23 Players Promoted to the Amercian Hockey League
The 2012-13 hockey season has come to an end in the Ohio Valley, as the Wheeling Nailers have laced up their skates for the final time this season. Unfortunately, that means that this particular campaign concludes without hardware, champagne, and parades around the longest active city in the ECHL. However, when fans look back at the 21st season of professional hockey in Wheeling, they can take comfort in the fact that their team posted a winning record (5th straight, 15th overall), and dominated their home ice (21-8-7), all while continuing to serve as a developing ground for great players to achieve their potential (23 players to the AHL).
While most fans would prefer to look at the 72-game docket as a whole, the easiest way to disect the 2012-13 Wheeling Nailers is in quarters. The first quarter of the year had some aches and pains, anywhere from injuries to the growing pains in figuring out how the team best fit together. The second quarter was clearly the best, both in terms of talent and results. Quarter three was the conclusion of the NHL lockout, which just so happened to coincide with a heavy stretch of road games. Finally, the last quarter of the season served as a final push to end the year on a positive note.
When the season began, ECHL clubs found themselves in unique positions, as an influx of players made their way in from American Hockey League squads. While that scenario did create some rather interesting roster shuffling, the Nailers were battling another challenge – injuries. At one point in November, Wheeling had nine players on injured reserve, including the likes of Chris Barton, Peter Lenes, and Zach Hansen, whose voids were certainly felt. A three-game homestand sweep of Reading and Toledo helped to brighten the 3-7-3 start.
A 4-0 shutout win against Evansville on November 21st turned out to be the turning point from first quarter struggles to second quarter success. Wheeling began a stretch with 17 of 24 games at WesBanco Arena, and made it pay off, going 15-6-3. While home ice certainly helped, the roster was also going through a transition, starting with the emergence of Scott Darling in goal, who completed his first full ECHL season with a 13-12-4 record. In addition, the Nailers welcomed in forwards Luke Pither and Chris Higgins, along with defensemen Carl Sneep and Andrew Hotham. Those four players alone accumulated 67 points, and were the top four players on the team, when it came to the club’s points percentage with them in the lineup. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the exclamation point of the second quarter came on January 13th, when Wheeling blasted league MVP Ryan Zapolski and the South Carolina Stingrays, 5-0. That week marked the final stretch in the Ohio Valley for the four players mentioned above, along with Cody Wild, Adam Payerl, and Joe Stejskal, who also found permanent homes in the AHL.
The third quarter of the season began with a week long trip to Orlando, where the Nailers took a shorthanded lineup in to battle the Solar Bears. After an ugly 7-2 loss in the opener, things started to look better, as the squad bounced back to earn points in five of the next six games. However, that was when February struck, and Wheeling faced a stretch of eight straight road games in six different cities, with seven of the games being played against teams that will be playing in the postseason. The Nailers won just two of the eight, leaving more of an uphill climb for the playoff push in March.
Wheeling took the approach of a lion in March, roaring in with a 4-0-2 record in the first six games, which included a weekend road sweep of Trenton and Reading. Unfortunately, the next three games didn’t exactly go as the Nailers had envisioned, as the hopes of a playoff spot were on the verge of fading completely away. Although the playoffs weren’t in the cards for this particular group, there was still plenty of time to ruin other aspirations around the league. On March 24th, Wheeling drove 12 hours overnight to dismiss the Kalamazoo Wings from the postseason party. Then, three days later, the Nailers returned home to beat the Elmira Jackals 6-2, which ultimately helped to take home ice advantage away from the Jackals in the first round.
When the dust settled, Wheeling concluded its 2012-13 season with a record of 31-29-12, with hopes of returning to the postseason in 2013-14.