WHEELING - For years I've heard just about everything you can imagine in terms of why more folks don't attend Wheeling Nailers games on a regular basis. Whether it is ticket prices, conflicts with high school football, the Steelers, the Browns, the Penguins ... like I said, I have heard it all.
The two that have been used the most though, are 'the team stinks' and it is 'full of unlikeable characters.'
Well, the new ownership group has taken care of every one of those. The Regional Economic Development Partnership has done a remarkable job of making a Nailers game not only an economically feasible investment, but with arena improvements and in-game entertainment, you now get more bang for your buck.
File photo by JOE LOVELL
Forward Christiaan Minella and the Wheeling Nailers have fed off the crowds at WesBanco Arena during the playoffs. They would love even more noise as they continue their journey.
* Games were not common on Friday nights during October-December.
* Sunday home contests were rarely played during the NFL season, and if so were scheduled at times that would not interfere with the teams that many here locally follow.
* The 2013-14 version of the team just swept the No. 3 seed South Carolina right out of the playoffs, so it obviously doesn't stink.
* Did you hear what goaltender Mike Condon said about the city of Wheeling after that clinching game last Saturday? If you didn't, he referred to a bad rap we once had but insisted 'this place is awesome' and 'the guys love it here.' There goes that unlikeable issue.
The Nailers have taken it upon themselves to stand up for you. The right thing to do is to return the favor.
Every playoff season hockey teams adapt a motto to help carry them through what is a two-month grind in which you have to win four games in a series, four times. Wheeling has chosen 'Our Team, Our Time' this year.
If this is indeed your team, then it's time for you to show up.
This team, arguably more than any other in the franchise's 22-year stay in Wheeling, is the epitome of what it means to be from the Ohio Valley. It's a tough, gritty, blue-collar club that, when push comes to shove, it comes back with a right hand to the jaw.
A little more than 2,700 showed up last Saturday night. It got so loud inside WesBanco Arena - louder than I have ever heard it - that our press box was shaking. Chants were deafening and rally towels were waving.
Hey, athletes say all the time that they don't hear or pay attention to any of that, but the Nailers aren't your normal guys. Heck, they spent their Sunday by throwing a diaper party for forward Chaz Johnson, who is getting ready to welcome his second daughter into the world.
Unlike most, Wheeling players insist they hear every word and love it. They want to hear and see more of you.
''The energy, you could see that with our team, especially in the first period, how we came out,'' rookie Sahir Gill was saying. ''We were feeding off that crowd.''
Condon was impressed.
''It was one of the best crowds we've seen in a while. It was loud, the towels were going and the 'sweep' chant was pretty funny,'' he said. ''The 'Our Team, Our Time' chant was pretty good, too.''
Donatelli believes a good home crowd makes a difference come playoff time.
''These guys work tremendously hard and it's entertaining to watch,'' he said. ''They are fighting and scratching and clawing all over the place. It really helps them out and they get a little lift out of it.
''Come out and see us some more.''
The crowds have gotten progressively better, and it's been really neat getting to witness a community fall in love with its team. Can you take it up a notch?
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: email@example.com