WHEELING, W.Va. – After naming Derek Army the head coach late last season, the Wheeling Nailers fan base is excited for the 30th season of hockey in the Upper Ohio Valley. Feeling pushed around at times last year, Army wanted to add physicality to his team, but do so without sacrificing the speed aspect of the Nailers game. With the changes and additions, the Nailers look to end a playoff drought that dates back to the 2015-16 team that won the Eastern Conference and was captained by Army himself.
Last Season in Review
Record & Playoff Appearance: 22-39-6-1, 51 points, No playoffs
Season Summary: Wheeling came out of the gate slowly going 2-8-3-0 in the first 13 games. With every positive stride the team made, multiple negatives showed up. Win streaks were far less common than losing streaks and one-goal games were heartbreakers for Wheeling. The statistical worst special teams and goaltending inconsistencies lead to a recipe that extended the playoff drought to five years.
Leading Scorers: Cody Sylvester – 48 points (25G, 23A) and Patrick Watling – 48 points (18G, 30A)
Goals For/Against: 196 goals for – 14th ECHL; 241 goals against – 14thECHL
Power Play Conversion Percentage & League Rank: 40-281, 14.2% efficiency – 14th ECHL
Penalty Kill Conversion Rate & League Rank: 230-294 (60 power-play goals allowed), 78.2% kill rate – 14th ECHL
- Shaw Boomhower: The 6-foot-1 forward is not afraid to go to the dirty areas and fight for the puck. He was assigned to Wheeling from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
- Patrick Watling: Tied for the team’s lead in points last season, he has tremendous offensive upside and is a strong skater
- Matt Alfaro: Led Wheeling rookies in scoring last season. Shows good puck skills and has a good sense of knowing where to go to make the play
- Cody Sylvester: Tied for the team lead in points last season. Strong leader. Good player in his own end as well as the offensive side. signed with the Atlanta Gladiators for this season.
- Nick Rivera: Scored 14 goals in 55 games for Wheeling. Strong power play awareness around the net, good penalty killer. Signed with the Adirondack Thunder for this season.
Schedule Breakdown for 2021-22
The 2021-22 edition of the Nailers will open the season on Saturday night in Fort Wayne against the Komets. After three more road games, the Nailers play at WesBanco Arena for the first time, hosting the Komets on November 6. After facing Indy and Fort Wayne for almost two-thirds of the 2020-21 slate, the Nailers will welcome back the rest of the division as Cincinnati, Kalamazoo, and Toledo, as well as league newcomer, the Iowa Heartlanders.
The Nailers will see the return of the traditional Thanksgiving Eve game, as well as the New Year’s Eve game. Indy will serve as Wheeling’s opponent on Thanksgiving Eve, while the Nailers host the Norfolk Admirals on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
The Nailers will face divisional teams in 55 of the 72 games scheduled. Indy and Wheeling will play 13 times, with seven games being played in Wheeling. In the 10 games between the Nailers and the Cyclones, Cincinnati will visit Nail City six times. The Komets and Nailers will also play 10 times, with five games being played in each city. Kalamazoo will visit Wheeling for five of the eight games scheduled between the two teams. The Toledo Walleye will see the Nailers seven times in total, four times in Northwest Ohio. Iowa and Wheeling also square off seven times, three of which take place inside WesBanco Arena.
Top Storylines for 2021-22
- How will Army fare in his first full season as head coach? Army in his first full season as Nailers head coach will look to fix the problems that presented themselves last season and right the black and Vegas gold. As the season wound down last year, the Nailers didn’t shut down as they continued to fight for Army after he took over in April. Bringing back a core group from last season they will fight to end the playoff drought and bring Wheeling back to respectability in the standings.
- Will Army and new assistant coach Ryan Kuwabara be able to fix the special teams that have doomed the Nailers the past two seasons? Last year, both units ranked dead last in the league. Needing to improve the penalty kill while boosting the powerplay will be a challenge. If successful, this could very well have Wheeling battling for a playoff spot late into the 2021-22 season.
Prediction Sure to go Right
The Wheeling Nailers returning to playing above the .500 win level. The Nailers had a streak of 11 .500 or better seasons snapped two years ago. Army was a part of that winning tradition and will start a new streak this season.
Prediction Sure to go Wrong
Wheeling will win the Central Division. With most teams coming back from being off for a year and the ones that played not having a lot of returning players (the Kelly Cup Champion Fort Wayne Komets only return six players from last season,) this could be Wheeling’s year to jump up and win the division.
How do you think the Nailers do this season? Will they miss the playoffs in shocking fashion, cruise their way to an early playoff exit or maybe storm their way to a Kelly Cup? Let us know below!
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