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Nailers vs. Fuel Playoff Series Preview

Wednesday, April 17th
Nailers vs. Fuel Playoff Series Preview



3rd Place in Central Division
Record: 38-28-4-1
Points: 81
Goals For: 232 (11th)
Goals Against: 204 (6th)
Power Play: 51-for-249, 20.5% (11th)
Penalty Kill: 195-for-251, 77.7% (21st)

2nd Place in Central Division
Record: 39-25-6-2
Points: 86
Goals For: 230 (13th)
Goals Against: 221 (12th)
Power Play: 54-for-258, 20.9% (9th)
Penalty Kill: 233-for-296, 78.7% (15th)

2023-24 Regular Season: Fuel 8, Nailers 3
2023-24 Regular Season at WHL: Fuel 3, Nailers 2
2023-24 Regular Season at IND: Fuel 5, Nailers 1
All-Time Regular Season: Fuel 45, Nailers 35
All-Time Regular Season at WHL: Nailers 23, Fuel 19
All-Time Regular Season at IND: Fuel 26, Nailers 12
All-Time Playoff Series: First Ever Series

Wheeling: Castor, Gauthier
Indy: Driscoll, Weeks
Four goaltenders with double-digit win totals and sub-3.00 goals against averages are set to stand tall in their respective creases in hopes of leading their squads to glory. And as is the case in most cities nowadays, tall is the operative word, as all four are at least 6', and three of the four are either 6'2" or 6'3". Wheeling's Taylor Gauthier is the most decorated of the four, as he earned All-ECHL First Team honors, thanks to finishing first in save percentage and shutouts, second in goals against average, and fourth in wins. However, injuries have kept Gauthier sidelined since March 17th, which gave Jaxon Castor the chance to lead the Nailers into the postseason. He did that by winning each of his last three starts and allowing only four goals in the process. With four games in five days to begin the series, it wouldn't be a surprise to see both Indy netminders receive playing time right away, as the two were within 100 minutes played of each other during the regular season. Zach Driscoll finished tied for fifth in the ECHL with 22 wins, while Mitchell Weeks was 11th in the circuit with a 2.75 goals against average. Weeks is the only one of the four who has played professional playoff games.

Wheeling: Bunz, Drake, Lee, Nickl, Roehl, Waugh
Indy: Cairns, Cameron, Centorame, Grima, Hadfield, MacDougall, Perrott
The number one job of a defenseman is to prevent the opposition from scoring, and there are some large men who have created havoc for opposing forwards with their imposing play in the defensive zone. Wheeling's Thimo Nickl finished the season with a +25 rating, which is the best for any player on either roster, while Christopher Cameron led Indy at +19, and both are more than capable of throwing the body around. From an offensive standpoint, the Nailers have some powerful weapons on the blueline, as Justin Lee and Davis Bunz both reached the 30-point mark with 19 combined goals. Ross MacDougall was the leading defensive scorer for the Fuel, as he accumulated seven goals and 29 points. Consistency was also key for Wheeling's defense, as five of the six players starting on the playoff roster played in at least 54 games. Indy's back end got reshaped as the season went on, with the additions of Matthew Cairns, Victor Hadfield, and Nick Grima.

Wheeling: Addamo, Frasca, Hamaliuk, Jankowski, Kiefiuk, Koopman, Laderoute, Laviolette, Manz, Martel, Westcott
Indy: Bellant, Bilek, Bulmer, Gagnier, Hausinger, Hillis, Howarth, Jordan, Lang, Lemos, Maksimovich, Malone, Martin, Spodniak
Two powerful offenses are set to collide, as the Nailers finished the season with 232 goals, while the Fuel turned on the red light 230 times. Jordan Martel was an enormous addition for Wheeling, as he averaged over a point-per-game with 47 points in 45 games after being acquired in a trade from Utah in December. Indy also has a forward averaging over a point-per-game, as Cameron Hillis finished the year with 61 points in 54 matches. Both teams also have superb rookies on their rosters, as Tanner Laderoute of the Nailers and Kyle Maksimovich of the Fuel each produced at least 20 goals and 50 points in their first full seasons as professionals. Martel (35) and Maksimovich (26) were the leading goal scorers for their respective squads. 15 of the 25 forwards who are on the starting playoff rosters reached double digits in goals, with eight for Indy and seven for Wheeling.

AHL Eligibles
Wheeling: Ansons, Belliveau, Headrick, Quercia, Sparks, Svejkovsky, Vierling
Indy: King
The two teams are looking at drastically different situations, when it comes to filling out the remainder of their open roster spots. Indy has named 23 of its 24 players, and only has one player eligible to return from the AHL. That means defenseman D.J. King is expected join the Fuel at some point during the postseason, and if that happens, their work will be done. Wheeling has five open roster spots, with seven possible players to choose from for those positions. Four of the seven spent significant time with the Nailers this season, as Isaac Belliveau, Matthew Quercia, Lukas Svejkovsky, and Evan Vierling all played in at least 30 games. Those four combined for 133 points, which would be a huge injection to the offense. The two teams are in identical positions when it comes to the playoff statuses of their affiliates. Pittsburgh and Chicago both failed to qualify for the postseason in the NHL, while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Rockford have both clinched their spots in the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs, which begin next week.

Special Teams
Wheeling: PP- 20.5%, 11th. PK- 77.7%, 21st.
Indy: PP- 20.9%%, 9th. PK- 78.7%, 15th.
As indicated by the numbers, this is a category that is incredibly tight. Indy finished the season with three more power play goals than Wheeling on nine more chances, and there were seven goals of separation between the two penalty kills. And although both teams finished with success rates higher than 20%, the players will have to be alert at all time, as no division saw more shorthanded goals (60) in 2023-24 than the Central. 17 of those goals came from these two clubs. The Nailers scored nine, led by three each from Matthew Quercia and Matt Koopman, while the Fuel had eight, including two by Andrew Bellant. Indy's Bryan Lemos and Cameron Hillis both racked up 21 power play points, and 39 of those 42 came via assists. Jordan Martel was Wheeling's biggest weapon on the man advantage, as he collected ten goals and 21 points with an opponent in the sin bin. The two sides are well aware of how potent the opposition is, as over 1/4 of the power plays were scored on in the 11-game head-to-head season series. Both teams cashed in 12 times against the other on 94 total chances.

Wheeling: HC- Derek Army (4th Season, 110-112-15), AC- Mitch Giguere (1st Season)
Indy: HC- Duncan Dalmao (3rd Season, 93-55-13), AC- Geoff Schomogyi (1st Season)
Derek Army and Duncan Dalmao have a lot of similarities in their paths that have led them to their current positions. To start off, both head coaches spent the majority of their playing careers in the ECHL. Army played parts of five seasons with the Nailers, while Dalmao played for five different ECHL teams, with his longest stint being four seasons with the Roanoke Express. Both gentlemen began their ECHL coaching careers as assistant coaches with different organizations. For Derek, that was the Worcester Railers from 2018-20. For Duncan, that was the 2019-20 Brampton Beast. Army and Dalmao were then hired by their current clubs as assistant coaches, as Derek worked under Mark French, and Duncan worked under Doug Christiansen. Both coaches were promoted to interim head coach in the middle of a season, as Army took over Wheeling's job in 2021, while Dalmao took over Indy's job in 2022. Derek and Duncan both helped their teams return to the playoffs in their first full seasons as head coach, and both will be making their second career appearance behind the bench in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Mitch Giguere and Geoff Schomogyi may both be new to their respective squads this season, but both bring loads of prior coaching experience to the table, which has helped the two head coaches steer their ships to postseason play.

Wheeling: 1,558 North American professional games (0 prior Kelly Cup Champions)
Indy: 3,513 North American professional games (0 prior Kelly Cup Champions)
This is not an unfamiliar position for Wheeling, as the Nailers tend to be on the younger side of the age spectrum in the ECHL. David Drake and Matthew Quercia are the only two players remaining from the 2021-22 Nailers, who won a thrilling seven-game opening round series against Fort Wayne. Drake is also the lone veteran (260 pro games or more) on the Wheeling roster, as he has appeared in 327 career contests. Jordan Martel is the only other Nailer outside of the AHL Eligible List with professional playoff experience, as he is playing in the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the third straight spring. On the flip side, Indy is utilizing all four of its veteran spots, as Jon Martin, Brett Bulmer, and Bryan Lemos have all eclipsed 300 pro games, while Chase Lang also qualifies. The Fuel have 11 players who appeared for them in the 2023 postseason, in addition to two players who were with Wheeling in 2022 - Cam Hausinger and Mitchell Weeks. Every single player in this series is looking to have their name engraved on the Kelly Cup for the first time ever

Wheeling: WesBanco Arena (opened in 1977), UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex (opened in 2015)
Indy: Indiana Farmers Coliseum (opened in 1939)
Two classic buildings with history, character, and modernizations will open their doors for this series and the two passionate fanbases that are hungry to see their teams succeed. Wheeling's WesBanco Arena opened in 1977, was fitted for hockey in 1992, and starting in 2014, has gone through various renovations to deliver a modern fan experience. Indiana Farmers Coliseum opened 1939, and experienced its largest renovation prior to the arrival of the Fuel in 2014. WesBanco Arena is one of the smallest buildings in the ECHL, with a seating capacity of 4,700. It also boasts the smallest rink surface, which is most noticeable in the neutral zone. Indiana Farmers Coliseum checks in with a seating capacity of 6,200. Despite only having 1,500 more seats than Wheeling, that puts Indy right in the middle of the pack (4th of 7) for Central Division arenas. Both teams use home ice advantage as a major strength, as the Nailers went 21-13-1 at home this season, while the Fuel were 21-9-6 in their back yard. That note has also held true throughout the years of the head-to-head series, as home teams have won 49 of the 80 (61.3%) all-time meetings between Wheeling and Indy. Game five (if necessary) of this series will be played at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, which is the practice rink for the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Central Division Semifinal
Wheeling Nailers vs. Indy Fuel
Game 1 - Fri. Apr. 19 at Indy, 7:00
Game 2 - Sat. Apr. 20 at Indy, 7:00
Game 3 - Mon. Apr. 22 AT WHEELING, 7:10
Game 4 - Tue. Apr. 23 AT WHEELING, 7:10
Game 5 - Sat. Apr. 27 AT WHEELING (in Cranberry), 7:10 (if necessary)
Game 6 - Mon. Apr. 29 at Indy, 7:00 (if necessary)
Game 7 - Tue. Apr. 30 at Indy, 7:00 (if necessary)

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