WHEELING, WV- It's the most exciting time of year to be a hockey fan, as the playoffs have begun. Postseason play has been going on for one week in the NHL and ECHL, and some series are tight, while others have a chance to be settled with one or two more victories. The AHL will drop the puck on its playoffs this week. Between the three leagues, there are 58 former Nailers who have a chance to hoist hardware - 49 players, five coaches, three broadcasters, and an athletic trainer.
Starting in the NHL, Wheeling is in search of a Stanley Cup Champion for the third consecutive year, after Scott Darling won it all with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, and Tom Kuhnhackl got to taste glory with the affiliate Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. This season, those two will join four other players, one coach, and one broadcaster in the quest for Lord Stanley. Kuhnhackl has been joined in Pittsburgh by fellow former Nailers Carter Rowney and Josh Archibald. Ottawa's Mike Condon is the lone player out of the Atlantic Division and Mark Letestu of Edmonton is the only representative from the Pacific Division. Head Coach Peter Laviolette led Carolina to a title in 2006, and will attempt to capture a second championship this season behind the bench for with Nashville. Broadcaster Dave Goucher has also gotten to hoist the cup once, doing so in 2011 with the Boston, where he still calls games today. While he won't be able to get a ring this season, fans may have recognized a familiar voice on television, as former Wheeling broadcaster Brendan Burke has been calling the action on NBC Sports Network for the series between Edmonton and San Jose.
The majority of the representation for the Nailers in the AHL comes from their affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for having the best record in the league. That is the second time Wilkes-Barre/Scranton topped the AHL Standings, and it did so with Clark Donatelli calling the shots as head coach. The Penguins ended the regular season with 15 players on their roster who spent time in Wheeling. Ten of those were Nailers this season - Jarrett Burton, Christian Hilbrich, Adam Krause, Sean Maguire, Ethan Prow, Kevin Schulze, Ryan Segalla, Nick Sorkin, Brett Stern, and Cody Wydo. The remaining five are Jean-Sebastien Dea, Casey DeSmith, Sahir Gill, Barry Goers, and Patrick McGrath.
Outside of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, there are 15 former Nailers who will be competing for the Calder Cup. In the first round, the Penguins will clash with defenseman Alex Grant and the Providence Bruins. Zach Sill is also in the Atlantic Division, with the in-state rival Hershey Bears. In the North Division, the two representatives will go head-to-head in round one, as Stefan Fournier's Syracuse Crunch challenge Bobby Farnham's St. John's IceCaps. There will also be head-to-head battles in both divisions from the Western Conference. The Chicago Wolves are the most populated squad aside from the Penguins, as Morgan Ellis, Ty Loney, Reid McNeill, and Scooter Vaughan are on the roster. They will face the Charlotte Checkers and Philip Samuelsson. Ben Street and the Grand Rapids Griffins will lock up with the Milwaukee Admirals, who have Derek Army, Adam Payerl, and assistant coach Stan Drulia. James Melindy of the San Diego Gulls and Paul Bissonnette of the Ontario Reign will lock horns in the Pacific Division. Off of the ice, Bob Rotruck will broadcast playoff hockey for the first time since 2009 with the Nailers, when he turns on the microphone for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and Seamus McKelvey is an Assistant Athletic Trainer for the Providence Bruins.
Wheeling has at least one alumni on nine of the 16 teams going to battle for the Kelly Cup in the ECHL. Starting in the North Division are JP Anderson of the Adirondack Thunder, then Luke Pither, Daultan Leveille, and head coach Colin Chaulk, who are all members of the Brampton Beast. Three of the four South Division teams are represented. The division champion Florida Everblades have John McCarron, Stephen MacAulay, and broadcaster Alex Reed, going up against the Orlando Solar Bears, with Denver Manderson and Milos Bubela. In the other series, head coach Brian Gratz returned the Greenville Swamp Rabbits to the postseason after a two-year absence. 2013 Kelly Cup Champion Bobby Shea now dons the Fort Wayne Komets uniform, putting him in the same division as Kyle Bushee and Tyler Biggs of the Kalamazoo Wings. Finally, there are four players in the Mountain Division - Mike Gunn, David Makowski, and Harrison Ruopp of the Allen Americans, and Casey Pierro-Zabotel, who left the defending champion Americans for the Colorado Eagles.
Fans will be able to track the progresses of their former Nailers throughout the 2017 postseason on wheelingnailers.com.
Stay tuned to wheelingnailers.com, the Nailers app, and social media networks for all of the latest information throughout the summer, as the team prepares for the 2017-18 season. To purchase season tickets, or to receive more information, call the Nailers at (304) 234-GOAL.