Wheeling Watch: Saracino takes charge


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Forward Nick Saracino is a third-year pro in his first season in Wheeling, one of many new Nailers this season.

Most everyone expected Danny Fick, a defenseman in his fourth year in Wheeling, to be given the "C" on his jersey this season. In a more unexpected move this season, the Nailers named two captains. Fick wears the "C" at home. Saracino wears the "C" on the road.

To be given the captaincy in his first season with the team was surprising to even Saracino himself.

"It was definitely a big honor," Saracino told me this week. "I was not expecting that. This team had a lot a lot of turnover, a lot of new faces, and I was one of the guys who had more experience, I would say. It was an honor, and it's been good so far."

Saracino may not have expected to be named a captain this season, but he's no stranger to wearing an extra letter on his sweater. He was an alternate captain in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, and then again with Providence College.

Saracino, 26, is certainly one of the more experienced players on the team. He made his professional debut in 2016 with the AHL's Iowa Wild following the conclusion of his senior year at Providence. He spent his first full professional season with Iowa, but his season was cut short after 33 games due to a shoulder injury. He signed with the ECHL's Worcester Railers for 2017-18, but injured his other shoulder in the first preseason game. After a late start to the season, he eventually put up 12 goals and 25 assists in 61 games.

Now, Saracino leads a very young Nailers team this season, with an average age of only 24. Many of the players are fresh out of college or juniors and are just making their professional debuts in Wheeling. How does Saracino navigate helping all these new players become accustomed to the ECHL?

"You just try to stay positive with them and teach them as they go," he said. "You don't want to overload them with information, you have to let them grow as a player. Not to be overbearing, just staying positive, and giving tips when I can."

5-foot-11, 185-pound Saracino is a two-way forward, someone who can put up points and have strong defensive play as well. He has two goals and two assists in eight games this season, including this goal on Saturday:

Four points in eight games isn't a bad total by any means on this team, but Saracino isn't entirely satisfied with his performance thus far. It's still early, though. Throughout Saracino's career, he has always heated up towards the end of the regular season. With Worcester last season, nine of his 12 goals came in the second half of his 61-game season. He was able to carry that momentum into the playoffs, recording three goals and two assists.

Wheeling, of course, has to get to the playoffs if Saracino is going to have more clutch performances. A playoff run is one of Saracino's biggest goals this season. Another is a call up.

Saracino is only on an ECHL-level contract with Wheeling, but he's eligible to sign an AHL deal during the season, with Wilkes-Barre or any other AHL team if they make an offer. He believes that Wheeling provides a path to that goal.

"Last year (Wheeling) had a ton of guys getting called up," he said. "They had a really solid team, they were in (Worcester)'s division so we played (Wheeling) often."

Saracino noted some members of Pittsburgh's front office who have already frequented Wheeling this season, assistant general manager Bill Guerin in the stands and skills development coach Ty Hennes working with the players during practice. Pittsburgh is always in close contact with Wheeling head coach Mike Bavis, and management keeps tabs on all Nailers, not just the players on NHL or AHL contracts.

That attention, and Pittsburgh's recent history of moving prospects through the system, is why Saracino feels like he has a path here.

"(The Penguins) always are known to be a good organization -- the whole organization, all three teams -- with a lot of movement. It's ran very well."


• Nov. 7: at Cincinnati, 4-1 loss
• Nov. 9: vs. Greenville, 5-1 win
• Nov. 10: vs. Greenville, 3-2 overtime loss

Zac Lynch was Wheeling's lone goal-scorer on Wednesday, but the Nailers weren't able to carry that momentum, and allowed four goals in the final two periods. John Muse made 23 stops in the loss.

• The Nailers dominated on Friday. They of course lit up the Swamp Rabbits with goals from Troy Josephs, Michael Phillips, Cedric Lacroix, Renars Krastenbergs, and Cam Brown, the defense stood out with was by far their cleanest game of the season. Muse made 17 saves for the win.

• The Swamp Rabbits responded with two early goals in Saturday's rematch. Josephs and Saracino scored to tie the game, but the Nailers fell in overtime. Matt O'Connor took the loss with 18 saves.

• Robbie Hall dropped the gloves in Cincinnati:

• Lacroix fought Cincinnati's Arvin Atwal. The two fought two weeks ago in the teams' last meeting in Cincinnati. Back then, Atwal took a decisive win, and pumped up the crowd. This time around, Atwal lost his balance and Lacroix won. Lacroix promptly mocked Atwal's celebration from last time, so frantically that he fell over himself -- much to the amusement of Atwal and everyone else on the ice:

Lacroix is second in the league in fighting majors, with four in eight games. He also has one goal and two assists in that span.

Kevin Spinozzi dropped the gloves on Saturday:

• Josephs leads the team in goals, with five in six games. With an additional two assists, he's producing over a point per game.

• Lynch leads the team in points, with three goals and six assists in eight games.

• Lines and defense pairings from Saturday:

Zac Lynch - Cam Brown - Yushiroh Hirano
Troy Josephs - Michael Phillips - Nick Saracino
Renars Krastenbergs - Cedric Lacroix - Winston Day Chief
Alex Rauter

Brien Diffley - Johnny Austin
Kevin Spinozzi - Danny Fick
Robbie Hall - Aaron Titcomb

• After this week, the Nailers rank last in the league with a record of 2-5-1. The Nailers’ power play fell to ninth in the league at 18.4 percent, and the penalty kill fell to 18th in the league at 82.5 percent.

• It's going to be a busy week. The Nailers will host the Toledo Walleye (9-1-1) and thousands of screaming school children at 10:45 Tuesday morning for the team's annual Education Day game. They'll have three road games in three days on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, against the Jacksonville Icemen (8-4), South Carolina Stingrays (6-6), and Greenville Swamp Rabbits (4-8-1). That's about 27 total hours of bus travel this weekend. Buckle up.

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Lynch was the Nailers' lone goal scorer in Cincinnati:

Josephs scored on Friday and Saturday:

Krastenbergs recorded his first professional goal:

Brown had this nice shot:


Muse made this stop in Cincinnati:


The Nailers are participating in No Shave November to raise money for the Mario Lemieux Foundation:

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