WHEELING -With the NHL lockout in full effect, there were a minimal number of open spots on the Wheeling Nailers roster as they opened training camp Wednesday. As the team begins its two-game preseason tonight in Cincinnati, there are few if any remaining.
The number of players the Nailers were thought to be getting from their American Hockey League affiliate in Hamilton was three. That all changed Thursday as the Bulldogs made their first rounds of cuts and sent four players - goaltender Scott Darling, defenseman Joe Stejskal, and forwards Zack Torquato, Ian Schultz, Stefan Chaput and Olivier Fortier - to Wheeling.
''If we get five players from Pitt and five players from Montreal, maybe six and six, that's 12 players,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said following practice Thursday at WesBanco Arena. ''Everyone can count, right? There's only 20 spots.
Nailers coach Clark Donatelli
''It's going to be competitive, it's going to come down to the wire and it's going to be a hard-fought battle. We're going to have a good squad, that's for damn sure.''
In addition, the Nailers are trying to sign Cody Wild, a former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman who played a couple of games here last season, and 2011 captain Paul Crowder, who was released by Austria's Znojmo Ovli HC after being injured six games into the season, is also expected to re-sign with Wheeling.
''We are going to go after Cody Wild and go after him pretty hard,'' Donatelli said. ''He's an American League Hockey player.
''He'd be a good player for us.''
Donatelli said he's been satisfied with the effort put forth during the first two days of camp, though he noted things were understandably a bit sluggish at the beginning. The Nailers held two, 45-minute sessions both Wednesday and Thursday.
''New coach, new players, first time on the ice and first time playing at that pace and pushing each other,'' Donatelli said. ''You don't know what type of workouts they were doing at home, but when you hit the ice here and you're trying out for a team, it's all motion.
''Also, these guys are getting hit with a lot of stuff.
"They're trying to absorb it and play our systems, so they are thinking rather than just playing and reacting.''
The second-year coach said he's been impressed by the play of rookie goalies Michael Chiasson, a long-time friend of the Penguins' Sidney Crosby, and Matt Tendler.
''I'm really surprised with the goaltending,'' Donatelli said. ''I think the goaltenders are really good, and for the last minute getting these guys in here, both goalies have been playing really, really well.''
It's possible that some of the players who were here last year and returned under ECHL contracts will not make the team out of camp.
''I don't think any of these guys on (ECHL) contracts are just going to give their jobs up. There are going to be a lot of battles going on,'' Donatelli said.
The coach also mentioned that it's not a guarantee that players under AHL contracts coming down will get first priority.
''It's not set in stone that (they will play) if these guys come down and don't play well, just because they have an American League contract. We're here to develop, but we're going to see how these guys come down with attitudes being the first time in the (ECHL).
''Who that will be, I don't know. There's going to be some good players that are here that will find themselves on the outside, but that's hockey. I think everyone understands it.
''The NHL isn't playing, so everything filters downhill.''