WHEELING - Unless you've been living under a rock, and apparently Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie has, the Wheeling Nailers have been incredibly important to the Ohio Valley the last 20 years, both economically and as a part of the city's fabric.
But as The Intelligencer broke the news Wednesday morning that the team was for sale and possibly leaving the valley, there was McKenzie on a local radio station soon after talking about how the loss of the franchise would have "little effect" on the city. Sorry, but that type of attitude can best be described in one of three ways: 1.) arrogant, 2.) naive, 3.) completely clueless.
Try telling the people at the downtown restaurants and bars that the Nailers don't mean anything. Tell that to the McLure City Center Hotel or any of the other people in the overnight business around town that make a killing off those who visit monthly for hockey games.
"I'd be very disappointed to hear him give a quote like that,'' Nailers co-owner Jim Brooks said Thursday at a news conference to officially announce the team's intentions. "That's very sad.''
In a time when we need our leaders to stand up and support our team - make no mistake, it is ours - we have the mayor saying it doesn't matter? Given the chance to score a hat trick, McKenzie shot the puck out of play and now must sit in the penalty box.
Luckily there are people who do care. Like the thousands of fans who have taken to social media networks Facebook and Twitter to show their support. A "SaveTheNailers" account was opened two days ago and had 758 followers as of 8:30 on Thursday night.
Former Nailer Paul Bissonnette tweeted his support and the hashtag #SaveTheNailers was trending in Pittsburgh. Speaking of the Steel City, prominent Pittsburgh sports writers and television stations all had something to say about the saga.
"I think that just speaks to the fans we have, and I think that is something a prospective owner would be interested in. I know I would," Brooks said. "When a current NHL player - Paul Bissonnette - is tweeting about it, he's a passionate person and you know that. To see him say positive remarks is great."
Obviously, the mayor needs to spend some time at a few hockey games with City Manager Bob Herron, a known staunch supporter of the Nailers. Then, perhaps, he would have some sort of an idea.
"We have thousands and thousands of people coming to downtown, and to hear someone say that doesn't have an impact on your city, that's absurd," Brooks said.
Jim is right.
Look around the country and see how many cities the size of Wheeling have a pro franchise. I'll save you the time and effort and tell you there are very few, if any.
I hear constant talk of rebuilding this city. Buildings sit empty, one after another rotting around us. Yet the mayor doesn't care if the biggest building of them all - WesBanco Arena - sits empty 36 more times a year?
No, he doesn't, because McKenzie is under the delusion that big-name acts and artists are lined up on some imaginary waiting list to get their shot at The Bank, despite the fact it's been decades since either made stops here.
Please, Mr. Mayor, wise up before it's too late. And while you're at it, help #SaveTheNailers.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net