Did you know that professional hockey began in West Virginia in 1956?
That’s right – West Virginia got its first pro team 11 years before its neighbor to the East, Virginia.
The Huntington Hornets were the first professional hockey team in West Virginia. They played in the International Hockey League (IHL) for the 1956-57 season. However, the team only played a single season in West Virginia before being relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan to become the Grand Rapids Rockets.
While the Hornets have been gone for nearly 70 years, West Virginia has had a few pro teams over the years. The Mountain State currently has one professional hockey team.
In this article, I’ll show you what pro hockey team is in West Virginia and what other hockey teams compete in the state including D1 college teams.
Pssssst! Are you curious about hockey teams in other U.S. states? You can learn more by checking out our other posts: What Hockey Team Is in Florida, What Hockey Team Is in Arizona, and What Hockey Team Is in Idaho.
Let’s dive in.
Here’s What Hockey Teams Are In West Virginia:
While West Virginia doesn’t have an NHL team, they do have one pro hockey team: The Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) which is a mid-level professional hockey team. The Nailers are the affiliated farm team for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL (and Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL). The state’s top college hockey team is West Virginia University (ACHA Men’s D1).
Does West Virginia Have a Hockey Team?
So, what is West Virginia’s hockey team?
West Virginia has dozens of different ice hockey teams. However, they don’t have an NHL team as the state is too small (1.78 million people). Plus, they have too many competing NHL teams nearby including the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Washington Capitals.
The top hockey team in West Virginia is a mid-level professional hockey team: The Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
The Wheeling Nailers are the affiliated farm team for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League (AHL) and the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League (NHL).
The top college hockey team in West Virginia is West Virginia University (ACHA Men’s D1).
Does West Virginia Have an NHL Team?
So, will you find an NHL hockey team in West Virginia?
The short answer is, no. It would be a challenge for West Virginia to have an NHL team as they’re simply too small a population to support an NHL team. Plus, they would have to tap into a portion of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ market share to start a team.
What NHL Team Does West Virginia Root For?
West Virginia has never had its own NHL team. However, the Mountain State still has an active NHL fanbase.
The favorite NHL team in West Virginia is simple: The Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the second closest NHL franchise to West Virginia’s capital city (Charleston). The closest is the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, the main reason West Virginia roots for the Pittsburgh Penguins is because West Virginia’s pro team, The Wheeling Nailers, is the affiliated pro team for the AHL and NHL’s Penguins.
However, there are some active Columbus Blue Jackets and even Washington Capitals fans in West Virginia as well.
What Hockey Teams Are in West Virginia?
So, what hockey teams are in West Virginia? The Mountain State has one professional hockey team and several college and high school teams as listed below:
While Virginia has a pro ice hockey team, they don’t have a team in the National Hockey League (NHL). NHL fans in West Virginia typically cheer for the Pittsburgh Penguins since they’re one of the closest geographical NHL teams to the state capital, Charleston (and West Virginia’s ECHL team is the affiliated mid-level pro team for the Penguins).
However, some West Virginians cheer for the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Northwest (and others even cheer for the Washington Capitals).
The AHL is a high-level professional sports league just one step below the NHL. West Virginia doesn’t currently have an American Hockey League (AHL) team.
West Virginia has one professional ice hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). This is a mid-level professional sports league just one step below the AHL.
What is the name of the Virginia ECHL team? The Wheeling Nailers
The Nailers are the affiliated farm team for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
So, where do the Wheeling Nailers play? The Wheeling Nailers play their home games at the Wesbanco Arena located at 2 14th St, Wheeling, WV 26003
D1, D2, D3 College Hockey
While West Virginia doesn’t have an NHL team, there is some high-level college hockey in the state. West Virginia has three college hockey teams within D1, D2, and D3 levels that compete within the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA):
- West Virginia University (ACHA Men’s D1)
- West Virginia University (ACHA Men’s D2)
- West Virginia University (ACHA Men’s D3)
Is There High School Hockey in West Virginia?
Yes, there’s high school hockey in West Virginia. However, most West Virginia high school teams compete in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL) in Western Pennsylvania since ice hockey is still quite new in high school sports in West Virginia.
While West Virginia doesn’t have its own full-time league, the “West Virginia Hockey League” (WVHL) was formed in 2018 as a way to bring the state’s high school teams together to compete a few times each year before concluding at West Virginia’s state championship.
There are eight hockey teams that compete in the West Virginia high school state championships:
- The Linsly School (Wheeling)
- Morgantown High School (Morgantown)
- University High School (Morgantown)
- Wheeling Central Catholic (Wheeling)
- Wheeling Park High School (Wheeling)
- John Marshall High School (Glen Dale)
- Charleston High School Hockey (Charleston)
- Vipers Hockey WV (Martinsburg)
Is Hockey Popular in West Virginia?
Curious whether or not West Virginia is a big hockey state?
Let’s look at some data to find out!
In 2022, WalletHub crunched the numbers to determine which hockey cities were best for fans of the sport. In the study, WalletHub ranked the top 72 cities in the U.S. They worked with 21 key indicators of what made a city a “good” hockey city. Different indicators included stadium capacity, ticket prices, and the performance of major teams, among many others.
Unfortunately, West Virginia didn’t have a single city that cracked the top 72. Overall, hockey isn’t that popular in West Virginia compared to other sports like football and basketball. West Virginia is also one of the smallest states (39 of 50 for population) with 1.78 million people.
Are you curious to know more about hockey in other states across the U.S.? Don’t forget to check out our other full guide: Hockey Teams in Every U.S. State: Complete NHL & College List (2023).