Often times throughout the course of an ECHL season, players on ECHL-level contracts will earn tryouts with AHL clubs outside of the organization.
Rookie Cam Brown was one of those players for the Nailers this season, earning a tryout contract with the Springfield Thunderbirds on Feb. 14. After a 13-game stint, his first taste of AHL hockey, Brown was released from his contract and returned to Wheeling this week.
Brown recorded one assist and one goal during his time in the AHL, scoring a goal at home in only his second game with Springfield.
The experience, while shorter than Brown would have liked, provided that much more motivation to earn another opportunity in the AHL.
"I think just since I got that taste, I learned a lot and I think I could even perform better if I end up getting a chance again," Brown told me. "I think I know what to expect and I know what things are going to be like. It could be a little bit of a smoother adjustment."
Brown, who turned 25 on Sunday, had a lot of takeaways from his time in Springfield, most notably the amount of work it takes to stay a regular in the lineup at that level.
"Every day you have to put the work in," he said. "You have to perform your best every day or your job is on the line. Being consistent is the biggest thing I noticed at that level, guys being able to do it day in and day out no matter what the circumstance."
Brown hasn't struggled to put up the points in the ECHL. He's producing at almost a point-per-game pace, with 14 goals and 31 assists in 50 games. At the time of Brown's recall, he was the league-leader in assists among all rookies. Making plays is not his weakness. An area of his game that he'd like to work on, though, before he gets another shot at the AHL is his overall two-way game, and becoming more sound defensively.
For now, Brown is turning his focus back to Wheeling and hopefully a run at the Kelly Cup. He was happy to be reunited with his teammates after being away from the team for a month.
"I think it was just good to see the boys," he said. "It's good to be in the locker room where I know all the guys so well. It was fun to be back."
He scored in his third game back in Wheeling, in Saturday's game against Cincinnati:
In these final games of the season, just as with his own game, Brown would like to see the Nailers improve their defensive play before the regular season ends. The Nailers have the sixth-most goals scored this season with a total of 229, but that offensive success has not always translated into wins because they've allowed nearly as many goals all season, with 227.
Brown says that Wheeling's veterans, guys like Cody Wydo and Danny Fick, are especially helpful this time of year because of their playoff experience.
"Those guys have been around and they know what it takes, what we have to do each and every day and what we have to do in practice to get better and reach that level, and hopefully the final round," Brown said.
Unlike many of the other young players on the Nailers roster, Brown has ECHL playoff experience himself. He made his professional debut last season with the Adirondack Thunder following the conclusion of his senior season at the University of Maine. Brown played nine games to finish out the regular season, and then in the first round of the playoffs as Adirondack was eliminated in the first round by Manchester.
Although it was a short run, Brown feels like he knows what to expect -- both from the intensity of the games, and from a potential matchup.
"We actually ended up playing Manchester in the first round that year, and we might end up playing either Manchester or Adirondack here this year," Brown said. "I think it will be pretty cool, and help with the adjustment. The level of play definitely increases a lot.
"There's a lot on the line when the playoffs start."
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Mar. 21: vs. Worcester, 1-0 shootout win
• Mar. 23: vs. Brampton, 4-3 win
• Mar. 24: vs. Cincinnati, 3-2 overtime loss
• Derek Army is on the move again, recalled to Tucson at the beginning of the week. If Army stays in Tucson, his experience will surely be missed as Wheeling makes this push for the playoffs.
• Defenseman Kevin Schulze was released from his tryout agreement with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and returned to Wheeling.
• Chris Francis was the star of the week, scoring the lone shootout goal in Wednesday's game, then tallying a goal in each of this weekend's games, bringing his season goal total to 10.
• Per the team's broadcaster and Director of Media/Community Relations DJ Abisalih, Wednesday was the third 1-0 shootout win in Nailers team history, the last being Dec. 27, 2002.
• Adam Morrison started in Wednesday and Friday's wins. He made 28 saves to shut out Worcester, then 37 saves on 40 shots against Brampton.
• The Nailers took a big blow on Saturday when leading-scorer Cody Wydo left the game after a hit in the first period. An irate head coach Jeff Christian told The Intelligencer after the game that "It's not good. If that takes him out for the season, whether a broken clavicle, separated shoulder, whatever, it's a joke."
• After this week, the Nailers remain in fourth place in the North Division, the final playoff spot in the division, now with a five-point lead over the Worcester Railers. They only trail the third-place Reading Royals by three points. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot is nine.
• The Nailers (33-25-8-1) have three games this week to close out the month of March. They'll host Cincinnati again on Tuesday (36-27-3-0). They'll visit the league-leading Toledo Walleye (47-16-3-2) on Friday, and host the division-leading Manchester Monarchs (40-21-3-2), a likely first-round playoff matchup, on Saturday for their final home game of the season.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Chris Francis recorded a goal in each of this weekend's games:
Defenseman Kevin Spinozzi scored his first professional goal on Friday. Spinozzi played 16 games for Wilkes-Barre this season before being sent down to Wheeling on Mar. 9.
Ayrton Valente, signed as a free agent out of SUNY-Plattsburgh in February, scored his first professional goal this week as well:
SAVE OF THE WEEK
Matt O'Connor (property of the Nashville Predators, in Wheeling because Nashville does not have an ECHL affiliate) made this stop on Saturday:
WHEELING FUN THING
Chris Francis and Garrett Meurs made a visit to Reynolds Memorial Hospital:
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) March 24, 2018
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