The Johnstown Chiefs are heading south, but ECHL hockey still might be played here on a scaled back version next season.
For more than a month, speculation has surfaced that the Wheeling Nailers might play some of their home games at Cambria County War Memorial Arena in 2010-11.
Multiple sources have confirmed that talks between the War Memorial and Nailers owners James and Robert Brooks have been ongoing and negotiations might be finalized today. The number of games that might be played in Johnstown and how the travel would affect Wheeling season-ticket holders hadn’t been made public on Thursday.
War Memorial General Manager Tim Landis of SMG would not comment on any potential deal but indicated that there might be news on the matter very soon.
The ECHL office confirmed that it is aware of ongoing discussions between SMG, which manages the War Memorial, and the Nailers but Commissioner Brian McKenna declined to elaborate on the details through league spokesman and Johnstown native Joe Babik.
A member of the Nailers staff referred questions to Robert Brooks, who did not return a telephone call on Thursday.
Approximately 120 miles and a two-plus-hour drive separate Johnstown and Wheeling. Fans from the two cities frequently have traveled to road games in the opposing building, and over the years there have been many fan bus trips in the series.
The Nailers and their predecessor, the Thunderbirds, have played at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling since joining the league during the 1992-93 season.
Johnstown and Wheeling have been rivals since the former Winston-Salem T-Birds moved to the West Virginia city in 1992. Typically, the teams played in the same division, but this year Johnstown was in the East Division while Wheeling remained in the North.
The Chiefs will move to Greenville, S.C., after Saturday’s home game against Elmira.
The Chiefs had been the only original member of the once five-team ECHL to stay in the same city for all 22 seasons.
Johnstown enters tonight’s game at Cincinnati with an all-time record of 669-683-164.
The 669 wins are third-most in league history, trailing only Wheeling (756) and South Carolina (673). Johnstown and Wheeling share the ECHL record of 1,516 games played.