WHEELING - There's no place like home according to Wheeling Nailers coach Clark Donatelli. More specifically, there's no place like the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, and that's a big reason the Providence, RI, native agreed Wednesday to come back to the Friendly City for a third season.
"I can tell you (the Penguins) are very involved and don't leave any stone left unturned,'' Donatelli said. "They don't discriminate between Wheeling, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh -they treat everyone the same.
"They are very hands-on and they want to know what's going on at all times. I'm constantly on the phone with (assistant general manager) Jason Botterill and John Hynes, the coach in Wilkes-Barre.''
Donatelli often says that all players in the ECHL are talented, but learning how to be a consistent pro is the main thing keeping them out of the American Hockey League. Well it stands to reason the same is true of a coach, therefore Donatelli said his time in Wilkes-Barre during the Baby Pens' long postseason run was invaluable.
"At the end of the year with Coach Hynes, it was great being able to slide right in there behind the bench as an assistant coach during their playoff run and be in charge of the power play,'' Donatelli, 45, said. You grow and you mature.
"It was a great experience."
So, too, was his first full season being in charge of the Nailers. Though Wheeling failed to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs, it did finish with a winning record (31-29-12) for the third consecutive season.
There were lessons learned in coming up short, the coach said.
"Our road record has to get better and we think we have taken steps to fix that by bringing in some more character guys that have the ability to step up and stop a situation like that,'' Donatelli said. "You look at the home loss to Florida last year when we blew a three-goal lead with eight minutes left and you could just kill yourself.
"Things like that are about character. You need guys who will not let things like that happen.''
To that end, there are going to be a host of new faces in Wheeling this season. Several players had called Wheeling home for a number of year, but either through retirement, advancement to the next level or the lure of a bigger payday in Europe, will no longer be around.
That's not a bad thing, the coach said.
"You kind of need or or two or of those guys who have been around a while in your locker room, to help the younger guys along,'' Donatelli said. "I think there's room for a couple of those guys, but for the most part we want guys who are going up in their careers, not on the back end of the line.
"Not all teams approach it that way and that's fine, but it's been pretty successful for us.''
A former two-time Olympian and one-time captain of the national team, Donatelli will have some company this season as his wife, Michelle, and youngest son, Jack, will be living in Wheeling.
"Clark is a valuable member of our organization both on and off of the ice, and we are happy to have him back for another season," Nailers governor Don Rigby said. "He has developed a fantastic working relationship with the Penguins and (Montreal) Canadiens, and has countless connections in the hockey world that will help us put a winning product on the ice, while also helping players reach their highest potential."
The Nailers open the regular season at 7 p.m. on Oct. 18 when they welcome rival Elmira to WesBanco Arena.