WHEELING - Most nights Christiaan Minella's efforts go virtually unnoticed to anyone outside the Wheeling Nailers locker room. His name doesn't often show up on the scoresheet, which is where the casual fan generally makes his case for and against a player.
Minella's footprints were all over the Nailers' opening game of the Kelly Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night at WesBanco Arena. He was heavy on the forecheck and was a thorn Kalamazoo's side all night, and Minella's effort midway through the third period led to the tying goal by Chris Barton.
From there, Ben Farrer deflected in a one-handed pass from Matt Schepke with 1:07 left and Andrew Hotham followed with a shorthanded empty-netter as Wheeling took Game 1 of the Best-of-5 series by a score of 4-2. Game 2 is scheduled for 7:05 tonight.
''(Cody Chupp) changed and the puck was already in and I jumped the 'D,' '' Minella said of the tying play. ''I don't think he saw me coming, so I saw Paul (Crowder) going to the net and 'Barts' was behind me in the slot so I just fed him and he made a great shot.
''We had a great effort from everybody and we were all over them. They're a great team, but I think we really came out and gave a 100-percent effort the entire 60 minutes, and that was huge.''
The sixth-seeded Nailers twice fell behind by a goal, but each time stuck to their game plan and ultimately got the equalizer. That confidence, Hotham believes, was born from the adversity this team has faced throughout the season.
''This is playoff hockey and you're going to be down by a goal or two goals, and you can't quit,'' said Hotham, who had a goal and two assists. ''You always have to come back and try as hard as you can, and that's what guys did.
''We had a strong plan of what we wanted to do, and most of the time it doesn't change. We know what we want to do and if we stick to it, we're an effective team.''
Wheeling outshot the Wings 17-6 in a dominating first period, yet had nothing to show for it. The plan coming in was to stay away from an explosive Kalamazoo power play, which the Nailers were able to do until early in the second period when Crowder was whistled for hooking.
Just 12 seconds after he went to the box, Darryl Bootland got loose in front of Wheeling goaltender Patrick Killeen where he was set up by Trent Daavettila and pounded it in the back of the net. It was one of just two shots that got by Killeen, who stopped 25.
''They're a good, veteran team and they work extremely hard and take advantage of every little mistake we make,'' Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said. ''We've got to tighten it up.''
Wheeling got that goal back late in the period with a power-play marker of its own, this one coming from Crowder. On what Hotham called a broken play, he busted into the offensive zone and went around a defender before circling the net and feeding the puck to Crowder, who from the bottom of the left circle whipped a wrist shot past Wings goaltender Riley Gill (35 saves).
Kalamazoo 0 1 1 - 2
Wheeling 0 1 3 - 4
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Bootland Kal (hooking), 15:02.
2nd Period-1, Kalamazoo, Bootland 1 (Daavettila, Helminen), 1:39 (PP). 2, Wheeling, Crowder 1 (Hotham, Torquato), 18:30 (PP). Penalties-Crowder Whl (hooking), 1:27; Charlebois Kal (tripping), 13:01; Young Kal (delay of game), 18:05; Barton Whl (hooking), 18:51.
3rd Period-3, Kalamazoo, Sirota 1 (Charlebois), 1:16. 4, Wheeling, Barton 1 (Minella), 8:10. 5, Wheeling, Farrer 1 (Schepke, Hotham), 18:53. 6, Wheeling, Hotham 1 19:53 (SH EN). Penalties-Daavettila Kal (hooking), 4:13; Barton Whl (diving), 4:13; Farrer Whl (tripping), 19:30.
Shots on Goal-Kalamazoo 6-8-13-27. Wheeling 17-11-11-39.
Power-Play Opportunities-Kalamazoo 1-3; Wheeling 1-3.
Goalies-Kalamazoo, Gill 0-1-0-0 (38 shots-35 saves). Wheeling, Killeen 1-0-0-0 (27 shots-25 saves).
Referee-Tom Chmielewski (27); Linesmen-Jim Scarpace (50), Ray King (39).