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Rine: New Faces Ready to Join Nailers Camp

October 2, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - Your guess is as good as anyone's, including Coach Stan Drulia's, as to the names of the players that will be on the WesBanco Arena ice when the Wheeling Nailers open camp Monday. Well, for the most part anyway.

There will be some holdovers - around six or eight - from last season's Eastern Conference Final squad, but the majority of the players will be new. Just who they'll be will have to wait, as Wheeling has guys attending American Hockey League camps in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Adirondack, St. John's, Hamilton and Chicago.

''It's difficult keeping track of them all. And we have a lot of immigration paperwork and housing to do,'' Drulia said Thursday from Wilkes-Barre, where he was helping out with Baby Penguins camp. ''These next seven days for me are going to be crazy - I'll be working 20 hours a day.

''It's a waiting process. We don't really know who we're getting.

''We've tried to recruit and scout, keeping in mind we may not get anybody.''

That's highly unlikely, but a smart, safe way to look at things.

Among the guys we know will be here are holdovers Christian Minella, Peter Merth, Paul Crowder, Chris Kushneriuk, Mikael Bedard and Zach Hansen. They'll be joined by newcomers Cody Chupp, Denver Manderson, Chris Barton and Patrick Johnson.

Chupp, a 6-foot-1, 192-pound forward spent last season with the Texas Stars of the AHL, registering 14 points (5g-9a) in 59 games.

''He should be a dominating factor in our lineup,'' Drulia said.

Barton, who scored the lone goal for Wilkes-Barre in its exhibition opener Wednesday night, is a 5-11, 180-pound rookie forward. He scored more than a point per game last season in college at Merrimack, where he recorded 39 points (14g-25a) in 36 games.

Tom Fitzgerald, an assistant to the general manager in Pittsburgh, was high on Barton.

''Fitzy sees them quite a bit,'' Drulia said. ''He leads the rush, gets his nose dirty and has a really quick release.''

The diminutive Johnson (5-9, 158) comes out of the hockey hotbed known as the University of Wisconsin, where last season the forward put up 19 points (8g-11a) in 41 games.

''He was a player that we contacted to possibly bring in for last year's playoff run,'' Drulia said. ''You look at some of the players you can get out of Wisconsin - Ben Street comes to mind.

''They come from a good program and we had our eye on right away.''

But the crown jewel of the group looks to be center Manderson (5-10, 175), a former teammate of the Penguins' 2010 No. 1 draft pick, Beau Bennett. He played D-2 hockey in Finland last season with HeKi, where he scored 33 points (17g-16a) in 46 games.

''I got to spend a lot of time with him this week and he's a very nice, very polite kid who is intriguing,'' Drulia said. ''He has a pretty good understanding of the pro life.

''He can play center or some wing, and has a nose and a sense for how the game is played.

''As the season goes on, I think you're going to see some very special things out of him.''

Drulia really didn't have any time off this summer, unless you include sitting on his back deck with a coffee or a cold beverage while making phone calls or scanning the Internet. In fact, recruiting has become a year-round deal in hockey, as evidenced by Drulia getting a commitment from stud Michigan defenseman Chad Langlais - in WBS camp - during last year's playoff run.

''You have to remember that teams that don't make the playoffs, and ones that did like us, are making calls as soon as their season ends,'' Drulia said. ''It's important to have your name out there early.

''A lot of guys won't decide that early, but a lot of times they go with the one that contacted first.''

The Nailers, who have three preseason games in three nights, in three different cities - Thursday in Johnstown, Friday in Wheeling, and Saturday at Cincinnati - are an unknown at this point. But the goals, or the way they approach them, will not waver.

''I'm always hungry to win. No one likes to lose, and those are the people you want to surround yourself with,'' Drulia said. ''We want players that really don't want to play in Wheeling. You want guys that take pride in their job and take this sport as a job. Can make quite a bit of money if you put your mind to it.''

Not only does Drulia have to get to know the new players, but he'll also be breaking in a new coach in two-time U.S. National Team member Clark Donatelli.

''He's actually spent (Thursday) afternoon with Alain Naserdine going over some of the things we have to do for Pittsburgh, with providing game reports nightly and things like that,'' Drulia said. ''He's a funny, funny man and anytime you represent your country twice on the Olympic level, you have a lot of hockey to pass on.

''Our players are going to love Clark and our fans will too.''

Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at

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