WHEELING - Every great team has a star player. There were plenty of standouts working together last spring to ensure hockey remained an integral part of the Ohio Valley, not the least of which were WesBanco Arena executive director Denny Magruder and his staff.
''I think we all - the community, the building, the team got complacent over a number of years. It just became business as usual and we weren't competitive,'' Magruder said Thursday at the Nailers' Media Day event.
''I think that's the key to success. When that spirit happens, things blossom.
''We've had some heydays and we've had some ups and downs in hockey. This is definitely an up feeling.''
Magruder said it's a matter of circumstance, but it's clear he, the city and the arena have a much better working relationship with the Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley than they did the previous regime headed by Rob and Jim Brooks. It's obvious by the relative ease in which the two sides have been able to cut through the red tape.
''We've forged what we think is a great relationship,'' Don Rigby, executive director of the Regional Economical Development Partnership said. ''They've asked for many things that we have been able to deliver, and everything we've asked for, they have bent over backward to get that done.
''We're sharing a lot of expenses with each other (and) we're both trying to look out for each other. We have a vested interest that the arena stay here, make money - have the money to do the improvements that we all need and the fans expect.''
Magruder took his share of heat, including from this desk, when it looked as though we had seen the last of pro hockey in Wheeling. But what he has done, the lengths he has gone and the fervor with which he speaks of tonight's home opener against Reading - "a new day," he calls it - should not be diminished in any way.
''When you have a partner that's upbeat, it makes you want to do that,'' Magruder said. ''Everything is on an upswing now. We feel better about coming to work every day and it shows. It's not that we didn't want to come before, but we got complacent.''
That's a far cry from how things used to be. If something was wrong, the two sides rarely spoke about the issue. Now, Magruder said, he can talk to the Nailers and vice versa, without the worry of either side being offended.
''We want to make it better for both of us, because we realize at this point we both have positive goals in mind,'' Magruder said. ''Last season, I couldn't wait for the season to end. I am not going to lie, I am just putting the cards on the table.
''This season, I can't wait for it to start. That is the difference in six months.''
The Ohio Valley should consider itself lucky Magruder and the city of Wheeling didn't take their cards completely off the table. There were talks with lower-level leagues about coming to town should the Nailers have exited, but Magruder never wanted to go that route.
''Contrary to what some people felt, our board was not opposed to keeping hockey,'' Magruder said. ''It would have been devastating and we've talked about that for three, four, five years.
''We're the longest-standing franchise in the (ECHL), playing in the smallest market.
''I think when we travel around somewhere and I see people in business they say 'hey, how are the Nailers doing this year?'
''They identify us with the Nailers.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net