Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
WesBanco Arena 214th St Wheeling, WV 26003
Year Opened: 1977 Capacity: 5,406
Nail City Hockey
The Wheeling Nailers are the longest-tenured minor league hockey franchise outside the American Hockey League, having competed in various lower-level leagues since 1981. The team began to play in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League as the Carolina Thunderbirds, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Thunderbirds won three league championships in the ACHL. After a season in the All-American Hockey League, the Thunderbirds were one of the five founding members of the East Coast Hockey League, which was later rebranded as the ECHL.
The Thunderbirds relocated to Wheeling, West Virginia in 1992. After a trademark dispute with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, the team held a “name the team” contest. The moniker “Nailers” was chosen to honor the city’s long history of nail manufacturing. While the Nailers have had some success on the ice, including conference championships in 1993 and 2016, they have yet to win the Kelly Cup.
The Nailers play at the WesBanco Arena, previously known as the Wheeling Civic Center. Built in 1977 at a total cost of $7 million, the facility entered into consecutive ten-year, $2.5 million naming rights deals in 2003.
Food & Beverage 5
Concessions at WesBanco Arena offer some unique choices you wouldn’t expect to find at an arena of this size. Permanent stands are located on either side of the arena. Burgers, cheesesteaks, grilled chicken sandwiches, and buffalo chicken sandwiches can all be found at the Lunch Box stand. For something a little different, check out the Mac and Cheese Bacon burger, quesadillas, or chicken and waffles here.
The River City Grill offers fried Mac and Cheese Bites, walking tacos, nachos, and funnel cake fries. Chicken nuggets, wraps, and pretzels round out the menu. Instead of boring old french fries, hungry Nailer fans can choose tater tots. Nailers fans flock to the Vocelli’s pizza stands for fresh slices from this local favorite.
Tito’s Sloppy Doggs offers a variety of hot dogs with assorted toppings, as well as chicken tenders and seasoned french fries. Fans with a sweet tooth should head over to Flurry’s Ice Cream stand, where a variety of homemade flavors are available. Coca-Cola products are featured at WesBanco Arena. A good selection of beer is available. At selected games, cans of Yeungling can be purchased for a dollar.
Generations Pub, a full-service bar/restaurant located on the east side ground level (below sections 205-208) opens two hours before the opening faceoff. Generations Pub offers a basic bar menu such as sandwiches, burgers, and pizza. Reservations are not needed.
A full listing of available concessions can be found here.
Veteran hockey fans will find a lot that is familiar here at WesBanco Arena. There’s an in-house DJ who orchestrates giveaways and promotions during play stoppages. The team sponsors jerseys and 50/50 raffles at all home games.
There’s a mascot who roams the stands interacting with fans, and the team runs promotional nights throughout the season. The Nailers play to a dedicated fan base, while not the largest you may find in the ECHL, is certainly knowledgeable and passionate about their team.
WesBanco Arena is located in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia. This downtown area has seen better days, and there is little activity in the area around the arena before or after Nailers games. Most fans will not stick around the downtown area after games and will head elsewhere for food or lodging.
A couple of places of note near WesBanco Arena are DiCarlo’s Pizza, located a block from the arena, which is a popular gathering spot before games for its delicious cuts of pizza. It is a regional style where the cheese is sprinkled on the cooked sauce and bread as it comes out of the oven. Wheeling Brewing Company is located about a five-minute drive from the arena in Centre Market. Stadium Journey recommends the Panhandle Ale.
Wheeling is the oldest continuously operating team in the ECHL, entering its 30th season. The team is averaging just under 2,200 fans before the pandemic, which is the lowest total in the league. This figure represents a marked decline from previous seasons, which generally average between 2,400-2,700 fans per game.
Typical to most minor league teams, the Nailers market their game day presentation towards families. The crowds at WesBanco Arena are a mix of families, casual fans, and die-hards. There’s a good mix of the old-time hockey vibe and the energy younger fans bring to an arena here.
WesBanco Arena is located on the banks of the Ohio River and is easy to get to from Interstates 70 or 470. Parking is readily available in a parking garage next door to the facility or a pair of surface lots less than a block away. There is limited on-street parking available for fans arriving early. Directions to the facility can be found here.
Fans will enter WesBanco Arena into a large lobby, which contains the ticket offices and a pro shop. From here, stairs take fans up to the main concourse which circles the arena. The ice is not visible from the concourse and features a great many stairs to access all areas of the arena. It’s readily apparent that this building was constructed before the advent of the ADA, but the team does offer accommodations to those fans who require them.
All seats in the seating bowl are gray folding stadium-style chairs. A walkway circles the ice about halfway up the seating bowl, splitting the seating bowl into upper and lower levels. A small video board hangs at center ice, utilized for replays, crowd shots, advertisements, and game stats. Smaller boards hanging at either end of the rink display scores and time.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets for Nailers game range in price from $15-$25, with the majority of tickets in the arena available for $20 or less. Active members of the military can purchase tickets for between $13 and $18, and children’s tickets cost $11-$15. Visitors to Wheeling may want to check out one of the Nailers’ overnight packages, which include a night’s stay at one of several local hotels and game tickets. Contact the Nailers box office for further details.
Parking costs five dollars in the garage right next door to WesBanco Arena. Concession prices are in line with other facilities in the area.
A pair of extra points are awarded to the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Hall of Fame and Museum, located at WesBanco Arena. Among the displays tucked into virtually every corner of the concourse are displays honoring local athletes who have achieved notoriety on the local, national, and international stage.
Among the many honorees are such notable names as John Havlicek, Phil Niekro, and Lou Groza. It’s worth arriving early at WesBanco Arena to check out all the memorabilia displayed on the concourse.
Also worth a mention is the 70s-era paint job on the concourse that is visible behind the many displays at WesBanco Arena.
It may be surprising that the longest-tenured ECHL franchise resides in Wheeling, West Virginia, a town of only 28,000. But therein may lie the secret of this franchise’s success. Perfectly blending a small-town atmosphere with a lower-level minor league hockey experience, the Nailers and WesBanco Arena have survived where so many other franchises at this level have failed.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.