The deadline for ECHL teams to submit their season-ending rosters is rapidly approaching, and it’s a good thing that the names of head coaches are not included.
Why, you ask?
Because the Wheeling Nailers are nearing the end in their search for their 11th head coach in their 17 seasons in the “Friendly City.”
As you may remember, the organization, with dual NHL affiliates in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, made a coaching change just after the first of the year last season when it replaced Glenn Patrick with Greg Puhalski.
At the time, it wasn’t really announced, according to Nailers’ co-owner Jim Brooks, but Puhalski was labeled as the ‘interim’ head coach.
“We mutually decided to just end the season,” Brooks said Monday afternoon from his downtown Wheeling office. “Basically, we said ‘you see if you like us and the town and we’ll see if we like you.”’
Brooks said it wasn’t until the season was over that the search process started.
“That’s when we started to look for a long-term head coach,” he added. “We basically had another interview with Greg, and he is interested in coming back.”
Brooks noted that Puhalski was one of five finalists for the job.
“We’ve talked to 15 or 20 people about the coaching vacancy and we’ve narrowed it down to five.”
Does he — or the organization — have a timetable for naming the new ice boss?
“Hopefully, by the end of the month,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with Chuck Fletcher in Pittsburgh and he’s (General Manager) Ray Shero’s assistant. We want the Penguins to be a part of this decision and they are going to call these five guys if they have any questions.”
In searching for the right coach to turn the franchise around (they’ve had two straight losing seasons), Brooks said they are seeking a person with four key qualities.
“First of all, we want someone who can win hockey games. Secondly, we want someone who can develop young players with our affiliates. Thirdly, we want someone with good character who is also a good person, and, finally, we want someone who will be committed to the job and the town.”
When he said committed to the job, Brooks said that is basically recruiting.
“Recruiting players in this league is unappreciated,” he explained. “A coach can be a great X’s and O’s guy, but if he can’t recruit, that’s going to be difficult.”
That’s why he would like a coach in place by July 1.
“Most of the players in this league are signed from mid-July to August,” he related.
In addition to Puhalski, other candidates include former Columbia Inferno head coach Troy Mann; Tony Curtale, a successful NAHL and OHL head coach; Bowling Green State University assistant coach Todd Reirden; and Frank Anzalone, a former Johnstown Chiefs’ head coach and current Tampa Bay Lightning scout.
A brief capsule and comment about each candidate follows:
? PUHALSKI — The 33-year-old led the Chicago Hounds (2006-07) Fort Wayne Komets (2000-2006) and Port Huron Border Cats (1998-2000) to the UHL playoffs eight times in his nine seasons, capturing the championship in 2002-03. His 2004-05 Komets lost in the finals.
He is 565-333-18-86 for his career.
“We were pleased with the job Greg did,” Brooks said, who did admit that he really didn’t get a fair shake. “As I said before, recruiting is vital in this league and he really didn’t have a hand in that last year.”
The third-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, Puhalski also coached the Toledo Storm to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in all four of his years behind the bench.
As a player, he scored 225 points (70g, 155a) in 123 ECHL games with Toledo from 1991-1997.
? MANN — The 38-year-old coached the Inferno to a pair of upsets in the first two rounds of last season’s Kelly Cup playoffs. However, according to Brooks, the Inferno is going dark this season as a new arena is being constructed in the South Carolina city.
In his two seasons with the Inferno, he compiled a 62-62-0-20 record, including 33-28-0-11 in 2007-08.
“He had a pretty good run this season,” Brooks said of the Campbellton, NE., native
Mann has also served as an assistant coach for Columbia and the Topeka Tarantulas (2004-05).
As a player, he tallied 157 points (83g, 74a) in 187 ECHL games with the Mississippi Sea Wolves (1996-97, 1997-99), Hampton Roads Admirals (1997-98), the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks (1997-98) and the Jackson Bandits (1999-2000); 100 markers (29g, 71a) in 186 UHL contests with the Saginaw/Ohio Gears (1999-2000), Elmira Jackals (2000-01), Flint Generals (2000-01), Missouri River Otters (2001-02, 2003-04) and Kalamazoo Wings (2001-02); 65 lightings (20g, 45a) in 72 CHL games with the San Angelo Saints (2002-03) and Topeka Tarantulas (2004-05); and three points (1g, 2a) in one WCHL game with the Bakersfield Condors (2000-01).
? CURTALE — The 45-year-old is a hot commodity right now and comes highly-recommended.
“Tony is also up for the Ontario (Calif.) job in this league,” explained Brooks, noting that Ontario is the old Texas Wildcatters.
“He is highly-thought of by former NAHL President Mike Santos, who is now with the Nashville Predators of the NHL,” added Brooks.
Curtale led the Windsor Spitfires to a 23-33-6-6 record in 1998-99. He coached the Texas entry in the NAHL last season.
As a player, he had a brief two-game stint with the NHL’s Calgary Flames in 1980-81 and played in 194 IHL games for the Peoria Prancers (1983-84), and the Peoria Rivermen (1984-87), scoring 143 points (20g, 123a).
The Detroit native was a second-round pick (31st overall) of the Calgary Flames in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft.
? REIRDEN — The 12th round pick (242nd overall) of the New Jersey Devils in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, he is the lone candidate without any head coaching experience.
However, he does have 183 games of NHL experience under his belt, scoring 46 points (11g, 35a) and charting 181 minutes in penalties for the Edmonton Oilers (1998-99), St. Louis Blues (1999-2001), Atlanta Thrashers (2001-02) and Phoenix Coyotes (2003-04).
He has also played in the ECHL, AHL, IHL and Austria, where he scored eight points (2g, 6a) in 15 games for Graz EC.
? ANZALONE — The 54-year-old became the sixth head coach of the Johnstown Chiefs on July 22, 2005, returning to the ECHL after four years at Lake Superior State University, whom he had built into a national power during his first stint back in the 1980s.
The Brooklyn, NY, native has coached in the ECHL for the Nashville Knights (1991-92), Roanoke Express (1993-98), the Pee Dee Pride (1999-2001) and Johnstown (2005-07); the AHL for the Newmarket Saints (1990-91); and the AHL for the Lowell Lock Monsters (1998-99).
“Frank, obviously, has a lot of head coaching experience,” Brooks observed.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org