Roberts Took Saving the Nailers Personally
WHEELING – This was personal for Tim Roberts.
A native of Boston, Roberts has spent more than half his life in the Ohio Valley, first as a player for the then-Wheeling Thunderbirds, and currently as member of McCoy Wealth Management and president of the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association. He met his wife here, and Wheeling is all his children have ever known.
So when he found out the Wheeling Nailers were in danger of going dark if a buyer couldn’t be found, he went to work. He wasn’t about to see his kids – both his own and all the ones he coaches – lose the game they’ve grown to love.
”There’s a love with every kid you coach, and that has a lot to do with it,” Roberts said following the announcement that WAHA and the Regional Economical Development Partnership (RED) had joined forces to form The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley and purchase the franchise. ”We have a total volunteer board and we didn’t go into this lightly.
”There was nobody that said no when I said ‘there is the possibility that this is a mistake.’ They said ‘you know what? We don’t think it is.’
”I love coaching little kids. I’m not stopping coaching little kids.”
It’s been a rough month or so on Roberts, who says he’s endured many a sleepless night. His wife, Jennifer, was understandably concerned with the time commitment, since Tim is already involved in numerous ventures.
”I forgot to pick my kids up to bring them here, so that should tell you how it’s been going,” Roberts joked. ”Everybody’s got to balance their time in life with family, but time with your community, you can always make it work.
”I always figure busy people get more done.”
There will be plenty to do in the near future. The focus now changes to making this work.
A new lease is in place with WesBanco Arena, with the understanding that two sides will continue to work. But that’s only the half of it.
Though The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley doesn’t take over day-to-day operations until after this season ends, the work begins immediately in terms of working out marketing strategies. The goal, Roberts said, is to make every night at the rink a community event, not just a hockey game.
”There’s enough people to make this place rock again,” Roberts said of WesBanco Arena. ”To make it a really fun place to go into the building and get the sellouts – to have people say ‘hey, do you have tickets?’
”I remember sitting with Brock Woods during the playoffs. He had just started dating his wife and I just started dating mine and we had to go buy tickets.
”We didn’t make that much money and we were actually losing money by the game to play. But we could not get tickets back then as players. We need to bring that feeling back to Wheeling and to the Ohio Valley.”
That, Roberts said, starts with getting people to come out and support the team. He acknowledged the rise in attendance this year to more than 3,000 a game, but Roberts wants to take it a step further. If that is successful, it looks like the new group will be able to drop ticket prices.
”Get ’em to a game once. (They say) ‘I don’t like hockey, I watch it on TV?’ ” Roberts said. ”Go live and sit on the glass and watch a game. It’s a cult and you’ll keep coming back.”
The true owners of this team now, Roberts believes, are the youth players and the community. Regardless of who signs the paychecks though, it won’t be successful without support.
”You’ve got to make it entertaining (because) sometimes the game’s not the best,” Roberts said. ”When I played a couple times we mailed it in. You don’t like to say that, but it happens.
”You have to do a lot of different things that haven’t been done.”
And there’s no place he’d rather do it, than Wheeling.
”I’ve got cousins living all over the country and they come here and see Oglebay and see the things we can do and they’re like ‘man, this is right. You’ve got it figured out. We questioned you for a while, but this is the place to raise a family. If we could do it over again, we would be in Wheeling,’ ” Roberts said. ”Our board took that leap of faith on this community, that we could could make this work – that we could keep ice here, for you guys to play on, and this community would support it by coming to games and turning this back into the event that I remember.”
Roberts was a defenseman by trade. But he and RED just came up with the biggest save in Wheeling hockey history.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net