By BERNIE HORNICK
What’s not to like about the Chiefs season opener Saturday night: Brawler Dave Hanson signing autographs. Mascot Tom E. Hawk riling up the fans on a chilly fall night. Mark Richardson firmly at the controls.
Aside from a Wal-Mart greeter, Richardson has perhaps the most enviable job in the American economy. He’s the Zamboni driver for hockey night in Johnstown.
“People wish they could drive a Zamboni,” the city resident said while waiting his turn in the limelight before the puck dropped. “It’s one of the highlights of the hockey game.”
He said one of the rewards of the job is seeing the smiles on all the faces as his machine glides by.
The four-year Zamboni driver said there’s really not much to it. It all comes down to one handle, labeled “DEFCON 1.” Actually, it’s labeled “conditioner.”
That sets the whirlygig in motion, moving the whatchamacallit, which cleans the ice.
In reality, an auger scrapes up the snow and ice chips, moves them to a blade that pushes them onto the elevator that deposits them into the holding bin. All the while, hot water is sprayed to form the new surface.
The bin is dumped outside the War Memorial once Richardson is done with his joyride.
Richardson won’t say what he’s paid but, heck, most people would pay the team to sweep the ice for a game. He fell into the job by hanging around the arena when his son played hockey there.
“They needed somebody,” the former construction worker said simply. Besides, hockey is his favorite sport.
Hockey also is the fave of hundreds and hundreds of fans who showed up for the game against the Cincinnati Cyclones.
Randy Maluchnik – a county commissioner in Carver County, Minn. – was among them.
The Johnstown native comes to town for at least one or two Chiefs games per season. He picked up three of Hanson’s autographed books, “Slap Shot Original,” for his county attorney, another commissioner and perhaps for himself.
“You’re not a real Minnesota hockey player unless you love that movie,” he said above some old-time rock ’n’ roll on the public address system.
Hanson’s books were going fast, with about 50 sold before the game started.
Maluchnik actually came to the area for the Penn State game, but it was too cold.
Besides, he said, “I’d rather be here for this.”
His uncle, Cambria County Commissioner Bill Harris, attended the game with him.
Politics aside – Maluchnik is a Democrat in a Republican county, the reverse for Harris – they find common ground where the Chiefs are concerned. They think they are the only uncle/nephew commissioner combo in the country.
Gladys Hanley of Westmont, her three young children in tow, thinks this will be a successful year for the skaters.
“The Chiefs looked pretty good during camp,” she said.
“They’ll pull it together.”
She attends every home game and a lot of the away games.
“I sort of know the players,” Hanley said. “I talk to them, mostly after the game.”
Gerard Tomechak of Johns-town treated his three grandsons – Michael Miller, Alec Miller and Tyler Tomechak – to the game.
He agreed about the prospects for the season ahead.
“I think they got some new players and they’ll do very well within this organization,” Tomechak said. He attended the home opener last year and in 2007.
Jessica Garcia of Southmont was busy selling at the souvenir stand.
She said she is the girlfriend of team General Manager Bill Bredin. “And he put me to work!” she said, expressing fake exasperation.
Garcia – originally from Texas – said, “The hats are pretty popular, and the T-shirts.” The hats go for $20, the tees are $18.
Hoodies, more kids stuff and other merchandise still is on the way, she said.
And as with many sporting events, the fun and quirky stuff is what’s yelled out by nameless fans in the crowd, or overheard passing by someone elbow to elbow. Such as:
• As Hanson stepped up to drop the ceremonial first puck and a Cyclone dipped his hockey stick, one boisterous fan yelled loud enough to be heard arena-wide, “Hit ’em, Dave!”
• When the first period was winding down with only a handful of hard checks, one fan said she came for the hockey fights. “I need to see blood,” she said immodestly.
• And the teen crowd was active as ever. “These fries are banging. They’re pretty good,” one girl said. “Yeah,” her girlfriend replied, “Jimmy said for $3, they better be.”