By Brian Compton
NHL.com Staff Writer
It’s never easy for a coach to take over a team in the middle of a season.
There’s no training camp and no time to set out goals and get to you know your players. Plus, there’s little hope of achieving much success, considering a mid-season hiring means you’re replacing a mid-season firing.
Wheeling Nailers coach Greg Puhalski did the best he could when he replaced Glenn Patrick on Jan. 2, 2008. When the regular season concluded, however, the Nailers found themselves in the North Division cellar with just 51 points.
These days, though, things are different. Puhalski ran his first training camp in Wheeling last month. He set his goals for the young club. He instilled a confidence that was nowhere to be found when the 2007-08 season got under way.
Puhalski — who won 162 games in four seasons with the Toledo Storm from 1994-98 — experienced immediate success in his first opening weekend with the Nailers, as Wheeling reeled off two victories to begin the 2008-09 season.
Opening night at WesBanco Arena was certainly a pleasant surprise, as the Nailers pulled off a see-saw 7-5 victory last Friday against the Cincinnati Cyclones, the reigning Kelly Cup champions. Wheeling followed that with a 4-2 win at Johnstown the next night.
“First game of the year, I’ll tell you it was a wild game,” Puhalski told NHL.com. “It was a very entertaining game, especially for the first game of the year. That’s as entertaining as I’ve ever seen as far as a first game, and it’s my 15th year as a coach. It had lots of goals, a few fights and some good hits. The defensive play might have been a little shaky on both ends, but it was a very entertaining game. It went right down to the wire.”