So, this is it.
Twenty-two ECHL seasons and 1,518 regular-season games.
It ends tonight at a sold-out Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
As “Slap Shot” sports writer Dickie Dunn would say, “A Sad Commentary.”
While I might not be in Dickie Dunn’s league, my 19 seasons as beat writer have provided me with plenty of material: Great performances and individual milestones; tales of struggling teams that seemed to encounter one inexplicable misfortune after another; an arena roof and a couple concrete walls nearly collapsing under the weight of snow and ice; and, of course, a puck flying into the press box.
It’s difficult to condense 22 seasons – with 19 of those coming during my time on the beat. But my top 10 defining Chiefs moments follow.
1. Game 7 Riley Cup final, April 12, 1989. The Chiefs had swept through their first-round series against Knoxville and took a 2-0 series lead over Carolina in the final.
But the T-Birds won three straight until coach Steve Carlson’s team won Game 6 on the road to force a decisive seventh game at the War Memorial.
Carolina had three players suspended after Game 6 and the Winston-Salem team had only 13 skaters. Chiefs fans began lining up before midnight to purchase tickets.
When the box office opened at 10 a.m., two lines stretched out of the lobby and down the sidewalk. The game sold out in a record four hours, five minutes. The stars seemed aligned for a Chiefs championship performance in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 4,146.
But the undermanned Thunderbirds built a two-goal advantage and then held off multiple Chiefs comebacks.
There were ties at 2, 3 and 4 before the T-Birds reeled off three straight third-period goals in a 7-4 victory over the Chiefs. Future Chiefs coach Scott Allen had a second-period goal for Carolina.
“We pulled in the night before on the bus and there were people sleeping outside the War Memorial waiting for tickets,” Allen recalled. “We came in for the morning skate and the line was out the door and along the sidewalk. People were greeting us with the one-finger salute. We actually were enjoying the atmosphere.”
Even in defeat, the Chiefs were the toast of the town. A parade honoring the Chiefs rolled through town and more than 1,000 people attended a rally at Central Park, holding signs that proclaimed, “We’re Still No. 1” and “Thank You Chiefs.”
Many in that crowd probably figured the Chiefs would “Get ’em next year” or at least sometime in the future. But the elusive championship never materialized.