Freddie Tiffels is becoming quite familiar with I-80.
The 22-year-old rookie has made the drive from Wheeling to Wilkes-Barre and back to Wheeling more than anyone else in the Penguins' system this season, moving between the AHL and ECHL a total of nine times over the last three months. His latest home is Wheeling, where he's been since Feb. 1.
"It's definitely crazy," he told me of his journey this week. "I didn't even know the stat. Actually, Jeff Taylor, he told me about it a few days ago. I didn't even know how often I got called up and how often I got sent down. It's definitely confusing and crazy."
While the teams typically provide staffers to shuttle players back and forth, Tiffels prefers to drive himself, so he can be "mobile" wherever he ends up. He's built up a collection of audiobooks for the long drives, which makes his journey a bit more bearable.
"I put my brain on auto-pilot, and five and a half hours I'm there," he said. "I don't know how I do it but I get it done somehow."
While Tiffels doesn't seem to mind the drive itself too much, bouncing between teams throughout the season can be exhausting.
"Mentally, it's draining," he said. "I think you just have to battle through it and see it from a positive side."
Tiffels has made the most of his time in Wheeling, a total of 23 games this season, scoring six goals and 11 assists. He scored a goal in each game this week:
He's not discouraged by being reassigned to the ECHL, saying that his time in Wheeling has been great for building his confidence in his first professional season.
"Sitting on the bench or in the stands is not much fun, I want to play," he said. "So when I'm here, I know that I will play. I think you can only get better when you play, so I see it from a positive side and I enjoy it."
Tiffels says the message that he gets from coaches at both levels is that they want him to play and compete harder when he's in the lineup. Just as when I spoke to Tiffels earlier in the season, he said that the main areas that he wants to improve on are puck battles along the boards and his decision-making. He wants to make "safe plays" and have the coaches trust and rely on him more.
Tiffels wants to work more on breaking some of his "bad habits" in his decision-making.
"You just have to keep looking at [the habits] and try to not do the thing, and you override them with different habits. So I'm just trying to do that. And obviously I'm not perfect, but I think I'm on the right track."
His first season has been full of unpredictability, but he's taking it in stride, and focusing on what he can control himself -- his play.
"I could get a call in the next five minutes saying I go back up," he said. "I really learned just to take it day in and day out ... I can't worry about the next two weeks, I can only take care of the next 24 hours, and that's really what I want to do. My goal is to get better every day and enjoy every day, and trust that everything will be good at the end."
I asked Tiffels if he believes that his movement this season has made him appreciate the time he is in the AHL that much more. His answer was more introspective than expected, and he talked about his outlook on life overall.
"I think not even Wilkes-Barre, just in general," he said. "When things don't go your way, you really tend to focus on all the bad things in your life. Then you just have to switch your mental aspects around and just look at the good things, because there are so many good things happening. I just try to focus on the good things."
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Feb. 2: vs. Indy, 7-3 win
• Feb. 3: vs. Fort Wayne, 7-3 loss
• On Saturday, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton recalled Reid Gardiner and Troy Josephs from the Nailers. Gardiner was second on the team in scoring with 26 goals and 18 assists in 42 games. Josephs tallied 9 goals and 11 assists in his 26 games with Wheeling, including a hat trick on Friday.
• Forward Nick Sorkin was named ECHL Plus Performer of the Month for January, after leading the league with a plus-17 rating.
• Gardiner was named ECHL Rookie of the Month for January. After missing the first four games of January while recalled to Wilkes-Barre, Gardiner recorded an incredible 12 goals and 3 assists in only 10 games. Gardiner was previously named ECHL Rookie of the Month in October.
• The Nailers signed Pittsburgh native Tyler Murovich on Saturday. Murovich, 28, is in his ninth season of professional hockey and third stint with the Nailers, previously playing in Wheeling during the 2010-11 and 2014-15 seasons. The Mt. Lebanon High School graduate scored 22 goals and 20 assists in 54 games with the Atlanta Gladiators last season.
• The Nailers' seven goals scored on Friday ties a season high, the third time they have scored seven goals in a game this season. Josephs scored a hat trick, Chris Francis scored twice, and Kevin Schulze and Tiffels each scored.
• Conversely, the Nailers' seven goals allowed on Saturday is the most goals allowed in a single game all season. Adam Morrison was in net for the entire game, and made 32 saves on 39 shots.
• At 21 percent, the Nailers' power play still ranks first in the league.
• After this week, the Nailers’ record of 26-18-4-0 puts them in a three-way tie for second place in the North Division.
• The Nailers will host the Toledo Walleye (29-12-2-2) on Tuesday. They'll then travel to Orlando for a three-game series against the Solar Bears (20-20-5-1) on Friday, Saturday and Monday.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Troy Josephs gets the nod for his hat trick on Friday:
SAVE OF THE WEEK
Morrison flashes the glove in Friday's win:
WHEELING FUN THING
Alfonso Ribeiro dropped the puck for the '90s Night game on Friday. I don't know what's better: Those jerseys, or the Carlton dance:
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) February 2, 2018
— Indy Fuel (@IndyFuel) February 3, 2018
To continue reading, log into your account: