Sports stats

 Wheeling Nailers

Nailers vs. Walleye Playoff Series Preview

May 1, 2024 - ECHL (ECHL)
Wheeling Nailers News Release

Wheeling Nailers vs. the Toledo Walleye
Wheeling Nailers vs. the Toledo Walleye
(Wheeling Nailers)

Wheeling Nailers (38-28-4-1, 81 Pts.) vs. Toledo Walleye (48-14-4-5, 105 Pts.)


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)

Round 1: Defeated Indy, 4-1


1st Place in Central Division

Record: 48-14-4-5

Points: 105

Goals For: 289 (3rd)

Goals Against: 209 (8th)

Power Play: 62-for-246, 25.2% (2nd)

Penalty Kill: 192-for-235, 81.7% (9th)

Round 1: Defeated Kalamazoo, 4-0


2023-24 Regular Season: Nailers 2, Walleye 2

2023-24 Regular Season at WHL: Nailers 1, Walleye 1

2023-24 Regular Season at TOL: Nailers 1, Walleye 1

All-Time Regular Season: Walleye 62, Nailers 49

All-Time Regular Season at WHL: Nailers 30, Walleye 29

All-Time Regular Season at TOL: Walleye 33, Nailers 19

All-Time Playoff Series: Toledo 5, Wheeling 1 (counting series played as Thunderbirds & Storm)


Wheeling: Castor, Gauthier, Sparks

Toledo: Bednar, Lethemon

For the second round in a row, two strong sets of goaltenders will match up, and both teams should feel extremely confident, regardless of who gets the starting nod. The last two ECHL Goaltenders of the Year are in this series, as Wheeling's Taylor Gauthier won the honor this season and Toledo's John Lethemon took home the award last year. Gauthier had one of the best seasons for a Nailers goaltender in recent memory, as he finished in the league's top-five in six different categories. However, an injury has kept him out of the crease since the middle of March. That has given Jaxon Castor the opportunity to shine, and he has certainly done that. Dating back to the end of the regular season, Castor has gone 8-1-1 in his last ten starts, and has allowed two goals or fewer in seven of the eight wins. The Nailers have also added Garret Sparks, who backstopped the Toronto Marlies to a Calder Cup Championship in 2018. Lethemon and Jan Bednar mostly alternated games during the regular season for the Walleye, and that continued in the playoffs, with Lethemon starting games one and three, and Bednar getting the call in games two and four. Lethemon had a 26-22 advantage in wins, while playing in 23 more minutes. Bednar posted the better goals against average (2.66) and save percentage (.901) over his partner.


Wheeling: Belliveau, Bunz, Drake, Lee, Nickl, Roehl, Waugh

Toledo: Anderson, Cameron, Gabriele, Graves, McCourt, Michaelian, Pietila, Prapavessis

This series features two groups of defensemen who enjoy success on both sides of the puck. From an offensive standpoint, both teams saw three of their blueliners light the lamp in round one, as Isaac Belliveau, Davis Bunz, and Justin Lee tallied for the Nailers, while Grant Gabriele, Jacob Graves, and Riley McCourt scored for the Walleye. Belliveau and McCourt were the most productive players for their position during the regular season, as Belliveau finished tied for fourth among rookie defensemen with 38 points, while McCourt ranked sixth among defensemen with 52 points. A strong combination of scoring and defending also leads to large numbers in the +/- category, and five blueliners in this series finished the regular season at +20 or better. They were Gabriele (+34 - tied for league lead), McCourt (+27), and Matt Anderson (+26) for Toledo, and Thimo Nickl (+25) and Bunz (+20) for Wheeling. Bunz (10) and Anderson (13) joined Belliveau (14) with double-digit goal totals.


Wheeling: Addamo, Frasca, Hamaliuk, Jankowski, Kiefiuk, Koopman, Laderoute, Laviolette, Manz, Martel, Quercia, Svejkovsky, Vierling, Westcott

Toledo: Bliss, Centazzo, Craggs, Doucet, Gilmour, Gresock, Hawkins, Keenan, Kruse, Lewandowski, Messina, Pilon, Sawchuk, Willms

The first head-to-head clash of the regular season between Wheeling and Toledo saw ten goals scored in regulation, before the Nailers ultimately emerged victorious in a shootout. Both teams can score and score a lot, as evidenced by their 521 combined regular season goals. Two names that will be mentioned frequently in the series are Toledo's Brandon Hawkins and Wheeling's Jordan Martel. Hawkins won the ECHL MVP Award by leading the circuit with 40 goals and 93 points. Martel was a huge addition for the Nailers, as he finished the year with 35 goals and 58 points. Both players led or tied for their team lead in scoring during the first round, with Martel being joined by his captain, Justin Addamo. On Wheeling's side of the equation, rookie Tanner Laderoute finished second on the squad with 24 goals and 50 points, while Lukas Svejkovsky and Dillon Hamaliuk averaged over a point-per-game. The Walleye had five other players finish with over 20 goals - Sam Craggs (28), Trenton Bliss (27), Conlan Keenan (25), Riley Sawchuk (25), and Orrin Centazzo (22).

Special Teams

Wheeling: PP- 20.5%, 11th. PK- 77.7%, 21st.

Toledo: PP- 25.2%, 2nd. PK- 81.7%, 9th.

Special teams can play a major factor in determining a game or a series, and that was definitely the case for the Nailers in the opening round. Wheeling scored six power play goals in its series win over Indy, while limiting the Fuel to just two man advantage markers. The Nailers went 12-for-12 on the penalty kill in the final three games, and even tacked on a shorthanded strike, thanks to Matt Koopman, who had six shorthanded points during the regular season. The penalty box attendants were pretty lonely during Toledo's first round series against Kalamazoo, as the two teams combined for just 14 power plays, with each side going 1-for-7. Two players in particular should gain lots of attention on these units, which both eclipsed 20% success rates in the regular season. Wheeling's Jordan Martel factored into the scoring on five of the team's six power play goals in the first round, and led the Nailers with ten goals and 21 points on the man advantage during the regular season. Toledo's Brandon Hawkins led the ECHL with 34 power play points during the regular season, and was tied for the lead with 15 goals. During the four-game regular season series, the Nailers were 4-for-18 (22.2%), and the Walleye were 1-for-12 (8.3%).


Wheeling: HC- Derek Army (4th Season, 110-112-15), AC- Mitch Giguere (1st Season)

Toledo: HC- Pat Mikesch (1st Season, 48-14-9), AC- Alden Hirschfeld (5th Season), AC- Brent Bain (2nd Season)

Derek Army and Pat Mikesch enjoyed great success with their teams this season, and both got there by following drastically different career paths. At age 33, Army is the youngest head coach in the Central Division, yet he has held his current position the longest, as he first took over as Wheeling's bench boss during the 2020-21 season. At age 51, Mikesch is the oldest head coach in the Central Division, yet he is one of two (Jesse Kallechy of Fort Wayne) in his first season with his current club. Both head coaches played college hockey (Army - Providence, Mikesch - Michigan Tech), prior to starting their pro playing careers in the ECHL. Derek spent the majority of his playing career with the Nailers, in addition to time in the AHL, while Pat played five of his eight pro seasons in Germany. Army began his coaching career as an assistant with the Worcester Railers in 2018, before coming back to Wheeling in 2020. Mikesch began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Michigan Tech, before he moved on to the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers, where he was an assistant coach for three years, then a head coach for eight seasons. Army played against Walleye Assistant Coach Alden Hirschfeld, as both retired from playing at the end of the 2017-18 season. Wheeling Assistant Coach Mitch Giguere has over a decade of coaching experience, which includes a QJHL Championship at Longueuil Collège-Français. Toledo originally hired Brent Bain as a video/assistant coach in 2017, and he shed the video portion of his title in 2022.


Wheeling: 1,558 North American professional games (0 prior Kelly Cup Champions)

Toledo: 2,684 North American professional games (1 prior Kelly Cup Champion)

For the second straight round, the Nailers find themselves on the younger end of the age/experience spectrum, but this time around, it's a bit closer. Both teams are only using one of their four available veteran slots (260 pro games or more), and both of those players are defensemen - Wheeling's David Drake and Toledo's Jacob Graves. These are two clubs that are loaded with young and exciting talent, as 22 of the 47 players currently on the rosters are rookies. Despite still being considered a rookie, Matthew Quercia is one of two players (Drake) who suited up with the Nailers the last time they faced Toledo in the second round of the 2022 Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Walleye also have two players who were part of that last head-to-head series - Brandon Hawkins and Conlan Keenan. Hawkins is the only player in the series who has won a Kelly Cup before, which he did with Fort Wayne in 2021. He is also one of two players to have worn both teams' uniforms, as he played for Wheeling in 2019-20, while Michael Prapavessis played in 15 games with the Nailers in 2020-21.


Wheeling: WesBanco Arena (opened in 1977)

Toledo: Huntington Center (opened in 2009)

Despite a 32-year gap between them, these are the second and third newest buildings in the Central Division, only trailing Iowa's Xtream Arena, which opened in 2021. Inside the doors, one will find two fanbases who have enjoyed ECHL hockey, while disliking each other for a very long time. The Nailers were originally known as the Thunderbirds, as they relocated from Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1992. WesBanco Arena was known as Wheeling Civic Center at the time, or for diehard fans, the Thunderdome. The building which looks out onto the Ohio River has gone through multiple renovations, with the majority of those taking place since 2014. Toledo's ECHL history began in 1991 as the Storm, who played out of Toledo Sports Arena until its demolition in 2007. Hockey fans in Northwest Ohio waited two years for the sport to return, as Huntington Center opened in 2009 and the Walleye were born. Counting regular season and playoff contests, the cities of Wheeling and Toledo have watched their teams do battle against each other 273 times. Home ice has treated both clubs extremely well thus far in the postseason, as the two teams have a combined 5-0 record, following home win totals of 23 (Toledo) and 21 (Wheeling) during the regular season. The capacity of Huntington Center is over one and a half times that of WesBanco Arena, as Walleye games can hold 8,000 fans, while a sellout for the Nailers is 4,700.

Central Division Semifinal

Wheeling Nailers vs. Toledo Walleye

Game 1 - Fri. May 3 at Toledo, 7:15

Game 2 - Sat. May 4 at Toledo, 7:15

Game 3 - Wed. May 8 AT WHEELING, 7:10

Game 4 - Fri. May 10 AT WHEELING, 7:10

Game 5 - Sat. May 11 AT WHEELING, 7:10 (if necessary)

Game 6 - Mon. May 13 at Toledo, 7:15 (if necessary)

Game 7 - Tue. May 14 at Toledo, 7:15 (if necessary)

Images from this story

Wheeling Nailers vs. the Toledo Walleye
Wheeling Nailers vs. the Toledo Walleye


• Discuss this story on the ECHL message board...

ECHL Stories from May 1, 2024

The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

Other Recent Wheeling Nailers Stories

Sports Statistics from the Stats Crew
OurSports Central