READING, Pa. – Marcus Vela recorded his first professional hat trick as the Toledo Walleye scored five goals during the second period in a 7-4 victory over the Reading Royals on Saturday at Santander Arena.
Vela, who now shows seven goals in his first eight games with the Walleye (10-6-1-0), was among six Toledo skaters to notch multiple points as he bookended his three-goal performance with a pair of power play markers. Josh Winquist and Tyler Spezia each added a goal and an assist, while Shane Berschbach, T.J. Hensick and Abbott Girduckis all dished out a pair of helpers. Meanwhile, rookie goaltender Billy Christopulos picked up the win and third-star accolades in his club debut on the strength of a career-high 40 saves, marking his first pro appearance since backstopping South Carolina to a 5-2 triumph versus Norfolk on Nov. 17.
The Walleye seized the momentum in the early minutes and opened the scoring 4:16 into the contest. Berschbach led an odd-man rush into the Reading (13-5-3-0) zone and chipped a pass across to Winquist at the left circle for a one-timer into the top left corner, giving the latter his third goal in as many games
Toledo opened up a 2-0 lead with a power play goal later in the frame. After Hensick attempted to split the Reading defense, he spun around at the lower part of the left circle and centered a pass to Vela at the right circle for a one-timer underneath the left pad of Felix Sandstrom at the 14:40 mark. However, Reading trimmed the lead to 2-1 just 51 seconds later when Frank DiChiara lifted home a rebound from the lower edge of the right circle.
The Walleye regained their two-goal advantage with 3:18 gone in the second period. Shortly after Brayden Low ripped a shot hit off the crossbar, Spezia caught the Royals on a line change and jump-started an odd-man rush, setting up Vela in the high slot for a wrister over Sandstrom’s outstretched catching glove.
Reading got back within a goal when Thomas Ebbing got his stick on Garrett Cockerill’s attempt from the right wall at 7:38, but the Walleye pulled away for good with four unanswered goals in a 4:36 span. Josh Kestner added a power play tally when he took Berschbach’s rinkwide feed at the left circle and fired a one-timer over a sprawling Sandstrom at the 13:57 mark. Vela completed his hat trick moments later on another man advantage when he jammed his own rebound through the five-hole to make it 5-2 at 16:42, prompting the Royals to replace Sandstrom in favor of Kirill Ustimenko.
The Walleye put more distance between themselves and the Eastern Conference leaders, netting a couple of even-strength goals prior to the second intermission. Brett Boeing danced around a check before wristing a breakaway attempt past Ustimenko’s catching glove at 17:39, before Spezia toedragged his way into the slot and snapped his second effort between the pads 53 ticks later to give the visitors a comfortable 7-2 scoreline.Luke Stork contributed two consolation goals for Reading during a fight-filled third period, finding the back of the net at 5:57 and 18:24, respectively. In total, the two teams combined for 12 infractions and 58 penalty minutes in the final frame.
Toledo finished 3-for-5 on the power play, while Reading scored on one of its four opportunities. Sandstrom stopped 18-of-23 shots in a losing cause, while Ustimenko stopped 9-of-11 in relief one night after claiming first-star honors with a 39-save display.
What’s Next:The Walleye close out their three-games-in-three-days road trip on Sunday with a matchup against the Wheeling Nailers. Puck drop from WesBanco Arena is scheduled for 4:05 p.m.
Three Stars:1. Toledo – Marcus Vela (hat trick)2. Toledo – Tyler Spezia (goal, assist)3. Toledo – Billy Christopoulos (W, 40 saves)