WHEELING - A Who's Who of the Ohio Valley was in attendance for a press conference at Wheeling's WesBanco Arena on Monday, hoping to help drum up support for what shapes up as a monumental weekend of ECHL hockey with games Thursday (7:05 p.m.), Saturday (7:35) and Sunday (5:05). The Wheeling Nailers, who have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, have a chance to close out the series, which is tied 1-1, and advance to the Kelly Cup Finals by winning three games against the Kalamazoo Wings.
The entire Nailers roster, coaching staff and front office joined valley dignitaries and WesBanco Arena officials in a show of support. A variety of topics were discussed, but the big news was the revelation that Saturday night's Game 4 has been chosen to be nationally televised by the America One Television Network, which bills itself as a general entertainment broadcast network, providing family oriented programming.
''The league recently was given the opportunity to air one playoff game from this round nationally - only one. So they had to choose, and they chose Wheeling. They chose us,'' Nailers co-president Jim Brooks told the gathering. ''They wanted Wheeling to show what the ECHL is about to the rest of the world, and that's awesome.
''This is an opportunity to show the world what Wheeling's about, and that's what's gotten us excited. We wanted to share that with you.''
It's a chance for our community to stand hand-in-hand with a team that represents us better, and more-fittingly perhaps, than any other in the 19 years of professional hockey in Wheeling. Admittedly short on skill, but long on heart and guts, the Nailers personify what it means to be from the Ohio Valley - blue collar, dedicated and a never-say-die attitude.
As January turned into February, a rash of call-ups and injuries left Coach Stan Drulia's club with barely enough players to ice a team some nights. The result was predictable - a 10-game winless streak that took what had been one of the best teams in the league to that point, and turned it into one that was just trying to hold on long enough to squeeze into the playoffs.
The Nailers brass and WesBanco Arena officials haven't always seen eye-to-eye. But it was a united front Monday, with arena Executive Director Denny Magruder, who says the partnership is like a long-lasting marriage that requires constant effort, giving perhaps the most motivational speech of all.
''You came here so that the players can show you what they do, and what we need to do. You know what? You heard the story: these guys have been down-and-out all year and they never quit,'' Magruder told the crowd. ''They won't quit. They won't quit Thursday, they won't quit Saturday - they won't quit.
''That's the message they want to send us. They want to set an example. We face problems too - economics, politics, whatever they are, and we've got to learn to keep getting up off that deck.''