It didn't take Nick Sorkin long to decide to re-sign with the Nailers last summer.
The 26-year-old forward likes the city and the guys on the team, of course, and he thinks his style of play suits the Penguins' system well.
But his biggest reason for returning to Wheeling for a second season was the opportunities the team provides over most other teams in the ECHL.
Sorkin, like many other ECHL players, took notice of how many NHL players the Nailers have produced in recent years.
"You just look and see a bunch of guys that had done it before you, so it's just a good path to be on," Sorkin was telling me this week. "It's just a good organization to be a part of."
Sorkin wasn't drafted, and at 26, he's a little old to be considered a prospect. He's not on an NHL or AHL contract, but he feels that he still has an opportunity in the Penguins' organization.
"I feel like the whole organization from Pittsburgh down, they do a really good job of taking care of everybody," he said. "If you're in their organization, they definitely care. I like how they basically give everyone a fair chance and opportunity. It's a good thing."
Sorkin played for four years at the University of New Hampshire, and he likes what he's seen of how Pittsburgh has developed college players in the minor leagues in recent years. He played with Casey DeSmith for three years in college before DeSmith signed with the Nailers to be their backup goaltender. Now, he's in the NHL.
"It's good to see his hard work pay off," Sorkin said of DeSmith's success.
"They're kind of good for my style of play," he said of his linemates. "I like to score goals; everybody does. But they're both kind of natural goal-scorers and I'm kind of a playmaker. So I think that just clicks really well."
A strong two-way player, Sorkin likes the defensive responsibilities that come more with being a center, a position he hadn't played before joining the Nailers.
He spent the end of last season as Wheeling's captain, after Brett Stern was recalled to Wilkes-Barre. Wheeling may have lost current captain Derek Army for good after a recall to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Sorkin wear the "C" in coming games.
A native of Rockville, MD, Sorkin got his start in competitive hockey playing for the Washington Little Caps Bantam team. He moved on to Team Maryland in the Atlantic Youth Hockey league before leaving the state for the USHL.
Maryland isn't exactly a hockey hotbed, of course.
The state has only produced four NHLers, two of whom never played more than one game. Currently, there are only three active Maryland-born players who have even made it as far as an AHL roster.
Sorkin is one of them, and he's hoping his journey paves the way for future players like him.
"It's definitely growing, there's a lot more people playing than when I was younger," Sorkin said of Maryland hockey. "The teams are getting competitive and a lot of good players are actually coming out of Maryland if you look at Division I commitments. Jeff Halpern really paved the way for guys like me, then hopefully I pave the way for some of the younger guys."
Sorkin also credited a lot of Maryland hockey's growth to the success in recent years of the nearby Capitals, although he said they've been "a little disappointing for some of the fans."
Sorkin spends a lot of time during his summers in Maryland with his second love, golfing.
He competes in a number of amateur tournaments, most notably the prestigious U.S. Amateur Championship in Michigan two summers ago. He was eliminated after the opening rounds, but he still called the tournament an "awesome experience."
He's thought about what he wants to do after hockey, and golf has crossed his mind. Right now, though, he just wants to focus on hockey.
FEJES GETS A GORDIE HOWE
Hunter Fejes recorded the team's first Gordie Howe hat trick of the season on Saturday. Fejes assisted on a goal from Cam Brown, dropped the gloves with Reading's Matt Wilkins, and scored this goal off the faceoff win from Derek Army:
"It's a pretty cool feeling, I've never had one of those before," Fejes said of the feat during Sunday's broadcast. "You always try to accomplish something different every year, and the Gordie Howe was this one."
Fejes, a former sixth round pick of the Arizona Coyotes, is in his second full professional season, and has 29 games of AHL experience under his belt.
The 23-year-old native of Anchorage, AK has 11 goals and six assists in 21 games with the Nailers this season, including this breakaway goal last week:
MILAN'S NEW HIGH
In the last Wheeling Watch, Dan Milan talked about the work he did offensively over the offseason. He joked that he might just have a new career high in goals this season, beating his previous total of two. He tied his career high in goals last week with this goal against the Railers, and set his new career high with a goal on Sunday against the Komets:
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Nov. 22: vs. Worcester, 4-3 shootout win
• Nov. 24: at Cincinnati, 3-1 loss
• Nov. 25: vs. Worcester, 4-3 loss
• Nov. 26: at Reading, 5-1 win
• Dec. 1: vs. Reading, 4-3 loss
• Dec. 2: vs. Reading, 5-4 overtime win
• Dec. 3: vs. Fort Wayne, 3-2 loss
• Riley Bourbonnais scored his first goal of the season on Nov. 22, and Garrett Meurs and Jeff Taylor scored goals of their own. Sean Maguire made 28 saves on 31 shots, and Meurs and Fejes scored in the shootout for the win. Cody Wydo got a game misconduct for boarding during overtime.
• Wydo was suspended for the Nailers' Nov. 24 game in Cincinnati. Derek Army scored the Nailers' lone goal, and Sean Maguire made 23 saves on 26 shots for the loss.
• Goaltender Adam Morrison had his first start as a Nailer on Nov. 25 after being acquired from Rapid City in a trade for future considerations. He took the loss after making 20 saves on 24 shots. Meurs and Fejes scored for the Nailers, and Milan scored his second goal of the season.
• The Nailers dominated the Royals on Nov. 26. Fejes and Wydo both had two-goal games, and Dylan Zink scored a goal as well. Maguire made 32 saves on 33 shots for the win.
• Fejes and Wydo scored the next game against the Royals as well, and Derek Army scored a goal, but Adam Morrison took another loss after making 24 saves on 28 shots.
• With Sean Maguire recalled to Wilkes-Barre, the Nailers re-added Will King as an emergency backup goaltender. His 39 saves on 43 shots on Saturday earned the win. Zach Tolkinen opened the scoring with his first goal of the season, and added another in the second period. Fejes and Cam Brown scored in regulation, and Meurs was the Nailers' overtime hero. Meurs was suspended for two games as a result of a tripping infraction in the game, and Jeff Taylor was suspended for five games as a result of his game misconduct for leaving the bench during the brawl that ensued. This is Meurs' second suspension of the season.
• Wydo scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season on Sunday against Fort Wayne, and Milan scored his career-high third goal of the season. Morrison took another loss with 31 saves on 34 shots.
GOALS OF THE WEEK(S)
Cam Brown has been on a roll this season. His 18 assists in 21 games leads all ECHL rookies. On Saturday, he scored his third goal of the season through traffic:
Derek Army's shot will be missed by the Nailers:
Garrett Meurs had the overtime winner against Reading on Saturday, and he was all alone:
"It was kind of weird," Fejes said of Meurs' goal. "All six players went for a change so I was kind of shocked. I saw the goalie had it and I knew our players were coming off on the left side so I tried to force the goalie to make a play on the left side rather than going on the right side. Fortunately, he made a mistake and passed it right to Garrett Meurs."
SAVE OF THE WEEK(S)
Adam Morrison made this save on Sunday:
WHEELING FUN THING
The Nailers were active in the community this week:
Dalton Reum & Jeff Taylor did art projects with the students at the Silver Lining Group in St. Clairsville today. pic.twitter.com/vFm9pi1oll
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) November 28, 2017
Cody Wydo & Zach Tolkinen are serving food and hanging out with kids at the Wheeling Soup Kitchen's Just for Kidz Program. pic.twitter.com/hRu2Zqtdyf
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) November 29, 2017
Last week the Nailers had their Teddy Bear Toss game, and Johnny Daniels made his own little zamboni to help with the collection efforts. Danny Fick almost got swept away too:
JUST THE STATS
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