WHEELING - Joe Tolles bent down toward the ice to get closer to his godson following the Wheeling Nailers' most-recent game at WesBanco Arena, ear-to-ear smiles never leaving either face.
''That's my sister's little guy. He loves hockey,'' Tolles explained earlier this week. ''He's got a mini-stick and puck from every team I've played on, so he's got like 10 now.''
Tolles laughed at that last part, but his journey has been anything but easy. He's currently on his fourth team this season - fifth in two years - and this is Tolles' second stint in Wheeling. Packing his every belonging has become commonplace, not that he's complaining.
Photo by Joe Lovell
Though not a fighter by trade, Wheeling defenseman Joe Tolles says if that’s what it takes to help out his teammates, than he has no problem dropping the gloves.
''Not everyone gets to play hockey for a living, especially this year,'' the 24-year-old defenseman said. ''I had to go to the Central League but I talk to a lot of guys who aren't even playing now, so it puts it into perspective.
''No matter where you're at enjoy it, because you never know when it's going to be over.''
To that end Tolles is content, even though he realizes a new address remains just a phone call away. He's comfortable in a Wheeling uniform, in part because there are a lot of old buddies, having spent 25 games with them last year.
''It's where I got my start,'' Tolles said. ''It's a lot of familiar faces and I'm familiar with the system.
''Also, it's nice and close to home so my whole family can come out more often.''
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Tolles is doing all he can to stick with the Nailers. Though he said he's immune to the moving at this point, Tolles is not taking anything for granted.
''He's got a heart of gold and will do anything for the team,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ''He wants to stay and he's showing it every night.
''He's bringing 110 percent every time he goes out there.''
Hoping to gain an edge, Tolles is playing with one.
Although the Brock University product has only played nine games this season in a Nailers uniform, he's second on the team in fighting majors with four. Tolles doesn't see it as a necessity, but rather it's a by product of an internal button making him ''snap.''
''I know that I am not a fighter ... I wasn't brought here to fight,'' Tolles said. ''But I think it adds to my game - to get to the next level, especially.
''There's a lot of guys who are 6-foot, 180 pounds that can skate well. If I can bring an edge to my game it definitely helps.''
Tolles admits he is not ''very good'' at fighting, but it hasn't stopped him from answering the bell. That's an endearing quality to his teammates and coaching staff.
''I don't try to fight because obviously I don't have the size for it. But I enjoy sticking up for the guys,'' Tolles said. ''Not everyone likes to do it.
''I haven't gotten hurt too bad by it, so it will be all right.''
If or when that next city comes, nobody can say for sure. But Joe Tolles is going to continue to battle until someone tells him it's time to hang up the skates.
''You see so many guys that are my age with injuries and they can never play again,'' Tolles said. ''So definitely, I enjoy coming to the rink and playing every day.
''It's been pretty crazy, but it's another story when I'm old that I will be able to talk about.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net