Nailers’ Stevenson Serious About Job

WHEELING – As is often the case, the Wheeling Nailers ended a recent practice at WesBanco Arena with a shootout drill.

Generally, you keep shooting until you put a puck behind a goaltender and then go sit down and watch the rest of the action, the last man standing faced with having to buy the milk that week for the rest of the teammates in his house, or something along those lines.

This particular time though, if you missed you had to take off a piece of equipment or clothing. The competition came down to forwards Cody Sylvester and Jack MacLellan, who took their final shots wearing nothing but skates and compression shorts.

”I actually kind of wanted that to happen,” newly named captain Dustin Stevenson said with a smirk. ”I did that my first time up in Wilkes-Barre and I ended up losing.

”I think I ended up skating around with my jockstrap on the first day up there.”

It was a rare non-serious snapshot of the 24-year-old defenseman from Gull Lake, Saskatoon. He wears a snarl at all times on the ice and takes what he does very seriously, which is somewhat of a prerequisite for an aspiring NHL player.

”I try to make it hard on (opposing) forwards to play against me and just be mean out there,” said Stevenson, the owner of 73 penalty minutes heading into Saturday night’s game, suggesting he has been quite successful at playing with an edge. ”I like to play physical to get engaged that way.”

As Stevenson said, his job description demands he make life difficult for the guys in opposing sweaters. But the captain part is meant as a way to ensure Stevenson makes things easier on the ones wearing the same colors he does.

”We’ve got a lot of young guys in (the locker room) and we also have guys who have played a lot of games like Chaz Johnson and Barry Goers,” Stevenson said of his alternate captains. ”It’s an honor, but there’s lots of guys in that room that could have that ‘C’ on their chest.

”As far as being vocal, I just have to lead by example and let the younger guys kind of follow that.”

Stevenson is hoping his teammates follow him to another Kelly Cup. He was an integral part of a Reading club that took home the hardware last season. That gives him a unique advantage as the leader of the Nailers, one that provides instant respect.

When Wheeling was sputtering recently, Stevenson was able to pass along some sage, yet simple advice.

”I just had to remind the guys that it’s a long season,” he said. ”Last year (in Reading) we started 0-5 or something but we knew we had a good group of guys and a team that could win it.

”Obviously you’ll go through stretches where you’re not playing so well, but believe in our systems and stick with what we’re doing.”

A team looking to land a puck-moving, high-scoring defenseman in the offseason will probably pass up a guy like Stevenson. He has registered 37 points (3g-34a) in 232 pro games, but that’s not what he’s paid to do.

”I’m not going to go out there and score a lot of goals,” said Stevenson, who protects his crease as though his family is standing behind him. ”I try and own that end of the ice and the crease belongs to me.

”I take pride in keeping the puck out of my own net.”

Stevenson is plus-9 on a team that going into Saturday had allowed 16 more goals than it scored. That means he’s rarely on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal against, a stat that goes a long way in separating the contenders from the pretenders.

”Sometimes it comes down to a little luck,” Stevenson said. ”You could have a really good game and end up a minus-2 on the scoresheet.”

In other words Stevenson does not concern himself with statistics any more than he does returning to the American Hockey League with Wilkes-Barre, where he accounted well for himself in seven games earlier this season.

”When I’m here, I am a Nailer and when I go up there I am a Penguin,” Stevenson said. ”So I don’t think about it and try to play my game and do whatever it takes to help this team win.

”I’m not worried about what’s going on up there.”