When I spoke to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Mike Vellucci last month, the decision as to which goaltender -- Emil Larmi or Alex D'Orio -- would start in Wheeling was very much up in the air.
“That’s what camp’s all about,” Vellucci said. “They’re going to have to earn their spot. Both of them are new to the organization, and so they have to come in and earn their spot. One of the things is I didn’t have any idea of was what they’re about. I wanted to come in with a clean slate for them, for myself. I didn’t listen to anybody else when they told me what they thought about the goalies, the defensemen, or the forwards. I just wanted to come in here and have my own conclusion. They’re going to get an opportunity to decide where to go.”
On Wednesday the Penguins made a decision, and assigned D'Orio to the Nailers.
That leaves Casey DeSmith, Dustin Tokarski, and Larmi in Wilkes-Barre, and D'Orio and Jordan Ruby in Wheeling.
Both D'Orio and Larmi had extremely strong camps. D'Orio appeared in two preseason games, and recorded a combined 46 saves on 50 shots faced for a .920 save percentage and 2.46 goals against average. Larmi also appeared in two preseason games, and recorded 47 saves on 50 shots, including a 28-save shutout, for a .940 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average.
Sending a player -- especially a goaltender -- to the Nailers isn't exactly a bad thing.
Wheeling has developed over 60 future NHL players — the most of any ECHL team — and many of them have been goaltenders. Notable former Wheeling goaltenders include Tomas Vokoun, Mike Condon, Andy Chiodo, Dany Sabourin, and Stanley Cup champions Scott Darling and DeSmith.
When I spoke to D'Orio during camp, he wasn't worried about where he may end up this season.
“It’s not something I’m worried about,” he told me. “I know for goalies it’s not the same thing as other players. Just in this organization with Casey DeSmith, he started in the East Coast, and look at where he is right now. I just want to go play hockey.”
On Wednesday the Penguins also assigned forward Ryan Scarfo to Wheeling. Scarfo, 25, was acquired by the Penguins last season in an AHL-level trade with the Senators. Before the trade, Scarfo had been splitting the season between the Senators’ AHL and ECHL teams. Scarfo spent the remainder of the season in Wilkes-Barre after the trade, recording one goal and six assists in 25 games.