Wheeling Nailers Logo used with permission

One of the oldest low-minor league hockey teams, the franchise began play in 1982 in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League as the Carolina Thunderbirds based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The team, along with the Virginia Lancers, joined the All-American Hockey League in 1987, which lasted just the 1987-88 season, after which the Thunderbirds, Lancers, and Johnstown Chiefs formed the basis for the modern ECHL, of which the Thunderbirds won the first ECHL playoff championship, then known as the Jack Riley Cup, defeating the Johnstown Chiefs, 4-3 for the 1988-89 season. They became the Winston-Salem Thunderbirds in 1990 and moved to Wheeling in 1992.

After a trademark dispute with the junior league Seattle Thunderbirds, the club became the Nailers for the 1996-97 season when the franchise held a contest open to local fans, which was won by C.J. Wickham of Steubenville, Ohio. The name "Nailers" was chosen for the city's long history of nail manufacturing. The team colors are black, red, and Vegas gold.

While they were still the Wheeling Thunderbirds, members of the team in 1994-95 also participated in the filming of the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie "Sudden Death". Because of the NHL lockout, the scene where Van Damme's character attempts to stop a bomber from bombing Mellon Arena during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals was filmed with players from the Chiefs and Thunderbirds.