WHEELING - A handful of players stepped onto the ice Friday for the first time this season as the Wheeling Nailers opened training camp at WesBanco Arena. But for the majority, including coach Clark Donatelli, this was already the beginning of their fourth camp.
However, Donatelli and new assistant coach Doug Bradley finally got the opportunity to see the team they have assembled go through a series of drills in a practice that lasted an hour and a half, most of which took place in a fog because of the warm, early October weather outside.
"It's like every tryout ... you might only have two practices and one game, so don't wait,'' Donatelli said. "You get evaluated and we'll rank all the players from (Friday) and then do it again.
"You take it day-by-day and go from there.''
The coaching staff had its collective eyes peeled, paying close attention to the five players - forwards Alan Dionne, Tyler Fernandez, Sahir Gill and Nick Zaino, as well as goaltender Joey Spagnoli.
''You watch them pretty close and you can tell who's working hard, who has good hands, who has hockey sense,'' Donatelli said. "We did some drills, some 5-on-5 and some D-zone coverage and all the guys are doing their best to grasp it.
"You watch their mental side of things, how they battle - we had some battles - and their stick detail. You go up to them and interact throughout practice and you get a pretty good feel about halfway through with who's who.''
The sooner the better to make an impression, starting with tonight's preseason opener. The Elmira Jackals are in town for a 7 o'clock face-off, meaning some guys are going to be thrown right into the fire.
"There won't be too many guys coming out of Wilkes-Barre or Hamilton that will play,'' Donatelli said. "'(Paul Cianfrini) will probably play.
"We have eight 'D' in camp and a couple more that are coming. We probably won't play (Mike) Ratchuk and (Barry) Goers.''
That means in addition to Cianfrini, the defense will consist of Nicholas Kuqali, Ryley Miller, Jarrett Rush, Alex Velischek and Gentry Zollars.
Donatelli said the main thing he worries about this early in camp is overloading players' minds.
"We went over practice and changed it about three or four times because there's so much information and we don't want to bombard them,'' he said. "We wanted to give them the concepts, but we don't want them out there thinking.
"If they have some good hockey sense, it should be a smooth transition coming into our system."
The Nailers added veteran goaltender Alex Westlund and forward Carter Rowney to the training camp roster prior to practice. ... Hamilton assigned forwards Stefan Chaput and Stephen MacAulay to Wheeling late Friday morning.