WHEELING, WV- The Wheeling Nailers, proud ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, are excited to announce that Ryan Kuwabara has been named the team's new Assistant Coach.
"We are thrilled to welcome Ryan back to Wheeling to be our assistant coach," said Nailers President & Governor Brian Komorowski. "Ryan has enjoyed tremendous success as both a player and a coach, which we believe will be a key piece, as we look to put a winning team on the ice. We also couldn't ask for a better scenario than to have two former Wheeling players on our coaching staff, as they understand how much the community means to this team."
Kuwabara, 49, joins the Wheeling organization for the second time in his career, as he first came to town as a player on the inaugural 1992-93 team, which reached the Riley Cup Final. Ryan was a point-per-game player with the Thunderbirds, as he racked up 20 points in 18 regular season contests, then added 13 points in 16 playoff games. After one more season in North America with the AHL's Fredericton Canadiens, Kuwabara took his talents to Japan, as he played eight seasons for Kokudo of the Japanese Ice Hockey League, in addition to competing for Team Japan in international competitions. In addition to winning five JIHL championships and two World Championships, one of Ryan's biggest highlights was scoring two goals for Japan in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Another large moment for Kuwabara came five years later in 2002-03, as he won an Ice Hockey Superleague Championship with the Belfast Giants. Ryan concluded his playing career with five more years in Japan, then one year each in Korea and Canada.
"Ryan Kuwabara has a great hockey background with lots of valuable experience both as a coach and as a player," said Nailers Head Coach Derek Army. "He and I have already started to build a relationship, and I can tell that he has a great demeanor, which will work well with our players. I love that Ryan is a former Thunderbird, who embraces Wheeling, and both of us have unfinished business to take care of."
In 2010, the Hamilton, Ontario native turned to coaching, and he began that venture in his hometown as an assistant coach for the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs U15 AAA team. Kuwabara then moved on to the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he served as head coach and general manager for the Stoney Creek Warriors and Ancaster Avalanche. The Avalanche qualified for the playoffs in all four seasons under Ryan and reached the conference semifinals three times. In 2017, Kuwabara made the jump to the Ontario Hockey League, where he spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the Saginaw Spirit, then one season as an associate coach with the Flint Firebirds. The Spirit won the West Division title in 2018-19, and came one win away from reaching the J. Ross Robertson Cup Final, while the Firebirds were in second place in the West Division in 2019-20, when the season was abruptly ended due to the pandemic. During the 2018-19 season, Ryan received another honor, as he was named to Team Canada's coaching staff for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
"It is a little surreal - you never think you'll go back to a place where you played," Kuwabara said. "We had a really good team when I was in Wheeling in 1992-93, and the fans recognized that quickly, as they packed the arena and cheered extremely loudly. It was fantastic to have that support. As a coach, I like to be open and honest, and treat the players how I like to be treated. I think the fact that Derek and I both played here is a great recruiting tool, because we can create a strong culture, which will translate onto the ice, and ultimately give us a chance to bring the Kelly Cup home to Wheeling."
Ryan Kuwabara and the Wheeling Nailers will begin the team's 30th season in Fort Wayne on October 23rd, before the team plays its home opener against the Komets on Saturday, November 6th at 7:10. Season memberships are available, and fans can get more information by calling (304) 234-GOAL. The Wheeling Nailers, considered one of the top things to do in Wheeling, West Virginia, provide affordable family entertainment for fans throughout the Ohio Valley.