WHEELING - The Wheeling Nailers organization, and co-Presidents Rob and Jim Brooks in particular, have gone to great lengths to make us believe ECHL hockey will be in town for a 19th consecutive season. But what's attempting to be brokered in some dark room in a corner of an empty arena in Johnstown paints a starkly contrasting picture.
According to two sources with knowledge of the inner workings of the situation who wish to remain anonymous, the Brooks brothers are currently negotiating to play at least a portion of their 2010-2011 ''home'' games at famed Cambria County War Memorial, which at the end of this season will cease being the home to the Chiefs, who are being relocated to Greenville, S.C.
If this story sounds familiar, it's because it's happened before. It was only two years ago that, according to whom you believe, the brothers had everything but a signed contract to move the Wheeling franchise to Youngstown. That fell through reportedly because the deal was leaked before it was able to be made official, according to the head of that Youngstown group, Bruce Zoldan.
For the first 4-5 years after the Brooks brothers purchased the Nailers they were clearly visible in both the community and at games.
But more recently that hasn't been the case, and whether they realize it or not, that, along with the supposed jump to Youngstown, has greatly affected their credibility in this town.
It certainly has with WesBanco Arena Executive Director Denny Magruder.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- This is not meant to be a hard news story, nor an editorial. It is a column that appeared in the sports section.
''Just stand up, be honest and let's sit down and talk about it,'' Magruder said Sunday. ''They just need to be forthright and stop sneaking behind our backs.
''If that's really the case, that has not been uttered to me, (though) I also heard that rumor a couple days ago.''
Magruder is right: it's your puck and you can take it and go home if you so choose. But stop stringing the city, the fanbase, the media, and everyone else along. Don't make idle threats and then refuse to talk to anyone about it for months, as Jim Brooks' ''no comment at this time,'' line Sunday so typically continued to do.
Magruder said that if this does in fact have legs, the two sides need to sit down immediately and talk. He doesn't want to share the team with anyone else, but says he wouldn't be totally opposed to the idea, with one catch. If the Nailers aren't going to be here full-time, they would immediately lose the benefits of being a prime tenant.
''My first reaction is, you're either our team or not,'' Magruder said. ''It would be a business deal, but we will sit down and entertain any business deal.
''But to me, a move like that, it's a death knell if we're not already on that path.''
Magruder too is miffed at why this battle continues to be waged through the media, rather than face-to-face interactions with the brothers. He says he hasn't spoken to Rob or Jim Brooks ''since Christmas,'' though it didn't used to be that way.
Magruder has done the majority of his recent dealings with Nailers Vice President Craig Bommer.
''Maybe it's as much my fault as theirs (that the two sides haven't talked),'' Magruder admitted. ''The dates this year, when I went over and gave them the dates this season, that was done through Mr. Bommer. In the past that's always been a Rob and Jim Brooks deal.''
Magruder said that in the last four years he has been contacted by two separate organizations who have interest in bringing Junior hockey to the area. Each time his response was the same: we have a hockey team.
Actions such as that show Magruder's loyalty, which in the long run is the only thing he's asking in return.
''They keep acting like if they take their hockey away we're not going to have hockey anymore,'' Magruder said. ''Just because they leave doesn't mean we'll never have hockey again.
''They don't own the ice, and they don't own the zamboni.
''Frankly, I resent the fact we always get the finger pointed at us.''
And he's right. How is this ever going to work if it's always a he-said, she-said proposition? Who are we to believe?
At some point you have to stop barking through the media, be men and sit down across from the guy you're accusing of doing you wrong.
Heck, why not take it one step further and do it in a public meeting, town-hall style? The city, the fans, and anyone who has even the slightest amount of a vested interest deserve the truth.
Going behind people's backs, calling others out in public and then skipping town for a couple weeks isn't the answer. It never has been, nor will it ever be.
I've said for some time that silence is the worst thing possible in this situation. I'm not a business man, nor do I play one on TV. But if you're trying to sell a product but are constantly creating a cloud of uncertainty around your entity, how is that helping?
Did it help when a number of corporate sponsors and season ticket holders backed out for this season? Has it helped solve the attendance issue? Has it done anything to help your street cred?
The answer to all of the above is a resounding NO!
It's rather simple, really. The Brooks brothers at one time deserved the benefit of the doubt. After the Youngstown fiasco, that's no longer the case.
Stop threatening us.
''You take a look over the years, we always try to help them. But it's looking more like a one-way street,'' Magruder said.
A one-way street leading to Johnstown, apparently. But we won't know that until the moving vans are pulling out of town.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net