WHEELING - When The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley agreed to purchase the Wheeling Nailers and ensured the sport would live past its 20th anniversary in the city on March 27, it did so knowing there was plenty of work to be done in order to keep the team a viable part of the community down the road.
At 7 tonight at WesBanco Arena, the group, its city and its arena get to show off that labor as the Nailers open the home portion of their schedule against Reading.
For Don Rigby, executive director of the Regional Economic Development Partnership, which combined with WAHA to save hockey, it has been nerve wracking.
Wheeling Nailers coach Clark Donatelli signs a few hockey sticks Thursday morning as part of the team’s media day. The Nailers open their home schedule tonight against Reading.
''I think we're exceptionally nervous. I think we're past a little bit,'' Rigby joked Thursday at the team's media day. ''It's gone by very quickly, and it's been an amazing amount of work.
''We're excited to drop the puck for the first time and have the building full, hopefully.''
That nervousness, he said, is born from the collective hard work that has gone into making all of this possible. To think that there's even a small chance everything, from turning down the goal horn to installing a pair of video boards, won't go according to plan is disconcerting.
''There have been very, very long weeks and it has been hectic,'' Rigby said. ''There have been decisions made very quickly lots of times, from our staff to the WAHA staff as well as the Nailers staff.
''It has been exceptionally hectic and we've just been taking it a piece at a time and learning as we go. Even if you're familiar with the business, it's different on the outside, than it is the in.''
Ninety-nine percent of the work has gone to improving the in-game experience for fans. After all, Rigby said, without them there would be no hockey.
The Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley is big on treating people the right way, whether it be Nailers players or the paying customers. Across the board, the group wants to be first-class.
''We want to set a tone where we're running a quality organization,'' Rigby said.
Previous ownership held firm in its belief that 3,000 was the average number of attendance needed simply to break even. The new group said that number is closer to 3,200, but for good reason.
''Our number to make money is probably a little higher, only because we're going to do some investing that hasn't been done for a while,'' Rigby said.
''It's a joint venture with the arena, but we're spending a little bit of money up front.
''We took over a team in an odd year with an NHL lockout, so everything is a little bit new. When you say are you nervous, if you look back, from everything we can tell the average walkups were about 800. We need that to be about a thousand.''