You may not realize it, but you know the Cambria County War Memorial. You’ve seen it before, in the film Slap Shot. The Charlestown Chiefs were based on the Johnstown Jets of the NAHL, and the War Memorial was their home. The year Slap Shot was released, 1977, the Jets folded and the city of Johnstown flooded.
(Clicky make biggy)
The last time I was in Johnstown, PA was February of 2008. The financial crisis was still the apple of some Wall Street investor’s eye, and the team at the time was the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL. You can see the posts from that trip here and here. Inside the arena, a few things have changed since then. Let’s go inside.
Wait, what’s this? A hockey tournament?
This was the fifth anniversary of the Slapshot Cup. I took most of my arena pictures during the tournament. That’s why the arena is so empty.
The red light at the bar seating area used to be a red Budweiser sign. They decided to go with something more traditional.
Ice level from the Zamboni entrance.
The replacement glass tucked in the corner.
This was something new, the Slap Shot Gallery.
Click on anything to make it bigger. Some of it is really worth it.
Yes, the twins signed it as well.
The hallways. Good crowd.
It was the home opener, so there was the player introductions. The turnover as players move on or age out of the juniors is tremendous, so introductions are more than a formality, they are necessary.
What isn’t necessary is flaming steel on the ice and sparks shooting out of hockey sticks. That’s just a special bonus.
The away team still has to step down onto the ice at the start of the period. Looks treacherous.
The reason for this is the players have to cross the concourse and enter the arena the same way the fans do. They bring out gates to keep the fans away from the players, but you can still get pretty close. If you think the fans don’t heckle the opposing players (and especially the goalies), you would be wrong.
These guys are fired up.
Let’s do this.
I included this one because I love the flex of the stick, even though this is simply a pass to the guy in the corner. Players are so good at handling and controlling fast pucks. I’m constantly amazed at how quickly they can control a puck and do something with it. When you sit this close to the action at a minor league or junior game, you hear how loud the puck smacks their sticks. It’s something you don’t get a sense of in the cavernous NHL barns.
This was a goal, tipped in off the Tomahawks player’s stick.
What the hell happened here?
This was a three on two that you could sense was going to lead to a goal.
Near the end of the game, with Johnstown down two goals, a delayed penalty was called on the Ice Miners, and the puck slipped past the goaltender, which the ref waived off. I’m guessing it was either goalie interference, or a Miner had control of the puck before it went across the line. No explanation was given. In the last second of play, the Tomahawks scored a goal, putting Johnstown within one. Had the waived off goal counted, this would have tied the game. It made for a surreal ending.
Speaking of surreal.
Here was something I had never seen before. The start of the third period was delayed because the drill bit used for the goal post pegs got stuck in the ice. It took a while to get it out. Next time, have a blowtorch handy to heat the thing up, eh?
The final, the Johnstown Tomahawks fall to the Keystone Ice Miners, 5-4 (game sheet is here). It was the first of a back-to-back home-and-home weekend, so the bus was leaving early for a 1:00pm start in Connellsville. Which the Tomahawks won in the shootout, by the way.
Compared to last time I was here (a mid-season ECHL game with a team that wasn’t doing so hot), this was a different atmosphere. Hardly any of the “old-time hockey” feel that you would expect from a team that plays at the War Memorial.
It’s easy to build the game and the place into something it’s not. It isn’t a movie that was filmed almost 40 years ago. It isn’t a throwback to the old times. It isn’t goons and characters. It isn’t fists and cheap shots. It isn’t line brawls and blood on the ice. It’s what hockey is now, not what it was. It’s kids looking for a chance at the big time and behaving accordingly. This is junior hockey.
Johnstown itself is still old-time hockey. It’s plywood windows and people who are hopeful. It’s a downtown with small businesses and For Lease signs. It’s condemned houses in the shadows of mills that barely function.
It’s easy to write something into Johnstown that may not be there. You can simply walk in with Slap Shot on your mind and leave with something else. I’m an outsider, and I can only tell you what I see. Slap Shot is what hockey may have been in Johnstown, but the hockey itself has moved on. Johnstown itself? I’m not so sure.