The Wheeling Nailers' bid for their 15th playoff appearance in team history came up five points short, but the club was able to post a .500 or better record for the 11th straight season, including a 17-13-6 mark on home ice. The attention of the organization now turns to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will attempt to become the fifth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit, as they trail the New York Islanders in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are lots of additional rooting interests for Nailers fans, who have former players and coaches taking aim at championships throughout various levels of hockey.
In the NHL, two former Nailers are going head-to-head, as Casey DeSmith (2015-16) of the Pittsburgh Penguins clashes with Tom Kuhnhackl (2012-14) of the New York Islanders. This is DeSmith's second trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Kuhnhackl is one of two former Wheeling players to win multiple championships, capturing both with the Penguins. 1997-98 Nailers Head Coach Peter Laviolette is in search of his second Stanley Cup, as well as his fourth trip to the final, as he led the Nashville Predators to the best record in the Central Division. Nashville and Dallas split the first two games of their series. Finally, Reid Cashman suited up as a player with Wheeling in 2008-09, but has since retired, and now serves as an assistant coach for the Washington Capitals, who lead Carolina, 2-0.
At the AHL level, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02, but gave chances to members of this year's Wheeling squad in Sunday's season finale, as Cedric Lacroix (two goals), Yushiroh Hirano (one assist), Dane Birks, and Matt O'Connor (31 saves) contributed to a 5-2 win over Binghamton. Seven former Nailers will play for an opportunity to hoist the Calder Cup, starting with 2010-11 ECHL Rookie of the Year and 2016-17 Calder Cup Champion Ben Street, whose San Diego Gulls clash with San Jose in round one. Staying in the Western Conference, Gage Quinney (2016-17) finished tied for second in the AHL with a +36 rating, helping the Chicago Wolves to a division title, as well as a first round match-up with Grand Rapids. The Cleveland Monsters are represented by two former Wheeling players - forward Mark Letestu (2007-08) and goaltender Brad Thiessen (2009-10). The other three former Nailers in the Calder Cup Playoffs are Scott Darling (2012-13) of the Charlotte Checkers, Adam Morrison (2017-18) of the Hershey Bears, and Riley Bourbonnais (2016-18) of the Iowa Wild.
The 2015-16 team was one that captured the hearts of the Ohio Valley, as the Nailers won the Eastern Conference Championship. Two members of that club will look to return to the Kelly Cup Final, with one of them being Florida's John McCarron, who came one win away from claiming the title last season. The Everblades finished 2018-19 with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and currently lead Jacksonville, 2-0. James Melindy also has a 2-0 lead in his series, as the Newfoundland Growlers are battling Daniel Leavens (2016-18) and the Brampton Beast. Alexandre Carrier (2013-14 & 2016-17) and Matias Cleland (2016-17) will try to help the Adirondack Thunder rally back from a 2-0 deficit against Manchester, while 35-goal scorer J.C. Campagna (2017-18) attempts to do the same for the Fort Wayne Komets against Toledo. Kyle Bushee (2009-12) and Reid Gardiner (2017-18) have quite the challenge ahead of them, as the Kalamazoo Wings stare down Brabham Cup Champion Cincinnati, but that series is knotted at one, as it heads to Michigan. Alex Kromm (2016-17) gave former Wheeling players three division titles this season, as his Tulsa Oilers are deadlocked 1-1 with Kansas City. Finally, Hunter Fejes (2017-18) has returned to the Orlando Solar Bears, who are tied 1-1 with South Carolina.
There are also former Wheeling players who are having success coaching in the amateur ranks, led by Adam Krause (2014-17), who won an NCAA Division I National Championship as an assistant coach for his alma mater, the University of Minnesota Duluth. Scott Burt (1999-2000) has reached the conference round in the WHL as an assistant coach for the Spokane Chiefs, Ryan Kuwabara (1992-93) has reached the conference final round in the OHL as an assistant coach for the Saginaw Spirit, and Dany Sabourin (2004-05) has reached the semi-final round in the QMJHL as the goaltending coach for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
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