The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Chiefs

February 15, 2010

When it comes to pro hockey, Johnstown ends with ‘leaves town’

The dollars and cents, it appears, finally caught up to the Johnstown Chiefs.

After 15 years in which two multiple ownership groups shrugged off significant financial losses in order to maintain a community asset, the monetary setbacks became too great for majority owner Neil Smith, New York City investor Steve Posner and minority owner Ned Nakles Jr.’s group to endure.

Smith announced Sunday that the Chiefs will move to Greenville, S.C., pending league approval.

The news saddened longtime fans and the community in general. The Chiefs have played

22 ECHL seasons and are the only original member still located in the same city.

But Johnstown’s pro hockey fans have endured similar disappointments in the past. And each time hockey resurfaced in another entity, whether it took a year or eight years to come back.

The diehards can only hope for history to repeat itself in this case.

A look at the final days of Johnstown’s previous franchises:

- Johnstown Blue Birds: The Blue Birds played one season in 1941-42.

The Eastern Amateur Hockey League team lasted a mere five months, skating at the former Shaffer Ice Palace in Hornerstown.

The team struggled financially – a common theme in the decades to follow – but set a foundation for future hockey teams.

Fourteen dates into that inaugural and only season, news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor filtered through an afternoon 2-1 loss to Baltimore. World War II had begun.

The economic situation worsened for Blue Birds owner Pick Hines. He contacted the league office to reveal that his players hadn’t been paid in two weeks.

The Blue Birds were about to fold. But a man named Harry Crichton, who was vice president of sales for the Johnstown Coal & Coke Company, entered league president Tom Lockhart’s Madison Square Garden office and plopped down $2,000 to cover the team’s expenses.

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