TOLEDO, Ohio – The Toledo Walleye fought back from a two-goal deficit to capture sole possession of first place in the Central Division standings, as Tyler Spezia’s backhander with 5:39 left in overtime lifted the hosts to a 5-4 victory over the Wheeling Nailers on Wednesday before a sold-out School Education Day crowd of 7,654 at the Huntington Center.
Trailing 4-2 with fewer than five minutes left in the second period, Marcus Vela marked his Walleye (6-1-1-0) debut by tallying his first professional goal at the 15:51 mark, before Brandon Anselmini evened the score on the power play with 12:33 remaining in regulation to force the extra session.
After Pat Nagle got to his right post to stop a Wheeling (4-3-1-0) chance, Josh Kestner corralled a loose puck near his own right corner and jump-started a 2-on-1 when he stretched a pass toward Spezia at center ice. Using Anselmini as a decoy, Spezia gained the zone on the left wing and shifted to his backhand as he entered the high slot before guiding a shot past the blocker of Alex D’Orio 1:21 into overtime.
Abbott Girduckis brought the capacity crowd to its feet with the opening tally 5:45 into the contest. Steve Oleksy dropped a pass at the top of the left circle to Girduckis, who quickly wired a wrist shot inside the far post for his team-leading fifth goal of the campaign.
Wheeling responded just 29 seconds later when Jan Drozg snuck behind Oleksy and found the net with a sharp-angle attempt near the left goalline, but the Walleye quickly regained their one-goal edge. Blake Hillman’s initial point shot was fought off by D’Orio, but Girduckis was able to get a whack at the rebound in front before Justin Buzzeo lifted the puck over the sprawling netminder’s right pad at the 8:05 mark.
The Nailers took advantage of a defensive-zone turnover to level the score later in the frame, as Drozg set up Christopher Brown in front for a one-timer that knotted the score at 2-2 with 1:28 to go in the first.
The ECHL’s most efficient power play went to work for the first time in the second stanza, but Wheeling went on top with a shorthanded goal as Steve Johnson skated coast-to-coast and backhanded a shot through Nagle’s five-hole at the 6:54 mark. Ryan Scarfo then scored on a breakaway attempt at 9:12 to make it a 4-2 game.
Acquired by the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins on Nov. 1, Vela eventually sliced the deficit in half with 4:09 to go in the second frame. Buzzeo’s pass from the right half-boards reached Vela in the slot for a sharp one-timer inside the left post.
The Walleye took advantage of another Wheeling penalty and pulled even at the 7:27 mark of the third, as Troy Loggins sent a pass across to Anselmini at the right point for a one-timer that went between a sliding D’Orio’s left arm and body. Branden Troock and Charle-Edouard D’Astous both drew iron moments later as the Walleye secured at least a point for the fifth consecutive game.
Toledo finished 1-for-2 on the man advantage, while Wheeling failed to score on three chances. Nagle stopped 28-of-32 shots to improve to 6-0-1, as D’Orio blocked 22-of-27 for the Nailers.
What’s Next:The Walleye begin a stretch of three games in three days on Friday with a road tilt against the Indy Fuel. Puck drop from the Indiana Farmers Coliseum is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.
Three Stars:1. Toledo – Tyler Spezia (overtime goal)2. Toledo – Brandon Anselmini (game-tying power play goal)3. Wheeling – Jan Drozg (goal, assist)