WHEELING, WV- The Wheeling Nailers, proud ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, have announced a change in their hockey operations staff. Assistant Coach Riley Armstrong has been named the head coach of the ECHL's newest team, the Maine Mariners, effective immediately. Wheeling has hired Jay Spess to take over as the team's new assistant coach.
Riley Armstrong began his coaching career with the Nailers at the start of the 2016-17 season, following a 12-year playing career in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, and Europe. Along with Head Coach Jeff Christian, Armstrong was an integral part of the team's success over the last two seasons, as the coaching staff led Wheeling to a 62-50-12 mark in 124 games, with the Nailers poised for a playoff run this spring. Riley had a terrific relationship with the players and staff, and learned a lot about the organization, helping him take the next step up the coaching ladder.
"We would like to thank Riley for the job he did with the Nailers, and we wish him and the Mariners well in their inaugural season," said Nailers Governor Don Rigby. "We as an organization are continuing our tradition of moving players, coaches, and staff members to greater opportunities in the hockey community."
Since the start of the 2010-11 season, five Wheeling assistant coaches have earned head coaching jobs in the ECHL - John Wroblewski, Clark Donatelli, David Gove, Jeff Christian, and Riley Armstrong. During that time, Donatelli and Stan Drulia are former Nailers head coaches who have been promoted to the AHL.
"This is a good opportunity for Riley, and as the head coach, it's been an honor to help him develop, succeed, and ultimately move on," said Nailers Head Coach Jeff Christian. "Riley was a big part of what we did here, and he was involved in all aspects of the team since day one."
Jay Spess comes to Wheeling from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he has worked with Penguins players doing rehabilitation skates during the season, in addition to individual work in the summer with local players, such as former Nailer Patrick McGrath. This summer, Spess was an instrumental part in helping to make the Wheeling Nailers Tryout Camp a reality, working closely with Jeff Christian.
"I first met Jay in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this summer, when he helped me with our tryout camp," Christian said. "He has 18 years of coaching experience, so I am excited to bring him in, get him up to speed, and make for a smooth transition, as we continue our push for the North Division title."
During his playing days, Spess was a defenseman, who suited up with the NAHL's Gaylord Grizzlies. After hanging up the skates, Jay has spent 18 years coaching hockey, primarily focusing on U-18 and U-20 levels.