Frustration boiled over for Walleye coach Nick Vitucci on Saturday night as he exploded into a rage on the bench during Toledo's 4-1 loss to Wheeling.
With his team down by three goals midway through the third period and its playoff chances fading fast, Vitucci had a complete meltdown. Vitucci hurled three water bottles, a stick, and a clipboard onto the ice after a fight between Toledo's Joey Ryan and Wheeling's Ryan Schnell.
"It's frustration built up through the year for sure," a still fired up Vitucci said after the game. "We are hanging by a thread right now. We've been trying to push the proper buttons all season long to get this team fired up. If that's what it takes, shame on me for not doing it 45 games ago.
"I've been tossed a couple times. I'm positive something will come down from the league. But it's no big deal."
Following his expletive-filled rant, Vitucci was kicked out of the game and marched in disgust into the locker room. He was issued a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct and a game misconduct. He said Schnell should have been called for an instigator penalty for starting the fight.
"Their 12th forward went down and challenged our top defenseman. Let the fighters fight the fighters. Don't go after the skill players," Vitucci said. "He went after one of our players when the puck wasn't even in the area. That's an instigator. He's going down there to start a fight. If the ref doesn't see that … it's absolutely frustrating.
"I hope that didn't come from their bench. Shame on them if it did. We play them a couple more times. I hoped that wasn't the case."
Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli denied the allegation.
"No. No. We were just rolling the lines out there," Donatelli said. "There was no one sent out to fight there. I wouldn't do that. I didn't see the [beginning of the fight]. It was 4-1 and we were just playing because it's never over until it's over."
The contest featured three fights before a rowdy, capacity crowd of 8,200 at the Huntington Center. It was the seventh sellout of the season and 28th in two-plus seasons at the downtown arena.
The fans littered the ice with cups of beer, popcorn, and other items after the tirade.
"It's boiling over for everybody right now," Walleye defenseman Matt Krug said. "We know [Vitucci] has our backs. That fires us up. He is fighting for calls for us and he doesn't want us to get taken advantage of. Obviously you could tell after that moment we came out more physical and we were flying. Unfortunately it was a bit too late."
Vitucci said he hoped to fire up his team as well.
"The crowd was in it afterward and the team was in it afterward," he said.
Captain Kyle Rogers scored the only goal for the Walleye. Rogers tallied his team-leading 19th goal of the season in the first period.
Toledo fell behind Wheeling early for the second straight game and once again could not recover. The Nailers, who won 4-3 on Friday, led 2-0 and then took a 4-1 lead into the third period.
Goalie Alec Richards (5-3-0) finished with 22 saves for the Walleye. Toledo (23-27-4) has now lost three straight and is 10 points out of the final playoff spot.
Wheeling (31-18-5) solidified its spot in the playoffs and is fourth in the Eastern Conference. Paul Crowder scored twice and Chase Watson had a goal and an assist for the Nailers.
"We needed these four points," Krug said. "Everybody is frustrated. We don't want to see the season end."
The Walleye trailed 2-0 with 3:01 left in the first period when Rogers scored on assists from Joey Martin and Bryan Rufenach. Rogers poked in a loose puck that was at the side of Wheeling goalie Peter Delmas (22 saves).
FISH TALES: The Walleye players wore special jerseys with a checkered flag design as the team celebrated NASCAR Night. The jerseys were auctioned off after the game. … Sunday's game is a "Kids Day" with the Walleye, featuring Design-A-Sign and a postgame skate. It is also Mascot Mania Night.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.