Jeff Christian and company had them right where they wanted them the whole time. Ok, probably not, but through hard work and something the Nailers bench boss has been seeing from his boys even through the recent struggles, a lack of quit, the Wheeling Nailers pulled off one of the most unlikely, astounding victories fans at WesBanco Arena have seen in some time, coming back from a 4-0 deficit, and a 5-4 hole late, to knock off a good Ft Wayne Komets team 6-5.
“That how you do it, just spot them four goals,” Christian said jokingly. “I’m proud of our guys, they kept hustling, kept working.
“Our guys showed a lot of heart tonight. That’s our team, we have to keep working. The harder you work the luckier you are is the saying.
“We’re done packing it in (when they get behind), I believe in this team.”
Having lost three straight and six of eight coming in, it was a massive win for Wheeling to get back in the win column and try to get something going before Christmas.
“It’s huge, I can sleep tonight,” Christian added with a half serious chuckle. “They’ve had enough of not getting the bounces, not getting the wins.
“We’ve been close in all of those games. Losing is not acceptable, we’re here to develop players but we’re also here to win. I’m telling you it’s rough when your losing as a coach.
“I literally think we should win every game … I believe in these guys so much it just infuriates you as a coach (when they lose) because it’s like your better than this, don’t let other teams beat you, don’t give games away.
“When they buy into that 100% and they start believing in themselves they can beat anybody.”
Adam Krause scored a hat trick for his fifth, sixth, and seventh goals of the season, with the last two coming just 18 seconds apart late in the third to flip a 5-4 Ft Wayne lead to a Nailers victory at 6-5. He also had an assist to end up with a four point night.
“We needed that one bad, and especially to come back like that it says a lot about our guys,” Krause said. “Even through the losses we’re playing hard … guys are really working hard and they care and I think it was just a matter of time before it went our way.
“None of those goals were fancy by any means. I’ve been trying to (get to the net) as much as I can lately being in a bit of a slump, when you’re in a slump it feels like you’re playing left handed so to get some of those it feels great.”
After ex-Nailer Bobby Shea put the Komets up 1-0 with a power play goal, then set up a second goal by Mike Cazzola, Ft Wayne led 2-0 after one. Power play goal by Jamie Schaafsma and Kyle Thomas early in the middle period made it a 4-0 Ft Wayne advantage, at which point the slumping Nailers looked dead to rights and destined to continue the skid. That couldn’t have been a more wrong assessment.
Brett Stern got the Nailers on the board just past the halfway mark, ripping a shot from the point through a screen and by another ex-Nailer making a return to the Wheel, Eric Hartzell (34 saves) to make it 4-1.
With a power play goal of their own, Krause cut the Nailers deficit in half by directing home a Josh Shalla feed late in the second, giving the Nailers life headed to the third.
With all the momentum on their side, Wheeling came out flying and Garrett Meurs made things a lot more interesting, scoring on his former team off a Krause rebound to make it a 4-3 game.
Andrew Ammon rifled a Kevin Schulze centering feed top shelf to even the score a little more than seven minutes into the third, making the contingent of Komets fans that made the trip quite quiet and energizing the rest of the building.
Those Ft Wayne faithful had something else to cheer about when their Komets retook the lead with a Cody Sol goal a minute and a half later, beating Nailers starter Doug Carr (19 saves) but it was short lived as Krause took over from there and got the Nailers the improbable comeback win.
The two teams head to Ft Wayne for a rematch tonight.
“They’re a different team at home,” Christian said of Ft Wayne. “We used to call it the jungle back in the day.
“They get a big crowd there and those guys get fired up. It’ll be a gut check tomorrow (for Wheeling) to build on the momentum (from Friday). It’s never easy, it’s not supposed to be.”
Follow me on Twitter @AndrewGrimm_