Wheeling coach Jeff Christian said this past offseason that one of the Nailers' goals for the season was to put the "fear of God" into visiting teams when they come into WesBanco Arena.
Dan Milan helps bring that.
The 25-year-old defenseman, signed in August, is in his sixth season of professional hockey, now with his fifth ECHL team. He has a reputation around the league as a big, physical agitator, part of the reason he seems to be a fan favorite wherever he goes.
"I like to bring an edge," Milan told me of his style of play. "You know, stir the pot a little bit. I like to play physical. I like to irritate other guys on the other team, top players on the other team, get them off their game. Then, you know, if I have to answer the bell, then I do so."
The team pursued Milan in the offseason, but it didn't take much to convince him to sign in Wheeling. The Nailers' reputation of developing future NHLers like Carter Rowney, Tom Kühnhackl and Josh Archibald in recent years makes Wheeling the place to be for many ECHL players.
"It's a good place to develop and at the same time it's not a place where it's the end of the road, right? It's a place where you can get called up, and there's still a chance," Milan explained.
Milan began his professional career on an entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning after attending their development camp. During that time he only played one game in the AHL.
Even players like Milan, who aren't on an NHL or even an AHL contract, feel like they have a shot in the Penguins' organization. The reason for that, Milan says, is Pittsburgh's unique close relationship with their ECHL affiliate.
"I've been to some places where yes, they might be affiliated with an NHL team, but there's not a whole lot of communication," he said. "Or if there is, maybe there's a coach that's not pushing for you to make it to the next level. (The Penguins) are always in contact, and there's just a close relationship. That's what Wheeling's been known for. Out of all the teams in the league, Wheeling has the best reputation for that."
Milan was already familiar with the Penguins' system and the way the organization is run, as he attended Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's camp ahead of the 2016-17 season. There were other reasons, though, that he wanted to play in Wheeling.
"The best name in hockey," he said. "Along with the best logo I've seen in minor-pro sports."
Milan has yet to drop the gloves this season, but he's been one of the team's solid shutdown defensemen, delivering heavy hits and blocking shots. He's one of the leaders on the blue line, a role Christian asked him to fill in the offseason. He even found his way onto the scoresheet, netting a goal in Tuesday's win over Adirondack:
Milan spent last season with the Fort Wayne Komets, scoring one goal in 61 games. He spent two seasons with the Wichita Thunder prior to that as an alternate captain, scoring one goal during his time there.
Milan said that he spent more time this summer working on his shot, practicing shooting from different angles and creating lanes for himself on the ice. "I'm not going to say, 'Yeah, this could be my career high in goals,'" he laughed, "But at the same time I think the most I've had in pro hockey is maybe two in a season? I don't know. I'd like to think so, but we'll see."
Away from the ice, one of Milan's main interests is fashion. He taught himself how to sew in high school and has been creating his own designs ever since:
[caption id="attachment_482876" align="aligncenter" width="512"] Some of Milan's creations. -- DAN MILAN / INSTAGRAM[/caption]
"Through high school, I used to make my own jeans," he said. "I didn't want to have to go to Abercrombie and buy jeans that were 120 bucks when I could just go to Target and get some jeans for 30 bucks and put rips in them and distress them myself."
Milan visits thrift stores, finds interesting pieces of clothing and recreates them into something new, with his own style. He names designer Jerry Lorenzo and rappers A$AP Rocky and Kanye West as some of his main influences, but everything he creates has his own unique flair.
"I actually have this denim coat," he said. "I found two at the same time, and I took the one and I cut it in half like right underneath the arms, and I attached that part of the coat onto the other coat and I turned it into basically a trench coat. I wrote some of my own quotes on it ... I feel like that was the coolest thing I've created."
[caption id="attachment_482880" align="aligncenter" width="513"] Milan's denim trench coat. -- DAN MILAN / INSTAGRAM[/caption]
He showcases many of his pieces on his Instagram, appropriately named "Stylin' Milan".
No one on the Nailers has asked for one of his creations yet, but he's designed clothes for teammates in the past. "A couple guys on the team last year, I made some jeans for 'em. Instead of getting money for it, I would have my groceries paid for."
TIFFELS KEEPS GOING
Freddie Tiffels continued to impress in Wheeling after being re-assigned by Wilkes-Barre on Nov. 9. After a goal and two assists in his first three games in Wheeling, he added two goals and one assist in the game on Tuesday.
He's been clicking with linemate Garrett Meurs. Meurs set Tiffels up for the first goal of the game:
He scored the Nailers' sixth goal of the game in the third period, assisted by Meurs and Cam Brown:
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Nov. 14: vs. Adirondack, 6-4 win
• Nov. 17: at Norfolk, 6-2 win
• Nov. 18: at Norfolk, 4-1 loss
• The Nailers had a big 6-3 win in front of thousands of screaming kids last Tuesday morning for their Education Day game. Tiffels and Cody Wydo had two-goal games, Milan scored his first goal of the season, and captain Derek Army scored his fourth goal of the season. Sean Maguire made 34 saves on 38 shots, including stopping a penalty shot when the Nailers trailed 2-1 in the second period.
• The Nailers allowed an early goal in Norfolk on Friday, but scored six goals of their own over the next 50 minutes in their 6-2 victory. Reid Gardiner tallied his 11th goal of the season, and Wydo scored his third goal of the week a few minutes later. Jeff Taylor and Dylan Zink scored their first professional goals, and Army and Meurs secured the win with goals of their own. Maguire earned another win with 36 saves on 38 shots. Wheeling's penalty kill, once the worst in the league, was perfect on three opportunities.
• Wheeling saw its three-game win streak come to an end on Saturday, losing 4-1 in Norfolk. Backup goaltender Will King made 30 saves on 34 shots in the loss, and Meurs had the lone Nailers goal of the game. Wheeling was scoreless on seven power play opportunities.
• After this week, the Nailers lead the North Division with a 9-3-2-0 record.
• The Nailers have a busy week ahead. They host the Worcester Railers (7-6-1-0) on Wednesday. They'll travel to Cincinnati on Friday for an afternoon game against the Cyclones (7-5-1-0), then host another Nailers-Railers matchup on Saturday. Wheeling travels to Reading on Sunday to face the division-rival Royals (7-5-1-0).
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Gardiner made it look easy on Friday:
Wydo's one-timer was an absolute laser:
Garrett Meurs had a great rush up ice for this goal on Saturday, his ninth of the season:
SAVE OF THE WEEK
Maguire was solid in Friday's win in Norfolk. This glove save kept it a close game:
WHEELING FUN THING
Last season's Nailers' captain, Brett Stern, retired over the summer to start a company specializing in outdoor equipment. His caption on this Instagram post gives some insight into how his Fridays have changed:
This graceful move also deserves a look:
JUST THE STATS
To continue reading, log into your account: