Danny Fick is one of the more veteran presences on this year's Nailers team.
The 26 year-old defenseman isn't the oldest guy on the team, but he's definitely one of the most experienced.
Fick is in his third full season with the Nailers, save for a short two-game stint with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage near the end of last season. He spent four years on Harvard's team, earning a degree in Economics, and spent a season playing in Norway following his senior year. In 2015, Fick signed with the Nailers. That season the team went on a historic run, as the Nailers made their first ever trip to the Kelly Cup Finals, falling to the Allen Americans in six games.
"It was a blast," Fick told me of that run. "I've never had more fun playing hockey than that. It was just something different. I had never played a Game 7 before, and we played in two and won both of them."
Last season, Fick and the Nailers just barely missed the playoffs. Many of those players returned for this season, in addition to a few ECHL rookies out of college hockey and the SPHL. Most of the Nailers have never been a part of a playoff run in professional hockey.
Fick thinks that the 2016 run gave him valuable experience, and has allowed him to pass some wisdom on to the less experienced Nailers.
"I definitely think that long of a run in the playoffs is going to give you the ability to know what it takes to get that far in the playoffs, and the ability to know what it takes just to get to the playoffs," he said. "That year  we barely sneaked in and ended up making a really good run. I kind of use that experience. I tell the younger guys that you got to take it one game at a time, and every game is going to be a battle."
When I spoke to Ross McMullan recently, Fick's roommate and fellow shutdown defenseman, McMullan said that being around Fick has been a great help to his own game.
"I know Danny went on that extended run two years ago, but I've never really gone on a playoff run at all," McMullan said. "I think I've gotten better just living with and learning from the guys who aren't too different from me, and are having success. I think those guys definitely benefit me, I'm around them all the time and have been for the past two years and you kind of emulate what they do."
As good as the 2016 team was, Fick thinks this team might just be better, calling it the "most skilled" team they've had since he's been a part of the organization. The Nailers are currently clinging to the fourth and final playoff position in the North Division standings, on pace to finish with a slightly lesser record than the 2016 team.
Fick might be right that this team could be the most skilled Wheeling has had in three years. The problem, though, is that Wheeling has been hit especially hard by the injury bug and losing players to callups, as well as ten trades this season. Some players who have stuck around have been moved from defense to forward and back again, filling in where the team has holes. The team has used an absurd 54 different players this season, the most in a single season in Nailers history.
As you can imagine, such circumstances aren't the most conducive to building team chemistry.
"It's kind of hard somewhat to get consistency in the locker room," Fick said of the team's roster this season. "I think going down the stretch it'll be a little bit less ... I think we just need to come together here and string some wins together and battle for the playoffs."
Fick thinks he's gotten better for the Nailers over the years, too.
"My No. 1 strength is probably my compete level. I work pretty hard," he said.
He said that he's also improved at getting involved in the play and creating offense, specifically the breakout passes to start a rush. Fick has set a new career high in assists this season, with 17 through 60 games. He also has three goals of his own so far, matching his totals from both of his previous seasons.
This goal came this week:
His nickname on the team and among Nailers fans is "Officer Fick," mostly because he drives around an old police car, which also led to him dressing as a policeman for Halloween in the past.
"Partly that," he said of the story behind his nickname, "Partly because I'm an older guy with a more stern presence, I suppose."
I asked how exactly the police car came about or why he chose that, and I got a very Fick-like answer.
"Just a good deal."
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Mar. 7: vs. Worcester, 5-2 win
• Mar. 9: vs. Reading, 4-3 overtime win
• Mar. 10: vs. Reading, 6-3 loss
• This week, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton reassigned defensemen Kevin Spinozzi and Dylan Zink to Wheeling. Additionally, the Tucson Roadrunners reassigned Derek Army to Wheeling again. Army was recalled to Tucson last week, but he did not appear in a game. Because Wheeling owns his ECHL rights, Army came back to Wheeling instead of Tucson's ECHL affiliate.
• The Nailers released defenseman Jerry Laakso, and forwards Daniel Tedesco and Marcus Basara. J.C. Campagna was dealt to the Allen Americans, completing a trade from earlier in the season. Nolan Descoteaux was sent to the Wichita Thunder in exchange for cash considerations.
• Wheeling signed goaltender Danny Tirone out of the University of New Hampshire. Tirone was the goaltender that UNH brought in to take over the starting role after senior starting goaltender Casey DeSmith was kicked off the team for assaulting his girlfriend in 2014.
• If this seems like an absurd amount of transactions, it is. As mentioned above, Wheeling used their 54th player of the season this week, a new single-season record.
• Garrett Meurs scored his 20th goal of the season, making him the fourth Nailer to accomplish the feat, following Cody Wydo, Reid Gardiner, and Riley Bourbonnais. The Nailers are the first team to have four 20-goal scorers this season.
• Freddie Tiffels scored three goals this week, bringing his season total to 14.
• After this week, the Nailers are still in fourth place in the North Division, the final playoff spot of the division. With only a 3-4-2-1 record in their last 10 games, they'll need to get to work if they want to stay in that spot.
• The Nailers (31-24-6-1) will have two big divisional road games this week. They'll see the Worcester Railers (27-25-4-3) on Friday, the team chasing them for the final playoff spot. They'll see the Adirondack Thunder (34-21-3-4) on Saturday, the second-place team in the division.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Matt Abt scored his first professional goal on Friday. He signed with the Nailers this week following the conclusion of his senior season at RIT.
Troy Josephs was the overtime hero that night, though. He had three points on Friday, assisting on the opening and game-tying goals:
With an influx of forwards rejoining the team, Ross McMullan's services were no longer needed at forward, and he was moved back to defense. That hasn't stopped him from scoring, though. This goal came on Wednesday:
WHEELING FUN THING
The Stanley Cup and Keeper of the Cup Philip Pritchard were at the Nailers game on Saturday night for their Penguins promotional night.
— Philip Pritchard (@keeperofthecup) March 11, 2018
My friends and I saw Pritchard after the game and we spoke for a bit. He said he'd see us again in June in Pittsburgh on home ice. What a guy.
Now, for something a bit different. The Nailers held a Ladies Night this week.
Personally, I think that these gimmicks always have a weird feel to them, they always seem to be patronizing and enforce the inaccurate stereotype that women need to be drawn to sporting events by something other than the actual sport itself, like wine. Or, even worse, courses on the basics of the sport. Women don't need to be pandered to like they're different than other sports fans.
It's far from the worst thing women face in sports culture. I know that not everyone feels the same way as I do, and some people probably don't care at all about drinking pregame wine in pink jerseys. But I wanted to make my thoughts clear.
That aside, I thought Zach Tolkinen's response joking about this Dan Milan video was funny.
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) March 9, 2018
Can’t. Stop. Watching. I’m in.
— Zach Tolkinen (@Tolks27) March 9, 2018
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