Wheeling

Nailers finalize opening roster

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Head coach Mike Bavis speaks to the team. -- ZACK RAWSON / WHEELING NAILERS

Final 23-man opening rosters for ECHL teams were due Wednesday afternoon, and the Nailers announced their roster on Thursday.

The Nailers' roster is comprised of 25 players - 13 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders. The Nailers roster is larger than the 23-man limit because defensemen Aaron Titcomb and Robbie Hall begin the season on the reserve list, defenseman Brien Diffley is on injured reserve, and forward Winston Day Chief is on bereavement leave following the death of his grandfather.

These are the players on the final roster:

3 D Aaron Titcomb
4 F Alex Rauter
5 D Dan Fick
7 F Tyler Bird
11 F Christian Isackson
12 F Renars Krastenbergs
13 F Nick Saracino
14 F Cedric Lacroix
15 F Eliot Grauer
16 D Craig Skudalski
17 F Winston Day Chief
19 F Mark Petaccio
20 D Johnny Austin
21 F Cam Brown
22 D Kevin Spinozzi
23 F Michael Phillips
24 D Josh Couturier
25 F Brad Drobot
26 D Brien Diffley
27 F Zac Lynch
28 D Dane Birks
30 G Matt O'Connor
31 G Evan Cowley
35 G Danny Tirone
37 D Robbie Hall

One player noticeably absent from the list is Japanese forward Yush Hirano. Hirano, who is signed to an ECHL contract, is still in the process of getting his immigration approved. The Nailers expect Hirano to join the team "in the coming weeks".

Defenseman Dane Birks is currently the only roster player on an NHL contract. The 23-year-old was the Penguins' sixth-round draft choice in 2013, and will be playing in his first full professional season this year.

Five players -- defensemen Dan Fick and Kevin Spinozzi, forward Cam Brown, and goaltenders Matt O'Connor and Danny Tirone are the team's only returning players. Fick is entering his fourth season in Wheeling, and will likely become the Nailers' all-time games-played leader this season. That distinction currently belongs to former Nailer Stefan Brännare, who played 231 games in Wheeling. Fick is 39 games away, with 192 games on his resume.

30-year-old Winston Day Chief has the most professional experience on the team, with 262 games, all in the ECHL or CHL, aside from a 13-game stint for MAC Budapest of the MOL Liga. Forwards Tyler Bird, Renars Krastenbergs, and Cedric Lacroix are the players making their professional debuts this season. Krastenbergs, a native of Latvia, is the only European on the roster.

Only one player has NHL experience: O'Connor played one game with the Ottawa Senators in 2015, a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Two players are from Pennsylvania -- defenseman Craig Skudalski is from Wyoming, Pa., only minutes from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. Forward Zac Lynch is a Pittsburgh native and Robert Morris University alum.

With an average age of 24.46, this is the youngest roster the Nailers have had since the 2002-03 season.

Mike Bavis will be making his professional head coaching debut this season. He previously spent 13 years with Boston College as an assistant coach and associate head coach. He's been an assistant coach for the AHL's Springfield Falcons, and an assistant coach for Babson College.

Dylan Clarke has been hired as the Nailers' assistant coach. Clarke retired from professional hockey last season, most recently playing for the SPHL's Evansville Thunderbolts.

The Nailers introduced themselves in this video:

The Nailers open the season on the road, Oct. 13 against the Norfolk Admirals. The home opener is Nov. 3 against the Indy Fuel. The full schedule can be seen here.

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