Bavis introduced as Nailers head coach
WHEELING — It’s been quite an unusual offseason for the Wheeling Nailers but things look to be getting back on track.
After the turmoil surrounding coach Jeff Christian at the end of last season and the sudden departure of recently hired coach Mark Dennehy, the Nailers seem to have found who they were looking for.
Mike Bavis was introduced as the new head coach of the Nailers and the 18th head coach in the team’s history on Thursday inside the concourse of WesBanco Arena.
The 48-year old Bavis played forward at Boston University before being drafted into the Buffalo Sabres organization in 1989. After his playing days, he spent 15 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater, as an assistant coach for the AHL’s Springfield Falcons and at Babson College.
Now, Bavis has taken over the reins as head coach for the first time in his coaching career and he is excited for the challenge.
“I came down and met Don (Rigby) and Bryan (Komorowski) and immediately recognized that these guys are quality people,” Bavis said. “I can see why this organization has been so successful. It has such great support in the community and, quite honestly, it’s the people that brought me here.”
With training camp quickly approaching, opening Oct. 1, Nailers governor Don Rigby, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin and the front office knew the importance of not only finding a coach quickly, but finding the right coach. They did both.
“This was perfect. It was an easy hire,” Guerin said. “He fell right into our lap. After the last situation with Dennehy, we had to move quickly. When you see somebody you like and have confidence in, you have to move. Mike was definitely that guy. It was easy.”
Rigby added, “when we were looking for a coach, we would not hire one until we found someone who was a right fit for not only the organization, but for the community.
“I feel confident that we have done that. Bavis is a quality man, a great recruiter and we look forward to him becoming part of the community.”
Bavis was considered for the job earlier in the summer before Dennehy was named the coach. When Dennehy resigned to take a job with the Binghampton Devils, Rigby was thrilled to see that Bavis was still available.
“He was someone we had thought about but we hadn’t interviewed him previously,” Rigby said. “We were exceptionally happy that he was still available. He is a great coach and is someone the organization and community will embrace. We think he will thrive here.”
Bavis also had a connection with Guerin as the two played against each other in college. Bavis was teammates with Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan at Boston University, as well, so he fit the organization perfectly.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Guerin said. “We played against each other and have had a good relationship for the past 25-30 years. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for him. We ran into each other at the draft when the decision to hire Mark had already been made.
“We have a lot of mutual friends and (after Dennehy left) his name resurfaced. Then, after our interview, it was a no-brainer.”
In the next month before camp gets underway, Bavis wants to focus on bringing in the right core players to help build a strong culture in Wheeling.
“There are Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre camps,” Bavis said. “We have some recruiting to do to bring in the type of players we want to be a part of this culture. There is some work to be done but I think in my college experience, I’ve had strong relationships with the agents in professional hockey and in that time period (leading up to camp) I think we’ll be able to put a good group together and come out of the box ready to go.”
In his time at Boston University, Bavis had the opportunity to learn from Terriers legendary coach Jack Parker, who has been and will continue to be a positive influence in Bavis’ coaching career.
“I played for Jack and coached with him for 15 years,” Bavis said. “I don’t know if there was a coach in college hockey that was able to get the most out of his team year in and year out like him. You can never say that Jack Parker teams underachieved.
“I’ve taken a lot of things from him. He is a good friend and a mentor and I’m sure he will be curious to see how my first coaching stint goes.”
Coaching alongside Parker has given Bavis the opportunity to help develop players, a responsibility that is crucial at the ECHL level and a characteristic that left a major impact in him getting hired.
“He has a great background and has a history of developing players,” Rigby said. “He has coached a variety of players who have excelled and he recognizes and can develop talent. He is a good match and fit for us and the organization.”
The style of play Bavis is excited about bringing to the Friendly City is one that will prepare the young players of the organization for next level.
“If you look at pro hockey now in the NHL, the game has become faster,” Bavis said.
“In some ways, it’s organized chaos in creating offense. We’re going to be a team that’s attacking, plays fast and makes plays with the puck.
“I’ve talked to a couple of players and I think word is getting out in terms of what my hopes are in terms of culture and the development model and having a team that plays skilled and fast. I feel pretty good that the players are going to enjoy playing this style.”
The Nailers have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and finished the 2017-18 campaign fifth in the North Division with a 35-28-8 record, a mark that Bavis is looking to improve.
“Winning is important, not just playing,” Bavis said. “That message is going to come from me from day one and hopefully we can put enough of those players together and a core of those players together that helps us build a strong culture.”