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Wheeling Watch: Nailers find gem in Ruby

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Jordan Ruby. -- ZACK RAWSON / WHEELING NAILERS

There is no affiliated league below the ECHL. When an ECHL team is in need of a player midseason, the most common course of action is to sign a player out of an independent league, like the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Sometimes, if the player is a replacement for an injured player, he will join the ECHL team, fulfill his duties, and be returned to the SPHL.

Other times, the player could really impress during their stint and stick around. The Nailers found their hidden gem this season in goaltender Jordan Ruby.

The Nailers signed Ruby to an ECHL contract on Dec. 6 while starting goaltender John Muse was recalled to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and No. 2 goaltender Matt O'Connor was injured.

Ruby, 27, appeared in the next five games, and performed well enough to earn a regular spot on the team. Through 10 appearances, he now leads the team in both save percentage (.911) and goals-against average (2.66).

"Anytime you join a new team you want to make a good impression, so that was obviously what I wanted to do," Ruby told me this week. "But you don't want to overthink it, because you don't want to grip the stick too tightly, so to speak. If you overthink things, you don't do as well. Every game, I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win."

With Muse and O'Connor now both healthy and in Wheeling, the Nailers are now carrying three goaltenders, something that isn't all that uncommon in the ECHL. Muse, who is under an NHL contract with Pittsburgh, will typically start the most often of the three, and Ruby and O'Connor split the rest of the time in net.

As a goaltender at this level, it can be a little tough when there are two other capable guys in the rotation. A goaltender can have a stellar performance one game, and be sitting the next, just because everyone needs to get playing time. There may be a lot of time between starts, but the goaltender is still expected to perform well when called upon. For Ruby, it's just part of the job.

"You have to be a professional on the ice, but you have to be a professional in the mind too," Ruby said. "You might not be playing all the time, but you have to be mentally ready for any chance you can get. Is it ideal? No. But it's the reality, and it's something you learn to work with, and not work around."

Having three goaltenders on the roster does have its benefits. Minor-league teams don't have their own goaltending coaches, and goaltending development coach Andy Chiodo spends most of his time in Wilkes-Barre. In practices, they're mainly on their own. All three goaltenders in Wheeling can not only learn from each other, but push each other.

"I think it's good that you challenge each other when there's an extra goalie in net, you want to outperform him in a healthy way," said Ruby. "They're supposed to do their job, I wouldn't want them to do anything else. But it provides a healthy competition."

Ruby has bounced around a little throughout his professional career. He's played in the ECHL for Toledo, Indy, Brampton, and South Carolina, and in the SPHL for Huntsville and Macon. Looking for some job security, he played in France last season, where he was finally able to spend a full season with one team. The stability was important for Ruby, who had his wife and son who was less than a year old with him.

Family was what brought Ruby back to North America this season. He and his wife wanted to be closer to their grandparents, and his wife was also pregnant with their second child, a girl. Ruby returned to the SPHL to start the year, and is once again finding stability in Wheeling. It's not the most exciting town, but he has what he needs there.

"When you do have your family with you it means the world," he said. "It can turn a city that isn't maybe the most flashiest on the outside, to a nice place to live."

Ruby is a product of RIT, a school which isn't exactly known for regularly producing professional hockey players. He's in the middle of his fourth professional season, something a little out of the ordinary for a player of his background. It's the drive and desire to keep growing that keeps Ruby still playing professionally.

"I think I'm playing a little bit longer than people thought I would have," he said. "I am enjoying it. I will say that, I'm getting older every year, I'm 27. But I still feel like I'm growing as a goalie, I still feel like I haven't plateaued. Now, I could be biased, I could be blind, I could be totally missing the mark there. But because I haven't had many goalie coaches growing up in college and in pro, I'm having to teach myself a lot. And I'm feeling like I'm learning a lot of good lessons as of lately, and it's been showing in success on the ice. Part of me, that's a big part of driving me to keep playing. Because I want to be the best goalie that Jordan Ruby can be. I feel like I keep finding some ways to do that."

The Nailers have produced the most NHL players of any ECHL team, and many of them have been goaltenders. Scott Darling was also once plucked from the SPHL by Wheeling. Darling, Casey DeSmithTomas VokounMike CondonJohn CurryAndy ChiodoBrad Thiessen, and Dany Sabourin (just to name a few) all got their starts down in Wheeling, and all went on to play in the NHL at some point in their careers.

Ruby is hoping he, too, can move through the ranks.

"As a goalie, as a hockey player, it would be a lie to tell you that my dream is not to play in the NHL," said Ruby. "Every hockey player's dream is to play in the NHL. That will always be there until the day for me to quit."

____________________

THE ROSTER MOVES

Danny Fick was reassigned from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Feb. 2. Fick played just one game in Wilkes-Barre during his recall.

THE INJURIES

• Forward Mike Fazio was injured on Dec. 31 and remains on injured reserve … defenseman Brien Diffley was injured on Jan. 5 and is week-to-week. … Craig Skudalski was placed on reserve after blocking a shot on Jan. 26, and was activated from reserve Feb. 4.

THE NEWS

• Fick officially became the sole all-time leader in games played for the Wheeling Nailers/Thunderbirds franchise, surpassing Cliff Loya and Stefan Brennare.

THE GAMES

• Feb 1: vs. Indy, 3-2 overtime loss
Alec Butcher opened the scoring for the Nailers 3:44 into Friday's game, but the Fuel tied the game in the final minute of the first frame.

The Fuel extended their lead midway through the second period, and veteran forward Winston Day Chief answered 30 seconds later with his eighth goal of the season. After a scoreless third period, the game went to overtime.

The Fuel scored 3:57 into the extra frame to win the game. The goal came seconds after an uncalled too many men infraction by the Fuel.

Only four ECHL arenas have video replay starting this season, and WesBanco Arena is not one of them. Even if WesBanco did have video replay, this is not a reviewable scenario at the ECHL level.

Muse took the loss with 29 saves on 32 shots. The Nailers went 0-for-2 on the power play, and 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.

• Feb 2: vs. Kalamazoo, 5-2 loss
The Wings scored first on Saturday, and Michael Phillips tied the game on the power play in the final minutes of the first period. The Wings extended their lead to 4-1 with three second-period goals.

Johnny Austin scored his second goal of the year in the third period to cut the Wings' lead to two, but the Wings extended their lead back to three with a power play goal.

Muse made 19 saves on 24 shots to take the second loss of back-to-back starts. The Nailers went 1-for-7 on the power play, and 3-for-6 on the penalty kill.

THE LEADERS

• Goals: Troy Josephs, 20 in 28 games.

• Assists: Zac Lynch, 32 in 45 games.

• Points: Lynch, 45 in 45 games.

THE COMBINATIONS

Cedric Lacroix - Zac Lynch - Yushiroh Hirano
Troy Josephs - Michael Phillips - Alec Butcher
Renars Krastenbergs - Alex Rauter - Winston Day Chief
Brad Drobot

Josh Couturier - Danny Fick
Johnny Austin - Dane Birks
Jake Schultz - Aaron Titcomb

THE STANDINGS

• After this week, the Nailers have dropped to last in the six-team Central Division with a record of 20-21-3-1.

• The Nailers’ power play sits in fourth in the league at 21.9 percent, and the penalty kill is 21st in the league at 81.4 percent. The Nailers have the second-most power play goals (43) and are tied for the most shorthanded goals (13) in the league this season.

THE SCHEDULE

• The Nailers’ have a busy week ahead. They'll host the Cincinnati Cyclones (29-8-3-3) on Tuesday, and have a three road games in three days over the weekend. They'll visit the Manchester Monarchs (24-20-1-1) on Friday, the Worcester Railers (20-19-3-3) on Saturday, and Maine Mariners (22-22-0-1) on Sunday.

GOALS OF THE WEEK

Butcher scored this goal on Friday:

Day Chief got the redirect:

Phillips scored the Nailers' first goal on Saturday:

Austin scored his second of the year:

SAVE OF THE WEEK

Muse made a breakaway stop, then stopped the rebound chance:

WHEELING FUN THING

Assistant coach Dylan Clarke introduced his dogs:

Lynch has one dog, Rory:

Day Chief has these two dogs:

Other Nailers spent some time with some shelter dogs. Yushiroh Hirano is making the same face as the one he is holding:

The Nailers hosted an event for boy scouts, and Alex Rauter put on a good performance:

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