Nailers name Donatelli new head coach

Tim Roberts and his ownership group took an undeniable leap of faith in their quest for Wheeling to remain a professional sports town.

After all, Roberts has been here from the start – the days when good seats on many nights to view the then-Thunderbirds proved hard to come by. Seems like a generation ago, does it not?

Considering attendance has not risen to that occasion in years, there was much speculation the tri-state area’s passion for supporting minor league hockey no longer existed.

With the team’s 20-year anniversary season winding down last winter, owners Jim and Rob Brooks announced they were bailing to fully concentrate on an eastern-Pennsylvania enterprise they are highly invested in.

Thus, the clock appeared ticking regarding Wheeling’s future home to an ECHL franchise. Roberts, meanwhile, is a long-time valley fixture and obviously felt reasonably confident the Nailers could survive in the league’s smallest market.

Among his priorities was narrowing a lengthy list of head coaching candidates to a man expected to be proactive in many aspects of hockey operations.

Roberts admitted the interview process was time-consuming – a combination of one-on-one sit-down scenarios – in addition to discussing prospects with the team’s major affiliate, the Penguins.

Two months after they were opening round playoff victims against Kalamazoo, the team’s search has ended with no GPS attachment required.

“We felt bringing back Clark Donatelli and removing that interim tag was definitely appropriate and the right direction for our franchise to go,” Roberts stated during Monday’s press conference inside WesBanco Arena.

“With Clark, we already know what we’re getting. We’re getting an experienced hockey man well-respected by his players and a man whose character, commitment and teaching ability fit our philosophy.”

Roberts earlier stressed he felt it imperative the Nailers dramatically improve their public relations skills in attempts to revive enthusiasm among tri-state supporters.

“We’re going to get our players (out there) meeting the public with increased regularity,” Donatelli advised. “We want fans to be able to match a face with a player’s number.”

Donatelli’s credentials are impeccable as a former collegiate skater at Boston University to a brief career in the NHL wearing uniforms of the Bruins and Minnesota North Stars.

Beforehand, Donatelli earned the rare distinction of being named captain for the U.S. Olympic Team at the 1992 games in Albertville, France. Four years earlier, he had suited up for the USA at Calgary, Alberta in 1988.

Donatelli who grew up in Providence, R.I., attended many Bruins and Red Sox games as a kid in New England. “I had an opportunity to see some of the game’s greatest players ever,” he recalled referencing Bruins’ Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

“No one ever told me I (wasn’t coming back to Wheeling) so we’ve been recruiting hard.” Donatelli stated. “Like every year, we’ll have some new faces as well as some veterans. The idea is to uphold the great hockey tradition Wheeling has maintained through the years and I look forward to that challenge.”

An assistant coach is expected to be named in the coming weeks. It was also announced Monday the Nailers are continuing their 12-year relationship with the Penguins. Another potential affiliate could be named soon.

Gibson my be reached at