Wheeling, W.Va. (WTRF) – You can hear it in every slapshot and crash against the screen—hockey is a rough sport.
But the Wheeling Nailers love every second of it.
And they know they wouldn’t have the chance to go pro in the sport they’ve devoted their lives to without the tireless service of the military.
That’s why the players will devote their pre-game Saturday to a swearing in ceremony for the Air Force, and will shed the black and gold jerseys to wear the colors of the flag.
It’s called their Salute to Service, and with WesBanco so close to the Friendly City’s vet memorials, it’s an appreciation that’s never far from the team’s minds.
For me, you walk up and down the river, and you see all the monuments and you see all the men and women who have served, and I think it means a lot I think for any American to honor them.Derek Army, Wheeling Nailers Head Coach
And the Nailers don’t just admire them from a distance.
Many of the players grew up in military families themselves, with defenseman Joshua Victor having generations of relatives in uniform.
His regimented and respectful upbringing still comes in handy when protecting the net.
That’s kind of the way I was raised. You give your all no matter what, and you go about your business.Joshua Victor, Defenseman
He calls family life with service members strict, but loving and rewarding in the respect for hard work it brings.
It’s a life that doesn’t incline you to take credit or ask for help, even when it’s necessary.
Victor says civilians have to take on the task of giving them the appreciation they deserve.
Whether it’s through community service, whether it’s just talking to a veteran that might be down on their luck that day.Joshua Victor, Defenseman
But even the players who didn’t grow up with someone who served were given a taste of that life.
Last weekend they all enlisted in Air Force boot camp, and experienced just one day’s worth of what trainees go through for seven-and-a-half weeks.
It was practical as a team-building exercise, but it also prepared them for the service night by offering them some perspective.
On a night like that, it’s not just about us. It’s about them.Derek Army, Wheeling Nailers Head Coach
When they’re out on duty, the Armed Forces may not get the applause that the Nailers do every night.
But on Saturday— the cheers from the stands will show them that their fanbase is far bigger than they think.