By Shawn Rine
Ohio Sports Editor
The Intelligencer & Wheeling News Register
WHEELING, W.Va. – The word history is defined as a past notable for its important, unusual, or interesting events. Acts, ideas, or events that will, or can, shape the course of the future.
None of us know how the future of the Wheeling Nailers is going to unfold, but we sure know where they’ve been. Recently, Wheeling became the first AA hockey organization to win 700 games.
To Rob and Jim Brooks, the co-presidents of the team now in their sixth seasons, that’s a great source of pride.
”I think it’s a testament to the dedication here,” Jim said. ”Maybe not 700 of those while Rob and I have been here, but we like to pride ourselves on keeping the tradition of winning and excellence here.
”It’s a big testament, not only for the ownerships here over the last 17 years, but to the coaches and players, and the staff too.”
The team started its operations in Winston-Salem, N.C., as the Thunderbirds, before relocating to Wheeling and eventually changing its nickname to the Nailers. What most people don’t realize, however, is this Original Five franchise holds nearly every meaningful ECHL team record.
Not only has no other team won 700 games (Johnstown is second, roughly 70 behind), but the Nailers own the most home victories with 407, and have captured 296 games on the road – also an ECHL record. Of these totals, 582 have come in Wheeling, with 335 occurring at WesBanco Arena.
”You think about all the great games you’ve gone through – this town for 17 years, is pretty amazing,” Rob said. ”I know in the last five (years) we can think of some great wins.
”You start thinking about it … 700, that’s a lot.”
The milestone was a collective effort, according to the brothers. Not only do you have to put a good product on the ice, but the people behind the scenes need to be top-notch as well.
While I’m not privy to what goes on around the league, I’d put the men and women in Wheeling’s front office up against anyone. Not only are they knowledgeable hockey people, but they go about their business in a kind, courteous manner.
”You can only be as good as the people you have around you, is what we believe,” Jim said. ”We try to make sure that we always have the best people we can.
”We weren’t here for all 700 of those, but we’re very proud to be here for the milestone one, because that’s really special.”
When the Brooks brothers talk about family, they’re not being disingenuous. It’s a part of their everyday lives. Ask them what it means for a guy like Darren Schwartz to come back every chance he gets, even going so far as to skate with them in the men’s league at Wheeling Park.
Ask them about former goaltender Danny Sabourin, who now plays for the Penguins, still inquiring about certain businesses and people he met in his time here.
And ask them about Paul Bissonnette, who played here the last two-plus seasons and had a cup of coffee this season with the Penguins. Ask them about Paul calling to thank them for everything they’ve done for him, then offering to come and give an inspirational speech to this season’s Nailers team.
All of this, they said, played a part in 700 and beyond.
”You’ve got to embrace everything that you’ve had and the people that have made it fun for the area,” Rob said. ”It’s good tradition and good history.
”We hope to keep following up on that and get to 1,000.”