The Wheeling Nailers, the ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadians, season came to an end this past weekend in disappointing fashion. The Nailers, who came into the 2012-13 season full of optimism and with high expectations, fell short of post season.
Wheeling’s season had a lot of ups and downs. The frustrating part for many was the fact that the Nailers could dominate anyone they faced, but could not put it all together to do so consistently. Wheeling had a lot of flat efforts in key games, especially late in the season with a playoff spot on the line.
A few of the factors that contributed to the struggles were injuries and call-ups, but the team also did not help themselves, blowing countless third period leads, and struggling in shootouts, letting valuable points slip away down the stretch. Despite all the negatives and disappointment, there were several positives
One of the positives Nailers Head Coach Clark Donatelli saw was the number of players Wheeling had earn spots at the next level in the AHL.
“You got to look at it both ways, development wise we developed a lot of players, we got a lot of guys in the American Hockey League,” said Donatelli.
Donatelli is right, Wheeling did get a lot of players to, or in some cases back to, the AHL. Not only did Wheeling get guys in the AHL, they had a lot of guys move up and make impacts at the next level. Two prime examples of this are forward Luke Pither and defenseman Andrew Hotham.
Pither, 23, came into this season having spent his first two pro seasons in the AHL with the Adirondack Phantoms. The at the time Philadelphia Flyers prospect started the season with the ECHL’s Trenton Titans, before the Flyers reassigned him to the Nailers in November after he struggled to start the season in Trenton. Pither found his stride with the Nailers, racking up 22 points in 24 games with Wheeling, before the Carolina Hurricanes brought him in as part of the Brian Boucher trade on January 13th. He was assigned to the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers and did not miss a beat, compiling 17 points in 21 games.
Hotham, 26, started the season with the the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones after spending the 2011-12 season with the Nailers. Wheeling brought him back in a trade with the Cyclones in late November, and he, like Pither, found his game. Hotham racked up 18 points in 17 games before catching the attention of the Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate Oklahoma City Barons. With the Barons, Hotham has registered four assists, and holds a plus-12 rating in 21 games.
Overall, Wheeling had 20 players earn call ups and appear in at least one AHL game, 14 of those 20 played in five games or more in the AHL. Other notable players to go to the AHL from Wheeling and make impacts were Carl Sneep, who was traded by Pittsburgh to Dallas after his stint in Wheeling and not only has been solid for the Stars’ AHL affiliate, but earned a short NHL call up without dressing for a game, forward Stephane Chaput and defenseman Joe Stejskal who both spent the second half of the season with Montreal’s AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs, as well as forwards Bobby Farnham and Adam Payerl, who both have made impacts with the Penguins AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Other bright spots were the Nailers home record and special teams. In their 36 home games played in Wheeling’s WesBanco Arena, the Nailers had the league’s fifth best point percentage on home ice, going 21-8-1-6. On special teams, Wheeling had the ninth ranked power play (third at home), and the fifth ranked penalty kill (second at home).
While road struggles, inconsistency, and points given up late in games and in shootouts kept Wheeling out of the post season, the Nailers will not dwell on what went wrong, but instead move forward.
As Alternate Captain Zack Torquato said, “We can’t have regrets now, just learn from it and get better.”