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Nailers Aiming To Continue Winning Ways

WHEELING — The hockey season is closer than you might think and the Wheeling Nailers are getting ready, holding their annual Signing Day event for season ticket holders Wednesday evening inside WesBanco Arena.

The Nailers unveiled three new jerseys that the team will wear for the upcoming 2022-23 season while head coach Derek Army, assistant coach Ryan Kuwabara and COO John Davis answered questions from the crowd.

The upcoming season will be a big one for the Nailers and Army, entering his second season as the team’s permanent coach. Wheeling enjoyed one of the biggest turnarounds in the ECHL last season, finishing with 78 points and a 37-31-4 record. They finished third in the Central Division and made the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.

The nature of the ECHL means there will be plenty of roster turnover from one year to the next, making it paramount for Army to ensure the club’s positive momentum doesn’t hit a road bump when new players are introduced to the mix.

“For us it’s the leadership and bringing back the guys who were a big part of that,” Army said Wednesday. “So you have a guy like (defenseman) Adam Smith, who was a big leader for us all the way through (last season) and you try to pass that on to the next guy.”

Army, who played five seasons with the Nailers from 2013-18, said it’s on returning players from last year’s to step up into those now-vacant leadership roles for this season.

“You have some of these guys who were able to see it last year and now they take that same leadership and apply it to this new group of guys,” he said.

In-season success can also be tricky to maintain, especially when a team’s best players are routinely called up to the AHL, like what happened to the Nailers throughout last season.

“They’re not calling for my worst player,” Army joked. “We want these guys to have the opportunity to go up. For me, the biggest thing that I can ever ask for is that a guy can go up to the NHL. So for us, we anticipate those call ups and we’re never going to hold a guy back.”

That too creates opportunities for young players to step up and show their worth, according to Army.

“Everyone wants more ice time,” he said. “So the guys that were complaining in November that they want more ice time, it’s important for them to watch the game and understand it better as we phase them in. And then by December when everybody’s gone, they have to be ready to take the team and take it over. I think that’s what we saw (last) year and why we were so successful.”

The Nailers begin the 2022-23 season, their 31st in Wheeling, on Oct. 22 at home against the Toledo Walleye, the same team that knocked them out of last year’s Kelly Cup Playoffs

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