Wheeling Watch: Jaynen Rissling looks up to ‘fireball’ uncle Gary


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Jaynen Rissling. - Zack Rawson / Wheeling Nailers Gary Rissling. - Southpaw / Twitter

One of the all-time fan favorites to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their 51 seasons was pest Gary Rissling.

Rissling played for the Penguins only for parts of five seasons, mostly during the dark pre-Mario years. He won over Penguins fans with his crazy on-ice antics, from his chirps during the games to picking fights with players much taller than his 5-foot-9 self. He managed to record a whopping 832 penalty minutes in only 184 games in a Penguin uniform.

His toothless smile and over-the-top facial expressions added to his charm, and made him the star of many Penguins television commercials over those years:

Now, his nephew Jaynen Rissling is trying to carve out his own path in the Penguins organization.

A former draft pick of the Washington Capitals (coincidentally, the organization in which his uncle Gary also got his start), the Wheeling Nailers acquired Jaynen in a Oct. 30 trade with the Allen Americans.

Gary was excited for Jaynen to be joining the Penguins' organization, and Jaynen was excited to be joining a team with the reputation the Nailers have around the league.

"I had heard nothing but good things about Wheeling from guys that have played there before," he told me. "When I came here, the room is great, guys are good, we've got a good group of guys. They treat us really well, so it's nice."

Jaynen, 24, is too young to remember his uncle's playing days. But being close to Pittsburgh, he's gotten a feel for how popular Gary was, saying that it's "cool that his name's still got some resonance." He's kept an eye out for some Rissling jerseys at the Penguins games he's been able to attend, but he hasn't seen any yet.

Jaynen wasn't aware of Gary's on-camera antics, but laughed at the idea of his "no-teeth smile on TV." After I sent over a clip for him to watch, he only had one comment, showing that the chirps run in the family:

"I didn’t know he ever had hair."

Don't expect Jaynen to be Gary 2.0, though. Once a left wing like his uncle, Jaynen has now transitioned to a defenseman. At 6-foot-4, Jaynen is a bit taller than his uncle.

"We've got different styles," he said, laughing about their seven-inch height difference.

When Jaynen was in the Capitals organization, Gary was in attendance for a development camp practice, and made some observations on his nephew's style of play. “He’s a lot bigger than me,” Gary said, stating the obvious. “I don’t think I’d like to tangle with a guy like that. I used to yap at guys like that and run the other way.”

After the Nailers traded for Jaynen, head coach Jeff Christian called him a "big, physical defenseman, who plays a gritty style, and also has some offensive upside to his game."

With no fights yet this season and only four last season, dropping the gloves isn't as big of a part of Jaynen's game as it was his uncle's. Jaynen considers his skating to be one of his main strengths, something that is uncommon for a player of his size.

"It's something that I've really worked on over the last few years quite substantially," he said of his skating.

"I think it's gotten a lot better. I feel like I can actually keep up out there now," he laughed.

Jaynen has quite the shot, too. Just see for yourself in this goal from Saturday:

Despite their differences, Jaynen still looks up to Gary as a player, even if he might have to look down at him off the ice.

"If I was told that I look like I reminded somebody of him, that would probably be the biggest compliment ever," he said. "He's just a little fireball on the ice, nobody liked him. That's a compliment, when nobody likes you."


• Jan. 3: at. Norfolk, 3-2 loss
• Jan. 5: vs. Manchester, 7-4 win
• Jan. 6: at Cincinnati, 4-2 loss
• Jan. 7: vs. Fort Wayne, 4-2 win

• The Nailers traded their leading goal-scorer, 23-year-old Hunter Fejes (16 goals, 11 assists in 32 games) to the Orlando Solar Bears in a three-way trade that got them 28-year-old veteran Chris Francis (three goals, three assists in 11 games) and Michael Turner (two goals in nine games). Fejes promptly scored a hat trick in only his second game with his new team. Francis has scored another three goals and three assists since the trade.

Christian talked about his reasoning for the trade with The Intelligencer. "We had to give up a lot with Fejes to get a lot,” he said. “We just felt like we needed a centerman who could distribute the puck and he has paid dividends early.”

• Cody Wydo was named to the North Division roster for the 2018 ECHL All-Star Classic. All teams have one representative, except the host team Indy Fuel. If Wydo is still in Wilkes-Barre when the game takes place on Jan. 15, rookie Cam Brown has made a strong case to be his replacement.

• With Wydo still in the AHL, Brown's four points this week (two goals, two assists) propelled him to become the team's new leading scorer, with 34 points.

• With a record of 18-15-3-0, the Nailers are in fourth place in the North Division. At 21.1 percent, the power play still ranks as the best in the league.

• The Nailers will play three games at home this week. The division rival Adirondack Thunder (20-14-1-2) will be in town on Wednesday, and the Norfolk Admirals (13-17-2-1) will be in town Friday and Saturday.


Riley Bourbonnais scored a hat trick in Friday's win:


Adam Morrison made 33 saves on Saturday, including this one through traffic:


Will King was on Wheeling's WTRF-7 News talking about what it's like to be a goaltender. You can watch that here.

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