WHEELING - Business is about to pick up for the Wheeling Nailers. Beginning at 10:30 this morning in Kalamazoo, the club will play four games in the next five days, this on the heels of playing just five times in a month.
The Nailers boarded the bus early Tuesday following practice at WesBanco Arena en route to Michigan, where they will stay following today's game, before moving on to Fort Wayne for a Friday night skate. Wheeling will be home Saturday night against Reading, then the two play on Royals ice Sunday afternoon.
What that means, is that several of the younger players will be getting an official indoctrination into the life of a pro hockey player.
''It's a good bonding time, this being our first trip,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ''It's a lot of firsts.
''We've been talking about that stuff with a lot of the younger guys.''
This stretch is going to test what Donatelli has been stressing for a while, which is improved shift management. Typically a coach doesn't like a shift to last more than 45 seconds, but that's a difficult transition for rookies who are accustomed to playing with four lines, unlike in the ECHL, where there are only three.
''That's when everything happens. You have to realize when you're tired and they're coming into the D-zone after a line change, we have to bear down for eight or nine seconds and get the puck out of the zone. It's more mental.
''It's not get to the red line. It's get (the puck) out of our zone properly and get off the ice. Maybe we can only get two forwards on and our left wing can't get off, but at least we have two fresh guys. You don't have to change all three.''
What's on the Menu?
If you listen to veteran forward Chaz Johnson, it's meat and potatoes.
''That's definitely our team. We're not a skilled team,'' Johnson was saying recently. ''We're not a tic-tac-toe, not a finesse team.
''We're big up front and in the back, and our thing is getting the puck to the net and grinding it out.''
That's exactly what happened in the third period of last Saturday night's 5-3 victory against Greenville at WesBanco Arena. The Nailers got to the net and lit the lamp four times during the final 20 minutes.
''As you can see, the skill alone isn't going to get you the goals in this league,'' Donatelli said. ''If you were that skilled, you wouldn't be here.
''We can have all the Xs and Os on the board, but if we don't have the work ethic it doesn't matter.''
The Nailers broke out of their early scoring slump with a season-high five goals, but the team's power play clearly remains a work in progress. Wheeling went 0-for-7 against Greenville and is hitting at 5 percent (1-for-20), not having scored with the man advantage since forward Zack Torquato's slapshot from the right point in the season opener.
''We don't have any trouble coming in on our entries. We're setting up and jumping on loose pucks, but we're not shooting it,'' Donatelli said. ''I don't want to say that's a problem, but we have to establish a shot.
''When you get a lot of really talented guys out there, they are trying to thread the needle and be too cute all the time.
''Definitely with our power play, less is more.''
With a pair of contracted goalies - Pittsburgh's Eric Hartzell and Montreal's Mike Condon - in place, Donatelli says it's going to be an every-other-night kind of deal from this point forward. That means Hartzell will be between the pipes this morning against the Wings.
Hartzell, you will recall, didn't have the type of pro debut he'd like, being the losing goalie of record in a 6-2 loss to defending champion Reading last Friday night at WesBanco Arena.
''He says that he let two bad ones in, OK. But we've got to play better in front of him,'' Donatelli said of Hartzell. ''When I called timeout when it was 4-0 and he made a really big save or we were going down five-to-nothing.
''The thing I take from that, is he mentally got himself back into the game and gave us a chance to win.
''I think that's a big step because he's going to have to go through that many times in his career.
''No one likes to do it, but you have to do it.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org