Rine: Nailers’ Season Success Built on Working Hard

WHEELING – For a team that was void of stars to begin, well before seven guys were called up to the American Hockey League, the Wheeling Nailers do not seem to be feeling any ill effects. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite as the team is enjoying a 10-game point streak (8-0-2) and has climbed into first place in the Atlantic Division.

How, you may ask, is this possible? In the past, a slew of injuries by the parent Pittsburgh Penguins meant a nose-dive in Wheeling. Not this season, it appears, and to understand why all one has to do is ask forward Max MacKay.

”A lot of teams I have been on guys are selfish, but that’s not the attitude on this squad,” he said following Sunday’s home shootout loss to Cincinnati. ”We spend a lot of time off the ice together so you get to know the guy next to you and want to battle for him.

”If you come off (the ice) and you didn’t have a good shift, you’re letting the other guys down. It’s go out there and give it all you’ve got for the guy next to you.”

How refreshing that is to hear, especially in a developmental league where the idea is to make yourself noticeable and get the heck out of town and to the next level as soon as possible?

When your team does not feature an overabundance of skill players, it becomes imperative that a lunch pail is brought to the rink every night. That’s exactly what the Nailers have done, rarely if ever taking so much as a shift off.

”It all starts in practice,” Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ”Our team practices very hard, they compete and they push each other.

”They’re very responsible and very coachable. It’s really a great group of guys.”

The foundation that has been laid is a credit to not only Donatelli and assistant Doug Bradley, but also the smattering of veterans in the room that have meshed seamlessly so far with a bunch of wide-eyed rookies.

”The big thing is we’ve got some leadership in the locker room – the (Zack) Torquatos, the (Chaz) Johnsons and those guys,” Donatelli said. ”They’re really doing a good job with these guys on and off the ice.

”You tell them to march and they go. That’s a good thing with these young guys, but maybe they don’t know any different.”

Speaking of Johnson, it’s long been thought that a Nailers game doesn’t officially begin until he lowers the boom with an early check. That gives the bench energy, just like when rookie forward Pat McGrath unleashes one of his own bone-crushing hits, or comes onto the ice looking to drop the gloves with anybody and everybody in an opposing jersey.

”We’re just doing it for the guy next to us,” said Mike Condon, who Tuesday was named ECHL Goaltender of the Week after stopping 100 of 103 shots and posting a 2-0-1 record. ”We’re a close-knit group and we’re getting closer every game.

”We’ve got guys like (Scott) Zurevinski blocking shots and taking pucks to the face. The guys are getting beat up, but they will do anything to win.

”It’s awesome to play in front of a team that never says die and never quits.”

Even if the components of the team keep changing.

  • MacKay only recently got healthy, but has seven points (3g-4a) and is a plus-5 in nine games.
  • Sahir Gill has 13 points (3g-10a) in 14 games and is a plus-9.
  • Tyler Fernandez, who was cut out of training camp, recently returned and has provided a spark with a pair of goals and a plus-4 rating in four games.
  • Colin Mulvey, also once let go, has registered two points (1g-1a) and is a plus-3 since returning.

”It’s a team effort and you can go down to the locker room and every guy will say what they do and what they bring to the team,” MacKay said. ”For sure (I think we have something special here).

”Everyone holds each other accountable out there on the ice.”

If this type of mentality can be sustained for the duration, this could turn into one short offseason in Wheeling.

Shawn Rine can be reached via email at srine@theintelligencer.net