Weekend warriors salvage two points

Say what you will for 20-something, well-conditioned professional hockey athletes.

The grind of playing three games in 72 hours or less is hardly considered preferential on anyone’s weekend itinerary.

But such is life in the minor leagues where Saturday night games are often followed by all-night bus tours to the next arena.

Losers on consecutive evenings to division rival Reading, no less, the Nailers pulled into the Friendly City in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

They had twice been seriously spanked by the Royals – first in a Friday night skate in the team’s ‘second’ home at Johnstown.

A second consecutive 6-2 reversal followed Saturday evening in eastern Pennsylvania before Clark Donatelli’s club hit the highway.

“We got back (to Wheeling) about 3:30 (Sunday morning),” Donatelli noted. “You’ve got to be mentally tough and the players know it.”

The Nailers were back at Wesbanco for a 4:05 Sunday afternoon faceoff against first-time opponent Chicago, a Saturday night loser at Cincinnati.

The weekend finale was played in a crisp two hours, five minutes and included virtually no rough stuff, yet solid end-to-end skating by both teams.

Wheeling earned its 4-1 victory, scoring one of its goals on the power play and another on a game-sealing empty netter with 57 seconds to play.

Awarded the tilt’s No. 1 star, Nailers’ netminder Patrick Killeen had just given his team a huge lift, turning aside 26 of 27 shots.

Emerging from the lockerroom to face the media, Killeen resembled a weary road warrior in dire need of a good night’s sleep.

Teammate Paul Crowder, Wheeling’s leading scorer to date, accounted for what proved the winning goal. He later assisted on forward Cody Chupp’s power play tally.

“We had lost two in a row but no one was going to panic,” Crowder advised. “I can’t see (this team) going on any long losing streaks. That’s a good, loose lockerroom we have. It’s a great bunch of guys to be around.”

Wheeling, in a first place Atlantic Division tie with Elmira following Sunday’s action, hosts the Jackals for a rare midweek faceoff Wednesday at 7:05.


KILLEEN, now 9-6, figures to be between the pipes indefinitely after Donatelli reported goalie Peter Delmas is sidelined with concussion symptoms and may not return until January.

FOLLOWING Wednesday’s game, most players will head home for a long holiday weekend. The Nailers return to the ice Dec. 26 at Elmira. Two more road games (Trenton, Elmira) follow before Reading comes to town for a New Year’s Eve (7:35 p.m.) contest….

THE Express are one of three professional hockey teams representing the Windy City. The NHL’s Blackhawks and AHL’s Wolves both posted wins Sunday….

WHEELING’S January schedule includes nine home games, three of which are scheduled in Johnstown. During February, the Nailers will appear at home for only three games. Following a Feb. 11 home game, Wheeling plays 12 consecutive games away from Wesbanco….

WHEELING ranks 17th out of the ECHL’s 20 teams in home attendance, averaging just over 2,600 fans per home date. Two California teams – Stockton (5716) and Ontario (5507) are ranked first and second, respectively….

Gibson may be reached at rgibson@timesleaderonline.com