Wheeling and Toledo arrived in town in the wee hours of Saturday morning after playing each other in West Virginia on Friday night, but both still found bursts of energy at the Huntington Center.
The Walleye (7-2-2) let a two-goal lead after two periods slip away early in the third Saturday before topping the Nailers 5-3. The teams combined for eight goals, 67 shots on goal, and 16 power plays before a sellout crowd of 7,888 at the downtown arena.
Toledo's Mike Borkowski controls the puck during Saturday's game against the Wheeling Nailers at the Huntington Center. Borkowski scored 3 goals in a 5-3 Walleye win.
Toledo forward Mike Borkowski finished with a hat trick, including an empty-net goal with nine seconds left.
“It was a fun night,” Borkowski said. “It was a good team win. The crowd was great and it helps a lot, especially after we got off to a slow start.”
Wheeling (6-2-2) dominated early and led 1-0. But the Walleye got three lightning-quick goals in a span of 2:38 early in the second period to turn a sluggish start into an instant lead. Toledo scored on three consecutive shots.
The Nailers, who had defeated the Walleye 4-3 in overtime Friday, then scored two goals in less than three minutes early in the third to tie it at 3.
But veteran Kyle Bonis scored the game-winner for Toledo with 10:41 left in regulation. The go-ahead tally was well set up with a perfect feed from Patrick McCarron.
Toledo goalie Pat Nagle (36 saves) and Wheeling goaltender Sean Maguire (23 saves) started for the second consecutive night.
VIDEO: Walleye beat Nailers, 5-3
Toledo tied the game at 1 on a power-play goal from Borkowski with 12:05 left in the second. Borkowski tipped a shot from the point by Ryan Obuchowski.
Just 1:28 later, Kevin Tansey got a power-play goal to give the Walleye their first lead. Then just 1:20 after that goal, Borkowski put Toledo up 3-1.
But Wheeling scored 1:47 into the third to pull to within 3-2 on Freddie Tiffels’ power-play goal. Cody Wydo then tied it less than three minutes later.
Wheeling took a 1-0 lead near the midpoint of the first on a goal from Derek Army as the Nailers had a two-man advantage.
Nagle, who partially was screened on the play, got a piece of the shot but it trickled in for the 1-0 cushion. It was Nagle’s sixth straight start.
Just five seconds into the second period, Toledo’s Darian Dziurzynski got the best of Hunter Fejes in a brawl near center ice. Dziurzynski landed a big right just before the fight was broken up.
One of the biggest open ice hits of the season was then leveled by Tansey on Jeremy Beirnes.
A Marine salutes during a pregame event honoring the armed forces for Veterans Day before Saturday's game between the Toledo Walleye and Wheeling Nailers at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
Walleye coach Dan Watson and Borkowski said those were the momentum-turning moments that got the crowd involved as well.
“That turned the tide,” Borkowski said.
Borkowski said he had a couple of hat tricks in college at Colgate, but said it was his first three-goal game as a pro.
The second-year pro credited his linemates Shane Berschbach and Austen Brassard for setting him up.
“They’re both great play-makers,” Borkowski said. “It’s been great playing with them.”
Watson said Borkowski has a sneaky release.
“He took over in the second period,” Watson said.
Toledo finished 2-of-7 on the power play. Wheeling converted on 2 of 9 attempts.
Watson said the team did not deserve to win on Friday and had another slow start on Saturday. But Toledo still earned three points this weekend.
Both teams traveled the four and a half hours by bus to Toledo after Friday night’s game. The Walleye got back into town around 2 a.m. Wheeling arrived around 3:15.
Toledo plays at Indy on Tuesday before hosting Fort Wayne for a school children’s morning game at the Huntington Center on Thursday at 10:35 a.m.
The Walleye then have a home-and-home series against Cincinnati next weekend. They play at Cincinnati on Friday and host the Cyclones on Saturday.
Before the game, the organization held a pregame ceremony at the Huntington Center in honor of Veterans Day.
All branches of the military were recognized, with representatives on the ice before the national anthem. “Taps” was played on a bugle and a haunting version of “Amazing Grace” was performed on the bagpipes.
The capacity crowd of 7,888 then fell silent as a bell was rung in honor of those lost in military conflicts over the years.
The Walleye have a long-standing tradition of honoring military personnel. The organization holds a “Hometown Hero” segment at every home game to honor a local veteran.
The Toledo players also offered their appreciation during tapped video segments that were played on the video board.
Watson said it’s important for the organization to recognize military personnel.
“Putting your life on the line is the most honorable thing you can do,” Watson said.
“They’ve allowed us to live our lives through their dedication and service. We are able to live free because of them.”
Watson, who grew up in Glencoe, Ontario, said he had a great-grandfather serve in the Canadian military. Watson and Walleye assistant coach Andy Delmore were wearing poppy flowers in honor of Canada’s Remembrance Day.
That national holiday also is celebrated on Nov. 11.
Two of the team’s former assistant equipment managers John Smith and Aaron Bauer now are serving in the military. Smith is serving in the Marines, while Bauer is serving in the Army.
The Hometown Hero on Saturday night was Toledoan William Provonsha, a World War II veteran. The 95-year-old earned two distinguished flying crosses. The former prisoner of war is a Waite High School graduate.
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