It’s hard to imagine a better hockey weekend anywhere in the United States than what Johnstown just witnessed.
The Johnstown Tomahawks put on a first-rate show, on and off the ice, during a three-day blitz that included a special screening of the iconic hockey movie “Slap Shot,” an appearance by screen legends the Hanson brothers and a chance to see the Stanley Cup in person. Oh, and a pair of Pittsburgh Penguins – Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz – also stopped by Cambria County War Memorial Arena as the Tomahawks played host to the James-town Ironmen, who lead the North American Hockey League’s North Division.
With the National Hockey League locked out, more than 7,000 puck fans swarmed the War Memorial this weekend.
Not bad for what some people derisively labeled “high school hockey” when the franchise’s move to Johnstown was first announced, huh?
Midway through its first season in Johnstown, the Tomahawks have proven that their brand of Junior A Tier II hockey is much more than that.
And, we’re happy to say, it looks like the people in our region have taken notice.
Through 14 home games, the Tomahawks rank fifth in the 28-team league with an average attendance of 2,217 fans. The franchises that rank ahead of the Tomahawks in attendance are based in cities that dwarf Johnstown in size.
Consider: Fresno, Calif., has a population of 501,362, according to the 2010 Census. That’s 24 times Johnstown’s population, which is listed at 20,814. Corpus Christi, Texas, is almost 15 times the size of the Flood City while Odessa, Texas, is five times as big as our city. Even Wenatchee, Wash., has 1.5 times the population of Johnstown.
Meanwhile, the Tomahawks rank ahead of teams in much larger markets like Amarillo, Texas; Topeka, Kan., and Flint, Mich.
Much of the Tomahawks’ popularity has to do with how well the organization – led by team President Rick Bouchard and General Manager Rick Boyd – has done at marketing the team.
From the home opener – when hockey legend Mario Lemieux dropped the first puck – to this past weekend’s festivities, the Tomahawks have given fans plenty of reasons to come to the arena.
“We promised Johnstown a show when we bought the team,” Bouchard told The Tribune-Democrat’s Mike Mastovich.
But it’s not just about bringing big names to our area. The on-ice play – the Tomahawks had won eight of nine prior to Saturday night’s loss – has certainly helped attract fans. So, too, has the team’s committent to being involved in the community.
“We want to grow hockey in the community,” Bouchard said.
That was evident on Saturday night. Moments after a tough 1-0 loss to Jamestown, the Tomahawks players and coaches bolted from the ice, but they didn’t head for the locker room. Instead, they went to the lobby of the War Memorial, where they thanked departing fans for attending, posed for pictures with young fans and handed out promotional items.
Through half a season, the Tomahawks have been a hit in the standings, at the box office and in the community.
That’s great news for the team, for the local businesses that benefit from sellout crowds and for everyone in the region.
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