Penguins goaltending prospect Alex D'Orio is settling in and looking strong in the first month of his first season of professional hockey.
D'Orio, 20, is beginning his professional career with the Nailers in the ECHL as a result of the goaltending depth in the organization. With Wilkes-Barre/Scranton carrying three goaltenders, two of whom have NHL experience, D'Orio was assigned to Wheeling at the start of the season, where he's able to take on a larger role and play more significant minutes as he develops.
D'Orio got off to a bit of a rocky start. He started for the season opener in Cincinnati and made 28 saves on 31 shots as the Nailers fell 4-2. The following game in Fort Wayne, D'Orio surrendered seven goals on 30 shots through two periods, and was replaced by veteran backup Jordan Ruby for the third period.
When the Nailers returned to Wheeling for a stretch of home games, D'Orio excelled. He picked up his first professional win on Oct. 20 with a win over Indy, making 18 saves on 21 shots. The following weekend, he started on back-to-back nights, and picked up two wins in what were easily his strongest games of the season. D'Orio made 37 saves on 41 shots in a win over Tulsa on Friday, Oct. 25, then 35 saves on 36 shots in a win over Reading the following night.
After five starts, D'Orio feels like he's finding his groove with the Nailers.
"I think at the beginning of the season I needed to get used to the pace of the league and everything," D'Orio told me this week. "After my game against Indy, I was feeling way more confident after my first win. I just kept rolling for the rest of the week."
D'Orio said that he feels there's always an adjustment period for a new team or a new league, and that for goaltenders it probably takes about a week to feel comfortable and adjust to the situation. Most players I've spoken to have without hesitation named the speed of the game as the biggest adjustment when moving from junior hockey to the professional game. That's true for goaltenders, as well. They don't have to worry so much about the speed in terms of skating, but rather in reacting to the pace at which plays are happening.
"I think there's a lot that's different," D'Orio said. "The play is faster, the players are better, the shots are stronger. The players can make plays way more easily, and there's less chance for them to miss a play. I think for a goalie it's a big difference to be out right every time to be ready to receive a shot, or a play that the other team is making. I think there's a big difference between junior and pro hockey."
The number of shots D'Orio is facing is among the most of all ECHL goaltenders. Through five games and 280 minutes, he's faced a total of 159 shots, for an average of a shot every 34 seconds, and 31.8 shots per game.
In D'Orio's final season of junior hockey, he experienced two different worlds as far as shot numbers go. With the Saint John Sea Dogs, he faced an average of nearly 40 shots per game, and the most high-danger chances of all QMJHL goaltenders. After he was traded to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, he faced a much more reasonable 25 shots per game.
D'Orio's two strongest games of the season so far in Wheeling came on nights he faced 30-plus shots, which he feels is ideal for him.
"I've dealt with it before," he said of facing high shot-volumes in games. "For the shots, I'm not bothered by that. I like to have games with more shots than one with 15. I think I'm feeling better when I have games with more than 30 shots."
Something new for D'Orio this season is not having a goaltending coach there at every practice, like he had in juniors. His goaltending coach right now is the Penguins' goaltending development coach Andy Chiodo, who focuses on all goaltending prospects in the system, but spends the bulk of his time in Wilkes-Barre. Chiodo has been to Wheeling once this season already, but is able to give D'Orio much support from afar.
"It's another adjustment not having a goalie coach here," D'Orio said. "But Andy and I talk a lot, I'd say at least once a day. He's taking care of me and asking me how was my practice, sending me drills that he's doing in Wilkes-Barre so me and Ruby are able to do drills even if he's not here. And he's watching all my games. So there's not a goalie coach here in the practices, but with what Andy is doing it's pretty much like I have a goalie coach here."
D'Orio also says he's able to learn from Ruby, the Nailers' 28-year-old backup and one of the most well-spoken players I've interviewed at any level. Ruby is a fifth-year pro and joined the Nailers midseason last year after time in the SPHL, ECHL, and a French pro league.
"He played pro hockey for a bit, so I'm trying to learn from him," D'Orio told me of Ruby. "He's a pro. On the ice, he's a pro, he's taking extra reps. I'm trying to learn about that and do the same thing as him. Then off the ice he's a pro too, he's taking care of his body. I'm just trying to do the same thing and I'm pretty happy to have a good veteran with me in Wheeling."
When D'Orio was in juniors, especially in those Saint John days where he could face upward of 50 shots some nights and face some heavy losses, Chiodo spoke highly of D'Orio's demeanor. Chiodo thought it was encouraging to see the way D'Orio dealt with adversity, saying he was able to stay focused and avoid getting "absorbed in the result and (losing) sight of the process."
In Wheeling, D'Orio has been keeping that same level-headedness, rebounding from that seven-goal game in his second game of the season with three strong performances.
"I think in pro hockey the biggest thing is you always have to have a great attitude," D'Orio said. "Even if I have a bad night or something like that, it's to keep having a good attitude because we're playing so many games this season that I can't let a game be in my head while I'm playing the next one."
THE ROSTER MOVES
• The Nailers released third goaltender Andrew D'Agostini on Oct. 31. He didn't appear in any games during his time in Wheeling.
• Wilkes-Barre re-assigned forward Brandon Hawkins to the Nailers. He played three AHL games on his recall, recording one assist.
• Nov. 2: at Kalamazoo, 7-2 loss
The Nailers got off to a rough start in their only game of the week, allowing three goals from the Wings in the first 10:06 of the game.
Renars Krastenbergs got the Nailers on the board 15 seconds into the second period, and Yushiroh Hirano picked up the lone assist to increase his hold on the team's No. 1 leading scorer position. New defenseman Marc-Olivier Duquette scored his first goal as a Nailer in only his second game at 8:15 of the second, and it looked to be the start of a rally in the making until the Wings answered 22 seconds later. The Wings added another goal before the end of the second period, and scored twice more in the third to put the game away.
The Nailers outshot the Wings, 46-29. Hawkins led the way with an impressive eight shots, and Hirano and Jan Drozg were close behind with six apiece.
Ruby was in net the entire game, making 22 saves on 29 shots.
The Nailers went 0-for-3 on the power play, and 1-for-3 on the penalty kill.
• Goals: Hirano, Drozg, four in seven games
• Assists: Hirano, seven in seven games
• Points: Hirano, 11 in seven games
Nick Saracino — Myles Powell — Jan Drozg
Renars Krastenbergs — Cam Brown — Yushiroh Hirano
Ryan Scarfo — Chris Brown — Brandon Hawkins
Steve Johnson — Aaron Titcomb
Marc-Olivier Duquette — Cameron Heath
Craig Skudalski — Blake Siebenaler
• The Nailers’ record of 4-3 has them sitting in fifth place in the six-team Central Division, three points out of first place.
• The power play is operating at 17.9 percent, ranking 14th in the league. The penalty kill is at 81.8 percent, 12th in the league.
• The Nailers have three games this week. They'll play the Walleye (5-1-1) in Toledo on Wednesday morning at 10:35 a.m., a game for local schoolchildren. The Nailers will play a home-and-home against the Reading Royals (6-3-1) on Friday and Saturday, first playing in Wheeling then going on the road.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Great pass from Hirano, great finish from Krastenbergs:
Duquette's goal was his first as a Nailer:
WHEELING FUN THING
Steve Johnson, Craig Skudalski, Blake Siebenaler, and Brad Drobot wanted to see if they had what it takes to be in the air force:
[caption id="attachment_911888" align="aligncenter" width="640"] WHEELING NAILERS / TWITTER[/caption]
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) October 30, 2019
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