WHEELING, WV – With only four points separating first and fourth in the division, every point is precious. Heading into Friday night’s contest between the Reading Royals and Wheeling Nailers, both teams knew that the division-leading Monarchs were idle.
With a win, Wheeling would leapfrog the Monarchs and have first place when the Monarchs visit for two games tonight & Sunday afternoon. For Reading, a win would move them to within two points of the division lead. Winning at Wesbanco Arena has not been easy for the opponent this season as the Nailers were 14-6-1-0 heading into the contest.
The game got off to a quick start as Adam Schmidt made a good play to keep the puck in for Reading. He fired a shot at the net and it found its way around Nailer goalie Adam Morrison. Nolan Zajac and Brian Morgan credited with assists on Schmidt’s seventh of the season just 1:20 into the contest.
Just passed the 13-minute mark of the first the Nailers would start the only powerplays of the game for them. With a 5-on-3 opportunity for just over a minute and a half, the Royals turned the Nailers away.
Just passed the midway point of the second period, a wild scramble in front of Royals goalie John Muse ends with Muse being out of position and Reid Gardiner firing a loose puck into the empty net from just above the right faceoff circle to tie the game at one. Gardiner’s team-leading 24th of the season was assisted by Cody Wydo and Jeff Taylor at 13:03 of the second. The goal was also the seventh in the last four game for Gardiner. With the goal for Gardiner and the Wydo assist, those two are in a tie for the team points lead with injured Cam Brown with 39 points at the time.
In the third period, the Nailers had a couple of good chances but either missed the net or found the blue posts and crossbar. Both goalies also shined in the third, with Morrison stopping Reading on a 2-on-0 opportunity in the final minute to ensure that the Nailers got a point out of this contest.
The overtime period would not last long, after a Muse save on a Nailers opportunity, the Royals rushed back into the offensive zone. Matt Willows had the puck in the left side of the slot. He hesitated and waited for the trailer to join the play. Michael Huntebrinker took a one-time pass and snapped it through the five-hole and into the net for the game-winner at 0:28 of the extra frame. James de Haas picked up an assist as well on the play.
Morrison stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced in the overtime loss, seeing a personal six-game winning streak end and record fall to 8-7-1-0. Muse picked up the win stopping 36 of 37 shots. His record now stands at 16-4-1-0, which ties his ECHL career-high he set back in the Kelly Cup championship season of 2011-12 when he was with Florida.
Wheeling will return to action Saturday night as the Manchester Monarchs invade Wesbanco Arena for a 7:05 pm faceoff.
Reading will have Saturday night off and return to action on Sunday at the Powerade Center in Brampton, Ontario. Faceoff with the Beast is set for 2:00 pm.