By SHAWN RINE
WHEELING - The stars were aligned for the Wheeling Nailers to make a big jump up the Eastern Conference ladder Wednesday night. With Florida, Reading, Kalamazoo and Evansville all being beaten, Clark Donatelli's team only needed to take care of its own business against Fort Wayne in order to move within one point of fourth-place Orlando.
Wheeling goalie Mike Condon (1) attempts to block a shot.
The Komets didn't shine bright this time, but the Nailers didn't do anything to make them fade out in the end, either.
Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock scored a goal and assisted on another as Fort Wayne (18-14-8 - 44) leapfrogged the seemingly uninterested Nailers (19-17-6 - 44) into eighth place with a 3-1 victory.
It is Fort Wayne's first victory against Wheeling in five tries since joining the ECHL last season.
''Right from the start of the game they were hungrier than us everywhere on the ice. It was a pathetic effort,'' said forward Jack MacLellan, who scored the Nailers' lone goal. ''It's frustrating, especially on a night like (this) because there's no other excuses except nobody showed up.
''For the group of guys that we've got we know we're not going to go out there and go through the motions and win any games.
''It's not like we've got a lot of fire power or an all-star lineup.''
It was hardly a dominant performance by the Komets, which is further indictment of Wheeling. The Nailers had four shots with a little less than two minutes remaining in the first period and had few scoring opportunities, save for MacLellan's ninth goal of the season - the club's sixth during 4-on-4 action against one surrendered - and Colin Mulvey's post-ringing wristshot with 9:45 remaining in the third.
Donatelli has lamented Wheeling's unwillingness to play his style at different points this season, but he couldn't even use that as an excuse Wednesday.
''Do your own thing, do our thing ... make something up on the bench. Do something,'' Donatelli said. ''They don't know how to prepare to be consistent all the time and that's a big thing.
''You can take 20 minutes off, but you can't take 60 minutes off.
''If you have a bad period, fine. Figure it out and go play a good 40.
''We're to the point where we didn't know how to play 20 minutes to go win that hockey game, which we had no business being in.''
Simon Danis-Pepin got Fort Wayne on the board when he tallied his third of the season at 12:07 of the first period. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound defenseman skated all lone down the slot and beat Nailers goaltender Mike Condon top shelf.
MacLellan tied it at 12:41 of the second as Mike Ratchuk, in deep on the play, found him in the slot and MacLellan beat winning goaltender Ben Meisner (21 saves).
After Shawn Szydlowski was allowed to walk off the wall, all the way to the front of the crease and deposit his own rebound on the backhand - his third of the season - Ratchuk figured prominently in the game-clinching goal from Schrock.
A puck battle in front of the benches went in Fort Wayne's favor and as Ratchuk turned to chase the play, he found lineseman Justin Eckman squarely in his path, leading to a 2-on-1 rush. Sy Nutkevitch found Schrock who beat Condon (26 saves) for his fifth at 14:20 of the third.
''Right now we don't have that killer instinct to get that two points every night and it's killing us in the standings,'' MacLellan said. ''We've been battling with that. We'll have a good period and then a couple of bad ones.
''It looked like we were turning things around there in the second and we came out flat again in the third.''
That makes Friday and Saturday's home games with Kalamazoo all the more important.
''It's unfortunate because we had a chance to jump up in the standings and make up some ground,'' Donatelli said. ''As you know, two points could be the difference and we're going to look back on some of these games that we've just handed to people.''
Fort Wayne1 0 2 - 3
Wheeling0 1 0 - 1
1st Period-1, Fort Wayne, Danis-Pepin 3 (Embach, Marino), 12:07. Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-2, Wheeling, MacLellan 9 (Ratchuk), 12:41. Penalties-served by McGrath Whl (bench - too many men), 5:25; MacKay Whl (high-sticking), 11:44; Coyle Fw (tripping), 12:06.
3rd Period-3, Fort Wayne, Szydlowski 3 (Schrock, Lacasse), 5:27. 4, Fort Wayne, Schrock 5 (Nutkevitch, Szydlowski), 14:20. Penalties-Embach Fw (slashing ), 15:36; McGrath Whl (slashing ), 15:36; Danis-Pepin Fw (cross-checking), 16:04.
Shots on Goal-Fort Wayne 10-10-9-29. Wheeling 7-9-6-22.
Power-Play Opportunities-Fort Wayne 0-2; Wheeling 0-2.
Goalies-Fort Wayne, Meisner 7-10-1-0 (22 shots-21 saves). Wheeling, Condon 13-10-0-4 (29 shots-26 saves).
Referee-Pierre Lambert (20); Linesmen-Zach Roberts (84), Justin Eckman (72).