By SHAWN RINE
WHEELING - With the first round of cuts looming, a handful of Wheeling Nailers players began to separate themselves from the pack Wednesday night at WesBanco Arena.
Wheeling goalie Peter Mannino makes a save during a preseason game Wednesday night.
Colin Mulvey was all over the ice, Max MacKay and Tyler Fernandez each scored their second goals of the preseason and tough guy Patrick McGrath dropped the gloves for the second time in as many games in a 4-3 loss to the Fort Wayne Komets.
With a limited amount of spots open for the opening-night roster, Coach Clark Donatelli has a number of difficult decisions at hand, which is the way he would prefer that it be.
''It's tough, but it's a good thing,'' Donatelli said after watching his club play toe-to-toe with what was for the most part the lineup Fort Wayne will begin the season with. ''You want my job to be tough and to have guys competing.''
Mulvey was a general nuisance, using his speed against a larger Komets lineup to his advantage, picking up an assist on Zack Torquato's power-play goal at the 8:24 mark of the second period to give Wheeling its first lead, 2-1. MacKay had tied it less than a minute earlier when he took a feed from goaltender Peter Mannino (21 saves on 22 shots) at the Komets blueline and unloaded a wrister over the stick-side shoulder of Fort Wayne goaltender Max Strang.
''It's only his second game as a pro and you've got to remember that, but he has the speed,'' Donatelli said of Mulvey. ''(MacKay) is coming off a broken jaw so he has to get into game shape, but he's a very talented player.
''And I thought (Sahir) Gill had a good game with that line of him, (Tyler) Fernandez, who I thought played well, too, and (Ryan) Flanigan.
''It's tough to see right now.''
McGrath, who scored a power-play goal in the Nailers' exhibition opener Wednesday night, traded blows with Fort Wayne enforcer Kaleigh Schrock late in the second period and acquitted himself nicely against the more experienced foe.
''He can skate well, he can keep up with the play and he's tough,'' Donatelli said. ''We've got to work with him on his wall play, but he goes to the net.
''He'll fight anybody and brings an element that not many guys can. He makes our team better.''
Fernandez added a power-play goal off a nice feed from MacKay late in the second to make it a 3-1 Nailers lead. However, Joe Hartman, Chris Auger and Kevin Walrod beat Wheeling goaltender Alex Westlund in the third period to pull out a victory, though Strang (29 saves) certainly had to work at the end.
''We lost the game, but guys played well,'' Donatelli said. ''We played a lot better (Wednesday) than we did the other night.''
Mannino was headed back to Wilkes-Barre following the game. Donatelli said he is comfortable starting the season with Mike Condon and Westlund as a goaltending tandem. ... Regulars such as Chaz Johnson and Denver Manderson will be in the lineup Friday night at Reading. ... Justin Smith recorded his second fighting major of the preseason, earning a draw with 6-foot-7, 240-pound Simon Danis-Pepin. ... The Nailers received nine straight power-play chances at one point. ... Defenseman Gentry Zollars was banged up during the contest.