The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 26, 2011

‘Lights out’ line leading Nailers

Mike Mastovich

— Stan Drulia tallied 63 goals and 140 points during his only season in what then was known as the East Coast Hockey League in 1992-93.

The Wheeling Nailers coach spent parts of three seasons in the NHL with Tampa Bay and was a solid skater in the AHL and original IHL.

If anyone is qualified to rate a scoring line as among the elite in the ECHL, Drulia is.

“We’ve had to mix and match because of injuries and call-ups but for the longest time, Zabby, Nick Petersen on the right side and Ben Street on the left side were absolutely lights out,” Drulia said of the Nailers’ combination of center Casey Pierro-Zabotel, right wing Nick Petersen and all-star left wing Ben Street. “That is probably one of the better lines that I’ve seen at this level. They just took over games and dominated from start to finish.”

The trio has done its share to help the Nailers hold first place in the North Division by nine points at the ECHL All-Star Game break. Street, who had been out with an injury during last Friday’s 4-3 win over Trenton at Cambria County War Memorial Arena, was in Bakersfield for Wednesday night’s ECHL All-Star game.

Petersen (22 goals, 50 points), Street (20, 43) and Pierro-Zabotel (12, 28) have combined for 54 goals and 121 points. Petersen and Pierro-Zabotel played in all 36 games during the first half, and Street, 34.

Petersen ranked third in league scoring at the break and led all rookies. Street was seventh in overall scoring and second among first-year players.

“You’ve got a pure passer in Zabby,” said Drulia, who played for the former ECHL Knoxville Cherokees 18 years ago. “Nick Petersen has raw skill. He’s deadly all over the ice when he gets the puck in the offensive zone.

“Even when he doesn’t have the puck he knows where to go to get it, and he’s magical that way. Streeter is one of those guys that just plays the game the right way.

“He does the little things that go unnoticed by the average fan. Hockey people and coaches, scouts and management, we appreciate a guy like Ben because he plays the game the right way every time he goes over the boards.”

Petersen had a five-point night in the Nailers 6-4 victory at Trenton on Saturday.

His totals last week included five goals and 10 points in four games. The rookie assisted on two goals in Wheeling’s win over the Devils in Johnstown on Friday. He was ECHL Player of the Week (Oct. 25-31)  once this season.

“We’ve got a connection going. We’ve been working off of each other for sure,” said Petersen, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fourth-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “All of us move our feet pretty good and create space for each other. Street is really quick and he uses his speed to back up the D-men and open up space for me and Casey. Casey is the one that got us going pretty good. We started clicking when we were in Johnstown (Dec. 10-11) when we scored seven or eight goals in both games against Gwinnett.”

Pierro-Zabotel had a goal Friday in Johnstown and averages nearly a point a game. The Penguins took him in the third round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and signed him to a three-year, entry-level deal through 2012. He is in his second pro season with the Nailers after scoring 41 points in 2009-10, when he also appeared in nine AHL games with the Baby Pens.

“We have a real good chemistry on the ice and off the ice too,” said Pierro-Zabotel, also known as CPZ. “We really see each other out there and know where each other are at all times. It’s good to have a fast guy like Street and a guy like Petersen who can shoot from anywhere and score.

“I think it took a little while for us to jell,” Pierro-Zabotel said. “We did a lot of line juggling. Then we found a good stretch in the year when we played really well and that’s when we came into being a good line. As a unit we’ve been really confident.”

Street, a 5-foot-11 University of Wisconsin product, made an early impact and continued to tear up the league. He was ECHL Player of the Month for December, when he netted 10 goals and 20 points and was a plus-9. The rookie also appeared in four AHL games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.

Street took a few moments for a long-distance phone interview prior to Wednesday’s all-star game against the Bakersfield Condors. He said versatility has been the key to the Nailers’ top line.

“All three of us like to share the puck and find open ice for each other,” Street said. “There is not really one pure set-up guy and one pure goal-scorer. All three of us can do that and I think that makes us have that much more success. No matter who’s passing or who’s shooting all three guys are a threat. As far as taking care of our own zone, we play off of each other. We’re pretty fluid all over the ice.”