Nailers open camp ahead of 30th season in Wheeling

WHEELING — For the 30th straight year, professional hockey returns to Wheeling.

Established in 1992, the Thunderbirds called Wheeling home until the name was changed to the Nailers, who have been taking the ice at WesBanco Arena since 1996.

Leading this year’s Nailers’ team onto the ice will be former Nailer and fan favorite, Derek Army, who begins his first full year as the head coach after serving as interim coach for part of last season.

“It was exciting to get started Monday,” Army said. “It was great to be in Pittsburgh and Southpointe but there is nothing like being back on home ice and in the locker room doing what we all love to do.”

The Nailers started training camp Monday in Cranberry, PA. before getting started on home ice inside WesBanco Arena on Wednesday and Army is already bringing the energy in practice.

“He’s excited, you can hear it in his voice,” Watling said about his coach. “He has a good pedigree. He’s been around the coaching world and he knows what it takes to be a head coach and you can see it in his demeanor.”

Watling was a standout player for the Nailers last year as he tallied 18 goals, 30 assists, three power play goals and .94 points per game. This year, he is simply focused on making the team better.

“We just want to keep up the intensity, pay attention to detail and just play as one,” Watling said. “Our line combinations are good and Derek is good at that.

“So far it’s exciting to see the guys. The summer was short but we think we did a lot well and we’re excited to get here and get the fans back in the stadium.”

Along with Watling, Army is looking forward to seeing some other top tier players take the ice in front of the Wheeling crowd.

“Matt Alfaro and Dylan MacPherson are guys you probably won’t see very long,” Army said. “They’ll probably get the call to the American League but they are two great players. We have a lot of guys I’d like to see step up. We had a lot of rookies last year and whether it be Jesse Lees, Tyler Drevitch or Jared Cockrell — I’d like to see what they have after a full year and understanding what works and what doesn’t. There are a lot of guys I have big expectations for.”

Louis-Philip Guindon is currently eyeing the starting goalie spot for the season opener on the road at Fort Wayne but others may see time, too, as the season rolls along.

“Who and when remains to be in question but I’m very confident in LP (Louis-Philip Guindon),” Army said. “He’s been a guy who is a great teammate, a competitor and works really hard. He is a guy who could back stop us with no issues. We’ll see what happens though with Wilkes-Barre and the health there.”

Army says this year’s squad looks to have the ability to adjust to match up with any opposing team.

“We kind of knew what we were going for,” Army said. “We were going through the process of bringing guys in and we wanted to be relentless. We want to be able to beat you at whatever game you want to play. If you want to try to out-tough us, we’ll be right there. If you want to try to out-skill us, we’ll be right there. We’re going to be detailed.”

Preseason action gets started Friday at home as the Nailers welcome Fort Wayne.

Then, Wheeling will travel to Fort Wayne Saturday.

The Nailers will start the season with four straight road games before returning for the home opener on Saturday, Nov. 6 to play the Komets.


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