-per-game-player during the regular season for the Nailers, as he collected 20 points in 20 games, and his Abbotsford Canucks got eliminated by the Bakersfield Condors on Wednesday night. Forward Nick Hutchison (Manitoba), defenseman Niclas Almari (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), and goaltender Tommy Nappier (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) have yet to begin their postseasons, as the Penguins will face Hershey in a best-of-three, while Manitoba will play Milwaukee in a best-of-five. Toledo has two open roster spots available, and interestingly enough, two of its four players listed didn't qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs, as defenseman Seth Barton and goaltender Kaden Fulcher were playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Defenseman Blake Hillman had 13 points in 13 games for the Walleye, and his Providence Bruins were just ousted by the Bridgeport Islanders. Marcus Vela is another potential option for Toledo, as he notched 20 points in 24 ECHL matches, and he will be on the opposite side of Wheeling's affiliate, as he suits up for the Hershey Bears.

Special TeamsWheeling: PP- 20.1%, 7th. PK- 78.3%, 22nd.Toledo: PP- 24.2%, 3rd. PK- 80.4%, 15th.Both sides had electric power plays during the regular season, but the penalty kills both stepped up at key times in the opening round. Wheeling accomplished a remarkable feat by blanking Fort Wayne's power play at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on 11 chances. Meanwhile, Toledo didn't surrender a power play goal at Huntington Center, as Cincinnati was unsuccessful on 16 attempts. The Nailers netted four power play goals in their first round series, and two of the four came from defensemen, including Josh Maniscalco, who led the club with 23 power play points during the regular season. The Walleye deposited seven pucks into the back of the net on the man advantage, and TJ Hensick was involved in the scoring on six of the seven (1G, 5A), after leading his team with 22 power play points during the regular season. Shorthanded goals haven't been a significant part of the teams' offensive arsenals this year, as Toledo had six and Wheeling had five during the regular season, although the Walleye did get one from Brett Boeing in the playoffs.

ToughnessWheeling: 45 fighting majors, T-3rdToledo: 27 fighting majors, T-19thOpposite sides of the regular season penalty minute spectrum collide in this series, as the Nailers finished with the fourth highest penalty minute total in the ECHL (16.78), while the Walleye finished with the fourth lowest (10.56). Toledo was one of just two Central Division teams to finish outside of the top-seven in that category, but the Cyclones drew some rage out of the Walleye in round one, as they accumulated 116 penalty minutes in seven games. That was one more minute than Wheeling received in its series against Fort Wayne. The seven-game season series saw only three fighting majors assessed, and two of those came in the most lopsided tilt of the series - a 7-2 Nailers triumph on January 29th. Wheeling's Shaw Boomhower and Toledo's Cole Fraser are the two most likely candidates to throw down the gloves, as they both led their squads in penalty minutes during the regular season and during the first round.

CoachingWheeling: HC- Derek Army (2nd Season, 43-46-5), AC- Ryan Kuwabara (1st Season)Toledo: HC- Dan Watson (5th Season, 227-93-27), AC- Alden Hirschfeld (3rd Season), AC- Brent Bain (1st Season)Four of the five coaches involved in this series played for their respective teams. Derek Army is a former Nailers player, Ryan Kuwabara is a former Thunderbirds player, Dan Watson is a former Storm player, and Alden Hirschfeld is a former Walleye player. Army became the eighth head coach in Wheeling history to win a playoff series, and the third to do so in game seven, as this was his first taste of postseason action behind the bench. Derek was 2-2 in playoff series as a player, and he was in uniform when the Nailers and Walleye clashed in 2015. The seven-game triumph over Fort Wayne was also the first pro playoff series in North America for Kuwabara, who won two of his three playoff series as a player for Wheeling. Ryan played against Toledo in the 1993 Riley Cup Final for the Thunderbirds. Since Toledo became the Walleye in 2009, Watson has enjoyed the most postseason success among the team's head coaches, as the first round win over Cincinnati was his seventh series victory. Between his time as a player and coach, this is Dan's 13th season being involved with Toledo hockey. Hirschfeld wrapped up his playing career in 2018, and immediately hopped behind the bench. Alden played in two postseasons for the Walleye, including the 2015 series against the Nailers. Bain is a Toledo native, who is working his first season behind the bench.

ExperienceWheeling: 1,997 North American professional games (0 prior Kelly Cup Champions)Toledo: 4,497 North American professional games (2 prior Kelly Cup Champions)For the second round in a row, the Nailers find themselves on the short end of this category, as they hope that youth will trump experience once again. The Walleye have three veterans on their squad, and two of those three have NHL experience, as TJ Hensick played in 112 games with the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, while John Albert suited up in nine games with the Winnipeg Jets. Mitchell Heard is the third veteran for Toledo, and he has experienced a deep run in the past, as he played in game 7 of the 2018 Kelly Cup Final with the Florida Everblades. The Walleye have two former ECHL Champions on their roster, and both won the Kelly Cup with the rival Fort Wayne Komets last season, as Brandon Hawkins and Randy Gazzola hoisted the trophy. Gazzola played in back-to-back finals with Toledo in 2019 and Fort Wayne in 2021, and is the only player in the series who had played in a playoff game as a member of his current team prior to this spring. This postseason run will be extremely beneficial going forward for Wheeling, who doesn't have a veteran player on its roster this season, and none of the players will become one next year, as Patrick Watling sits the closest with 243 pro games. Although the majority of the Nailers are experiencing their first professional playoff year, there are players who have gone deep at other levels. Louis-Philip Guindon won a QMJHL Title with Rimouski in 2015, while Jared Cockrell played in an NCAA National Championship Game with St. Cloud State in 2021.

ArenasWheeling: WesBanco Arena (opened in 1977)Toledo: Huntington Center (opened in 2009)This series will bring the noise. The classic seating of Wheeling's WesBanco Arena has fans directly on top of the action, plus the loudest goal horn in the ECHL has been known to shake an opposing team or two in the past. Heading northwest to the other city in this series, gone are the days of Toledo Sports Arena, which lived for 60 years. Huntington Center arrived on the scene in 2009, when the Walleye began their tenure in Toledo hockey. While fans are unable to lean over the glass as they did in the old barn, they can still wreak havoc with opposing clubs, as a walleye is thrown on the ice following the first goal by the home side. In addition to the goal horn, WesBanco Arena's most unique on-ice features are its small neutral zone and Banco Bounces off the corner boards. Huntington Center is pretty standard on the ice, but first time visitors might be thrown off by the lack of a center hung scoreboard. Instead, there is one large board on the wall behind the net that Toledo attacks twice.

Central Division FinalWheeling Nailers vs. Toledo WalleyeGame 1 - Fri. May 6th at Toledo, 7:35Game 2 - Sat. May 7th at Toledo, 7:35Game 3 - Tue. May 10th AT WHEELING, 7:10Game 4 - Thu. May 12th AT WHEELING, 7:10Game 5 - Sat. May 14th AT WHEELING, 7:10Game 6 - Mon. May 16th at Toledo, 7:35Game 7 - Tue. May 17th at Toledo, 7:35

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