Jeff Wells is coming back for at least two more games.
The steady, offensive-minded defenseman has agreed to play home contests this weekend for the Toledo Storm - tonight against Peoria at 7:30 and Sunday versus Cincinnati at 6 p.m. He'll miss tomorrow's game in Johnstown, Pa.
Wells, 31, a six-season veteran of the American and International hockey leagues, filled in twice last weekend for Toledo while on Christmas break from his job as a permanent substitute teacher in the Canton school system.
Although Wells hadn't played competitively for nine months, he made a noticeable impression once he found his skating legs near the end of the second period last Friday. Wells finished the two games with no goals, one assist and a plus-1 in the plus/minus category.
Toledo won both starts.
“Friday night was rough, but then Saturday I had a lot of fun,” Wells said yesterday from his home in Canton. “Things just fell back in place. I figured, why not play a little more while I can?”
What Toledo management would like is to make Wells a regular fixture on its backline, instead of in a Canton classroom, where the Bowling Green State University graduate and former Falcon hockey player handles special-education classes in grades 6-8.
“I'm not sure I want to get back to the grind,” said Wells, who is discussing the Storm opportunity with his wife. “But I'm not closing the door by any means.
“My wife is a full-time teacher [in Canton] and it's a big sacrifice for her if I do that because I would be away from the family.” He has two sons, aged 31/2 years and 22 months.
Wells has stepped in for the Storm without benefit of regular practice. His strengths include knowing when to jump into the play and setting picks on forecheckers so that Toledo can clear its zone.
“He makes the smart, little decisions that perhaps the normal person doesn't see,” Toledo coach Dennis Holland said. “He creates opportunities and opens ice up for guys. That just comes with experience and good hockey knowledge.
“He's a lot like Nick Lidstrom [with the Detroit Red Wings]. He's not going to drive people through the wall, but he makes good decisions every time.”
The big decision now for Wells will be determining how much longer he'll be with the Storm. School starts again Wednesday. The only choice he had to make during the holidays was how many times to play this weekend.
“The coaches have been super,” Wells said. “That's one of the reasons I would like to continue this. There's no pressure on me right now.
“Last weekend got my competitive juices flowing again. It was fun to be in a game situation. Until last weekend I hadn't played in nine months. To play three games in three nights would be tough. I don't want to force it. If I could gradually get back into it, that might help me make some sort of a decision” on playing for the rest of the season.
There's another reason Wells is thinking about playing regularly. He likes the makeup of the 12-14-1 Storm.
“I was impressed with how well everybody gets along and how well balanced the lines are. It seems like there's a good spread. I think they could be very competitive there.”