WHEELING, W.Va.- The Wheeling Nailers, proud ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, have announced that Assistant Coach Ryan Kuwabara has been named Head Coach for the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs.

Kuwabara, 50, played 18 games during his rookie season as a player for the Wheeling Thunderbirds in 1992-93, then returned to the Friendly City as Derek Army’s assistant coach for the start of the 2021-22 season. With the coaching tandem of Army and Kuwabara, the Nailers compiled a 44-39-4 regular season record, while the team secured its first postseason appearance and playoff series win since 2016.

“Ryan is a special person, who I am very proud to have worked with, and am incredibly thankful for the time I spent with him,” said Nailers Head Coach Derek Army. “I learned a lot from him, and I hope he takes something away from our time together. As a team, we wouldn’t have been able to have the success we had last season without him. We will miss him, and we know he will do phenomenal work with the IceDogs.”

Prior to his time as assistant coach in Wheeling, Ryan was an assistant coach for four seasons in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit and Flint Firebirds. His was most recently a head coach for the GOJHL’s Ancaster Avalanche during the 2016-17 season.

“My time back in Wheeling was extremely special,” Kuwabara said. “I am thankful for the opportunity that I was given by Brian Komorowski, Derek Army, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. We were able to change the culture to put a winning team on the ice, which was amazing to share with all of Nailers Army.”

Army and the Nailers have begun their search for a new assistant coach. This weekend, Derek will be joined on the bench by Pittsburgh Penguins Goaltending Development Coach Charles Grant.