WHEELING - It seems as though the ECHL schedule makers don't like it when you mess with their schedule. That was the word handed down to the Wheeling Nailers on Tuesday.
Bus problems made it impossible for the club to make it to Kalamazoo last Saturday night, so that game has to be made up a later date. That turned out to be Sunday, March 24 - or roughly 21 hours after the Nailers finish up their second straight game in Trenton the night before.
''That's a little 12-hour jaunt and a little over 700 miles in a stretch where we have a lot of games,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said after practice Tuesday at WesBanco Arena.
''We're going to have to deal it.''
What exactly will the Nailers be 'dealing with?'
For starters, the Kalamazoo game begins the final week of the regular season, and it will close a 3-in-3 weekend, and a stretch of four games in five nights. Depending upon how you choose to look at it, Wheeling ends the season playing 27 games in 52 days, or seven in 11, or even 10 in 16.
But back to the bus incident. The Nailers were stranded in Ohio beginning at roughly around 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
''We had roadside come out and try to check it out. By the time we knew it, it was 4:30-5 a.m. and it was hard to get buses.,'' Donatelli said. ''Being it was the Super Bowl and all, it was tough trying to find drivers and so forth.
''It's unfortunate that it happened. The bus company is a really good company and I think they supply four or five teams in the league.
''They're a class act.''
Unless you're a diehard Nailers fan, you might find this next fact a bit difficult to believe. After Saturday night, Wheeling doesn't play another game at The Bank the rest of February.
That's the way it has traditionally gone during the years during this month, though.
But the Nailers have an opportunity to make up some ground this week in terms of the Eastern Conference standings. Gwinnett, which is three points out of the top spot in the South Division and is coached by former Wheeling assistant John Wroblewski, comes to town Thursday night, while Atlantic Division-leading Reading, the top team in the conference, is back in town Saturday.
The Nailers are nine points back of the Gladiators in the race for the fourth spot in the conference and home-ice advantage in the first round, but have four games in hand. Wheeling trails the Royals by 17 and it seems unrealistic to expect it to overcome that deficit.
''Gwinnett (is) a very hard-working team with 'Wrobo' coaching them. They're probably the hardest-working team we'll have to play against,'' Donatelli said. ''They like to push the pace a lot, they're very good defensively and they're pretty disciplined.
''They play a hundred percent or they don't play.''
Defense Help Coming?
Peter Merth and Adam Ross were on the ice Tuesday in red, no-contact jerseys. Both defensemen have been dealing with long-term injuries, but could soon be ready to return to action.
''I think the target date, knock on wood, should be for the Greenville trip,'' Donatelli said. ''Both guys should be ready to go sometime during that stint.''
That could be anywhere between Feb. 14-27 during the Nailers' season-long eight-game road trip.
Keven Veilleux isn't injured, but is schedule to return from a 10-game suspension Sunday in Elmira.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net