Zac Lynch is home.
Ever since making his professional debut in 2016, Lynch wanted to play in the Penguins' organization. Things fell into place this summer when the Shaler Township native and Robert Morris alum was acquired by the Nailers in an offseason trade. Lynch is thrilled to be so close to home, playing for the affiliate of his childhood team in his third professional season.
"I always kind of knew I wanted to end up back here, close to home," Lynch told me this week. "To finally make that happen was pretty exciting for me. So far, it's been a great transition for me. I've loved it every step of the way."
Lynch was already pretty familiar with the team and area before this season. Lynch remembers coming to Wheeling for a couple of Nailers games when he was younger, and he had some former teammates to call upon for a review. Lynch, a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2016, is the third Robert Morris alum to play for the Nailers, following in the footsteps of his former teammates Cody Wydo and Daniel Leavens. Lynch, Wydo, and Leavens were all members of the Colonials’ 2013-14 team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
"I kept in touch with both of them," Lynch said of his college teammates. "I got the lowdown on the city and the team, the rink, how things were run here. That made it a little easier hearing from them and hearing that they enjoyed their time here."
Wydo, Leavens and Lynch are only a few former Colonials who have joined the professional ranks in recent years. In total, more than 60 former Colonials have played professional men's hockey since the program's inception in 2004. For Lynch, it has been exciting to see the program continue to grow.
"It's pretty amazing how quickly the program has grown. I think this is only their 15th year or so. To see how far it's come in these 15 years and see how far coach (Derek) Schooley has brought it, it seems that every year guys that are graduating are getting a chance to play pro hockey, and at more and more higher levels every year. It's very exciting to see, and I'm very interested to see how far it'll go."
Now that he's back in the area, Lynch plans on making it out to Robert Morris games when he's able to this season. His younger brother, Luke, is a junior on the team.
Lynch doesn't just have ties to the men's team. His fiancée, Maddie Collias, played forward for the women's team from 2011-15.
In Lynch's years at Robert Morris and in the professional game, he has been known as a strong two-way forward and a playmaker with some size at 6-foot, 190 pounds. He has a scoring touch — he remains the Colonials' second all-time goals (67) and points (157) leader in 152 games. In Lynch's 36 career AHL games with the Portland Pirates, Springfield Thunderbirds and Utica Comets, he hasn't put up quite the numbers he's used to, registering five goals and three assists in 36 games. He's a proven scorer at the ECHL level though, amassing 40 goals and 42 assists in 93 games with the Manchester Monarchs.
The Nailers are a very young team this year, with an average age of only 24.46. Many players are in their first full professional seasons or their first seasons in North America. Something the 26-year-old Lynch is looking forward to this year is taking on a leadership role as one of the more experienced players on the team.
"It's my third year pro. We have a pretty young team here," he said. "I've been focusing on being a better leader on and off the ice. I've learned a lot from different older guys in pro my past few years. I'm trying to transition that to help out the younger guys on this team."
When the Nailers' pregame introductions take place before their first home game of the season Nov. 3, expect the cheers following "No. 27 ... Zac Lynch!" to be especially loud.
"I'm sure there will be a big Lynch crowd at the first game, making some noise and getting pretty rowdy," Lynch said. "It'll be a fun first home game."
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Oct. 13: at Norfolk, 5-3 loss
• Japanese forward Yushiroh Hirano was not on the active roster to start the season, as he was still getting his immigration approved. His paperwork was finalized Monday and he was added to the roster. Goaltender Danny Tirone was put on injured reserve to make room.
• With Tirone on injured reserve, the Nailers started the season with Evan Cowley in net and Matt O'Connor backing up. Cowley made 24 saves on 29 shots in the loss.
• The Nailers took the loss in the first game of the season, but they heavily outshot the Admirals by a margin of 48-29. Eliot Grauer led the team with six shots and scored twice in the third period. Saracino and Christian Isackson each recorded five shots. Fick scored the Nailers' third goal of the game in the third period, but the comeback effort fell short.
• Cedric Lacroix is going to be a Nailers fan favorite this season, no doubt. The 6-foot-1 forward dropped the gloves in Pittsburgh's Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, and he did it again in Norfolk after he took a big hit from an Admiral:
• Forward Johnny Austin (No. 20) was suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount for this knee-on-knee hit. Norfolk's Daniel Maggio was suspended for one game and fined an undisclosed amount for his actions after:
• Lines and defense pairings from Saturday:
Nick Saracino - Renars Krastenbergs - Christian Isackson
Zac Lynch - Cam Brown - Eliot Grauer
Alex Rauter - Cedric Lacroix - Tyler Bird
Johnny Austin - Dane Birks
Josh Couturier - Danny Fick
Craig Skudalski - Kevin Spinozzi
• The Nailers will go a full week between games to start the season. They'll visit the Cincinnati Cyclones on Oct. 20. They'll go another full week before their next game, also on the road, in Reading on Oct. 27. They won't play a home game until Nov. 3. Bizarre schedule.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Grauer opened the season with a two-goal game:
Fick scored this goal in the first game:
WHEELING FUN THING
Grauer, Isackson, and Aaron Titcomb made the first community appearance of the season, visiting a local elementary school:
Nothing better than having the opportunity to give back to our community.
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) October 15, 2018
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