PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY has become ingrained in the fabric of the Ohio Valley.
The Thunderbirds first landed in Wheeling 20 years ago. They have since dovetailed into the Nailers, providing an entertainment outlet that unfortunately may be lost to local partisans.
Team owners Rob and Jim Brooks announced last week that they are putting the franchise up for sale. The brothers said they hope to find a buyer who will keep the club skating at WesBanco Arena.
The co-owners have placed a two-month window on a possible sale. If no buyer can be found by then the franchise will be no more.
The news, as expected, was not well received throughout the area, especially in Wheeling.
The Nailers, while not as popular as the original Thunderbirds, still are WesBanco Arena's major tenant. Their existence provides jobs and added clientele to neighboring businesses.
Should Wheeling lose the Nailers, it would be a major setback to a city looking to regain its once bustling existence. The hockey club adds to the economic well-being of the area and it also provides a big-time swagger to the community.
If the Nailers are allowed to skate into oblivion, that swagger will melt and the advancements that Wheeling officials have made (such as the rebirth of the Capitol) to re-energize the city will take a major step backward.
The economic impact which the Nailers bring to rink is invaluable as well as to the city's psyche. Losing a professional team paints a poor picture for potential developers and businesses.
Denny Magruder, executive director of the Greater Wheeling and Entertainment Authority, fully realizes the need for the Nailers. He will pursue another franchise should the Nailers cease to exist. Easier said then done.
Wheeling officials and business leaders need to work hand-in-hand to secure local ownership for the club. Interest from several buyers has been reported, some local, some out of the area.
Professional hockey has become etched into Ohio Valley ice. It needs to remain that way.