ECHL: Wheeling Nailers Clinch Spot In Kelly Cup Playoffs

The Wheeling Nailers are heading to the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons with a 6-0 win over the Cincinnati Cyclones, a Kalamazoo Wings overtime loss to the Indy Fuel and a Fort Wayne Komets loss to the Toledo Walleye. Wheeling clinched a spot in the Kelly Cup Playoffs in the 2021-22 season, which saw them take the first-round series 4-3 over the Fort Wayne Komets. Wheeling would not have enough to defeat the eventual Kelly Cup Final runners-up, Toledo Walleye. Toledo would sweep the series 4-0 and end Wheeling’s season.

Wheeling’s defense this year has been a key reason they have earned their spot in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Wheeling ranks sixth in the ECHL for the fewest goals allowed, with 206 GA. While points from the blueline have not come as often as they would hope, they are getting it done in their own zone. Wheeling defenseman Thimo Nickl leads the team in plus/minus with +25, followed by Davis Bunz +20, David Drake +18, and Isaac Belliveau +13.

The Nailers goaltending has been a bit off with the call-up of Taylor Gauthier to their AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The team has used five other goalies this season in the absence of Gauthier. In 42 games played with the Nailers, Gauthier has a 24-16-1-1 record, posting a 2.23 GAA and a .923 SV%. While Gauthier has been away, Wheeling have gone with the duo of Jaxon Castor and veteran, Garret Sparks. In his second season playing in the ECHL and first with Wheeling, Castor holds a 10-4-1-0 record with a respectable 2.55 GAA and .899 SV%. Sparks has had a rough outing this year for the Nailers. The 30-year-old is 0-3-1 in his only four starts this season, posting a 4.00 GAA and .843 SV%.

While the Nailers are not giving up many goals against, they are not doing too well in the goal-scoring department, but that can be looked at as a positive in a way. In games that have a combined six goals or fewer, the Nailers hold a 21-15-2-1 record. While this record may look average, the Nailers are well above .500 in that department, and it will favor them when playoff hockey rolls around.

On the offensive side of things, Wheeling forward Jordan Martel leads the Nailers in points. Since being acquired by Wheeling from the Utah Grizzlies on December 13, 2023, Martel has been a point-per-game player, putting up 29-18-47 in 45 games. Martel has posted seven goals and nine assists for 16 points on the powerplay for Wheeling. Following closely behind Jordan in points is forward Tanner Laderoute. In his second season with the Nailers, Laderoute has 24 goals and 26 assists for 50 points in 62 games played, with five goals and seven assists on the powerplay.

The Nailers will take on the Indy Fuel in the first round. Dates and times for the Kelly Cup Playoffs are TBD.

Zachary Alvarado

Inside The Rink journalist covering the Wheeling Nailers and Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL. I am a Duquesne University Sports Information and Media major graduating in December. I have been passionate about hockey since I was 4 years old.

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