The Wheeling Nailers made their first ever visit to Boise back in February, one of the only periods during the regular season when the Steelheads were facing hard times. Idaho had gone winless in six consecutive contests before the defending Eastern Conference Champions arrived, suddenly feeling some heat from teams like the Grizzlies, Aces, and Mavericks behind them in the standings. The teams split the first two games of the series, but it was a win in the series finale on February 11th and a performance by Anthony Luciani that got the Steelheads’ season moving back in the right direction once again.
Luciani netted a hat-trick in a 5-1 Idaho win, the only hat-trick by a Steelhead last season and his 20th, 21st, and 22nd goals of the season. Luciani’s three goals were accompanied by three of his more memorable trademark goal celebrations as well, as the Steelheads hyped the crowd on the final night of the Jayden DeLuca Foundation jersey auction.
The Nailers struck first just over ten minutes into the second period when Gage Quinney beat Landon Bow over the blocker with a wrist shot a few strides over the Idaho blue line. Immediately following the goal, the Nailers raced back to the bench for the fist-bump celebration along the boards. This frantic race to the bench following the first goal was a fun team ritual for the Nailers, with the last player back to the bench earning some form of team punishment. Whether or not Luciani knew the reason behind the mad dash, it certainly did not go unnoticed.
Just 47 seconds after the Nailers had taken the lead, Luciani tied it back up with his first goal of the night. A centering pass by Joe Faust was stopped by David Glen in front of the net, but Glen dished it off again to his left where Luciani was waiting by the face-off dot. The wrist shot zipped past Doug Carr to tie the score.
Luciani immediately followed up his goal with a celebration reminiscent of Ray Lewis’ sack dance before racing at full speed across the Steelheads bench and then the Nailers bench, finishing his glide down by the Idaho net at the far end of the ice.
“It was a spur of the moment thing,” said Lucinai of the celebration post-game. “I just blacked out.”
Five and a half minutes later it was Luciani again to give the Steelheads a 2-1 lead, rifling a shot from the left wing on a 2-on-1 rush.
“He had an unbelievable game and he can really shoot the puck,” said Glen after the game. “He was flying all over the ice and putting himself in good spots. It paid off for him.”
Glen would extend the lead to 3-1 midway through the third, his second point of the night, and Luciani would cap off the hat-trick with 1:33 left on the clock. Luciani was the lone forward deep for Idaho, with his linemates off for a change. He carried the puck into the right-wing corner but was bumped to the wall by Brett Stern. Luciani stayed with it, fighting through the check and chasing after Christian Hilbrich, who was standing alone behind the Wheeling net. He stripped Hilbrich of the puck and walked it to the front to flip a shot past Carr for a 4-1 Idaho lead, throwing an imaginary hat to the crowd as they threw real ones back at him.
It was a four-point night for Luciani, who was also a plus-4 and had a game-high ten shots on goal.
“I thought that whole line played very well,” said Head Coach Neil Graham. “They were on for all five goals tonight.”
Bryce Van Brabant would follow Luciani’s final tally with his first goal as a Steelhead.
The win gave the Steelheads an important four of six points to wrap up their home-stand and set a positive tone for the team heading into the longest road trip of the season.
“It was imperative that we got the win. The boys stuck together and the key message was to keep moving forward and stay positive,” said Luciani.
That attitude carried over to the road, where the Steelheads would win seven games on their eight-game trip.