Jeremy Beirnes isn't your typical prospect.
An ECHL rookie at 29 years old, he's not exactly playing to earn a callup. His focus isn't on getting an AHL deal, or leading the team in scoring.
But, he still has an important job within the Wheeling Nailers, and plays a role in the team developing talent, and hopefully future Penguins. Beirnes is the Nailers' enforcer.
"The job of an enforcer is to make sure all the guys on your team are able to play the game the way they can play the game without harm," he told me of his role on the team. "Other agitators are dirty players. We want to make sure these guys are able to do their job and produce like they're supposed to."
"I'm an energy guy," he continued. "First things first for me is being a good teammate, and make sure the guys know I'm always there for them. I can play a hard, physical game, and agitate the opponent a little bit. If it comes down to it, mix it up and drop the gloves when you have to."
Beirnes has dropped the gloves 16 times this season, one fight shy of the league lead. For much of the first half of the season, Beirnes spent more time on the bench, keeping an eye on the action and being deployed when an opposing player needed to be held accountable for a hit.
It can actually be very entertaining to watch Beirnes on the bench during the game, his antics and facial expressions while he's yapping at the other team are fun to watch. There's no shortage of great shots from the (very talented) Nailers team photographer Zack Rawson:
"Sometimes it looks like it's a lot more than it is," he laughed when I asked about what he's yelling throughout the games. "Sometimes you're just letting them know that 'No, that's not an acceptable play you just made there. Do it again and you might have to answer for it.' You know, I'm a passionate guy, a lot of passion. That obviously comes out in the games."
That's more of a PG way to put it, I think.
Not surprisingly, Beirnes says that one of his favorite players to watch right now, and someone that he tries to mold his own game after, is Ryan Reaves. He likes that Reaves, at 6-foot-1, isn't "overly big" like some other enforcers since Beirnes is only 6 feet tall himself.
"He's a guy not too many guys want to tangle with," he said about Reaves. "Just his presence alone when he's on the ice, guys typically stay away from him. They're not going to take a run at Sidney Crosby, or Kessel or Malkin or any of those guys."
Wheeling is playing with more of a depleted lineup throughout February, losing players to Wilkes-Barre or other AHL teams. As a result, Beirnes is seeing an increased role with the team. He's happy to see his teammates move forward in their careers, but he's also happy to take advantage of the extra playing time in Wheeling.
"That's great for those guys," he said. "It hurts the team a little bit, obviously, but it gives every other guy an opportunity to step up and get the job done. I've been playing a few more minutes than normal, but I like it, I enjoy it."
Despite the extra minutes, Beirnes' role is the same. You probably won't see him really racking up the points any time soon.
"I'm not much of a point-producer, I guess you could say," he laughed about his game.
He hasn't stayed off the scoresheet entirely though, recording two assists and two goals this season, including this goal against Brampton:
Beirnes' age and experience -- college hockey in Canada, the SPHL, a stint in Australia -- allows him to also take on a leadership role within the team, even if he's considered a rookie in the ECHL.
"As an older guy I just try to come in and make sure that the young guys are feeling confident," he said. "I make sure that they're level-headed. If they're straying away I just calm them down and say, 'Hey, it's a long season, just get back to the basics.'"
Like many enforcers, Beirnes' aggressive, "tough guy" persona on the ice doesn't carry over off the ice. He's popular among his teammates, and if this promo from his time with the SPHL's Huntsville Havoc is any indication, he's funny, too:
As far as his goals for the rest of the season, Beirnes is already looking forward to a playoff run and a shot at bringing Wheeling its first Kelly Cup.
"I think the biggest goal is making sure that myself and the guys are playing our best hockey going into the playoffs," he said. "No. 1, putting ourselves where we're in a position to be a good seed in a playoff run, but also playing the best hockey we can in the playoffs. You never want to peak too soon, hopefully we can hit our potential when the playoffs come."
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Feb. 6: vs. Toledo, 6-2 loss
• Feb. 9: at Orlando, 5-2 loss
• Feb. 11: at Orlando, 6-5 win
• Feb. 12: at Orlando, 4-1 win
• Feb. 16: vs. Fort Wayne, 4-3 loss
• Feb. 17: vs. Cincinnati, postponed
• Feb. 18: at Reading, 6-0 loss
• Nailers assistant coach Riley Armstrong was named head coach of the Maine Mariners, an ECHL expansion team for the 2018-19 season.
— Maine Mariners Hockey (@MarinersOfMaine) February 17, 2018
Jay Spess was named Armstrong's replacement. Spess previously worked in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, doing rehabilitation work with injured players and working with local players like Pat McGrath during the offseason.
• Aside from the coaching changes, the Nailers were involved in a number of moves over the past two weeks. Brace yourselves:
- Forward Cam Brown signed a professional tryout agreement with the AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds on Wednesday.
- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton recalled forwards Cody Wydo and Freddie Tiffels from Wheeling on Thursday. Tiffels' recall was his 10th roster move of the season. At the time of Wydo's recall, he was on a 12-game point streak and the team's leading scorer.
- The moves continued on Saturday, when Wilkes-Barre recalled defensemen Jeff Taylor, Dylan Zink, and Kevin Schulze.
- On Friday, it was announced that the Nailers signed forwards Bryan Arneson and Ryan Marcuz. Both players attended Wheeling's training camp, and have since been playing with the SPHL's Mississippi RiverKings.
- Wheeling signed forward Matt Harrington and defenseman Sean Gammage later in the week, also out of the SPHL
- Goaltender Colin Stevens was released from his tryout contract with the AHL's Binghamton Devils and was returned to the Nailers. Goaltender Will King was released in a subsequent move.
- The Nailers made two trades this week. They acquired forward Marcus Basara from the Allen Americans (seven points in 22 games) and forward Tyler Vankleef from the Wichita Thunder (one goal in four games). Both trades were in exchange for future considerations.
• The Nailers' game against Cincinnati on Feb. 17 was postponed due to flooding in Wheeling. The game will be made up on March 27th.
• 2016-17 Nailer Milos Bubela is representing Slovakia in the Olympics. He has one goal in three games, a redirect goal in Slovakia's shootout loss to Slovenia:
• Jaynen Rissling's sister Alysia is representing Canada in the Olympics in bobsleigh and will compete today, Feb. 20. Jaynen, nephew of Gary Rissling, spoke about his sister's success during Friday's intermission broadcast.
"I'm very excited for her," he said. "She was on the Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole show the other day, so that was kinda cool seeing her on the panel there ... She's a pretty strong cat. She can definitely out-lift me in the gym. Lower-body. Upper-body, I think I got her. Lower-body, she's pretty strong. I guess that's what they need for the push."
• After this week, the Nailers’ record of 28-22-4-0 ranks them fourth in the North Division, the last playoff spot in the division. They have a nine-point lead over the fifth-place Worcester Railers, and are only two points behind the second-place Adirondack Thunder.
• The Nailers will continue a long series of road trips, with their next home game not coming until Mar. 7. They'll only play two games this week, a rare slow week. They'll play the Kalamazoo Wings (26-21-3-2) on Wednesday, and the Adirondack Thunder (29-20-2-2) on Sunday.
GOALS OF THE WEEK(S)
Cody Wydo scored this shorthanded goal before being recalled to Wilkes-Barre:
Bryan Arneson scored a goal in his first game with the Nailers:
Defensemen Rissling and McMullan teamed up for this goal on Friday after being moved to forward:
WHEELING FUN THING
Dan Milan designed a suit for Beirnes after Beirnes was the loser in a practice shootout (Hey, he did tell me he's "never been a player that oozed talent"). Earlier this season, I wrote about Milan's love for clothing design:
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) February 9, 2018
This Full House style promo is hilarious. The more awkward, the better:
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