WHEELING - With time running out on the future of professional hockey in Wheeling, the Nailers needed a clutch save. They received one in late March at WesBanco Arena, and the ECHL Board of Governors has approved the sale.
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 inside a packed Health Plan Pavilion. The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley takes over for Rob and Jim Brooks, who owned the team for nine years.
The announcement ended more than three months of negotiations. The local group was the only one in the running to purchase the team, which otherwise would have gone dark after 20 years in Wheeling.
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's 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.''
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. ''... 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.''
The new owners also are calling on the community to step up and support the team in 2012-13. Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce President Terry Sterling did his part by purchasing the first two season tickets for next season.