The Wheeling Nailers, the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins are preparing for their 19th season of play and are looking to get back to being a factor in the ECHL this year.The Nailers missed out on post-season a year ago finishing 10th in the 12 team ECHL Eastern Conference, but expect to still be playing come playoff time during the 2010-11 campaign.
Changes have been made in the off-season, most notably behind the bench where Stan Drulia will take over for Greg Pulhalski as the teams' head coach. Sure Drulia is new to the Nailers, but isn’t a total stranger to the Penguins organization. He was in fact an 11th round pick of the Pens in 1986.
“I am thrilled to be involved with an organization with such great history,” said Drulia. “I still remember that day I was drafted very clearly.”Drulia’s playing career included 127 NHL games with Tampa Bay and Atlanta. He also holds the OHL record in career points with 479 and has won an ECHL MVP and two IHL playoff MVP awards.
As a coach, Drulia has racked up 264 career victories in eight seasons behind the bench and has twice won Coach of the Year honors in respective leagues.While the Nailers want to win, it’s just as important that young players are developed throughout the organization, which is also very high on Drulia’s list of goals.
“I enjoy teaching the game to the young players and feel that with this relationship the players we have in Wheeling will have the opportunity to reach their goals of playing in the NHL some day,” added Drulia. “We think we understand the formula for winning and developing and that’s what I will try to do.....WIN in Wheeling and develop players for the AHL and NHL.”
The Nailers even added some NHL experience by signing center Kris Vernarsky, who played 17 career games with the Boston Bruins.
As for the play on the ice, expect the Nailers to be big up the middle and fast on the outside. Similar to their NHL counterparts, Drulia likes a big and fast team and expects to bring that to Wheeling.
“We look to be big at center with lost of speed on the outside,” said Drulia. “ We want to be physical on our blue line, so size is a big a priority for me back there. These players will hunt in a pack, support one another and stick up for anyone wearing a Nailers jersey.”
If anything, expect the Nailers not to take many shifts off during the season as Drulia expects a very hard working bunch.
“Our players will work hard every day, they will know what is expected of them and they will be prepared,” Drulia added,
Of course, Drulia isn’t the only change happening to the Nailers this season, the team will play ten of it’s regular season games in Johnstown beginning with the October 23rd game against Trenton.
With the ECHL season beginning in a little over two months, Drulia and the Nailers have a lot of work in front of them, but the new man behind the Nailers bench is up for the challenge and good results should follow.
“I expect these players to compete every day,” said Drulia. “There are many things that go in to winning a championship. If we stay healthy for the most part and continue to learn throughout the season, like every team in the ECHL, I expect us to make the playoffs and compete for the Kelly CUP.”