READING, Pa. – The Toledo Walleye recorded a season-high 41 shots on goal against the Reading Royals – including 17 in the third period – but their late rally came up short in a 4-2 decision on Friday at Santander Arena.
Reading goaltender (13-4-3-0) Kirill Utsimenko preserved a shutout bid until the 13:27 mark of the final frame, turning away 39 shots to garner first-star honors, while Andrew D’Agostini recorded a season-high 29 saves in his first start for the Walleye (9-6-1-0) since Nov. 10 at Brampton. Prior to Saturday’s game, Toledo acquired netminder Billy Christopoulos from South Carolina, following the recall of first-string keeper Pat Nagle to the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Walleye managed to keep the Eastern Conference leaders off the board through the opening 20 minutes. Reading failed to start the scoring on a 5-on-3 lasting two minutes after Alex Kromm and Steve Oleksy were whistled at 11:07 for boarding and slashing, respectively, in what proved to be the hosts’ only power play chance.
Reading eventually broke the deadlock 3:25 into the second stanza. After circling away from pressure at the left point, Garrett Mitchell backhanded the puck down the left half-boards to Ralph Cuddemi, who ripped a sharp-angle snapshot inside the right post for his ECHL-leading 17th goal of the season.
The Royals doubled their margin later in the period, as Eric Knodel skated his way down to the left circle and wired a wrist shot past the blocker of D’Agostini at the nine-minute mark.
The goals suddenly arrived in bunches in the third, as the two teams combined for three goals in a 2:42 span. Brenden Kotyk’s initial effort was blocked by Utsimenko, but Marcus Vela was in prime position to bury the rebound for his fourth goal of the campaign at 13:27. However, Reading restored its two-goal advantage when Frank DiChiara tucked home what held up as the game-winning tally at the 15:14 mark.
The Walleye needed just 55 seconds to slice the deficit to 3-2, as Josh Kestner unselfishly set up Josh Winquist on a one-timer for his second goal in as many games. Toledo later yanked D’Agstino for the extra skater and called timeout with just over a minute remaining in regulation, but the strategy backfired as Brayden Low posted an empty-netter with 55 ticks left.
Toledo finished 0-for-4 on the power play.
What’s Next:The Walleye will remain in Pennsylvania for another showdown with the Royals on Saturday at 7 p.m., before wrapping up their three-in-three weekend with a road tilt against the Wheeling Nailers on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Three Stars:1. Reading – Kirill Ustimenko (W 39 saves)2. Reading – Frank DiChiara (game-winning goal, assist)3. Toledo – Josh Winquist (goal)