WHEELING - After an exhaustive process that included more than 50 resumes, the Wheeling Nailers elected to go the familiar route. Clark Donatelli, who took over midseason as the interim coach when Stan Drulia left for an assistant coaching job in the American Hockey League during the 2011 season, was introduced as the 14th coach in franchise history at a news conference inside WesBanco Arena this morning.
A Providence, R.I., native, Donatelli led the Nailers to a 26-20-9 record and their second consecutive playoff appearance after assuming the job.
"We're very happy to take the interim tag off Mr. Clark Donatelli and introduce him as the head coach of this team going forward," said Tim Roberts, one half of the ownership conglomerate known as The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley. "We're very confident that he'll put on a great team.
PHOTO BY SCOTT McCLOSKEY
Tim Roberts, left, a member of the conglomerate The Hockey Club of Wheeling which now owns the Wheeling Nailers, welcomes Clark Donatelli as the franchise’s new head coach today.
"In talking to agents, they have a lot of respect for him. The guys loved playing for him last year."
Donatelli came to the Nailers after serving one year as a volunteer assistant with Providence College. He made quite the impression on the Pittsburgh Penguins brass while working with its American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during last season's playoffs. Roberts, who personally interviewed 35 candidates for the Wheeling job, said the parent club had a lot of say in this decision.
"I think when Clarkie went up to Wilkes-Barre, he doesn't know this, but he impressed them with his hockey knowledge and with his understanding of the game," Roberts said.
Assistant general manager Jason Botterill and director of player development Tom Fitzgerald "really liked what he did and they want to make sure they have someone developing their players and working on their system, so when they do go up they are ready to play at that level.
"A lot of the agents have called me and said 'hey, we're going to hold out. If you name him, we're more than willing (to send players your way). If you don't, we've got to discuss it.'
"Everything weighs on a decision like this."
Donatelli has been working behind the scenes all along as though he would eventually get the job, though that was never guaranteed. He said the idea was to keep his head down and continue plugging.
"Well no one ever told me I wasn't going to be the head coach, so I just assumed to keep going on and on," said Donatelli, a two-time Olympian and former Team USA captain. "I was in constant contact with Tim and he went through all the options.
"He interviewed a lot of coaches and I am very thankful to have the opportunity to coach the Wheeling Nailers."
Donatelli told the gathering he's excited to get down to business for the upcoming season, the team's 21st in the Ohio Valley. Making that transition even smoother will be his family joining him in Wheeling, an opportunity that wasn't afforded last season.
"We're not too sure right now who will be with us because I know a lot of the guys on the team last year want to play in the American Hockey League. But we will have a good, solid hockey club," Donatelli said. "We'll be very competitive on and off the ice.
"Off the ice, the guys will be visible in the community. We did a lot last year and we're going to do a lot more this year.
"The fans of Wheeling, when they come to the rink will be able to put a face with the number. We have a lot of work to do going forward but we're going to put a very good product on the ice."
The coach said a number of players from last season's team have indicated they would like to return if they are not able to land a job in the AHL.
"We won't know that until September, but that's neither here or there because we will have a fine hockey club that will be well represented," Donatelli said. "We're going to have a lot of hard-working guys and we're going to have a tough team. We're going to be disciplined. The fans will really like our team."
It was also announced today that the Nailers will be the ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 12th consecutive season. Roberts said a second affiliation will be announced soon, perhaps as early as next week.