WHEELING - Given a choice, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero would prefer the National Hockey League lockout end soon. If it doesn't though, fans of the Wheeling Nailers can expect to see a lot more of the organization's brass this season.
Shero took in Nailers practice Tuesday at WesBanco Arena along with assistant GM Jason Botterill and player development coach Bill Guerin, who was on the ice to help Nailers coaches Clark Donatelli and Zach Sonnefeld.
''It's 45 minutes from Pittsburgh and it's worked out very well in the past for us, as well,'' Shero said of having a farm team in such close proximity. ''Especially this year with the work stoppage in the National Hockey League, getting guys like Billy Guerin down here with the guys more frequently is really good.
Bill Guerin, the
development coach, skates around the ice at
WesBanco Arena on Tuesday.
''If we were in Topeka or something like that, it wouldn't be so good. Wheeling is a great situation having it so close, and it always has been. We're very fortunate and these kids are fortunate as well.''
It will not just be those three guys frequenting WesBanco Arena, either.
''Jason Botterill is down here a lot anyway and with Billy Guerin starting up with us half way through last year, he'll be down here,'' Shero said.
''We'll get Dan Bylsma down here and Todd Reirden is scheduled to come down I believe in the next week to work with the defensemen.
''It's going to be good for the kids here and certainly good for our guys as well.''
Shero and company chose to attend Tuesday in large part due to the fact seven prospects - Reid McNeill, Dominik Uher, Cody Chupp, Steve Zurevenski, Tom Kuhnhackal, Adam Payerl and Patrick Killeen - were sent down a day earlier from Wilkes-Barre. Several of those players wouldn't be in Wheeling if not for the lockout, but Shero made it clear each guy is expected to take this seriously.
''What we've said to them is you better respect the league because it's going to be good,'' Shero said. ''It usually is, and especially with the players that are going to be down here to start the season.
''Whether they go to Wilkes-Barre or some of these kids will have the opportunity to go somewhere else, I think it's good coaching here, good drills and really good facilities.
''I think it's a really good situation for everybody.''
Particularly, Shero said, for Wheeling fans. They can expect to see a higher level of skill and players of a larger physical stature this season, and that was evident quickly during the group's first practice.
''It's good for the (ECHL) and it's certainly good for these players we have down here that are under contract to Pittsburgh,'' Shero said. ''Now with the lockout, a lot of really good players are getting pushed down and the fans here are going to be the benefactors of that.
''Watching their practice here is almost to a 'T' what they are doing in Wilkes-Barre.''
Shero said he wanted to make sure the guys that were just sent down understand that it's not a demotion and that management will have multiple sets of eyes on them regardless of where they play.
''It was kind of to show them that we're here and we're going to be back,'' he said. ''The good thing with Clark and the way it always has been, is they're really plugged in with Wilkes-Barre and with Pittsburgh. When Clark took over for Stan Drulia last year, Clark spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh with our coaches and came to a lot of our games and our practices.
''Even with the coaches, Clark and Sonny spending time up in Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre has been very good for them and for us.''
In a separate transaction, the Hamilton Bulldogs assigned forward Philippe Lefebvre to the Nailers.