Still in playoff contention

Walleye special teams help double up Wheeling

2/24/2011
BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Toledo's Mike Hedden, right, celebrates scoring a goal against Wheeling at the Huntington Center.
Toledo's Mike Hedden, right, celebrates scoring a goal against Wheeling at the Huntington Center.
A potent power play propelled the Toledo Walleye to a win over division-leading Wheeling Wednesday night.

Toledo went 4 of 6 with the man advantage and doubled up the Nailers, 6-3, before a crowd of 4,219 at the Huntington Center.

The Walleye (25-23-4) are in a struggle to seize a playoff spot and remain in last in the ECHL North Division, trailing Wheeling (29-22-3) by seven points.

The Walleye came into the game with the 18th ranked power play out of 19 teams. The four power play goals marked a season high.

"It's been hit and miss," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "It was nice that the power play contributed. The guys did a good job getting rebounds. That's as simple as it gets and that's when you give yourself good chances."

Linemates Mike Hedden and Evan Rankin each scored two goals and each had an assist. The line's third forward, rookie Andy Bohmbach, had a goal and two assists.

"Our line has been clicking," said Hedden, who has 17 points (13 goals) in his last 11 games. "Bohmer is a great centerman. Rankin drives the net. We read off each other really well. Our styles complement each other."

With the game tied at 1, Toledo tallied three power play goals in the second period to take a 4-2 lead into the third. The Walleye added another goal with the man advantage three minutes into the final period as Kyle Rogers scored for a three-goal cushion.

Defensemen Sebastien Piche and Jason Lepine each had three assists.

Toledo outshot the Nailers 40-25. Goalie Thomas McCollum, who was reassigned to Toledo from Grand Rapids, finished with 22 saves. McCollum (4-1-0) will be with the Walleye through the weekend to get minutes after not playing much this month.

"He made some big saves look easy because of his positioning," Vitucci said.

Rankin scored what proved to be the game winner on a power play goal with 2:18 left in the second. "It's definitely nice to get the special teams going," he said.

Bohmbach, who leads the team with 46 points, assisted on the goal. He just returned from an American Hockey League call up to Rockford.

"We were a line before and it was firing then," Rankin said. "Getting Bohmbach back, he brings that quiet confidence and the speed too. You know you will see chances."

With the game tied at 2 in the second period, Bohmbach put Toledo on top for good with a power play goal. Bohmbach skated out front and beat Wheeling goalie Patrick Killeen (34 saves) over his glove for a 3-2 lead with 5:52 left in the second.

Hedden tallied his second to give Toledo a 2-1 edge with 8:14 left in the middle period. The second-year pro scored a hat trick and had an assist in Toledo's last game against the Nailers (a 4-1 Walleye win on Feb. 12).

Hedden just missed a hat trick when he was robbed by Killeen on a late breakaway.

"It's huge to get our confidence of the power play going," Hedden said. "We have some big games coming up and we'll look at the special teams to win those."

Toledo has 19 games left, including just nine at home and would qualify for the playoffs with the final seed if they started today.

The Walleye play at Kalamazoo (27-20-6), who is six points ahead of them, tomorrow.

"This is a playoff race where whoever gets in can go a long way," Vitucci said. "It's just a matter of getting in now."

The team returns home for games on Saturday and Sunday.

"It's a big win going into the weekend," Rankin said. "Every point against conference teams almost counts as two."

FISH TALES: Wheeling took the early 1-0 lead on Andrew Orpik's goal. Wheeling F Kelly Miller, a Toledo native and former Storm player, assisted on the goal. …Toledo's emergency goalie was St. John's Jesuit graduate Christian Davis, who was called to backup after G Joe Palmer was recalled to Rockford before yesterday's game. … The game was tied 1-1 after one period and each team had 11 shots. …Wheeling's Trevor Hunt got the best of Dominic Osman in a brief fight in the first period. Osman had a team-high nine shots on goal. … McCollum made three solid saves in the early stages. … Down 1-0, Hedden evened it with a quick snap shot from the right slot. … Toledo had three good chances to take the lead early second period. Hedden, Bohmbach, and Rankin all were stoned by Killeen.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.