Shane Harper picked up a pair of goals in the game’s first six minutes en route to his first career hat trick, while Jacob Cepis finished with a goal and two assists as the Trenton Titans made short work of the Wheeling Nailers, 5-2, on Friday night.
“I’ve played a few strong games while I was here. I wasn’t getting the bounces but today I guess they were going in. Things just went right,” Harper admitted. “I had one job; to play as hard as I could, and put points on the board and get my confidence up. It’s my 10th game here, I’m breaking out a bit more and it feels great to prove it to myself and everybody else.”
Mike Ullrich also lit the lamp, and Wedgewood — who had been returned from Albany — made 30 saves for the Titans (28-31-8), who finish off this home set tomorrow night against the same foe.
“Obviously you want to be up there all year, and obviously playing as many games as I have down here, I’m up to something like 45 games already, will only help my development,” Wedgewood said. “A big part of it is confidence and hopefully I can place a little more faith in myself. I just want to win. Some guys have brought it to my attention that I’m pretty close to a couple records, but it’s a kinda selfish to be thinking about stuff like that.”
Matt Germain and Chris Barton scored late in regulation for the Nailers (29-27-11), whose league-worst offense by total goals and by goals-per-game average looked as it has all season.
Scott Darling allowed four scores of 34 shots in defeat.
Wedgewood looked poised to record just his second shutout of the season, but his bid was ended with 3:12 remaining on a tip-in by Germain and things got interesting with Barton snapped one home from the left side with 2:18 on the clock.
But order was restored as Wheeling went with an extra skater. Jesse Todd was able to gain control at center ice and fed Harper for the easy score to cap his trifecta — a goal which wouldn’t have come about if the 24-year-old hadn’t learned to be more sound without the puck.
“The first part is, trying to be strong defensively for him to trust me. Vinnie (head coach Williams) has been good about that, getting me time on the PK,” Harper added. “He put me out there the last minute, and you’re trying to defend first. Todd made a nice play and he chipped it out and I put it in the empty net. It felt good.”
Spurred on by the memory of a 7-1 loss at Elmira on Wednesday, the hosts took control from the outset.
Trenton gained the game’s first power play and picked up the game’s first goal only 28 seconds into the advantage, as Cepis cruised up the left wing and dished across for an open Harper for a shot perfectly placed under the crossbar with 4:13 played.
The strike came just over a minute after the hosts failed to convert a 2-on-1 break when Todd held onto the puck too long on the right wing and failed to find an open Stephen Schultz on the opposite side of the rink. The subsequent shot was a weak one through traffic.
Harper doubled the Titans advantage while shorthanded at the 5:50 mark on a tremendous individual effort. He stripped Wheeling defenseman Zach Hansen, rolled up the left wing, cut to the crease, and after avoiding a poke-check from Darling, got spun around exiting the crease area but not before backhanding the puck home.
“I didn’t even know it went in until I turned around and (Blake) Kessel was right in my face,” Harper quipped.
Ullrich’s stuffer made it over the goal line for a 3-0 Trenton edge with 2:05 played in the second period,
Trenton began the final period killing off the final 33 seconds of a delay-of-game penalty to Connor Goggin, and on the next shift extended its advantage.
Cepis was one-on-one deep along the left wing, but elected to let fly from the bottom of the circle anyway. Darling was in perfect position but totally botched the stop, letting the puck sail off the top of his glove and behind him to make it 4-0 with 45 seconds elapsed.
Notes: Williams confirmed that captain Andy Bohmbach’s season was ended due to a torn labrum in his shoulder and that he will have surgery early in April to correct the problem…Harper has recorded at least one point in six of his last seven games with Trenton, dating back to February 16, and upped his totals to seven goals and 13 points in 10 games…Harper totaled just four goals and eight points in 42 games with Adirondack of the AHL…Trenton improved to 17-14-4 at home, clinching its first above .500 home record since the 2009-10 season…Cepis led all players with seven shots on goal…Titans winger Andrew Johnston was a scratch, listed as day-to-day with an upper-body issue…Forward Kory Nagy was held out due to a personal matter…In their places, Brendan Remple and Adam Hartley made their Titans debuts.