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Nailers Remove Interim Tag, Name Derek Army Head Coach

Photo Provided Derek Army, back, has been named the head coach of the Wheeling Nailers.

WHEELING — The Wheeling Nailers, proud ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, announced Friday that they have removed the interim tag from Derek Army, making him the team’s head coach.

“Derek’s passion for the City of Wheeling and the Nailers organization is something that we truly cherish, as he is an excellent person to have represent us in the community, and he will use that energy in helping to recruit high quality players,” said Nailers President Brian Komorowski. “We are ecstatic that Derek was able to begin not only his playing career here, but his head coaching career as well.”

Army, 30, began his journey with the Nailers as a player, when he came to Wheeling following the end of his collegiate career at Providence College in April, 2014.

Derek suited up in four regular season games and three playoff contests that spring, leading into his rookie season the following year. 2014-15 was a dynamic one for Army both on and off the ice, as he led the team with 29 goals, while becoming an instant fan favorite.

Derek and his teammates gave the Wheeling fans lots to cheer about in his second pro season, as the Nailers won the Eastern Conference Championship. Army contributed four goals during that memorable run, including a go-ahead marker in game seven of the second round against Reading and a game winner in the conference final round against South Carolina. Derek donned the captain’s “C” in each of his final two seasons in Nail City – both of which also featured time in the American Hockey League.

“I am very thankful to Brian, RED, the Nailers, and everyone in the Pittsburgh organization for this opportunity,” Army said. “Wheeling has been my second home, and my family and I are thrilled to be part of a community that has meant so much to me. This season was a great learning experience for me, as it helps to set the foundation for the future. I am excited for the challenges to come, as we look to compete for a Kelly Cup, while developing exciting young talent for the Penguins organization.

“I am very excited to continue representing the Nailers and the City of Wheeling. Wheeling has been my second home, and my family is very happy to be back. I was able to learn a lot this year. As a young coach and a young team, we continued to establish an identity that will pay dividends as we move into next season. I am excited for the challenges to come, continuing to develop players for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, getting back into the ECHL playoffs, and competing for a Kelly Cup Championship.”

After wrapping up his career as a player in 2018, the North Kingstown, Rhode Island native dove directly into coaching, as he followed in the footsteps of his father Tim, who is currently the head coach of the AHL’s Iowa Wild. Derek’s coaching career began with the Worcester Railers, as he worked under Jamie Russell, who was one of his assistant coaches at Providence College. Russell and Army worked together in Worcester for parts of two seasons.

“We are pleased to have Derek back as our head coach for the 2021-22 campaign,” said Pittsburgh Penguins Manager of Hockey Operations Erik Heasley. “Derek is well regarded in the ECHL and the Wheeling community from his playing career with the Nailers, and we are excited to have him lead the franchise moving forward.”

In the summer of 2020, Derek got the opportunity to return to the city who gave him his first pro hockey opportunity, as the Nailers had a pair of coaching vacancies. After hiring Mark French as the team’s head coach, Wheeling immediately knew that Army was the top candidate to be the team’s assistant coach, as he was hired just 11 days later. French resigned as head coach to be with his family on April 21st, at which point, Derek took the reins as interim head coach. Four days after that, Army got to celebrate his first win as head coach, with his wife Jenn and son Boone in the arena, as the Nailers defeated the Fort Wayne Komets, 5-3 on home ice.

Derek is the 20th head coach in Wheeling history, and the Army family is in the process of relocating to Wheeling.

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