Almeida Four-Goal Night Sinks Heartlanders, 4-2
CORALVILLE, IA – Justin Almeida had a career night, scoring all four goals as the Wheeling Nailers defeated the Iowa Heartlanders, 4-2. Almeida scored in all three periods, including two in the third to provide the margin of victory. Iowa captain Kris Bennett extended his point scoring streak to eight straight games with his team-leading ninth goal of the year.
As they the previous night, Wheeling dominated play for most of this game, starting with the first period. The Nailers outshot Iowa, 11-4 in the first, helping them to jump out to a 1-0 lead. Chris Ortiz was able to get enough of the puck to directed to Almeida at the top of the right face-off circle. He blasted the one-timer by Heartlanders goaltender Hunter Jones for his first goal of the night and sixth of the year.
Iowa responded about three minutes later when Yuki Miura scored his second goal in as many nights. After the team missed on a breakaway opportunity earlier, Billy Constantinou found Miura in the neutral zone, feeding him a perfect outlet pass. That sent the Heartlanders forward in on a breakaway. Stefanos Lekkas initially made the save, but the momentum of the Wheeling goaltender carried him backward, allowing the puck to squirt across the line to give Miura his third goal of the year. The goal extended his point streak to five straight games.
The Heartlanders had withstood a period dominated by the Nailers, and were able to get a forecheck going that limited the ability for Wheeling to set up plays inside the Iowa zone. However, it would be Wheeling that would come away from the second period with the lead. That came with the Nailers on the power-play at 13:43. Patrick Watling was controlling the puck along the right half boards. He then slid a pass to Nick Hutchison near the goal line. Hutchison then made a great feed across the slot to Almeida at the back door, who easily put the redirect in for his second goal of the game.
That started a run of three straight goals for the Nailers, as Almeida would add two more tallies in the third period. The first came at 11:51 when Watling made a drop pass just above the left face-off circle. Almeida blasted a one-timer over the shoulder of Jones for the hat trick, the 100th in Wheeling Nailers history. A little over two minutes later, the Wheeling forward set a personal high with his fourth goal of the game, wristing a shot just under the crossbar for his ninth goal of the season.
With 2:40 left in the game, Bennett finally ended the Nailers run. Bryce Gervais fired a shot that Lekkas saved, but Bennett was able to put the rebound in to pull Iowa within two. That is as close as they would get as the Nailers skated away with the 4-2 victory.
Besides the four-goal performance by Almeida, Watling had three assists. Lekkas faced just 15 shots, saving 13 of them. Jones stopped 18 of 22 shots for the Heartlanders.
The Iowa Heartlanders (4-10-2) are off until Wednesday when they welcome the red-hot Wichita Thunder (8-5-1). The puck drops at 7:00.
By Robert Pannier