Versatile Cianfrini helps lead Nailers

WHEELING – Being a shutdown defenseman in the game of hockey is by no means a glamorous job. In fact, the only real time they are mentioned is when something goes wrong.

Not attracting that attention has been twice as hard for Wheeling’s Paul Cianfrini, who for the last few months has doubled as both a top-6 defender and a member of the Nailers’ checking line. But he must be doing just about everything right because he’s rarely been mentioned this season.

”I’m getting more used to it,” Cianfrini said of the constant switching. ”It’s easier for me to go from forward to ‘D’ than it is for me to go from ‘D’ to forward, just because I have always played defense.

”But I have always considered myself a pretty intelligent player and I just try to remember a few basics for each position and stick to those.”

So far, so good, to say the least.

Cianfrini’s numbers don’t jump off the page. Combining the regular season and first round of the playoffs, the Dundas, Ontario, native has 17 points (1g-16a). The one statistic that does stand out is plus/minus, where Cianfrini is a plus-15.

”Going to Hamilton’s camp helped a lot, even though he got hurt there, because he felt confident,” Coach Clark Donatelli said. ”In the last game we were using him in the back in the regular 5-on-5, so he came back to the bench and didn’t know if he was playing forward or ‘D’ sometimes.

”He accepts that and not many guys could do that. It’s great as a coach to have someone who can do that at any time during a game.”

”If you’re dressing 10 forwards and six ‘D,’ it’s great to have a guy like ‘Chinner’ in the lineup.”

That Cianfrini’s emergence has taken place in Wheeling, is something of upset. He spent six games in Port Huron (IHL) coming out of juniors, playing for former Nailers coach Stan Drulia. But Cianfrini elected for college at Nipissing University in Canada and signed with Toledo following two years at school.

Just 17 games into his pro career, Cianfrini was involved in a trade prior to last season that brought him to Wheeling. Cianfrini (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) was caught in a numbers game and eventually shipped to the Trenton Titans. The relationship could have gone sour, but it never did.

”There wasn’t any bad feeling when it happened. We had so many ‘D’ men here with the double affiliation,” Cianfrini said. ”Trenton didn’t have many and it was going to be a good spot to finish the season and get a lot of hockey in. It was my first (full) year pro and I just wanted to play.”

After the season finished and it was announced the Trenton membership was folding, Cianfrini and Donatelli began talking.

”This summer I called and talked to ‘Chinner’ because I wanted to have him back,” the coach said. ”He’s a really good player but more importantly he is a really good person. We were fortunate enough to get him back here and he’s played great for us.”

In fact, Cianfrini has played so well that Donatelli was surprised he didn’t receive a callup to the American Hockey League this season. If he keeps up at this pace, there’s a good chance that is where he will be to start next season.

”(Donatelli) said he was going to put me up on forward and I was like ‘me?’ I can move my feet and skate but I haven’t always been the most offensively gifted person, so to go up front was a little bit of a scare at first,” Cianfrini said. ”But my role is getting the puck deep and hitting and that kind of stuff.

“My linemates are more responsible for producing the offense.”