Cliff Loya is a member of the Wheeling Nailers (ECHL) and will be blogging for Faceoff-Factor outlining life as a professional hockey player.

He runs hockey camps and small ice 3-on-3 leagues in the Pittsburgh area during the summers.

His is web site is:

Time for another addition of Loya’s Lowdown. I apologize for the amount of time between entries, but we’ve had a real hectic schedule lately.

The team has rebounded after a dreadful 2-7-1 start and we’re now flirting with a .500 record. Currently, we stand at 8-10-2, but we’re just 7 points out of first in our division – a small gap to make up at this point in the season.

We’re coming into a stretch of games where we’ll be playing 15 games in 31 days. To say this stretch is important is an understatement. For us to get to the top of the standings, we need to put together a nice win streak, and I think we can.

As if this schedule was not brutal enough, you have to deal with scenarios such as the following:

One weekend, we play Friday night at home (Wheeling, WV) then travel to Kalamazoo, MI for a Saturday night game. That’s about a 7 hour bus ride between two games spaced 24 hours apart.

But wait the hits keep on coming!

After the game in Kalamazoo, we travel back to Wheeling and play another game at 3 pm Sunday afternoon.

For those of you keeping score, that’s 3 games and 14 hours on a bus in a span of 45 hours – or less than two full days.

Talk about a kick to the pills!

In the end, it is part of the job and every team has to deal with stretches like this, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the team.

Personally, I don’t mind playing so many games. The more games you play the less you practice. And when you do practice, it’s generally pretty short, to conserve the players’ energy.

Call me Allen Iverson, but that’s okay with me.

I think one of the main reasons for the recent success of the team is the simple fact that the guys are getting to know one another better.

There’s a lot of turnover in minor league hockey from year to year and even within the season.

In the NHL, you can lock up guys to multiple year deals. This means there is consistency in the locker room. Consistency in personnel brings about consistency in play.

In the minors, all contracts are for one year, which means every year you have 22 guys that don’t know each other and who are expected to win games.

That can be tough, and it often takes a while until the players gel. This is easier said than done.

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma says that a team needs the first 20 games of the season to find their identity. This is especially true in minor league hockey, where predictability and chemistry are key.

After a good two months of playing together, we all know what each player’s roles are. We know that in one situation “player A” is probably going to make a certain play with the puck, while “player B” may do something completely different. Everyone knows what our systems are and we rely on them heavily.

But maybe more important than the on-ice chemistry is the off-ice chemistry.

After living, traveling, and playing with all the guys for 20 games, everyone gets to know each other much better. There are more jokes in the locker room and everybody is comfortable around each other. It makes for a better working environment.

When the working environment is good, the results are good – and I think we’re starting to see those results.

Well, that’s it for this edition of Loya’s Lowdown. I wish everybody a happy holiday and I will try to get another entry in soon!

Until next time…