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RINE: NHL Labor Strife Concerns Nailers Brass

September 9, 2012
By SHAWN RINE - Sports Editor ( , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - Feeling confused about the ins and outs of what looks to be the certainty that is the upcoming NHL lockout? Don't worry, you're not alone.

The NHL has given the player's association (NHLPA) until Sept. 15 to agree to a new deal. At the game's highest level, it's pretty obvious what will happen at that point. On down the ladder, it's not so clear at all.

"We just don't know what we're going to have - literally,'' Wheeling Nailers vice president Craig Bommer said earlier this week. "You've got teams stocking up on guys just to have a training camp. We're trying to figure out if we're going to have enough bodies to play preseason games.

"We're just trying to cover all our bases.''

Teams like Cincinnati are loading up on players that have little to no shot to make its roster, which Bommer says is a waste of money. In fact, there has been talk internally about asking the Cyclones about the possibility of pushing their preseason games back a week, or even canceling them all together.

Making it even tougher is the fact this year both American Hockey League and ECHL training camps are beginning at roughly the same time. The AHL generally starts a week earlier, so the first rounds of cuts are made by the time the ECHLers report to camp.

Bommer said Nailers coach Clark Bommer is on the recruiting trail as we speak, trying to bring in guys that actually have a shot of playing opening night, though it's no easy task this late in the game. We know for sure that the following people will be there: forwards Peter Lenes, Matt Schepke, Ben Farrer and Christiaan Minella; defensemen Peter Merth, Adam Ross and Zach Hansen; and goaltender Scott Darling.

"When you sign a guy you have to pay for the travel to get here. It's all brand new. It's not like the (last) lockout, so everyone is tackling it in different ways,'' Bommer said. "We're trying to be the most economical about it. We don't want to bring in 27 guys who have no chance.

"On the other side, we've signed some guys that are going to be here no matter what. That's the good thing; we'll have a little core. It's those guys from Wilkes-Barre and Hamilton - are they coming down?"

There's also been a bit of a scuttle that guys like goaltenders Peter Delmas (Montreal) and Patrick Killeen (Pittsburgh) won't be eligible to play once the players are locked out, because they are on NHL contracts. Bommer hasn't heard that from anyone in the know, basically because nobody is in the know.

"From what we hear it's NHL entry contracts, which I believe both of them would be on, would be OK,'' Bommer said. "But there's some talk of what we're calling a 'hard' lockout, where anybody on some type of NHL contract would be locked out. We don't know they can enforce that at the AHL level unless there's some type of an agreement all the way down to the ECHL.

"We're looking at it's going to be the way, that (Sidney) Crosby couldn't come down here and play without going through waivers. On our call with Montreal, they believe a lot of their guys are going to have European deals waiting.''

While what the fans can expect off the ice is still in a state of flux, what they'll see off it will be a whole lot different. Entertainment and concession consultants have been hired by the city with the idea of making it a better experience for those who may not even enjoy the game. There's also a ton of improvements being made at WesBanco Arena that will be announced in the future.

"We're keeping that whole philosophy of entertainment. Obviously you want a winner on the ice, but we want to have such good entertainment when people coming in that it doesn't matter if the Nailers are on a two-game losing streak,'' Bommer said.

Bommer said the Nailers and WesBanco Arena Executive Director Denny Magruder have been working hand-in-hand on all projects. They're shooting to have all the improvements finished by opening night, which is Friday, Oct. 26.

"Everybody is working together,'' Bommer said. "We have weekly meetings with the arena staff telling them what we're doing, and them telling us what they're doing. I think the fans are going to see a lot of changes - a lot of changes they're going to like."

The organization has sold 212 new season ticket packages, which consist of full-season, as well as 18- and 10-game packages. That brings the total up to the 14-15,000 neighborhood.

"Our goal eventually is going to be between 15 and 1,700 (this year), but with the late start it's going to be hard,'' Bommer said. "Within three years we're going to get 2,000 season ticket holders.''

The lockout will definitely help in that regard. Bommer said he and his staff don't go a day without and inquiry into ticket packages from places like Pittsburgh and Washington. Oh, and they continue to hit areas such as New Martinsville hard, saying there's a "good vibe on the business side.''

"If we make a good impression on the folks from Pittsburgh when they come down and show them a good time, show them food's cheap, tickets are cheap, parking's cheap and it's not that far of a drive, I think that's going to where you see the growth. That and going back into neighborhoods like New Martinsville and getting more involved,'' Bommer said. "We're going to make it more of a regional team than it has been in the past.

"On the 15th, that's when you'll notice we'll be doing a lot of social media stuff toward Penguins fans. Especially if they do a lockout.''

Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at

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