WHEELING - While the parent Pittsburgh Penguins were busy constructing what TSN referred to as the best Day 1 free-agent class in the NHL, the Wheeling Nailers landed perhaps the biggest fish of them all.
Stan Drulia, with a list of accomplishments in various hockey stops both as a coach and a player as long as his arm, was introduced Thursday during a mid-afternoon press conference at the McClure Hotel as the 13th coach in Nailers history.
With alumni like Stanley Cup-winner Peter Laviolette and Pat Bingham lining the history books, Wheeling has become a hot spot for up-and-coming coaches. Add in the close relationship with both the Penguins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Drulia says this is the place he wanted to be.
New Wheeling Nailers coach Stan Drulia speaks with the media and the team's fans during his introductory news conference Thursday at the McClure Hotel.
A former 11th-round draft pick of the Penguins in 1986, Drulia has come full circle.
''It's a new chapter in Nailers hockey and a new chapter in my life,'' he said. ''I really am excited to be a part of this, having an opportunity to work with such great people.
''You've got a guy who's going to work hard. I'm going to put an honest day's effort in to get us where we want to be, and to make (the fans) proud of the team we have on the ice.''
Drulia replaces Greg Puhalski, who left after 2-plus seasons and the fourth-most victories in Wheeling history, to coach at his alma mater.
The hiring comes two weeks to the day after Puhalski's resignation, and the time it took to get this done caught everyone concerned a little off-guard. Nailers co-President Rob Brooks said following Puhalski's resignation that he wanted to have someone in place within a month.
''We know we've got to work fast, but we didn't rush into this by any means,'' co-President Jim Brooks said Thursday. ''It was probably quicker than we anticipated, but I had a chart I was graphing the candidates by.
''The four criteria I mentioned: character, community, coaching and recruiting, those are very important.
''For us, it kept coming back that he was near the top at all those levels, and was the only candidate that there was no red flags on any of them.''
Jim Brooks estimated he talked to 30-50 people, from former equipment managers, to players and coaches and administrators, trying to find out everything he could about Drulia.
''Everything that kept coming back (was) great guy, good coach, and knows the commitment necessary to recruit,'' Jim Brooks said. ''We thought 'this is a great guy, there are some other openings coming up, and we wanted to make sure we got our guy.'
''What's nice is, Pittsburgh is very comfortable with him, too. We definitely involved them in the process, and I talked to a lot of people across the U.S. and in Canada about him.''
Drulia clearly has the support of Penguins brass. He's been in contact with Wilkes-Barre coach Todd Reirden, Assistant Pittsburgh General Manager Jason Botterill, and received a text Thursday morning from Tom Fitzgerald, the assistant to Penguins GM Ray Sherro.
''The class, all the way from top to bottom, I wanted to get myself into that situation,'' Drulia said.
Drulia scored 42 points (15g-27a) in 126 career NHL games with Tampa Bay, was named ECHL Most Valuable Player in 1990-91 when he scored 140 points, including 63 goals with Knoxville, which remains the fourth-highest point total in ECHL history.
But, he's been even better at coaching, having spent time with Orlando (ACHL), Augusta (ECHL), Toledo (ECHL), and Port Huron (UHL, IHL). Drulia's all-time record is 194-49, including a championship with Orlando in 2002 and a finals appearance with Port Huron in 2007.
''This is an awesome day for the Nailers and Nailers nation,'' Jim Brooks said. ''We really look forward to a long tenure with Stan, and some very happy, exciting times for the community going forward.''