Nailers: What went wrong?

Looking for something positive to take away from the Nailers’ 20th Anniversary Season?

That’s an easy one. “Ownership Transfer Approved By ECHL.”

That headline and resulting story was published at the end of March following weeks of speculation the franchise was in potential danger of leaving the Ohio Valley.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

Actually, the Nailers’ demise jump-started in early March, a discouraging month which proved the beginning of the end for Clark Donatelli’s hockey club.

For sure, no one could see it coming. Ironically, it was on Feb. 26 Wheeling skated into Kalamazoo and outlasted the K-Wings in a regulation game featuring a combined 83 shots on goal.

The Nailers were on top of their game, appearing primed to make a deep playoff run in April.

By now, of course, we realize a fatal stretch of eight consecutive games without a victory played an integral role in the team’s late season collapse, culminating with its first round playoff loss to Kalamazoo.

Had the Nailers found a way to protect a one-goal lead after two periods in game two last week at WesBanco, their season today would be ongoing.

As it stands, the team’s train wreck of a finish ranks high – if not at the top – of their two decades of existence here.

It almost certainly will lead to Donatelli’s dismissal. I would venture to say new ownership will opt for new leadership. Any why wouldn’t they elect to go in that direction?

Despite the fact then-Thunderbirds’ coach Doug Sauter was the most popular man in town two seasons into franchise history, Wheeling general manager Larry Kish was deeply disturbed when his top-seeded T-Birds were shown the door in a stunning, three-game opening round sweep by No. 8 seed Birmingham.

I recall Kish phoning this reporter and, in essence, encouraging a crash and burn column bashing Sauter for failure to produce expected results.

Though a similar equation will be considered invalid by some regarding the 2011-12 Nailers, Donatelli’s overall body of work receives a failing grade, nonetheless.


DONATELLI took over the Nailers after Stan Drulia was named assistant coach of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in early December. A year ago, Wheeling finished 38-29-0-5 under Drulia, good for a second place divisional finish. The Nailers then went three rounds deep into the playoffs last spring….

GWINNETT and South Carolina just capped a wild opening round Eastern Conference series. The Stingrays prevailed in four games with the final two tilts totaling an amazing six overtimes.

South Carolina defenseman Zach Takir scored 4:19 into the fourth extra period for a 4-3 Stingrays’ game three victory. Friday’s midnight special consumed over five hours, ending at 12:12 a.m.

In Sunday’s game four, Rays’ winger Maxine Lacroix connected,16:52 into the second OT for the series clincher. There were a combined 198 shots on goal in the two marathon encounters….

THE sport of hockey is forever fighting a losing battle in its never-ending quest to attract new fans. The game can never be truly appreciated as viewed on television – no matter how super-sized the screen. Nevertheless, this week’s Penguins-Flyers first round matchup rates must-see TV.

Especially considering Pittsburgh’s current status as the ‘untouchables on ice.’

Recent rants from the likes of NBC ‘analyst’ Mike Milbury and Rangers’ coach John Tortorella were priceless as well as amusing.

In a Big Apple Sunday tabloid, New York Post hockey writer Larry Brooks refers to a presumed “double standard” afforded the Penguins by the NHL.

That on the heels of Tortorella taking a 20K hit from the league for his comments which were virtually harmless and certainly nothing out of the ordinary for the Blue Shirts’ frequent rabble rouser…

FROM the ‘five-for-fighting’ often brutal world of hockey to the most docile of sporting events – professional golf.

Sunday’s Masters was sports’ TV at its most compelling, capped by an extraordinary finish for the ages.

Almost never do we boo and hiss pro golfers with the possible exception of Colin Montgomery (mostly in jest) or recently Tiger Woods, whose personal wounds were self-inflicted.

Following months of damage control and frequent on-course struggles, Woods’ stature seems to have been repaired, at least as evidenced by tour galleries….

Gibson may be reached at