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Schulze Filling Large Shoes

Photo by Zack Rawson Wheeling Nailers rookie Kevin Schulze has quickly made a name for himself in the ECHL, where he ranks sixth in scoring among defensemen.

WHEELING — One question on the minds of most people as the Wheeling Nailers prepared to begin training camp this season, was how would the team replace the scoring of ECHL Defenseman of the Year Mathew Maione, who took his talents to Europe? After all, we’re talking about a guy who put up 54 points during the regular season and another 23 in 26 playoff games.

”Most people? Me. You’re looking at one of those people,” Nailers coach Jeff Christian said recently.

But coaches have plans. Always.

The one the Nailers decided on was Kevin Schulze. Similar in stature — Schulze at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds and Maione at 5-10, 195 — their games also match. Each has speed to burn and left-handed shots that more often than not find their mark.

”How are you going to replace Mathew Maione?” Christian asked. ”Well, we’re not going to ask Kevin Schulze to do that, but it would be great if he could.

”He’s a great kid and he’s a sponge.”

Not to mention a whiz with the puck on his stick. The University of Wisconsin graduate and White Bear Lake, Minn., native recorded a three-point night (one goal, two assists) Nov. 13 against Brampton, then two days later against the same team, was credited with a career-high four helpers.

”His offensive game is coming along,” Christian said. ”And his defensive game is coming along.”

Admittedly, the defensive side of the puck is where the most improvement will come. The offense seems to be in top form though, as Schulze has recorded 15 points (2G-13A) in 16 games.

”I didn’t even know I got it, to be honest. I am lucky, I guess,” Schulze said of the four-point performance. ”It’s always nice.”

While Christian may not outright ask Schulze to fill the void, the two have spoken about it in the past. It was a contributing factor to Schulze re-signing in Wheeling.

”We were talking in the summer about ‘Maio’ not coming back,” Schulze said. Christian ”was pretty much like ‘you’re going to try to replace him.’

”Hopefully I can do that the rest of the year.”

Schulze came to the Nailers last season after graduating college. He played in three regular-season games, then eight in the postseason as the team made its way to the Kelly Cup Finals. ”Abe Lincoln,” as Christian affectionately referred to him due to his playoff beard, said that experience was invaluable.

”It was great,” Schulze said. ”I got to know the coaches and the system, and I got to know the league.

”I learned the type of play and pace you have to play with, so it was great to get my feet wet.”

Christian believes Schulze is a good representation of the new wave of Wheeling players.

”I know some of the fans are frustrated that some of the Bad Boys didn’t return, but it’s a new year,” Christian said. ”We’ve gotten younger and better.

”It’s hard to say goodbye to those guys, but that’s the nature of this business.”

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