WHEELING -- With time running out on the future of professional hockey in Wheeling, the Nailers needed a clutch save. They received one Tuesday at WesBanco Arena, pending approval today by the ECHL Board of Governors.
The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley, a conglomerate of the Regional Economic Development Partnership and the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association, was officially introduced as the new owner of the Nailers at a news conference inside a packed Health Plan Pavilion, which included several dozen youth players dressed in their team jerseys. The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley will take over for Rob and Jim Brooks, who have owned the team for nine years, at the conclusion of this 20th season of hockey in the city.
"As Badger Bob would say, this is a great day for hockey," WAHA president and new owner Tim Roberts said, referring to the slogan often used by late Pittsburgh Penguins coach Bob Johnson.
The announcement ended more than three months of negotiations. It was revealed Tuesday that this was the only group in the running to purchase the team, which otherwise would have gone dark.
That was a scenario RED and its board of directors could not allow to unfold. That group, president of the board of directors Will Turani said, will handle financial management and support in the partnership, while Roberts and WAHA will oversee hockey operations on a daily basis.
"Our board thought it was in the best interest of this community and this valley that we step up and help out the cause," Turani said. "What's important to us is that it's important to the Ohio Valley. We think a viable downtown Wheeling is incredibly important to our area. It made sense for us without ignoring our partnerships in Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties. This fits in with what we want to do."
Tim Roberts, president of WAHA and one of the new Wheeling Nailers owners, speaks with youth hockey players outside of WesBanco Arena prior to Tuesday's news conference announcing the sale.
The purchase of the team was made possible by funds accumulated by WAHA over the years for construction of a new hockey facility. Roberts said that money has been reallocated in an effort to purchase the team and "keep ice operations at WesBanco Arena."
"When it came to our attention that there were no more private bidders for this team, we were going to lose this sheet of ice," Roberts said.
Roberts noted both organizations are nonprofits, and that no taxpayer dollars were used in the purchase.
Mayor Andy McKenzie said the deal helps support the rebirth of the city.
"(It) marks a big win for the city of Wheeling, the community, the hockey fans and for the Nailers," he said. "For the past month, local organizations and community leaders have worked tirelessly to keep the Nailers in our city. The Nailers will continue to be a vital part of Wheeling."
All parties lauded the work of Rich Lucas, president of Main Street Bank, for his role as chief facilitator, as well as City Manager Robert Herron and the staff at WesBanco Arena.
"Credit to Rich Lucas and some other people. I probably walked away four times because I was confused and didn't know what I was getting into," Roberts said. "What (RED) did was unbelievable. RED stepped up knowing we didn't have the deep pockets it took to do this."
A new lease with WesBanco Arena, which will not share games this season with the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown, Pa., is in place with the understanding the two sides will continue to work out a compromise that is a "win-win for everyone," according to Roberts.
"It's worth the risk, (and) we want it to succeed," Turani said. "The deal is for three years. We will assess monthly, and we will re-assess annually to see how our progress is being made both on the ice and off the ice."